Day 1 – still alive and didn’t quit

This post originally appeared on my AikiWeb blog…

The first day of the kenshusei course is over. I’m alive, and I didn’t quit. However, I did put in a shameful performance.

Last April, of 2012, was the last time I did any exercise. At the time, I had a mixed routine incorporating spinning, CrossFit circuit training, and traditional weightlifting. I wasn’t Captain America, but I could make it through an hour-long workout just fine. When I was in Mongolia, I went horseback riding, and I was the only one in group without saddle sores, because I had enough leg strength to ride properly for a long time.

But since spending a year in Asia eating noodles and rice and drinking too much whiskey and… beer (yes, I had stopped drinking beer altogether, but for some reason it tasted soooo good in Laos and Burma), my fitness level is way down. Plus, too much time sitting on western style chairs in buses, saloons…

When I came to Japan, I was told the best way to get in shape for aikido was to do aikido, so that’s what I did, eschewing running, biking, and the gym. Let me tell you, if you ever want to try this course, CrossFit would be a pretty good prep.

Keiko session 1 consisted of command-following exercises and a circuit training routine. Command-following means sprinting from one place in the dojo to another and getting down into and up from seiza quickly, over and over. And bellowing “osu!” in response to each command. Done properly from the abdomen, this is almost like exercise itself. Class ended with “modified burpees.”

A burpee is when you quickly drop from standing into a push up position, do a push-up, then pull your knees into your chest and jump into the air. A modified burpee is when you start with backward ukemi and go into the push-up position as soon as you regain your footing. The first two or three are sort of fun, then all of a sudden you desperately want to stop… but you can’t.

Keiko session 2 consisted of more command-following, plus practice bowing from seiza. Then we spent quite a long time with a partner simply getting into and out of seiza, over and over. The purpose was to get your timing in sync with your partner.

Keiko session 3 was work on shakko-ho (moving). But this wasn’t just up and down the dojo, it was up and down the dojo with people pushing your hips lower and lower each step. Also, moving against resistance, holding a half-into-seiza position with the knee just off the floor, and other exhausting variations on holding yourself up with just the front leg.

Session 3 ended with 5 minutes of continuous forward ukemi. Breakfall on right side, turn, breakfall on left side, turn, breakfall on right side… this is hard, but it’s the dizziness that’s a real killer. You get up and stumble around and try to do another ukemi without breaking your neck.

Although the day was difficult physically, it was the psychological aspect that was most difficult.

First, there is the fact that you never know how many of something you are going to do. In CrossFit, you design a workout or get one from the trainer, so you know you have to do, say, 20 burpees. In kenshusei, maybe you have to do burpees for the rest of the class (everyone knows about 1000-sit-up day for example). You never know. That is a huge stress on you the whole time.

Second, you are asked to breath through your nose. For me, this is extremely difficult. I simply cannot get enough air through my nasal cavity, which is I believe is on the small side of normal. When I was a competitive swimmer, I never breathed through my nose. We used to do something called “under-waters,” which was training to accommodate your body to anaerobic conditions. Basically, you get in and swim as far as you can underwater. I think my best was about 70 yards (in a 50 yard pool), and I have swum until I could see the blackness closing in on the sides. That is a sign you are about to black out, when the field of vision starts to contract. I never went past that, but by that time, you have already had to fight with the urge to breath. Yet, breathing through my nose after doing circuit training is pure torture. It is just moving snot around inside your nostrils, but not actually getting to fill your lungs. Arrrgh.

After returning to Villa Bianca, I felt pretty good. Not so bad, I thought. But then all of a sudden the afternoon was gone. I lay down at one point and woke up over an hour later shaking with chills. Then I made dinner and tomorrow’s lunch and sat down at the laptop.

Hopefully, I can move in the morning.

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