083. Cara-Michele Nether: Aikido, wellness, and honesty

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Cara-Michele: I think that it’s just so helpful for people to understand that they matter to other folks, and not just on a surface level. There’s a bigger picture here in taking care of myself so that I can be present for the situation that’s going to happen 10 years from now like, “Oh, yeah.”

Craig: Hello. I’m Craig Constantine. Welcome to the Movers Mindset Podcast where I talk with movement enthusiasts to learn who they are, what they do, and why they do it. This is episode number 83. Cara-Michele Nether, Aikido, wellness and honesty. Unexpectedly inheriting an Aikido school may sound overwhelming, but Cara-Michele Nether took it in stride. She sits down to share her journey in Aikido and acupuncture and what she’s learned from both. Cara-Michele unpacks her views on overall health and how she helps people improve their lives by focusing on their why.

Craig: She discusses her grandmother, the importance of self-awareness and her thoughts on Aikido’s usefulness Cara-Michele is the owner of Strength and Vitality Wellness Center where her mission is to help people feel their best. She uses a comprehensive approach treating her clients with acupuncture, nutrition and movement. In addition to her work at Strength and Vitality Wellness Center, Cara-Michele is also the founder and lead instructor at Falls Road Aikido. Cara, which do you prefer? Because I’ve always called you Cara-Michele and I think that’s what you prefer.

Cara-Michele: I do.

Craig: Right? Don’t drop the Michele. So Cara-Michele, you and I know each other… I actually don’t know how many years it’s been. It’s got to be since 2005?

Cara-Michele: 2004.

Craig: 2004.

Cara-Michele: I started Aikido in 2004, October.

Craig: 2004. So we have, I’m going to say a relatively extensive Aikido experience, but we’ve not really spent a lot of time hanging out. And I was racking my brain for people who I know like who do I know that does a lot with movement that I haven’t really had a fun conversation with? And you sprung to mind because we’ve spent hours and hours, and hours, and hours together hitting each other, sweating, being thrown, all these things but we haven’t really like “Let’s hang out.” There was one time when I came down to visit one of your schools for a seminar that you were having and I spent the night and we had one meal and a cup of tea. But we never really had a chance to sit down and chat.

Craig: So I was thinking I should run down to Maryland. It’s not that far and talk to Cara-Michele. So that’s what brings me to you today. So first of all, thank you for taking the time for sitting down and I’m wondering one of the places that I thought I’ve always wondered is I’m assuming that you started your studies in manual therapy and acupuncture before you had any bug in your mind about taking up Aikido and I’m wondering if you can tell me what was it like when you first discovered Aikido, what was it that you maybe, I’m guessing, saw in that movement practice that made you think I want to add that to who I am?

Cara-Michele: Yeah. I learned about Aikido probably six or seven years before I started. This is when I was actually living in Delaware. It was a fair and I went with a couple of friends and I saw an Aikido demonstration. And in that moment I knew this was really what I needed to do for myself. I would say I had a tough time sorting through myself when I was younger trying to figure out what do I believe about me? What is okay about me? My parents had a difficult time with my sexuality. And being a lesbian 20 years ago was not as easy as it is today.

Cara-Michele: When I saw Aikido, it’s just like, “Wow, we can just move together like that and be easy in that way.” Even though you need an attacker, you need a new key it’s, like we’re trying to figure this thing out together like just watching that demonstration I saw that. But at the time, I was thinking about moving and doing a bunch of other things so I didn’t take an opportunity to jump into it. And so when I had an opportunity years later, I thought I was in graduate school for acupuncture and when you finish all of your class work, you have your clinical time.

Cara-Michele: So you end up with a little extra time in your day and I thought this is a good time for me to start thinking about this. For some reason, martial arts was just always the right thing for me even though I didn’t practice when I was young at all. And so I started searching for schools. There’s a lot of bravado that can show up in martial arts dojos. I knew instinctually that that’s not what I needed. So I looked at this school, I looked at that school. I probably interviewed. I call it interview.

Craig: Right, absolutely.

Cara-Michele: Probably about five or six schools. And then I was looking and I found this last one, all the way out in Mount Airy.

Craig: Mount Airy, Maryland.

Cara-Michele: I was like, “Wow.” I saw it before but it was like too far to go. And good 45-minute drive. But when I went, I said, “Let me just check out this last one.” So I went for a class and man, it was the one of the greatest things I’d ever seen. I have to say that is one of the greatest experiences of Aikido that I’ve had is just that initial class. It’s a little small… You remember that dojo? It’s a small, little-

Craig: I’m not laughing at you, I’m laughing with you because I know exactly whose dojo that was and we used to call it the angry shoe box. It was the size of a shoebox, the ceiling was low. There was no off the mat.

Cara-Michele: Panel walls there.

Craig: Panel walls.

Cara-Michele: But I walked in, people were nice. They’re trying to figure me out, I’m trying to figure them out. But we just practiced. And it was honest practice. I looked up and there was water, sweat coming down on the side of the walls and at the end, we huddled up together and talked about how this is going to make us be a better person.

Craig: Yeah.

Cara-Michele: And I was like I’m in. I’m like, “I don’t know. I’m going to add on another 45 minutes.” I’m trying to do my clinicals and all of that, but it’s like there was nothing else to do.

Craig: Yeah.

Cara-Michele: Yeah. It’s just been really fantastic journey and unfortunately Sensei’s not around anymore. But it just kind of worked out easy for me because the fact that he moved out to Arizona.

Craig: Arizona, right.

Cara-Michele: And I didn’t see him physically very much at all. I went to visit him a couple times, but it’s easy for me to not to accept the fact that he’s gone because I really didn’t see him much anyway.

Craig: So that was your first exposure to Aikido. How did that affect your personal relationships or your relationship with your co-workers, your co-graduate students?

Cara-Michele: As I said before, I feel like I was really struggling a lot when I was younger and when I started this acupuncture program, this master’s degree program, I went there because I needed support. I needed to figure out who I was. That’s why I went. I was in a lot of relationships and in and out and really feeling like I don’t want my life to be this kind of revolving door. I want it to feel more smooth and easy.

Cara-Michele: A friend of mine had gone to the acupuncture program and I got a chance to go to some of the classes with her when she was kind of interviewing the school. The Daoist and Confucianist philosophy that they were talking about there, again, it was like I have to do this. Those two going to the master’s degree program and acupuncture at this particular school, and also Aikido, I think makes me the person that I am now. Without those two, I just really feel like I’d still be struggling, trying to find… It’s just hard. It’s hard sometimes when everyone and everything is telling you that you’re not okay.

Cara-Michele: It’s hard to find that place of being okay and the school just helped me understand more about the fact that it’s okay for other people to disagree that we don’t need everyone to be on our same page. What we need is to be respectful of one another and work together. We don’t have to see things eye to eye and that’s okay. I’ve never been taught that before. And Aikido, of course is that. That is all that it is. It’s so funny.

Cara-Michele: I haven’t practiced too many other martial arts so I can’t speak for all martial artists, but I think that all the different students that I’ve seen over the years, I think I’m on 17 years of this, Aikido, I think that people come in having this understanding, this idea of what they’re getting themselves into.

Craig: I would agree very much, yes.

Cara-Michele: I’ll just speak for Kinokawa. It’s only the people who are willing to let that go and receive the information that we’re trying to share with them now. Those are the people who last and that really find some benefit from it. Because it’s not about fighting. And when you see martial arts, that’s all we think. You see those kung fu shows when we were kids and you just think that, “Okay. I’m just going to get in there. We’re going to throw each other around.”

Craig: And tussle, right.

