What I’ve Learned in Four Months of Aikido

I mentioned previously that one of the reasons I neglected to post here the last few months is possibly because I’ve been getting into other things and just haven’t thought about it. More than that, I think it’s that while I’ve thought a lot about the things I’ve been doing, I don’t really feel like I know enough about them to feel super comfortable speaking publicly about it. That’s probably a stupid reason not to write, but it’s mine.

The main thing that I’ve been obsessed with the last few months is studying Aikido. I try to go four days a week, sometimes three, but not less than that unless something unexpected happens. I’d like to get up to five or six days a week, but I’m trying to moderate myself a little. Anyway — I’m pretty into it.

Before I go on let me put a big disclaimer here that I’ve only been studying for a little less than four months, and so anything I’m about to say is from the perspective of a beginner who hasn’t even taken his first test yet.

Aikido is a Japanese martial art which is primarily defensive. It was first created by a man named Morihei Ueshiba (also known as Ōsensei) starting in the 20s and 30s and was developed into what it is today in the couple of decades after World War II. Instead of trying getting into a position where you can strike an opponent or do a technique you had in mind on them on them, you’re seeing the direction their own energy taking them and working with that. At least that’s how I understand it so far. Like I said: I’m a beginner.

There’s also what the call the “spiritual side” of Aikido. A lot of time in class is spent relating Aikido philosophy of blending with an opponent and not engaging energy head on to other parts of life. I find those parts pretty interesting and giving myself a framework that helps me be a little more disciplined and aware has been nice. If nothing else, getting out of the house and doing something physical with other people a few days a week is a positive development.

The biggest thing for me, so far, has been to do something where in order to succeed I need to focus on the process instead of worrying where I’ll be in the future. I don’t feel like that’s always natural for me, but I’d like to make it that way. If I can just do the best I can every day whether it’s day ten or day ten-thousand, I’ll make progress in the time it’s going to take, and probably more of it too. I think if I could apply that elsewhere it would be really helpful for me. Something one of my teachers has said before is that they’re not just trying to make us better martial artists, they’re trying to make us better people.

Whether or not I’m actually able to use any of what I learn to defend myself physically against a person who might try to harm me (I’m nowhere close to that) anytime soon is sort of the less important part to me if I can become a more focused, disciplined person. Being someone whose able to deal with conflict better and maybe also be a little less hard on themselves when trying something new is a pretty applicable life skill for me. I’d also like to get really good at the techniques, but, like I said, that’s sort of secondary.

So, that’s what I’ve been up to the last few months. Like I said, I’m totally a beginner, and I will be for a long time. Mine probably isn’t the best description of what this whole thing is about, but it’s what I’ve gotten out of it so far.

It’s been a good thing for me.

Also I’ve been told my shoulders are looking pretty buff, so that’s sweet.

Breaking the Blogging Seal

For no particular reason I haven’t kept up blogging the last few months, even though it’s been kind of a huge three months for me. Maybe because it’s been a big three months, I’ve had other things on my mind, and that’s why I haven’t posted. Anyway — I need to stop that momentum and get back to posting. So here it is. I’m breaking the seal. More soon.

My Request for Apple Music: Challenge Me a Little

I use Apple Music for streaming. I try to give it as much data to work with as possible so it can recommend new music to me. If I like a song, I tap the heart icon. I’m pretty consistent about it. The problem is, as much as I do that, it doesn’t seem to be doing a very good job at helping me discover new music.

Whenever I look at “For You”, what I see is a bunch of playlists which are either collections of songs by musicians I already know, or other things that sound exactly like the music I already know. If it’s going to be learning my preferences — and the preferences of millions of people like me — it’s got a ton of data to work with, and what I’d like is for it to be gently helping me broaden my horizons over time.

What I get is: “You like music by sensitive people with guitars, here’s a whole lot of exaclty that.”

What I want is: “We know you don’t usually listen to hip hop, but we really think you might like this.”

Maybe the problem is that the super conservative choice is the right thing because most people just want to hear music they already know they like over and over again. But, for me, I feel like it’s a big letdown and makes these sorts of services a lot less useful and fun than they could be.

