“Trust the technique”: Life lessons from Aikido, #1

So in the drafts folder of this blog I’ve got a post that just keeps getting longer. It was called “Six Things Aikido Taught Me” but then that turned to “Ten Things…” and so on. And it’s also too long. So I’ve broken up the post into series of small posts. Here’s the first one. 

In Bikido I wrote about this odd thing I’d been doing, going straight from a fast 40 km group ride, led by a cycling coach, to Aikido. (By the way, there’s another person blogging about biking, running, and Aikido. See  Run, Bike, Throw.) At the end of the ride, it’s fair to say I was pretty exhausted. If the overall pace hadn’t knocked me  out, the sprint at the end, followed by a Strava segment I’m trying to reclaim, certainly did. Typically once the ride was over I grabbed a sports bar and coasted to Aikido.

Fast outdoor riding is over now but it seems Bikido isn’t over just yet.

Coach Chris is now leading indoor cycling classes on trainers. We all bring our bikes and trainers to his basement and pedal away. Fine. And again it’s straight from there to Aikido.

I’m pretty exhausted when I bow onto the mat but I think it might actually be improving my Aikido.

How could that be?

Well, in many ways Aikido isn’t a particularly athletic activity. The goal is to use your attacker’s energy to disarm them. It’s pretty non violent as self defense goes. And the best Aikido is all about efficient technique.

By temperament, that’s not my way. I’m strong and bouncy and often try to succeed using muscle, not form. But that’s not good Aikido.  I can recognize excellent technique when it’s performed on me. It doesn’t hurt but I have absolutely no choice but to go where my partner is taking me (short of tapping the mat). I notice this especially when I’m working with one of the senior women, who is older and much smaller than me. I could lift her up and carry her off but when we’re working together, she can just throw me around. It’s no surprise that the big men in our club can throw me around but the magic of Aikido is that at half their weight and twenty years their senior she can do it just as well.

When training for my last test, my partner kept reminding me to stop trying to use muscle. His motto for me was “trust the technique.”

Turns out it’s easier to trust the technique when you’re exhausted and power and muscle just aren’t there to rule the day. Exhausted Aikido means my movements are more efficient and I need to concentrate on form to make the techniques work. When my body is tired, my brain takes over and when it comes to Aikido that’s not a bad thing.

It also occurred to me that there might be other areas of life where this is true, where it’s better to trust the process rather than try to muscle your way through.

And hey, if I’m ever attacked after an exhausting bike ride, I’m ready to go.

Aikido is a martial art that doesn't require strength and can be practiced and used far into old age, which is good because it take that long to master.

Aikido is a martial art that doesn’t require strength and can be practiced and used far into old age, which is good because it take that long to master.

Throwback Thursday!: Why are painful workouts so much fun? (And other questions about suffering and athletic performance)

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Sam B:

From the archives, two years ago, what makes athletic suffering enjoyable?

Originally posted on Fit Is a Feminist Issue:

What makes painful workouts so much fun? Or assuming there’s some self selection at work here, we could ask the question a little bit differently: Why do athletes find painful workouts so much fun?

Now not all of the workouts I do are painful. Most days of the week I workout out twice a day and I wouldn’t be able to take that kind of intensity all the time. Nor does it make sense from a training point of view. But still the best workouts, the ones that are the most fun, are the painful ones. And as philosopher, I find this appreciation for pain more than a little puzzling.

But let me begin by describing two of the painful workouts I’ve done this week.

Here’s Monday’s Crossfit workout: The snatch ladder (be mature, no sexual jokes please, we’re all grown ups here)

The snatch ladder from the Crossfit Games…

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Cute Fruit



It’s that time of year. On the work front, it’s lots of grading, academic meetings, and writing letters of recommendation

On the social front, lots and lots going on too. I’m always looking for fun, healthy treats to bring to parties as we approach Christmas. I’m not much of a cook. I do bake but the stuff I make, like
The Best Pumpkin Muffins, with dark chocolate chips, tends to pale besides all those Christmas cookies and squares. So when these cute fruit creations passed through my news feed on Facebook, I thought that I’d found an answer, adorable fruit.

I can do this!

What do you bring to holiday parties?






From Stylish Eve on Facebook.

Vegan for Weight Loss? Not Necessarily but Don’t Let That Discourage You!