Cara-Michele: Yeah, exactly. So those two programs just really… I don’t know. It just changed my life completely, completely. I’m easier now to let things go. It’s okay if it’s not exactly how I thought it was supposed to be or the way somebody else thought it was supposed to be. It’s okay. And I got that from Randori. They’re all going to come with their own story.

Craig: That’s an excellent point. So a little bit of Aikido unpacking, if you don’t know what we’re talking about. Randori is a Japanese word which basically means chaos taking or chaos practice. If you’ve seen it on YouTube, it’s a bunch of people attacking one guy in the middle. There’s different ways to do it with different weapons, different grabs. But the idea that what you said of each of us comes with our own story clicks exactly with what I think when doing Randori, when being the person in the center who’s doing the activity is that each of those that are called Uke, the attackers, each of those people bringing something to you, they literally show up with their own story every second as they get up off the mat. They come back for the next and the next and the next. I don’t think I’ve ever actually made that bridge of how everybody brings their own story to like, “Well, that actually happens in Randori literally.”

Cara-Michele: Yeah. Well, I think I see it that way because that’s what I needed. I needed to understand how to figure out how to be with everybody else’s story. And it’s just amazing, it’s amazing. You have these opportunities to try different things and you always have a thousand opportunity to try different things. At some point something clicks hopefully. We would all find something that really helps push us in the direction that we want our lives to be and I’m just forever grateful, forever grateful.

Craig: It is quite the serendipitous connection of things to come together for that to happen to you, but I’m glad that it did. I think you’re one of… I mean, there are many, many people that I’ve trained with that are fun, but you’re one of the people that I’ve always found was fun and challenging in a good way because we’re different sizes. Our body types are vastly different. My wrists are like the size of your thighs. It’s a whole different animal.

Craig: Anytime that you’re interacting with someone… And now I’m talking specifically in Aikido but also generally in life, if you’re interacting with someone who is very similar to you then I think it’s easier, it’s very easy to just be like, well, the me that I am is very much like you so there we go. But when you have the opportunity, when you’re challenged by somebody whose story is different or his experience is different, his physical body is different then that I think is a rare chance for you to rise and grow. I’m wondering, I do that a lot, did you find… So I mean it seems clear how this like feeds circularly into your upward spiral of self-improvement and I’m wondering if you’ve gleaned anything from… I’m going to say… I know you’ve been teaching for 17 years, but from 17 years of showing up at dojos and training, if there’s any common thread you see about how people who come in make a mistake.

Craig: So they come in and you’re like, “That’s not going to work and that one is going to work”. Because I think most people don’t do martial arts. But I think there’s a full lesson there and I’m wondering if you’ve ever managed to distill out a suggestion or a thing that because I always think of the emptier cup sort of metaphor, but I’m wondering if there’s anything that you can point to that you can say, “Well, here’s something in particular that I see that students do that causes them to be successful in their self-improvement journey.” Not so much in their leveling up in the ranks kind of journey.

Cara-Michele: Yeah. I’d like to talk about that from both sides things that people do that make them successful and things that people do that make them not so successful.

Craig: Excellent point.

Cara-Michele: It’s so nice actually to have you here.

Craig: Well, thank you.

Cara-Michele: I want to say that out loud. You’ve been a very important partner in my journey in Aikido and I just really, really, really appreciate seeing your face today.

Craig: It’s a pleasure to be here. I don’t normally talk about topical news stuff, but COVID- is just you can’t avoid it and we were like, “We’re just going to come down visit you. We’re not going to stay.” I’ve been actually quarantined not because I have COVID but for other medical reasons. So it’s like, “All right. This is kind of a balanced risk that we’re going to take today.” And we’re sitting further apart which kind of bums me out. Normally, we’d be like half the distance. We’re like, “Well, let’s sit further apart.” Anyway, I’m off on a Craig tangent. But thank you for saying that. I appreciate it. I do think that I never really thought of myself as having students, but you were always one of the most fun people for me to get. I’m like, “Oh, Cara-Michele’s coming up for seminar. Yes, we can go play.” So yeah, I agree with you and thank you.

Cara-Michele: That was always the benefit of coming up there is I knew you were going to grab me and practice with me all the time. And it was also the curse.

Craig: I’m sorry.

Cara-Michele: When you are trying to sort something out, it’s just difficult sometimes. We can make it harder for ourselves too. I want to practice with him, but man, he’s just going to run me in the ground.

Craig: Did you ever meet Mike [Giamani 00:14:54]? I don’t know if you remember, Mike Giamani was one of Sensei Wirth’s who is like your teacher’s teacher and my teacher. So Sensei Wirth who we’ve both trained with a ton. Sensei Wirth had a really like a high-ranking brown belt that was like the Uke of the day.

Cara-Michele: Okay.

Craig: His name was Mike Giamani when I started. So when I showed up, Mike was like the guy that Sensei was throwing.

Cara-Michele: I see.

Craig: Mike Mike Giamani threw me on the floor once on the first day that I ever came in the dojo to train, one throw. Before I got up, he went, “Stick around. Sensei’s going to like you.”

Cara-Michele: Oh, how about that?

Craig: That was Mike Giamani, completely pre-action. So when you say like what you’re describing, I was like, “I get you. I feel you.” That was what Sensei Wirth did, that’s what Sensei Kyle did to me and that’s what those guys did.

Cara-Michele: Sure. But you have to have it. That’s what I mean when I say that I really appreciate all that how you have influenced my training. That’s what I mean. It’s kind of this weird thing in martial arts that the person who is hardest on you, the person who’s throwing you around, the person who’s like from the outsider’s perspective is really like, “What’s going on here?”

Craig: 911, right?

Cara-Michele: Yeah. That’s the person that you know that they’re doing that because they care and they really want you to get better. When Sensei got really sick and I took over the dojo, like all of a sudden that’s gone. I’m by myself starting with new students trying to figure out, number one, how do I push myself further, but then how do I help these people who really don’t know anything. I had an opportunity to kind of play with some new people when we’re in the Mount Airy Dojo.

Cara-Michele: All of a sudden, I’m just like, “Wow, I’m on my own.” And I missed that so much, I missed it so much having somebody else around who was better than me, who could really like make me keep looking at myself when you’re teaching because…

Craig: It’s hard to hold up the mirror, right?

Cara-Michele: Yeah. It really is, yeah. But anyway the students that I think, I’m going to say, that receive what I think is important to them, that’s going to be important to them if they want to stick around in this or that’s really going to help them in their everyday journey, because we’re all… That’s the other piece that’s kind of amazing sometimes is that everyone tries to show up like they got it all together, the first couple of classes, right?

Cara-Michele: Guilty as charged.

Craig: And then you get going and all their stuff starts to show. But the folks that I think kind of get beyond these first couple of belts and kind of stick around to like red, brown, and black, I think they really start to understand what it means to have that empty cup we were talking about. It’s so hard to share this information with folks that are constantly thinking that they’ve got it, that they understand.

Craig: Right.

Cara-Michele: But we all do that. It’s how do you move through the day understanding that you don’t understand? That’s a practice that we don’t have very much. But that’s what’s necessary. I mean how do you show folks how to you know extend on bendable arm and how to be solid when you’re key testing and things like that if you they won’t let your information in. There’s a humility.

Craig: Humility.

Cara-Michele: Humility that needs to be accessed I think for folks. I think, I’ll flip it over. That’s the thing that I think gets in a lot of people’s way. If you’re going to go to do something that’s brand new that you’ve never done before, how does it help you to keep interacting as if you do understand and you do have it?

Craig: Right. Where is the learning going to happen?

Cara-Michele: Yeah. How can I share with you anything that’s happening if you’re already in your mind that I’ve got it straight? As you know, it’s a totally different way of thinking about yourself and other people. And a totally different way of accessing your strengths and evolving around your weaknesses. Then you wouldn’t learn this stuff any other place. I don’t know. Maybe you can tell me. I feel like I struggled a lot with this, but I wanted it. I wanted it. And so I think in my opinion I erred more on the other side of not just accepting that I do know a lot.