Stanley Kubrick Exhibition

Last Sunday I had the opportunity to check out the Stanley Kubrick Exhibition currently at the Contemporary Jewish Museum here in San Francisco. I’m a big Kubrick fan and seeing the props, correspondence, and equipment presented as sort of a journey through his career was really interesting.

If you’re in the area and at all interested in Kubrick’s work, you have until October 30th to go, and you definitely should. In the meantime, you can check out the Flickr album I created with some of the photos I took of the exhibit.

Stanley Kubrick Exhibition

Meat Is Killing Our Planet and We Won’t Even Talk About It

Producing meat is destroying the planet, and eating it is destorying our bodies. This isn’t crazy vegan hippie rhetoric — it’s the truth. This article in the Washington Post has lots of charts and information explaining how it is.

Do I expect anyone who reads this or looks at that article to make any different choices though? Not really. But why? So many people — for whom eating meat is entirely optional — are willing to label others climate change deniers, shame them for what kind of car they drive, or refer to others as ignorant and uniformed. But these same people don’t even consider changing their habits, even though just the greenhouse gas effects of meat production are so much worse for the planet than all transportation combined.

I’m not even going to talk about the way we treat animals, but that’s just as upsetting.

Lots of things people do are bad for the planet, and I’m sure than I am no exception. But the fact is this one thing is so much more worse than anything else we do, and people barely even acknowledge it. It’s simple to me: you can’t be an environmentalist and eat meat. Those two things are contradictory. If people really cared about the planet or global warming as much as they say they do, they would be willing to take the one biggest step to actually have an impact. If you eat meat while failing to accept the impact your choices have, you not only are contributing to the problem, you are a climate change denier.

Obviously, this topic gets me pretty worked up. But just being upset and calling others hypocrites isn’t an effective way to help anyone think about their choices, or encourage them to make better ones. So, besides the Washington Post article I linked to above, I want to recommend some things. Even if you have no intention to change, I think that if you’re going to make choices, you should be willing to learn about what those choices mean and reconcile that for yourself. At least then you’re making informed choices.

Eating Animals by Jonathan Safran Foer

This book is great because it doesn’t skip any details of what meat production is doing to the planet, or how we mistreat animals, but somehow keeps the writing approachable and even a little humorous. It also gives voice to both sides of arguments by talking to farmers, factory farmers, people at slaughter houses, humane meat people, etc, and lets them all say their piece without discrediting it outright.

Cowspiracy

This is a documentary — available on Netflix — which contains a lot of the same information in Eating Animals, and is also pretty light hearted, with less time commitment. The film goes over a lot of the data, interviews environmentalists and animal rights folks, and asks the same question I have: why isn’t this information more commonly known, and why aren’t environmental groups willing to talk about the single worst thing we’re doing to the environment.

Health Experiment (Week 1 Wrap Up)

The purpose of this experiment is to find out what would happen to my body and mind over 30 days if I tracked my calorie intake and I replaced drinking with exercise and meditation. My hypothesis is that I will lose weight, become stronger, gain better focus, and have less anxiety.

Body

From the day I wrote the original post (6/21) I have lost 1.8 pounds and my body fat percentage has gone down 0.9%. The exercise I’ve so far is mostly yoga, walking, and some pushups using a 100 pushups program. I’m probably going to start running again though within the next day or two now that my knees are feeling better. Since your weight can change about 2 lb a day (I’m told), it’s a bit hard to put too much into those specific metrics after only one week, but I still think the results so far look pretty promising. Here they are on a line graph:

Week 1 weight Week 1 bf

The trend lines on weight and body fat are both pointing down (which is great). My weight kind of fluctuates up and down a bit each day, but like I said, I think that’s expected. The body fat % tracking actually seems to be going down a lot more consistently, which is the number I care more about, since if I’m replacing fat with muscle, that’s going to affect the amount of weight change I have.