Everyday Pad Thai. Photo credit: Vanessa Reese.  http://www.theppk.com/2013/09/everyday-pad-thai/

Everyday Pad Thai. Photo credit: Vanessa Reese. http://www.theppk.com/2013/09/everyday-pad-thai/

It’s making the rounds again–the idea that a vegan or at least vegetarian diet is the best way to lose weight.  According to this article:

Overweight and obese adults who wanted to lose weight were randomly assigned to one of five low-fat and low-glycemic index diets: vegan (no animal products), vegetarian (dairy products included), pesco-vegetarian (dairy products and seafood included), semi-vegetarian (all food included, but red meat no more than once a week and poultry no more than five times a week), or omnivorous (no restrictions on food type and frequency).

Participants were told they could eat small amounts of nuts and nut butters, avocados, seeds, and olives in their diets but were encouraged to focus on lower-fat food options. The dieters were not given goals for limiting the number of calories they ate. As the researchers put it, “participants were free to eat until they were satisfied.”

After six months, those in the vegan group had lost the most weight, an average of 7.5 pounds. The vegetarian group was not far behind, with an average loss of 6.3 pounds. Those in the other groups lost only half as much weight (an average of 3.2 pounds for the pesco-vegetarian and semi-vegetarian groups and 3.1 pounds for the omnivores). There was no significant difference in reported activity level among the five groups.

I’ve blogged before about why this kind of thing bugs me.  First of all, any diet that restricts whole food groups for the purposes of losing weight is really just a fad diet that’s not likely to stick.

Not only that, and probably related, dieting to lose weight is for the vast majority of those who do it, doomed from the outset. It’s really hard to keep off all the lost weight.  We’ve had lots to say about that on this blog and are basically anti-diet in our approach.  See here and here and here and here for example.

Don’t get me wrong. There are all sorts of good reasons to be vegan or follow a plant-based diet.  Lots of athletes do well on a diet that’s free of animal products.  Like Rich Roll, an ultra-triathlete, and Scott Jurek, an ultra-runner.

I’m vegan, but I can’t say it helped me lose weight or perform better athletically. I continue with my vegan lifestyle (which goes beyond the diet) anyway because my motivation is ethical not based on health or weight loss or performance.

I don’t mind if people are convinced by articles like the one I quoted above to try this approach to eating. But I hate to make its virtues dependent on losing weight or improving athletic performance.

Not everyone is going to respond the same way to every approach to eating. For some people, there may be dramatic weight loss on this kind of diet. But for others, there may be none, or even weight gain.  Especially after they learn how to cook and realize that for every amazing non-vegan food out there that tempts us, there is an equally delicious vegan alternative!

So yes, try eating a plant-based diet.  It’s a perfectly legitimate and morally worthwhile way to satisfy your nutritional needs and keep your palate happy at the same time.  But it’s not a miracle diet.

Here’s a link to a recipe for “Everyday Pad Thai” from one of my favourite vegan blogs, Post Punk Kitchen by Isa Chandra Moskowitz.

Greetings from the happiness trough!

If you imagine lifetime happiness to have the shape of a letter U, Tracy and I are blogging to you from the bottom. According to recent research, young people are happy, old people are happy, but those in the middle are in a valley of despair.

Hello up there!

Luckily for us, according to recent research, after 50, things start to look up.

See Happiness Begins at Fifty:

In recent years, happiness researchers have confirmed the existence of the midlife crisis beyond popular myth, and they have developed theories for why our contentment with life follows a “U-curve”, bottoming out in our 40s and picking up again in our 50s. This dip in happiness, the so-called midlife crisis, often has to do with our immersion in professional life and a preoccupation with material wealth.

A flagship study, completed in 2011 by Stanford University psychologist Laura Carstensen, explains what changes as we age:

“‘As people age and time horizons grow shorter, people invest in what is most important, typically meaningful relationships, and derive increasingly greater satisfaction from these investments.’ Midlife is, for many people, a time of recalibration, when they begin to evaluate their lives less in terms of social competition and more in terms of social connectedness.”

There’s a good piece in the Economist which examines the causes of this phenomena. See Age and Happiness: The U Bend of Life.

What’s it like here in the happiness trough? Well, for me, I’m just less cheerful than usual. I’ve been attributing it to a bad year in terms of death–I lost my mother-in-law, my father-in-law, my dog and my mother’s dog–and the stresses and strains that come with parenting teenage humans.  But maybe there’s more to it than that. Certainly, it’s a time of thinking “what next?” What will this second half of my career look like? What will it be like once all the teens have left the nest? Mostly, I’m enthusiastic about what’s ahead but there are days when it all seems a bit much. (And then cycling/Aikido/CrossFit/running all help!)