Craig: I agree with your assessment, but I understand what you’re asking. I don’t know if I have the answer for you. That’s a really good point about if one is able to do the empty cup thing to show up with humility and to be open to the training. I don’t know if it was Sensei Wirth or it was Mike Giamani. Somebody used to say to me all the time, “Just get off the sofa and come to class. We’ll do the rest. Just get here with an empty cup. Don’t go home and practice. Just show up.” So that if once one gets that part, it is tough if you really learn that lesson. It’s tough to then make that transition.

Craig: I was going to say I never had to do this. I don’t mean it like a burden, but I never had to like be directly responsible for an entire martial arts school, the way that you did, but I did wind up with teaching responsibilities and making decisions and making important decisions that affected the students. And it’s tough if you’ve gotten the humility thing under, “I’ve got this part.” Then you’re like, “Well, but now somebody has to be at the front of the phalanx here.” Somebody has to be like, “All right. We’re going to go this way and we’re going to do this.”

Craig: And I think the key to that is that if you are overly accepting, you immediately realize that you are not being the outgoing overt pointy person, and I think it’s way easier to develop that pointy thing than it is. I don’t know if that’s a Western/American culture thing but that’s harder to develop. I mean it’s easier to develop the pointy part than it is the thing. If culture did that to us or if that’s a human nature thing.

Cara-Michele: I don’t know.

Craig: I definitely agree with you. I mean, my personal journey and my personality I’ve always been the outgoing class clown belief like physicality type of person. So for me, it was way, way more work and good work, keep doing it. It’s way more work to do the empty cup humility thing. When I showed up, 1998 at Sensei Wirth’s dojo in Allentown on the east side, I thought I knew everything. I was like, “I got this. This is cool.” And that was like post college. So yeah, look out. So it took years, and years, and years to beat that out of me.

Craig: So then when I needed that other tool it wasn’t hard at all to be like, “Oh, I have that tool. How much would you like?” I think it’s interesting and it draws my curiosity to hear you say that, that was a bit of a challenge to then get that tool out. And it may just be that our stories are so different like I had that tool in spades, “Oh my god. It was a problem.” And then you just never had it if that’s the case.

Cara-Michele: Yeah. I think that’s interesting that it’s easy for me. I do believe that I’m a natural leader, I’m a natural teacher. I’m very comfortable in that role and I didn’t really want to be there. I love just being a student, showing up, getting smacked around and then going home, and just loving it. So when the time came, I think it was okay. Sensei Kyle started to not do well, but he would just fight through it and show up at class. He’d be shaken.

Craig: Yeah, that’s Kyle, right.

Cara-Michele: I was okay stepping up and being in Hizuki or teaching and leading other folks. But when he asked me to take over the dojo, I was like, “No, this is not right. This was not part of my plan. How am I supposed to do this?” No one else was around. The other senior students were off doing their own things. I think I’m okay with it. I’m comfortable with it now and I think I’ve done a good job too. That’s nice to feel like that because when I first started-

Craig: How many years is the dojo? So then you eventually moved the dojo to…

Cara-Michele: Yeah. So we started in Towson.

Craig: Towson, right. I’m like can’t remember the town.

Cara-Michele: I moved it to Towson from Mount Airy.

Craig: It’s basically the same community that you’ve moved and they’re still teaching in the class. That’s kind of like the proofs in the pudding as the British… I love that British saying. I don’t know if this was any good. I don’t know. The proofs in the pudding.

Cara-Michele: At the beginning, I was just like, “I don’t think that I can…” I didn’t really believe that I was going to be able to convey this information. I wasn’t even the second dawn when I started the dojo in Towson. But I think I did a good job with them.

Craig: I know you did.

Cara-Michele: I’ve got folks that really…

Craig: Years ago, I’ve met your students like Renzo and Mike. There’s a cult people. I try to avoid drop names because now Renzo is like, “Oh my god, I’m in the podcast.”

Cara-Michele: Oh, it’s fine.

Craig: But no, it’s fine. It’s like Renzo and all those people that I’ve met that is proof in the pudding that shows like, “Oh, I can see. I see Cara-Michele’s fingerprint like your mechanistic…” They try to mimic and I’m like, “Why are you mimicking Cara-Michele? You’re like a foot and a half taller than she is. What are you doing? That doesn’t work for you.” You can see that DNA in the way that they do Aikido. But you can also see the DNA of who they’ve become and how they’ve changed in their personal journeys.

Craig: In some ways, it’s easier for… Looking back, it was easier for me to see that than you because I only got snapshots.I see him like once a year at most, maybe every two years. I was like, “Whoa, you are a completely different person. Congratulations.” Whereas as the teacher, you don’t notice. You water the plants every day and it just grows a little bit, but you don’t see that it looks completely different than it did two years ago.

Cara-Michele: That’s true. Sensei Kyle, we were walk into class and he’d be in his wheelchair. He just knew everything about you, and how you even spoke to him. And I chose to learn more about how to do that with my students. So they walk in and I just don’t need to talk. I just looked at how did they speak, how are they changing their clothes? Putting their bag down, that whole thing. And it’s so nice every once in a while, every six months or something, you kind of see how they’re managing themselves a little bit different. And that to me is more important than really technique.

Cara-Michele: I mean, I haven’t been attacked in many… Since I was like at the bus stop when kids were scrapping then. So I don’t really expect that to be the tell as to my growth in Aikido, but how we’re easy with the difficult things that show up. There’s always going to be something. You didn’t load the dishwasher right so now your partner’s yapping at you about that. Or I don’t know. [crosstalk 00:26:09] There’s so many things, right?

Craig: An infinite supply. So to me, the proof in the pudding in terms of how I relayed this information that was related to me is seeing them be smoother and easier.

Cara-Michele: Yeah.

Craig: Yeah. I tell them like I’d like to be practicing. I like them to be practicing for another 20, 30 years. But more because I want them to be better people.

Cara-Michele: Yeah. You want them to flourish and grow. I want to see you flourishing and growing for another 20 years. Not so much I want to be slapping you around for 20 years.

Craig: That’s right.

Cara-Michele: Yeah. That’s so interesting that just brought to mind that when you were still practicing and we would go, I thought that, that was what I should have more of as being thrown around more. Now, as a teacher with… I think I have three black belts, I brought up three black belts, it’s like they get to a certain point like I don’t need you to do 20 breakfalls. [crosstalk 00:27:13] It’s just these little steps you go then when you start to understand more and more of what this is really going to do for you. It’s been such a wonderful thing.

Cara-Michele: I think I’ve stuck with it so long because I just felt like it was such a waste to not share what I was given and I felt a big responsibility for that. Now, that I feel like I’m sure that I’ve done that, it feels okay to kind of step back a little bit. There are things that I would like to do for myself. I’d like my business to grow a little bit more. I like to take care of things around here. We got a yard big yard now and all kinds of projects around the house. I’ve struggled with that quite a bit thinking, I don’t know, am I letting sensei down? Am I letting myself down? Am I letting students down?

Cara-Michele: When you stop practicing, I was so angry with you, so angry. But now I understand. It’s like you should only stay for what it is you need and when something starts to feel like a burden in some way, then that’s your cue to step back. And so I don’t know that really feels like it’s a burden, but it does feel like it keeps me from other things. And I really think that it is very important for my students at some point to just make these decisions for themselves.

Cara-Michele: My greatest growth as a practitioner came when I had to really teach folks. And so whenever I’m around, everybody resorts back to my understanding. What should we do here? What’s going to happen here? But I don’t want that to be the case. If this is going to go another step, meaning they’re going to take over the dojo and run and maybe one of their students is going to do that, which I would love to see, that means that they’ve got to feel like they are in charge.