Mind

I’d like to see my focus improve more (ADHD sucks), but my anxiety has definitely been improving in the two and a half weeks or so I’ve been practicing daily meditation. I feel as though between meditation and learning about Buddhism, I’ve begun to reflect the way I talk and act sometimes, and make some positive changes to help me become the person I want to be. I think we all get carried away and say things we don’t really mean sometimes, or exaggerate for comedic effect. I want to not do that anymore.

Health Experiment (Day 7)

It’s the end of the first week! I’ll be following this one up with a wrap up post for the past days.

Stats

Weight: 167 (+0.4 lb / +0.24%)
Body Fat %: 20.2% (-1.94%)

Active Calories: 753
Total Calories: 2661
Calories Consumed: 2112 (549 Deficit)

Exercise

Vinyasa Yoga

I am pretty certain that the Apple Watch is way underestimating how many calories I’m burning during yoga, but it’s the only tool I have, so here it is.

Active Calories: 289
Total Time: 1:12
Avg Heart Rate: 102

100 Pushups Program (Week 1, Day 3)

  • Count: 25 (5×5)

Mind

Meditation

  • 10m Headspace (Foundation 2, Day 7)

State of Mind

Felt a bit anxious and not as focused in the earlier part of the day, but did okay with both later on.

Health Experiment (Day 6)

A relaxed Sunday. Walked enough to make sure I hit my move goal, but nothing else special.

Stats

Weight: 166.6 (+0.8 lbs / +0.5%)
Body Fat %: 20.9% (-0.5%)

Active Calories: 619
Total Calories: 2452
Calories Consumed: 1502
Calorie Deficit: 950

Exercise

  • Walked to hit Apple Watch move goal (460)

Mind

  • Missed meditation. Nothing extraordinary to report.

Health Experiment (Days 4 & 5)

I managed to miss blogging over the weekend — so I thought I’d just combine Friday and Saturday days into one post. I went to yoga at my gym Friday, which was great. The new sort-of-related thing I did this weekend was that I managed to make it to the San Francisco Zen Center at 8:40am to attend their zazen meditation introduction and dharma talk. I’m going to try to start going regularly if I can will my body up early enough on Saturday.

Day 4 (6/24/16)

Stats

Weight: 165.3 (No Change)
Body Fat %: 20.7% (-0.96%)

Active Calories: 981
Total Calories: 2889
Calories Consumed: 1694
Calorie Deficit: 1195

Exercise

Vinyasa Yoga

Active Calories: 438
Total Time: 1:12
Avg Heart Rate: 104

Mind

Meditation

  • 10m Headspace (Foundation 2, Day 6)

Day 5 (6/25/16)

Stats

Weight: 165.8 (+0.24%)
Body Fat %: 20.7% (No Change)

Active Calories: 624
Total Calories: 2483
Calories Consumed: 1469
Calorie Deficit: 1014

Exercise

  • Walked to hit my calorie goal (460).

Mind

Meditation

  • Unguided walking meditation.

Health Experiment (Day 3)

No extra exercise yesterday. I still made sure I hit my move goal on my Apple Watch, but I’ve decided to not try running again for a few days because of the knee thing. When I do start again, I’m going to try just doing it on a treadmill at the gym so it’s a little lower impact.

I have managed to keep up with my standing desk all week. It’s actually not that hard. I suspect if I were heavier to start or weren’t using a mat it would be worse. I sit during lunch, meditation, and other times during the day when I’m not at my desk. Otherwise I’m standing all day.

No weight or meaningful body fat change. Since your body can fluctuate a couple of pounds day to day no matter what, I’m not actually too worried about if this number goes up or down slightly for at least the first week.

Stats

Weight: 165.3 (No Change)
Body Fat %: 20.9% (+0.5%)

Active Calories: 540
Total Calories: 2450
Calories Consumed: 1790
Calorie Deficit: 660

Exercise

Just walked enough to make sure I hit my activity goal (460) for the day.

Mind

Meditation

  • 10m Headspace (Foundation 2, Day 5)
  • Unguided Walking Meditation

State of Mind

Focus was a little better than the day before, but I can do better. Anxiety about the same (good).