Books

I have three published books so far, listed here in reverse chronological order. I include here their covers and an excerpt from each. All are available either on big bad Amazon, or through me:

Aikido Points the Way: One woman’s journey using Aikido principles to stay sane in body, mind, and spirit

Coyote Points the Way: Borderland Stories and Plays

Seeing Into Stone: A Sculptor’s Journey

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Aikido Off the Mat was published in 2018 by North Atlantic Books in partnership with Penguin/Random House. It chronicles my 40 plus year adventure with Aikido and how to use it in your life. Here’s the introduction:

When Aikido came into my life in 1977, I was a gung-ho beginner with buffed out muscles and a resilient body. I was not only capable of denying the bruises, tweaks, and injuries that hard practice on the mat inevitably wrought, I thoroughly believed in the warrior credo of “no pain, no gain.” Even though strenuous martial art practice was often grueling—a hard and unforgiving lover—at least I knew what to do with my otherwise restless, lonely evenings. Being effortlessly thrown down on the mat by large men and Amazon women seemed a small price to pay in order to be touched and held, even if it was a choke hold. At last I had found a community in which I felt I belonged. Given Aikido’s potential to cure the insanity of the world through its philosophy of peaceful reconciliation, and my propensity to cast myself in the role of savior, I was insufferably enthusiastic, a fanatic.

To anyone who would listen, I would explain the meaning of Aikido.  Ai means harmony. Ki means universal life force, like the chi in Tai Chi. Do means the way or the path, like the Tao. I enjoyed constructing sentences and phrases that tied all those ideas together. Harmonizing the energy of the world. The way of life through blending with the universal life force. The path of universal harmony. It all sounded good to me. Except that even the best philosophy in the world makes you choke if it’s shoved down your throat, a lesson true believers find hard to grasp.

Since those early days, I’ve practiced in many dojos and studied with many teachers, some for long stretches and some only for a brief time. I’ve practiced in renovated barns in the Oregon backwoods while the sensei’s baby cooed in a basket in the corner, and I’ve practiced in downtown San Francisco on crowded mats where three quarters of the students were themselves black belts, black hakamas swirling and hard falls sending tremors through the building. I’ve studied with a few teachers fortunate enough to have first-hand knowledge of O’Sensei, the founder of Aikido, and I’ve studied with scruffily-dressed renegades, ronins loyal to no particular school or style. I’ve even briefly studied Aikido in the former Soviet Union where our common language, limited as it was to Aikido terminology, was Japanese.

I’ve also worked with many kinds of students. I’ve taught Aikido in formal dojo settings, bowing in perfectly aligned rows to the shomen at the head of the class, and I’ve taught “backyard” Aikido to non-athletic women dressed in sweats hoping to cultivate more personal power in their lives. I’ve taught Aikido principles to squirmy and undisciplined kids whose parents would marvel when I would clap my hands and the entire class would sit in seiza in silent meditation, as well as to embittered women incarcerated in a federal prison who told me that learning how to center themselves helped them avoid the kind of altercations that previously ensnared them. Back in the day when PE was required to graduate from college, I taught Aikido to upwards of fifty students on toe-grabbing wrestling mats taped together in the mezzanine of the gym, and I’ve taught singer-songwriters, community activists, computer geeks, home-schooling mothers, and dishwashers in the local recreation center on slap dash gymnastic mats.  Each student has taught me, shaped, me, and given me a great gift. Some of my students begin Aikido because they’ve always wanted to learn a martial art either for self-defense or personal fulfillment; some are bloated with Hollywood-inspired fantasies of some mysterious and stoic Oriental invulnerability; and some want to flash and dazzle with a libido-laden, violent grace. Most seek mastery in ten easy lessons, having no understanding of what they’re really getting into. Only a few really get it: Aikido is not about a fast road leading to another trophy or badge or belt, but rather a deeply humbling, difficult, and profoundly useful lifelong practice, the kind that seems to generate more satisfying questions than it does easy answers.

Several times I have taken long breaks from Aikido practice, both as a student and as a teacher. While I fretted that stopping Aikido practice would somehow invalidate everything I’d learned, I have been astonished to realize that these hiatuses off the mat have been as important to my understanding of Aikido as my time on the mat. Actually, I strongly recommend it. While the difference between on the mat and off the mat has become less distinct, the connection has become more vital. We bring what we learn on the mat into our lives, and we bring what we learn in our lives onto the mat. It’s a two-way gift. It’s what evolves Aikido, molds it to our time and unique predicaments. I’m convinced now that the entire point of practicing Aikido on the mat is to take it off the mat and into the world.

From 1999 to 2017, I taught Aikido off and on in a small, agricultural/college town in Colorado’s vast San Luis Valley, a valley large enough to encompass the whole of Connecticut. Although my classes have usually been small, the students who have stuck with the practice demonstrate the kind of devotion any big-time, city-based Aikido sensei might envy. My husband, after years of watching Aikido from the sidelines, changed his mind one spring about twelve years ago and stepped onto the mat. He was a natural. In fact, he became my trusted assistant. Together with our students, we formed a small Aikido community. Together we help each other learn how to bring our Aikido training into our lives. We endeavor to sink our roots deep, and relax under pressure. We relish our animal physicality and natural power. We step forward into our fear, and let go of force and control. We know that falling is an essential part of the game. We roll with the punches and come up with a grin, ready for more. We love and respect the wisdom of our bodies. When we remember to trust the universe and whatever it brings, we are better able to heal ourselves, hold onto our sanity, and live peaceful lives.