Craig: Right.

Cara-Michele: So it got to a point where I started to understand that that’s what’s got to happen. It helps them and it helps me. And I can kind of pop in when I want to.

Craig: Cara-Michele, we’ve spent five weeks or so like exchanging emails and deciding what about this date? What about that date? How about here? Like trying to figure out when to get together. So we’ve had a lot of time the two of us to think about this. It’s kind of clear what I have been thinking in advance because it sort of colors where we go with our conversation, but I’m wondering if there was anything in particular that you had in mind that you wanted to bring up or that you wanted to ask me or where you were hoping our conversation would go that it hasn’t yet gone.

Cara-Michele: Yeah. Well, I chose to just let my curiosity go. I asked what we might talk about and I got a vague answer, but that’s okay.

Craig: That’s our system, yes.

Cara-Michele: I’m going to let it go. I assumed that you might want to talk about some of the movement classes that I have at my wellness center. When I finished my acupuncture degree, it was like you opened up a magic bottle, this way of really supporting people where they didn’t necessarily have to have medication or surgery. I don’t have any problems with medication or surgery at all. If you need it, you need it, right? But I do think that there’s a lot of concerns that folks have where they don’t necessarily need to… Maybe it’s easier to try a modality like acupuncture or looking at nutrition or looking at some movement, some corrective exercises or something like that first before we take those next steps for medication and surgery.

Cara-Michele: But I knew for sure that acupuncture wasn’t the end-all be-all. I was excited about it. It was really fantastic to be able to support people, but acupuncture, we’re moving blood in the body and then the question to me is like what’s the quality of the blood if people aren’t eating well? And so I’ve spent a lot of time studying nutrition, functional nutrition and trying to understand how to synthesize all of this information that you get when you’re taking a course or studying stuff in a way that people can really receive it, and then do something with it. Because I think that’s part of the issue.

Cara-Michele: I think that most people really want to do well for themselves. There’s nobody who wakes up in the morning and says, “Well, I’ll just die of heart disease. I don’t really care.” Nobody says that. But the information is so complicated sometimes. And complicated when you dig into one subject matter and then also you get all these varying understandings, right? You open up a magazine, somebody’s talking about keto. You open up another magazine and somebody’s telling you need to be vegan. So I loved figuring out ways to make it simple and easy for people. That’s very exciting to me.

Cara-Michele: And so the same thing with the movement stuff. I became a personal trainer maybe six years ago. Partly because I had already been sneaking in some exercises here and there and I thought well let me just clean my situation up here a little bit.

Craig: Yes, that personal movement journey, right?

Cara-Michele: Yeah. What’s exciting to me about the exercise court classes that I’m offering now is that we’re differentiating between fitness and being able to move around and being-

Craig: Healthy, right?

Cara-Michele: Healthy, yeah. Most of my clients are late 40s, 50s and 60s. A lot of folks are like there’s a switch that flopped. A switch that flops for them at some point like all of a sudden the kids are at college and they’ve got time for themselves now. They’re not you know giving so much.

Craig: Yeah. They don’t have to hustle.

Cara-Michele: Yeah, right. And so then like wow. And at some point in our lives, we started to notice like, “Wow, I didn’t bounce back from that quite quickly.”

Craig: Yeah, or ow. I stepped on a rock two days ago and now I’m hobbling, right?

Cara-Michele: Yeah, right. And so this switch turns for folks and then they think, "Oh, gosh. I really need to figure this out. When I turned 50, it was like, “Oh, like I could be halfway through my life,” which is a very interesting thought like halfway through my… When you’re younger, you just think you’re going to go on forever. And so I really love the functional exercises that we’re doing with folks because we’re not trying to run 10 miles, we’re not trying to do a marathon. We just want you to be able to get up and down off the floor. I want you to be able to-

Craig: Go to the basement, do the laundry and come back up.

Cara-Michele: That’s right, that’s right. And so I think people really love the classes because of that. Within a couple of weeks, they can start to notice that just their everyday experiences are easier and smoother. So I’m very excited about that and I love having a new client who hasn’t really done very much in the last 10 or 15 years and kind of getting started with them. There’s something nice about that brand new space for folks. The same in the dojo, right? They’re kind of figuring this out. How’s my body going to go around this? And mentally they’re trying to sort it out too. Do I like this? Do I not like this? Is this okay? Is it not okay? Just to see their progress through that. And being a partner to people I think is very helpful. I think that a lot of folks feel like they’re alone in a lot of situations.

Craig: Yeah. When you said that, I was thinking about the ICU type of comment that you can often make. I mean I’ve had that happen in like martial arts, in Aikido classes where the other person acknowledge seeing each other and that takes a lot the suck out of it. But doing that for people who are in a space where they’re not quite sure, they’re at their first parkour class or at their first Aikido class, but just saying… It’s coming from the Grand Poobah at the top of the food chain, but when they say, “Yes, I see you,” and you can convey that you understand the place that they’re at. Then that makes people feel usually way more comfortable like, “Okay, what’s happening to me is normal and expected?”

Cara-Michele: Exactly.

Craig: I didn’t used to think that that was… Like that’s easy to do. I see you there. I did it. It’s like no, no, no, no, no. You have to actually be coming from a place that conveys that you really do understand. What’s the word? That’s a huge piece of work or very important labor that maybe we’re not like as a whole national community. Maybe we’re not doing enough of that work for each other just in general and that that plays out in a million obviously places that you and I are going. Yeah, that’s obvious. I was thinking before about compassion. I was going to say to you when I say the word compassion, who’s the first person you think of?

Cara-Michele: I think of Sensei.

Craig: Which one?

Cara-Michele: Sensei Kyle.

Craig: And I was thinking of that earlier and now I’m thinking, you have also mentioned earlier that he had seen you in situations and at first maybe you didn’t recognize that, but now I’m telling these stories. It’s clear that you recognize that now and there’s that threat again that we were just talking about that idea of saying to someone, “I see you.” And that may be the most important thing you do as a teacher, leader, healer, instructor, whatever modality you want to be in.

Cara-Michele: Yeah. When my senior students started teaching on their own, I had a three-part thing. I told them these these are three things you need to do today when I’m not there. You need to make sure that this person is safe. Then you need to make sure that they’re having fun, right? And then help them to understand that they are progressing. That’s all we need to do, right? And so when I’m working with my new exercise students at the wellness center, it’s the exact same thing, right?

Cara-Michele: It’s kind of crazy. One of the other impetuses for starting the exercise classes is because my clients would go, “I’m trying to start exercising a little bit more.” And I’d be like, “Okay, great. Where are you going to go?” “I’m going to bootcamp down the street.” “Okay, great. No problem.” Two weeks later, they walk back in and their knee is hurting or their back is hurting, or all these different things, right?

Cara-Michele: I want people to know whether it’s at the dojo or at the office is that I have their best interest in mine. Right? I see the bigger picture for you and I want you to feel safe here to try the things that we’re talking about. I’m not going to give you way more than you need, I’m going to give you just this little bit right now and we’re going to stay here until you feel comfortable with that.

Craig: Right.

Cara-Michele: Right? And it’s kind of crazy how so many other places don’t think like that. It’s just amazing. How are you going to keep students if they come back and their back is hurting? They don’t want to keep doing that. And especially older people, when it’s harder to recover and those kind of things, people get really nervous and afraid. Am I going to hurt myself for good? All of that kind of stuff.

