Last night in aikido we were playing a bit, looking for a sort of "core of balance" in our partner, a hard-to-describe thing that lets the advanced people knock you over so easily. With this exercise, a conceptual rather than a martial thing, the goal was for your uke to come at you and keep coming, while you try to find that core of balance where they fall over, without necessarily doing a specific technique, or if you do, sort of fudging the details. Somehow I ended up being uke for Kayla-sensei--for about five or ten minutes. Of course she would always get me down eventually. But since she wasn't using a full pinning technique, trying just to keep me down with ki and body mechanics, by breathing I could summon enough brute strength to get up again. Lather, rinse, repeat. It was a lot of fun, but I was working much harder than she was and I was pretty well heaving by the end of it.

Florian Tan, dojo-cho from Aikido of Fresno, was training with us too, and he's a really sweet guy and a talented teacher and martial artist. He has a very lightweight, almost floating way of moving. I only trained with him for a few minutes right at the end, but that time was conspicuously full.

Ann and I had coffee yesterday, and we were talking about how people advanced in their art, be it aikido or meditation or a craft of some sort, drag you up with them. For me, obviously it's most conspicuous in aikido, where I feel fortunate to be either uke or nage for any of the black belts. Because they receive or perform the technique with much greater skill than I do, they are like mirrors that let me see my own technique clearly. Zen Masters teach in a similar way: they have emptied themselves so that they reflect the universe, so when you meet with them, you see yourself. Ann suggested that the Bay Area in general is sort of an attractor for that kind of excellence and advancement in an endless array of domains, and we all come here to get dragged up by so many people at higher levels. I can easily imagine that working on a more macroscopic level too, the region as a kind of organism that binds together and enhances each of us, its component parts.

And it is definitely an attractor. At the dojo holiday party, a black belt who's been around here for a while pointed out that there are only maybe ten non-Japanese aikido teachers in the world with the title of "shihan" (which means something like "teacher of teachers", and is a pretty serious honorific). Three of them--Bob Nadeau, Frank Doran, and Bill Witt--live and teach here in the Bay Area. The guy was saying how just about anywhere else in the world, Kayla-sensei, a 5th dan (out of 8) and gifted teacher, would be the most conspicuous, highly-ranked, and talented teacher for a couple hundred miles around. Here, we're extremely spoiled, and she has a lot of company in the roster of gifted teachers. I suspect I'll notice the difference if I train at Valley Aikido while in Massachusetts--not a lower quality of teaching, by any means, but more of a sense of isolation. I'll find out soon enough.

I went to a cocktail party tonight. I really shouldn't have, but I was almost on the bridge by the time I realized I definitely didn't want to go. It was only in the Sunset, but it took me 75 minutes to get there (maybe 15 miles? 20 at the outside). Then I didn't really know anyone there, and Mona showed up and I was already tired and really couldn't deal. I had already been planning to leave, so I did.

I cooked my first piece of beef tonight. I've grilled the occasional hamburger, but this was an actual steak, inspired by the Good Eats episode. So I followed the instructions, kosher salt, pepper, oil, searing in a superhot pan, finishing in the oven...and it was terrific. It was a bit more than medium-rare, but it was tender and juicy and delicious. It also probably fulfilled my protein needs for the next day or so.

And I went swimming today! The Temescal Pool is fairly near my house, and it's $2.50 a visit. I'd forgotten what insanely hard exercise swimming is, and I only made it about 8-12 laps overall with lots of resting, but still, it's good to stress the muscles a bit differently, especially since I skipped aikido (I trained three days in a row and I decided to sleep and rest my knees today). The pool is open-air, which means you swim past a fair number of leaves, and on days like today, with 20mph winds and rain, getting in and out isn't so much fun, although the water is far and away warmer than the air.

Last night I stopped at Burger King on the way home from class--healthier/tastier alternatives were unavailable, and besides I have a weak spot for occasional crappy food--and there was a woman ahead of me who was almost furious because she had ordered some sandwich for her daughter in the drive-through, and it came with cheese on it and the description doesn't mention cheese. And apparently it doesn't normally come with cheese, and it was a bit of a mystery how it got cheese on it. The woman was really, really hostile and angry with these poor Burger King people, saying she shouldn't have to pay for two sandwiches and why the hell did hers have cheese on it and her daughter can't eat cheese. Who knows, maybe her daughter has a potentially fatal allergy to cheese, and the mother was just really shaken up? But she was so focused on getting her money back...this woman who I can almost guarantee you drives a $30,000 SUV, furious at Burger King workers who would probably be even happier to refund her $3 if she were a bit more polite.

I wonder what she's really angry at.

However many problems I have, of whatever magnitude; however many people I have hurt by being careless with their feelings, however much I feel my own heartache; as tired of living as I sometimes am; I can, if need be, boost my ego with the knowledge that I have absolutely zero emotional investment in fast food.

I think I'll start packing tomorrow. Thinking about traveling will save me from thinking about anything else.