Joel Riggs teaches Aikido, plays piano, enjoyed California for 22 years ('86 - '08), now enjoys Georgia, and reads voraciously.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

On Kids Aikido Classes

43 days until moving day.

I had a long meeting over dinner last night with Jeff, Michael, and David about handing over all my kids classes at the dojo. They wanted to know what I have found works and what does not work in running the classes. We also went through the list of students and I shared what I see each of them working on or needing.

At any point in any class, each individual student needs one of three things: to be supported, to be challenged, or to be left alone. If a student is struggling a bit with a technique or with their partner, then they need some attention, advice, a helping hand, a guide to show them the next step, and sometimes encouragement to help them feel like they are making progress. If a student is goofing off or is not following the instructions well, then they need to be stretched a bit further, given an extra assignment that will make them stop and think and struggle to achieve it. And if a student is in the flow of the class and the practice, then they are best served by being left alone to continue.

With this little filter going on at all times, I can walk through the class and observe students one by one and can tell where to intervene and where not to. Before long, the class runs smoothly, and everyone has something to work on that is appropriate for them in that moment.

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Friday, April 11, 2008

The Life of a Dad

This evening I got ready to drive down to San Francisco train aikido and see a couple of black belt tests. I had to stop by the dojo in Fairfax first, though, to pick up my hakama and belt. Just as I was about to leave the house, Rocket was whimpering in the bed; he should have been asleep already. I picked him up to shush him and to help him drift to sleep, but he grew more and more upset and agitated. After about a minute in my arms, he started crying out loud, and then he threw up a bellyfull of mom's milk that he had had for supper a half hour before. We cleaned him up and wiped the floor and I took a shower and changed. (Poor little guy, he has a fever now too.) Instead of getting to the dojo to train, I was a half hour late, without my hakama, and so ended up borrowing a white belt and getting onto the mat barely in time for the start of the tests. So I missed a class. No big deal. Being a dad is totally worth it, spit up and all!

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Thursday, March 15, 2007

Support Them, Challenge Them, or Leave Them Alone

Through teaching martial arts to children (at Aikido of Marin in Fairfax, CA), I have learned that I form a relationship with each and every kid in every single class. And in each moment, each child needs from me one of three things: support, challenge, or to be left alone.

When a child is struggling, when their attention is drifting, or when they are confused or lost, then I need to support them. Give them a private instruction, guide their hands in the technique we are practicing, or compliment their efforts. When a kid is having difficulty and I give them a little help and then an 'attaboy', I almost always see a smile of accomplishment and new relish for the training sweep over them.

When a child looks a little bit bored or appears to be lazily going through the motions, then I challenge them to try a variation of the technique, to come up with their own style of movement, or to switch partners and play the role of sempai (older student) and help teach one of the beginning students. If I stretch a student's practice even only a little bit, they will almost always return to the class at hand with increased interest and energy.

But my favorite moment of all is when I see a child focused on their practice and their partner, trying new and different ways of completing a technique, and even exploring with their partner exactly what makes a technique work or not work. When I see this kind of attention and engagement in the practice, then I can step back and sit in the corner and let them practice to their heart's content. Today I managed to sit for about 15 minutes straight while our sempai students taught our beginners all the elements of the yellow belt test. I loved it. That is the moment when aikido comes alive in their minds, bodies, and hearts!

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Sunday, March 11, 2007

On Training Aikido

At the recommendation of a counselor of mine, I have been training in the martial art of aikido since the fall of 1993. Aikido is a relatively young martial art; it was developed in the 20th century in Japan by expert martial artist Morihei Ueshiba O Sensei. After mastering several arts in the traditional way, Ueshiba transformed the fighting and destruction of the older forms into the harmonizing and loving protection of aikido.

The word aikido is comprised of three words: Ai - blending or harmony, Ki - spirit or energy, and Do - path or way. So 'aikido' roughly translates as 'The way of the harmonious spirit." Aikido is not a collection of techniques or fighting moves; rather it is a way of being, a way in which all incoming attacks are met fully and openly and in which the attacker is either subdued or thrown without being harmed.

Training in this art has substantially boosted my confidence and my strength and flexibility, and it has allowed me to develop a more upfront and honest personality. Through training and diligent study, the body can learn to transform fear, conflict, and destructive tension into flowing and supportive cooperation, without the possibility for harm or injury. This transformation is ultimately spiritual, improving the connection between oneself and others and giving direction to all the attacker's energy so that no one is hurt, not even the attacker.

I have never used an aikido technique per se on the street. Late one evening when stepping down off a San Francisco Muni bus in the Haight Ashbury, a slightly inebriated, slightly overfriendly older man came staggering down the sidewalk directly toward me from 10 feet away with his arms outstretched and saying loudly "I love you." Instinctively, I stepped off the line of his motion, put one of my hands under one of his, and turned 180 degrees, passing his hand over my head. Instead of hugging me -- I suppose he wanted me to be his new best friend -- he staggered a couple steps past me and hugged another man unfortunate enough to be waiting for the bus in a spot directly in the drunk's path. He got a big and slightly disgusting bear hug.

I had followed the basic aikido principles: step off the line of attack, connect with the attacker, extend my own energy to include and join with the attacker, and safely redirect the attack to somewhere other than directly into my body, thus keeping me safe without hurting him at all. (I had not seen the man waiting for the bus, or else I would have steered the drunk away from him as well.)

Aikido applies to all manner of situations, not just to fighting. In aikido we practice with strikes, punches, grabs, and weapons; but the same principles apply to verbal attacks, to blending with the energy and direction of movement in traffic, or to performing effectively in any sort of business transaction or relationship interaction where there is a high level energy involved. Thus, training all the physical techniques provides a deeply rich metaphor for dealing with all the incoming energies in one's life.

I began my training in 1993 in San Francisco with Robert Nadeau sensei. In 2004, I and two others inherited Aikido of Marin (founded by Richard Moon sensei) in Fairfax, CA, where I currently teach children and adults for a total of about 10 hours a week.

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Sunday, February 25, 2007

New Site for

After a couple months of work, I've finally managed to complete the Joomla! version of our dojo website. (Check it out) Feel free to subscribe to our mailing list while you are there.

Joomla! is an OpenSource CMS (Content Management System) that provides a robust administrative backend for managing all the text and images. There are a few bugs in the system, especially since it was not optimized to run in a shared server environment. That's what took so long to figure out. Turns out the trick is to have everything chOwned to the root user, since the installation scripts set up everything as owned by user 'nobody'. That's how the PHP scripts are run.

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