Cara-Michele: So I do a lot of body weight exercises and crawling and all of those kind of things. It’s easy to graduate that kind of thing. You’re going to do a bear crawl type thing and the person gets in that position and they can’t hold it for a second. Great, no problem. Let’s take it back down. Hands and knees and feet on the floor, maybe would just elevate for 30 seconds, [crosstalk 00:38:42] that kind of thing. Just give them an opportunity.

Cara-Michele: What people want is to feel like they’re being successful and so no matter how small that is that’s great for them. We know that they’re going to get better and better, but right now here’s where they are and let’s spend time there.

Craig: My mind is wandering back to an interview I did in 2017 with a school teacher like a headmaster of a school in Copenhagen, outside of Copenhagen. He said that the fundamental is the key and the most important thing is in the word fundamental, F-U-N. It’s just like when you’re talking about play, I’m just like, “Oh, that reminds me of exactly something that I heard.” And not that it’s a trite thing, but it’s like the more people that I interview and the more people I talk to, and the variety is just getting broader and broader. It’s like it’s the same. I keep coming up with the same threats, Which is great. I love finding the same people. I love finding that people are all energized and passionate about similar things because that tells me that as a human race, there’s a chance for us all because if we all actually agree on the key parts are fun, and safety, and enjoyment, then we can all go do our own thing because we all agree on the basics.

Cara-Michele: Yeah.

Craig: I’ll push my soapbox-

Cara-Michele: Yeah. That’s great.

Craig: … off to the side.

Cara-Michele: I mean, when you’re older, you’re in your 50s and 60s and you’re getting started with this, maybe you did a lot when you’re younger, but right now you’re just kind of starting all over again. Nobody wants to do something that they feel awful about. So you have to make it easy and smooth for them and give them small reasons to celebrate and have a good time and feel like they want to come back. At the same time, I know that I would imagine that my teaching technique would be different from them if I didn’t have Aikido.

Cara-Michele: Sometimes I’m the same way as I am in the dojo, as I am in the wellness center with them. It’s like I want you to give me your best and that’s going to be enough for me, but I want to see your best. So every once in a while I kind of catch myself like oops.

Craig: Not a martial arts concept.

Cara-Michele: The other thing that I ask people in the beginning when they’re starting with me is what are the 10 or 15 or 20 movements that you never want to lose? That’s very helpful to people because they don’t think about that. Do you want to be able to walk up the steps without holding on to the rail? How about coming down? When you can do those things, you don’t think about them at all.

Craig: Right.

Cara-Michele: We all have these slow this declines in one way or the other if we’re not paying attention. And then the next thing you know that you can’t get that thing out from under the bed because you’re afraid to get down on the floor. I have clients that are afraid to get on the floor, right? And so we make a list like what are the things that you’re always going to be able to do. Do you want to be able to put your luggage on the-

Craig: Overhead.

Cara-Michele: … overhead in the plane, right? It’s okay if you have someone who can do it for you and you don’t mind, but did that happen because you can’t do it or they’re just there and it’s okay? Do you want to be able to walk you four, five miles? Whatever it is.

Craig: Pick up the groceries. Pick up the grandkids.

Cara-Michele: That’s right. Getting things in and out of the trunk, being able to squat down and pick up the smallest ones, children. And that just turned some light bulbs on for folks because then they start to realize that there are a couple things that they’re not able to do as smoothly and easily.

Craig: There’s one that should be on my list, it’s not. I’ve already lost it. That why, you’re starting with why.

Cara-Michele: Yep, exactly. That’s so nice that you brought that up because I’m just all about that these days like what’s the reason I’m going to put myself through all that it takes to be a little bit stronger or have my cardiovascular system work a little bit better. Why am I putting myself through all that people put themselves through Aikido and all of that kind of stuff? How is this going to impact my life? We have to understand that first because when I was a younger practitioner, I didn’t go through that with folks.

Cara-Michele: So you have folks that come in, it’s like, “Yeah, my back is bothering me and I really like it to be better.” And they’d stay for a little bit, but then they’d leave before we’re actually solving the issue because they really didn’t understand that this was impacting their lives. It was important for them to do that. And so helping people to slow down in the beginning and see the benefits that taking care of whatever the thing is, is how that’s going to help them, but I think maybe even more importantly it’s better to help them understand how that’s going to help their family or their work situation or whatever.

Cara-Michele: People are willing to do things for others that they’re not willing to do for themselves. If I have someone who’s trying to trim back on their drinking or their alcohol or trying to turn back on smoking or thinking that they need to start exercising a little bit more, I will often kind of go through this, well, what difference does it make? If you’re drinking less, let’s say. And they’ll say, "Well, I think I’ll just be good. I think my health is going to be better. I’m like, “Well, what difference does it make whether your health is better, right?” And we just kind of keep going, keep going and I tell them, I’m going to be a nudge here because this is not going to be an easy journey. If it was easy, you would have done it already.

Craig: You’d look like what you wanted to look like, right?

Cara-Michele: Exactly, right? So we have to understand that when those difficult moments happen, let’s say someone’s trying to stop smoking, a lot of people smoke after they eat. It’s not even a thought, it just happens. They’re on automatic pilot with that. So in that moment after you finish your spaghetti, what are you going to do next? Making changes in our habits is not an easy thing. And so they have to be aware of why am I going to suffer? Why am I going to put myself through this? Why do I need to figure this out? Why do I have to come up with a different routine? And I think that really helps people a lot. I think that it’s a little bit of a pain of a thing to do because they’re fairly new clients most of the time and I’m being a real [inaudible 00:45:04] there, right?

Cara-Michele: When we get there, when they really understand… I had a guy whose father had passed away from lung cancer and he was a smoker. This client was a smoker. So he had heard that acupuncture can help a lot with smoking cessation and so we went down this road. I just kept asking why, why, why, why? I could see him starting to raise his eyebrows at me a little bit.

Craig: What are you doing? Just stick me. Let’s go.

Cara-Michele: Right. You can tell when you hit the juice, right? You get to the real sweet spot because all of a sudden he just sat back in his chair and started to tear up a little bit. “It’s like my daughters, I want to be able to walk down the aisle with them, and they’re young now. So we got another 10 or 15 years before that might happen and I want to be there for them.” “Oh, okay.”

Craig: Oh, put your finger on that and let’s go, right?

Cara-Michele: Yeah, and let’s get started, right? How do you keep that fluffed up in front of you when you have those difficult moments? But typically it seems like it’s a little bit emotional is where… Not the intellectual understanding. It’s when it gets emotional for folks that they start to like, “Oh. Okay, this is really important.” I have a new client now whose son is imprisoned. So he’s raising his grandkids. He’s got his own health issues and he’s got a little one running around.

Cara-Michele: It’s very clear to him that we don’t know what this other situation is going to be with his son, so it could be years that he’s taking care of this little guy. When you bring that forward for people and it’s kind of like, “Oh, shoot. There are people and things that are really important to me and I have to be there for them.” I often will ask my clients who are grandparents do you believe that there’s anything that you have to offer to your grandchildren that no one else can give to them? They sit back and they’re just like, “Wow, I think so.” I’m like, “You know your family history. No one is going to tell the story.”

Craig: Of your parents, right.

Cara-Michele: The way that you are going to be, right? It’s just so important. I don’t know. I feel like I’m stumbling a little bit because I can get very passionate about that. I think that it’s just so helpful for people to understand that like they matter to other folks. And not just on a surface level. There’s a bigger picture here in taking care of myself so that I can be present for the situation that’s going to happen 10 years from now like, “Oh, yeah.”

Cara-Michele: I don’t have any children, but if you have kids around I see them asking questions that are just like coming out of nowhere. And mentally, you need to be sharp if you want to… Right then in the moment, you’ve got to say something that’s really going to help the situation, right? If we’re not mentally sharp, if we’re not cognitively healthy, then you end up saying something maybe you didn’t really want to say. Like helping folks think about their bigger legacy, let’s say.