At one point in our early 60s, Henry and I made the decision to stop teaching and practicing formal Aikido. Although we missed the joy of working in community in such a profound and honest way, we’d always agreed that when our bodies told us it was time to stop, we would listen. Immediately after stopping, our knees were grateful. We told ourselves to be content with Aikido as a central metaphor for our lives, and to work on living the principles every day, but off the mat.  But then in our later 60s, our bodies got cranky and we sought out students and practice on the mat again, although with a softer, gentler style. Geriatric Aikido, we joked. And so the on half of off and on continued to serve as the inspiration for writing this book.

 

This is decidedly not a book of impeccably elegant technique with blow by blow pictures; for that, you can find many fine books or You Tube videos by Aikido teachers far more proficient and higher ranked than I. But even that kind of teaching only goes so far. I’m old fashioned: the only reliable method of learning Aikido is to find an actual teacher, and step out on the mat with your own two feet. Or even with your backside, as was the case with one inspiring partner I was lucky enough to train with who parked his wheelchair, sat cross-legged on the mat, and from this stable stance had no trouble throwing me in any direction he wanted. Hard, too.

Instead, this book is a hybrid: part memoir about my lifelong journey with Aikido, and part analysis and exploration into how to use Aikido principles in your life to stay peaceful, sane, and grounded in an increasingly violent, crazy, and disembodied world. Through stories and musings, you too may become intrigued by the potent wisdom Aikido brings to an unsettled world. Perhaps one day you too will choose to step onto the mat and take up the profound practice of Aikido. If you do, then I hope you enrich your life by taking the principles off the mat as well.

[1] Eddie Aparrocho, Tom Crum, Terry Dobson, Frank Doran, Robert Frager, Alan Grow,

 

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Coyote Points the Way: Borderland Stories and Plays, published in 2015 by Mercury HeartLink, is a compilation of nonfiction, fiction and a few 10-minute plays. Here is a piece of short fiction from the collection.

Coyote Points the Way

She peeled off her dripping wet karate gi and slipped into some jeans to head up the wooded hill, figuring she’d take a big looping hike and circle back in time for supper. She needed to get away, clear her head. This whole karate thing was more her boyfriend’s idea than hers. She needed to breathe the clean air of the Oregon woods, get away from the exploded watermelons and the adrenalin-filled moment of facing her sensei with his bow fully drawn. Some karate camp. She wouldn’t have dared say it to his face, but she was convinced he was a maniac.

Magnum Mike. What a ridiculous nickname. And his ridiculous handle bar moustache. Waxed to a fine point, even. What a pit bull with his stocky, muscled body. Lethal and gorgeous at the same time. But still a maniac. She’d half believed him when he’d first told the class that he was ex Special Forces, now a cop who negotiated with hostage-takers and weirdoes holed up in the backwoods. He didn’t want to just teach the elegant katas of Shotokan karate; he wanted to show his students real cop stuff, stuff that would test their nerve and open their eyes to the big bad world. Stuff like shooting watermelons with his 357 Magnum loaded with hollow point bullets so they would understand exactly what would happen to the back of someone’s head. Stuff like catching arrows he shot at them from ten yards away. Stuff like pitting her against her boyfriend Daniel, his long legs snaking out to tag her with round house and spinning kicks before she could react or hit him back as she longed to do. But she believed her sensei now.

She wasn’t supposed to take the rest of the afternoon off; she was supposed to be working on her triple kicks. But hiking was so pleasant and cool in the shade of the trees leafing out amidst the conifers. She felt herself come into her own stride, her own pace, settling. What a relief to get away from other people and their expectations, the pressure to perform.

She kept looping to the left, not wanting to rush her return to camp, not trusting she’d be able to hold her balance once she was back with Magnum Mike and his entourage, especially when she’d see her boyfriend’s raised eyebrows. She climbed a small hill and sat for a while, savoring the amber light, allowing herself a small, rare moment.

Ah, time to get back. She headed in the direction of camp, still gently curving to the left so that the circle of her trail would eat its tail. She practiced a few kicks. She was sure camp was just over that rise. She opened her ears, imagined them swiveling to catch the sound, but no sound came.

            I should be there by now. She circled a little tighter, her breath catching in her chest, her hands running cold. She’d always been so proud of her sense of direction. Her father had made a point of teaching her the cardinal directions, how to set her internal compass. There, through that stand of trees. It should be there.

            But no. Doubt seeped in, freezing water in her veins. She spun around, looking hard into the trees. She shook her hands to shed the ice. She forced her breath into her belly. But her body seemed locked away in cold storage.

A surge of panic shot up like a jack in the box springing free. She tasted its raw acidity and swallowed it down as if slamming the lid. The afternoon shadows were lengthening and she had no idea which way to go. North was everywhere.