I was fascinated to read that humans aren’t the only primates to have the U: The Real Roots of Midlife Crisis

A lot of eyebrows went up when Oswald and four other scholars, including two primatologists, found a U-shaped curve in chimpanzees’ and orangutans’ state of mind over time. Zookeepers, researchers, and other animal caretakers filled out a questionnaire rating the well-being of their primate charges (more than 500 captive chimps and orangutans in Australia, Canada, Japan, Singapore, and the United States). The apes’ well-being bottomed out at ages comparable, in people, to between 45 and 50. “Our results,” the authors concluded in a 2012 paper, “imply that human wellbeing’s curved shape is not uniquely human and that, although it may be partly explained by aspects of human life and society, its origins may lie partly in the biology we share with closely related great apes.”

Photos from http://www.conservationfinder.com/portfolio/orangutan-outreach/.





Green belt!


I did it! I tested yesterday for the rank of 4th kyu in Aikido. Usually you have to wait a week to hear if you passed but Sensei Sheppard broke the rules for me and immediately pulled the white stripes off my belt once the test was over.

Thanks Nat, Michel, David, and Jeff for coming to watch. Loved having friends in the room.

Thanks to the senior belts in our club who’ve all been helping me get ready for the test.

It was a very lovely day. First, the test. Next up, celebratory lunch with friends. Then, listening to three family members perform, as part of the Karen Schussler Singers, John Rutter’s Magnificat. And the evening ended with dancing at a friend’s anniversary party, twenty years of non-wedded bliss! I missed another friend’s 40th birthday in Toronto but you can’t do everything.

I train at the Aiki Budo Centre in London, Ontario. You can read about our dojo here. And you can read past posts about Aikido here.


Fit is a Feminist Issue, Link Round Up #10

This is where we share stuff we can’t share on Facebook page for fear of being kicked out! Read why here. Usually the posts are about body image. Why? Because those are the posts that usually have bare body bits in the image attached to them. This first one is a perfect example.

New York Women Draw Their Own Boobs

Nora Ephron didn’t just feel bad about her neck. She called breasts, or her lack of them, “the hang-up of my life.” In a 1972 Esquire essay, she wrote, “If I had had them, I would have been a completely different person. I honestly believe that.”

To find out how women see their own breasts, the Cut polled 57 New York women, ages 17 to 72 (plus one 4-year-old who grabbed the marker from her mom) and asked them to draw their boobs and write one sentence explaining how they feel about them. In cafés and bars, on playground benches and on the way to work, women laughed when they heard the question, disparaged their drawing abilities, and gave it a shot.

Toplessness, the Victorian taboo that won’t go away

French perception of what was acceptable for women was always different from British. In this our near neighbour provides a useful contrasting view and always has done. While Oliver Cromwell buttoned up every aspect of British society from the celebration of Christmas to the celebration of female flesh, there was a sigh of relief in England when Charles II returned to the throne in 1661 and brought with him a liberal attitude to female behaviour from the French court.Necklines across the country quickly plummeted so far that lady’s dressing table sets of the day might include pots of carnelian nipple make-up. Nell Gwyn, the king’s mistress, was painted nude and even Frances Teresa Stuart (the court’s It Girl) was painted with a top so low that her nipples are clearly visible. This fashion trickled down to common women (also portrayed in portraits of the day – often in landscapes) though the royal court with its taste for high fashion was the most extreme version of it. It’s interesting to note that in contrast to today, the sight of an ankle was considered vastly more shocking than the sight of a female breast.
So when did our culture change – when did the Puritan breast-haters have their way? Like many 20th and 21st Century taboos, we need to look to the Victorian era when the Queen’s innate prudishness tightened restrictions on women as surely as bone corsets stopped them taking in a deep breath.

Shimmy your way to body love

Belly dancers are more satisfied with their bodies and have better body image than young women who don’t belly dance, new Flinders University research shows.
In a survey of more than 200 Adelaide women, the belly dancers scored higher marks for positive body image and lower on measures of body dissatisfaction and self-objectification than a group of university students who had never belly danced.

Move over, Barbie. Realistic doll Lammily is on her way ..

And you can see the differences when you watch Lammily get morphed into a typical fashion doll. http://lammily.com

Also, Guess What? Kids Really Like Lammily, the Realistically Proportioned Doll