Craig: All right. I’ll give you a really hard question. Having discussed what we’ve been talking about here, if somebody is listening and they go, “Oh, that sounds really cool, but I have no idea what you guys are talking about. I’ve never experienced that. I’ve never seen it.” What is something that you can think of or two some things you can think of, or three that we can say, “Okay, drop your headphones and go, I don’t know, go find a martial arts class.” How can we actually attempt… Since you can’t… This person, I’m imagining you can’t actually train them. We don’t know who this is. Is there something that we can say to them that would give them a place to look or someone to look for or something?

Cara-Michele: For martial arts?

Craig: No, no, no. For like this discussion that… Well, I mean maybe this isn’t, but this discussion we’re having about people have trouble seeing themselves as being valuable. They have trouble finding their why and understanding how to move forward. If somebody hears us say all that and they were like, “I would like to do that,” what can we suggest to them if anything that might get them started on that journey because they can’t come to your studio, as you know that’s the scenario.

Cara-Michele: Yep. Well, I really advise folks when they’re going to a new doctor or they’re getting a new dentist or maybe they’re going to see a new therapist to feel like they’re interviewing them. Oftentimes, because there’s a professional involved, it feels like the professional is in charge of this interaction that we have.

Craig: You have to wait two weeks to get an appointment and I only have half an hour and he’s still doing other things.

Cara-Michele: Right, right. And because it’s on your insurance card, that doesn’t mean you have to see that person. So if you have an idea of what you’re looking for in that person, having the freedom to feel like you can choose this person or not choose that person is I think helpful in the beginning. I was saying before, when I went to see Sensei Kyle’s dojo for the first time, I was very clear what I needed and what I didn’t need. There were places that were shorter distance drive to get to, but everybody was just chest stuck out and prancing around the dojo like they had solved some big mystery.

Craig: At 21 or like 17.

Cara-Michele: Yeah. I was 100% sure that all the fluff just wasn’t necessary. It was going to be an interference. I’m not sure if I’m answering your question right.

Craig: They’re not really questions. I’m mostly… And I said it was a hard question.

Cara-Michele: Yeah. It’s a hard one. I could going on to try and find a new exercise, a place to go exercise or you’re looking for a trainer or somebody like that. I think that sometimes people just think I’m supposed to fit into that situation or how they do it, and I don’t think that’s true. If you get clear that you want someone who understands how to work with people who are 50 and older or you want someone who’s not going to throw a lot of weight on you to the first class. Be honest about that. Then when you go and you can ask the right questions or you can participate and see kind of what’s going on, and be okay staying there or not staying there.

Craig: I think that’s a good answer.

Cara-Michele: Sometimes it’s just like we’re not-

Craig: Being true to yourself, right?

Cara-Michele: … willing to be honest with ourselves about what we need and what we want. Yeah, I see that a lot.

Craig: We’ve only ever so briefly touched on your childhood and you sort of set it up as something that you wanted to, I always say, skate off of. You gave it as a thing that you skated off of. So I’m not fishing for your childhood, but I’m wondering is there anything that you can think of like, say, pre-adulthood before you’re 18, someone that you saw either in your life or on the movie screen, somebody that you saw that you thought was really inspirational?

Cara-Michele: Yeah. I’m going to say my grandmother. My mother’s mother. Her name was Ruby and she lived with my mom and dad and I from the time I was, I want to say five or six and she passed away when I was at college when I was 21. She was just amazing when I learned more about her. We would just sit and talk and she’d tell me stories about my mom and my parents. Somehow or another my mom and dad, their mothers knew each other when they were young.

Cara-Michele: So my grandmother, Ruby would tell me stories about my father’s family and all of that. They knew each other. I think I understand more about my possibilities from her. She raised seven kids. I don’t know exactly when my grandfather left, but for a lot of my mom’s years, I think that my grandmother was taking care of these kids by herself. Of course working, my mom tells these stories of standing on a step stool cooking for everybody. She was like a very small child.

Cara-Michele: But yeah, she just would do what needed to be done and she was very physically strong, and just very, very loving and just taught me more about just do it. Let’s just go ahead and get it done. I just really appreciated her for how loving and caring she was. I think that after she passed away, I talked to her almost every day for probably the first seven or eight years. And I wouldn’t have said that I knew that I would have done, that I needed her that much. But they tell this story about her. This is when they were living in Georgia or Florida and she was doing a lot of sharecropping, farming and picking cotton.

Cara-Michele: They tell the story about her leaning over this wagon somehow or another and picking up a hundred bale of cotton with her teeth. I don’t know it was a dare or what the deal was with it, but she just did it. Whatever needed to be done, she just did it, and it’s amazing. It’s so easy now to be discontent with all that we’re dealing with. I mean, there’s a lot to be nervous about with the COVID stuff. I think we’re we’re living pretty good lives, most people. We have more opportunities and more access to more information and technology.

Cara-Michele: There’s always going to be really difficult times and things are… That’s how life goes. It’s up and down, up and down. When I think about her and all that she managed and took care of with very little resources, it’s like it just makes me want to stop whining. Whatever you need to do for yourself, let’s just do it.

Craig: So I asked you earlier about anything you wanted to make sure we get in the interview. Anything else spring to mind now that we’re like chest deep in the swimming pool and you see what I’m going to do with that time. If anything else spring to your mind that you want to talk about or bring up?

Cara-Michele: I think that it’s really useful. I tell my Aikido students that we can get some of the teachings and learnings from that in other places. Maybe we could be meditating. We could go to the local… There’s a Daoist a meditation center near us. We can go there and really get a lot of the same teaching. So it doesn’t have to be Aikido, but it just so happens that we all like to run around and sweat it up and be very physical. But I think that it’s really useful for folks to understand what they have and what they don’t have and what they need in order to make their lives whatever they want it to be.

Cara-Michele: To take that on if you’re just kind of moving through life because the wind is blowing you this way or that way then I don’t know. It just feels like we have to be thoughtful about that. I need more of this. I need to understand myself better in that way or this way. And then find something that you can commit to that’s going to move you through that. When Sensei Kyle started acupuncture school, I had graduated and became a teacher there, assistant teacher. And he just insisted that I call him Kyle. I’m like, “What are you talking about?”

Craig: I remember this.

Cara-Michele: I mean, one time we were in the hallway and he just like was just raising his voice. He’s like, “You have to. Nobody needs to know that.” Blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. He had this story that being a police officer and being a military person and being a martial artist was not going to fly in that environment. I was like, “That’s not true. It’s not true at all.” It’s so funny. We can just make up stories and if you don’t slow down and check our beliefs, if we don’t slow down, is this really true? What do I believe? Versus slow is tough enough to get to, right? You have to really slow down and be conscious about that question. What do I believe about this or what do I believe about my relationships, or work, or men, or women, people of color or martial artists, right?

Craig: Us versus them, right?

Cara-Michele: Yeah, right? If we can get close to that and understand what do we truly believe, then we have a chance to see if it’s true or not, if it really works, right? Having beliefs that aren’t going to take you where you want to go, you just end up running in circles.

Craig: You’ve seen my life, have you?

Cara-Michele: I wouldn’t say that at all about you. I’m going to skip to the side here a little bit. As much as I was upset at the time when you stopped, you’re doing that, gave me the impetus to do so too. Right?

Craig: Yeah. I know what you mean, yes.

Cara-Michele: I understand about how to navigate all of this from my teachers. I haven’t talked to you in a while, but it seems like you’re doing fine. You got a nice big smile so I think you’re doing just fine. I think I really ask the students a lot and ask my clients a lot to be honest with themselves about what they want and what they think so that we can make whatever course corrections we need to make. I just think it’s awful. People get to the end of their life and didn’t get what they needed or wanted from life.