A deer appeared, followed by another, both headed in what she was sure was the wrong direction. They lifted their stick-thin legs high above the brush and set them down carefully, as if the brush were crisscrossed with trip wires. Frozen, she watched them go.

When they were gone, the panic surged up again, hot and acrid, and she began to yell. “DANIEL!”  “SENSEI!”  She listened to her rising panic as if from outside her body, detached and unemotional like a scientist watching from behind a one-way observation window. Hmmm, that’s interesting. Do you notice that increase in tremor? How long before you think she’ll break? Another thirty seconds? Let’s set the timer.

Her screeching—and the vacuum created by leaving her body—were so terrifying, she made herself stop. She made herself breathe in and out. Too fast. She made herself feel her feet. Cold and shaky. She stomped them on the darkening ground. How comical. The martial artist freaking out, about to jump out of her body like water off a hot griddle.

All of a sudden a golden-eyed coyote ambled by. It looked right at her as if to make sure she was paying attention. It deliberately walked in the same direction the two deer had gone. It even stopped and looked back at her to make sure she was watching.

She felt something shift inside like the grounding weight of a tectonic plate finding a resting place, and the next thing she knew she was following the coyote. It walked ahead of her, calmly, looking back over its tawny shoulder now and then. Part of her still floated above, watching with curiosity, but her body kept following the coyote until it topped a small hill, the twilight now full and deep. When she crested the hilltop, she looked for the coyote but it was gone. A dirt road snaked in the valley below and on it a logging truck groaned and rumbled. When it finally labored into view with its load of dismembered trees, she felt a warm current of relief and laughed out loud. Never before and never again would she be so glad to see a logging truck. Instantly, she knew where the karate camp was, and from what direction north beckoned.

 

Seeing-Into-Stone-(web-cover)

Seeing Into Stone: A Sculptor’s Journey, published by Mercury HeartLink in 2011, is a memoir about my 15-year apprenticeship with stone sculptor Gordon Newell, who was also my uncle-in-law.  Here’s the prologue:

Ever since my first day at the Sculpture Center, my sculpture mentor, Gordon Newell, ingrained in me the fundamental task of leveling. He’d set the long leveling tool on a worktable, turning it this way and that while peering through his scratched glasses at the bubble in the little tube to make sure it settled precisely between the hash marks. At the same time, he’d check the table for wobbling. Selecting just the right wooden shim from a Folger’s can he kept on hand, he’d tap it under the shortest table leg and then re-level the table if the shimming had displaced the bubble. “Why, ah, this way when you strike the chisel with your hammer, Kathy, the force won’t be dissipated,” he’d tell me in his slow stutter as he gave the table one last shake. “And your carving will stand upright to the ground.” I soon learned there were other reasons for leveling and taking out the wobble, ones that had more to do with securing the interior stability and balance of the sculptor. Gordon never spoke about this kind of leveling; he just did it.

When Gordon was in his stride, he carved with a particular rhythm. Not an even tapping; it was more syncopated than that. One or two strikes to fracture where the stone protruded in a knob followed by a sharp and decisive strike to knock the knob off as a shattered chip. Then a pause as he selected the next knob to take down. When he carved in that steady, off-beat rhythm, each shattered chip would set up his next point of attack. What a joy to watch the old man peel layers off stone.

But there were also days when Gordon wouldn’t pick up the hammer and chisel at all. Maybe he didn’t feel strong enough. Maybe there was some interior wobble, a question or distraction that threw him out of alignment. He might sit on an old dynamite case and squint at his sculpture, or walk around it, running his hands over its surface. Then he’d go on a hike into the desert to the top of Darwin Hill or up to Panamint Overlook, as if by changing levels he could rediscover his own.

 

Throughout my informal sculpture apprenticeship with Gordon, which began in 1971 when I joined his Sculpture Center and ended in 1986 when I left Darwin, the tiny ghost town near Death Valley where Gordon carved stone, I learned far more than leveling or taking out the wobble. I learned to keep my tools sharp and to go with the grain. I came to realize that sculptures are made with patience, chip by chip, and that there is solace in that patience. I learned to take refuge in sculpture as a metaphor for life.

Although my apprenticeship with Gordon spanned only fifteen years, our sculpture relationship lasted until his death in 1998. I owe much to Gordon. His life and spirit still guide me on my journey. I think of Gordon whenever I feel the heft of a well-balanced tool and dare to make that first cut into a block of marble. When I feel thwarted and confused by the inherent folly of that action, I listen for Gordon’s sage and poetic advice. When the desert light illuminates a sculpture’s form, I feel him gazing at it next to me.

Although many years have rolled by, hardly a day goes by without reference to Gordon and those brief, magical years of living in Darwin. Like Gordon, I too need a big clear sky, the desert’s golden light, and a vast horizon to shim and steady me, and to remind me of my proper proportions on this great journey. The essential rhythms – the sun daily yielding to the night, the brilliant constellations, the waxing and waning of the moon – help me maintain a sense of how things fit together and how I might fit with them. And I still level any table before I begin my work.