Craig: Never even thought about what they wanted.

Cara-Michele: Yeah. Really what’s going to make me happy. I don’t think there’s anything more important than your own personal happiness. Now, I’ve been with my wife, I want to say it’s 17 years. 16, 17 years and I think that sometimes from the outside when we’re hanging out with friends and talking or having dinner, they’ll ask us questions about how we handle this or that. And we’ll say something that resembles the fact that she’s responsible for herself and I’m responsible for me.

Craig: That’s not what people expect.

Cara-Michele: No. You get a little look. You’re like, oh. If I leave my socks on the floor or if I leave my dishes someplace, it’s not her responsibility to pick it up, it’s mine.

Craig: Right.

Cara-Michele: Right? But that only come from us really digging, choosing to keep looking and looking and looking, what’s going to make me happy? What’s going to make her happy?

Craig: Yeah. Why are we in this relationship?

Cara-Michele: Yeah. Why are we doing this thing? I’m very proud to say that when we first got together, we actually created a document that said what we wanted and what we didn’t want. What we want our union to be about. And we kept it on the fridge for years. When you say that to folks are just like, “Wow, that’s amazing.” But anybody can do it. It’s so interesting. Two people come together. She actually grew up in Ohio and I grew up in southern Maryland. Her family was very, very religious. My parents not so much. We have all these differences, right?

Cara-Michele: So if you don’t spend time really sorting through who are you, who am I, what do I want? What do I do not want? Then how is it supposed to stick? There’s so many opportunities for it to be difficult and hard to let go of the whole thing because you’re trying to… There’s so many obstacles to jump over if you’re not aware.

Craig: The biggest obstacle is that unless you’re going to hit the big veto button and quit, you can’t get away from each other. I mean, yeah, I can go for a run for 20 minutes if I need a lot of steam, but when I get home, guess what? My wife is still [crosstalk 01:01:47]. Exactly. I hope so. It would be really a bad day. To me that’s like the biggest… It’s not a problem, but that’s the biggest hurdle is like as long as you’re going to stay committed to the idea of the relationship then the biggest hurdle is that you’re staying in the relationship. It’s like okay, that’s the bedrock we’re standing on. So what’s next? Well, it doesn’t really matter about this or that. Let’s find a solution for those things.

Cara-Michele: That’s right, that’s right. Don’t stay and be miserable. We’re not going to do that so we got to sort through these things. Let’s just keep talking, right? Yeah. There’s an interesting thing that I struggle with. Struggle. I don’t know if I want to say the word struggle but that always-

Craig: Wrestle?

Cara-Michele: … piques my interest. It keeps popping up as this conversation about Aikido being a useful martial art.

Craig: Whether or not it is.

Cara-Michele: Yeah.

Craig: And I’m laughing because if you’ve ever met Sensei Kyle or Sensei Wirth, you wouldn’t be asking such ridiculous questions.

Cara-Michele: Exactly, yeah.

Craig: But anyway, you were saying.

Cara-Michele: My students have brought to me this guy who I think he’s in Europe someplace, but he was a Aikidoist, Akidoka for many years and studied under this guy and then all of a sudden just switched gears and decided that Aikido was not useful in any way. I don’t know. Number one is that really an important question because like I said, I’m not expecting to need to use all of that. But number two, I mean people are… Police officers use these things. I mean, it’s used all the time. You know what, I think what makes that question keep coming up is that people are trying to make it systematic. Oh, when they grab my arm I’m supposed to do the knee kick.

Craig: Yeah. Where’s the flow chart?

Cara-Michele: Yeah. It seems really useful to make sure that people understand that all of these practices that we’re doing, that’s just kata. That’s just a practice. You grab my arm. I’m going to do this. I’m going to do that, right? So after a while the real fun comes when you’re doing Randori and you’re just dealing with whatever it is in front of you. But I think that a lot of Aikido schools just aren’t thinking that way. And so I guess that’s where the question comes from because as you said there’s some folks in our group that I am terrified of. I would never want to be on the difficult side.

Craig: Yeah. I do not want to run into you and startle you by accident in a dark alley.

Cara-Michele: Yeah. Even Sensei Kyle when he was in the chair like I never knew him standing. He was in the chair when I met him.

Craig: I was going to ask about that. I wasn’t sure when exactly you met him.

Cara-Michele: I was 100% sure I would never have gotten over on him. He was just so aware. I guess that’s really the thing I want to speak about is like I’m just not sure that… I don’t really care to be honest whether Aikido schools are really thinking about the martial side of things. Whatever feels good to folks if that’s what they should do. So that’s kind of what I meant by like is it really important?

Craig: I would agree.

Cara-Michele: There’s a camaraderie. There’s a thing that’s going on that really draws this people in.

Craig: Are you doing good for people?

Cara-Michele: Yeah.

Craig: Okay, cool.

Cara-Michele: They’re really enjoying it and that’s fine. But I think the question comes up maybe because of that. There’s just so many different schools and different thoughts about Aikido. But that’s one of the things that I’ve really loved about Kinokawa is that there’s a huge emphasis on that. After a number of years, I actually got to the place where I was nervous if somebody popped out on me because I knew all of this stuff and I was going to be present to it, but I didn’t know if I was going to be able to control it in a way that was going to be useful. So I think I lucked up. I lucked up in a good school.

Craig: I know I did. I would agree with on that. I’m not saying you lucked up. I’m saying I agree I lucked up. I stumbled with it. The story is hysterical. It was like a co-worker’s girlfriend worked with someone whose boyfriend had studied like five classes with him. It was like on a whim we all went one Friday night to a class or something and I just kept going. It’s like a crazy coincidence. And it took me many years, but a while ago I came to the conclusion that I think Aikido gets a bad rap because Aikido tries to say… And I mean like this is the goal. Not like it tries and fails, but the goal is to say, “Yeah, the highest level of a martial art would be to protect the attacker.”

Craig: My personal safety or whatever I was doing martially, that’s a foregone conclusion in the highest level. That’s a foregone conclusion. And protecting the person for whatever mistake or whatever injury they had previously suffered, they’re causing the altercation, the antagonism the physical assault. That’s the ideal. That is not what it looks like. Personally, I’ve had two experiences where with no effort on my part I completely wiped somebody out and it was more like, I’m putting that wand down because that was not something I was in control of when it happened and if that hadn’t been a skilled person at falling, I would have just seriously hurt them.

Craig: So I’ve seen glimpses of it. I’ve certainly been on the receiving end of that. On the receiving end of people dealing with my ridiculousness with a flick of a wrist. The fact that Aikido puts that out there as like this is our ideal, then I think that draws people to want to say, “Oh, yeah. Let me see. Prove it.” I think what gets lost in that approach is that it’s like, “No, no. I didn’t say that I could do that every time with a gun to my head. I said what I’m working toward is this ideal.”

Craig: So that I think that’s where the first split occurs like where that question comes up and certainly if you have an Aikido school that is doing a softer style and saying that they want to be that martial effective then people are going to come at them and say, “Look, there’s absolutely nothing happening here.” And there’s nothing wrong with having a soft martial art. There’s really good internal arts. There’s nothing wrong with that per se. It’s that Aikido’s, I want to say attempt, but I don’t mean like attempt and failure, but I mean like Aikido’s desire. It’s urge or Sensei’s idea of like I wish I could create a thing that did this. That’s what draws the criticisms. I go over that a while ago too.

Cara-Michele: Maybe it draws the criticism, but also maybe it draws the right people too.

Craig: And I think the criticism is good. I think it’s good. It’s bad if you have something that’s off in its own little cul-de-sac and nobody ever ask questions of it. It’s just like, “Oh, that’s a crazy [inaudible 01:08:34].” You don’t want that to happen. You do want a conceptual challenge, physical challenge. You want people to ask questions.

Cara-Michele: Yeah.

Craig: From a place of respect. I always joke. Tracy and I have been together for, I’m going to say 29 years. I don’t know to do the math. And I always make jokes like long ago no free Aikido demos in bars or stuff. None of this like, “My husband can beat up your husband.” No, no, no, no, no. Nobody knows. Because first of all, I don’t know that it actually would work against three pissed off drunk people and I don’t want to find out.

Cara-Michele: That’s right.

Craig: So I’ve always liked the way that all the martial arts training… And I’ve done some few other things to lesser degrees. All the martial arts training that I’ve chosen to do has always made me feel like a better person not a more capable fighter. And I’m like, that’s what I always needed. That’s what I always wanted.

Cara-Michele: Yes, absolutely, absolutely. You see these videos. You got Jiu Jitsu against Kung Fu and people are always going to want to compare. I would encourage people to get involved in any kind of Aikido because that intention that you just spoke about, in order to be able to do that, you must be easier with difficult things. And so that practice constantly… This is what I mean about being honest about what you need in your life and having something that’s going to allow you to move towards that helps you move towards that. It’s the same as somebody who’s criticizing your new shoes or something like that, right? That person that is saying that or the person that’s coming at you with a bat, it’s the same kind of feeling inside. We get offended and scared and all of those kind of things.

Craig: Or small.

Cara-Michele: Yeah. So how do we manage all of that? And I think that martial arts can really help you be easier with those kind of things and then therefore make you have a smoother time with all the difficulties to show up in life. Our mat is blue at the dojo and so I tell folks like this is just our big blue scientific lab. This is our place to experiment. Because that’s the truth, right? You are there for a while and you’re able to manage Randori and just kind of flow through it then you know that you’re going to do better in life. How can they be separate from one another.

Craig: Cara-Michele, I want to be mindful of your time and you actually shared what I thought was a terrific story, a heartfelt story about your grandmother, Ruby. But I’m going to ask if there’s another story that you might care to share. I personally love to collect stories not like a Pokemon, I want to have all the stories, but I, two-fold believe that when you hear someone tell a story that’s like one of the best ways to get to know someone is to hear the story they pick, how they tell it, the passion, the voice, all that.

Craig: So part of what I’m doing with these interviews is I’m just damn curious. I want to hear people’s stories. I want to get to know them, but also capturing those stories for others to hear is becoming increasingly important to me. So that’s why I ask is there a story that you’d like to share.

Cara-Michele: Yeah, I do. I’ve got a couple. So I remember coming up to the Allentown dojo and practicing with you. This was how it was all the time that when you decided that you didn’t want me to gain an advantage in our practice, you just flick me away. I guess, what I want to say is that there were times when you decided that I wasn’t going to be able to get the attack in or do whatever it was. And so just being denied over and over and over again was just so crazy for me in the moment.

Cara-Michele: But one of my greatest memories now, I just think that life, it’s nice to have something that keeps teaching us to be resilient and just stay in the game and just keep playing. When I do that with students now… I can’t say that I do it as much as you did, but I will do it with students because it’s nice for them to understand that how it is folks get a little further along and they start to think, “Oh, I got it. I got her.” And all you’ve been doing is practicing from a teacher’s perspective. I just loved it. I would be so sore leaving those practices, but I was just so excited. I get home and I would film all of the seminars and I get home and that’s very night, I would watch them all over, and over, and over again. Most of the time I don’t even tell people. I never was a big one to talk about it and I was super excited about it. I would tell this person or that person-

Craig: It comes out.

Cara-Michele: Yeah, it comes out, exactly. But I don’t tell people anymore because you can’t explain it. You can’t explain why that’s useful, why that was good. I just loved it. I mean, I remember one time, out of nowhere you just kicked me right in the hip and it didn’t hurt, but I just fell to the ground. You just took my weight right out from under me, my legs out from under me and that just keeps me feeling like there’s more, there’s more, there’s more.

Cara-Michele: One of the hardest things for me to do as an Aikido teacher is to ask people to push themselves when I know that they’re not mentally there. So I actually made it my… Because it was so painful… You have these people, you build a relationship with them and you know that they had a hard day at work or whatever, you can watch, see how they come in. I was saying how I watch them then I can tell they’re not up for it, but that’s the best time.

Cara-Michele: So I would often really push myself to do that with them because it helps me as a teacher to know to do what I think is really best even though it might not feel or look to me like it’s the best, but also to help them see that it doesn’t really matter whether I’m feeling my best or not. I can show up.

Cara-Michele: So I remember one time I was just throwing this one person around. Actually, I was doing it with my hand and grabbing my hand, throwing them back and forth. I know that people don’t know what that is but they would run at me and then they’d grab my hand and then literally just throw them out and so they can flip into a roll or a breakfall and then they come back out and grab. I throw them back and forth, right?

Cara-Michele: I remember really feeling like I’m not sure if this is enough for this person. I’m looking at their face and trying to see are they really ready or just stop, or do a little bit more. We kept going, and we kept going, and I kept watching, and watching, and watching them. They did probably about another 10 more. Then this conversation started in my head. So I was literally inside myself like sweating a little bit, because I don’t want to hurt anybody. I don’t want them to hurt themselves.

Cara-Michele: Sometimes you get tired and your form starts to fall apart. But afterwards, the person caught up with me in the parking lot and said, “Man, that was the best ever. When you called my name, I was not wanting to get up there. I was like, oh shoot. The whole way through it, I was like I think she’s going to be done soon. I think she’s going to be done soon.”

Craig: One more, one more.

Cara-Michele: But it just really helped me to like… I didn’t think I could do that. Just hearing that and feeling that. I think people are stronger than they think and it’s nice. If god forbid this person gets knocked over in a parking lot, they’ve been there before. They’ve been scared and tired and so they can stand up for themselves or take care of the situation and get out of there whatever they need to do for themselves.

Cara-Michele: At this point in my career, that’s what feels good. If you’ve never been super tired and been asked to do more like how are you going to do that in your work life? How are you going to do that in your marriage? How are you going to do that if somebody grabs your purse, whatever it is. Just being resilient I think is the key. I just love it. I love being put in different situations and learning more about myself and I think those students that hang around for a while, they really love it too.

Craig: Thank you very much for sharing that. I’m torn between telling you where I learned that from and just going on-

Cara-Michele: I know where you learned that from.

Craig: I learned that from Kyle and from the other guys who trained up in Lehigh Valley at the time. But anyway, let’s just move on there. Thank you for sharing this story very much. It never ceases to amaze me how the stories that the guests choose to share. The end of the story exactly lines up with the thing that they’ve been passionate about the whole time. It happens every time, so I really think that’s a great story and really conveys your passion for martial arts, and what’s kept you at it all these years. And of course the final question is three words to describe your practice.

Cara-Michele: Well, I think that in all aspects of life, I’m interested in being forward thinking, really wanting to understand the benefits of all of this 10 years out, 15 years out. So I like to be truthful with myself, whatever we’re doing, truthful with my students, my clients as best as I can be and being truthful with myself. Being playful. I’ll go with those. Who wants to do something that’s not fun?

Craig: Well, thank you very much, Cara-Michele. As always over all the years, it’s been a pleasure talking to you. Especially today, thank you for sitting down and taking the time.

Cara-Michele: Thank you very much. It’s a pleasure to be with you.

Craig: This was episode 83. For more information, go to moversmindset.com/83. And I’ll leave you with a final quote from Jillian Michaels. “It’s not about perfect, it’s about effort. And when you implement that into your life every single day, that’s where transformation happens, that’s how change occurs. Keep going. Remember why you started.” Thanks for listening.

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