“One Thing at a Time” by Mary Stein

At morning practice today I thought I’d pause for a second or two at either end of each technique. At the beginning I’d center myself, and at the end I’d let the experience soak in for a bit before going on to the next technique. I’d take things one at a time, as I’ve often been advised to do.

Once again I tended to forget—most frequently at the end of a technique, when I sometimes caught myself heading toward the next repetition of kotegaeshi almost before my partner hit the mat. I did manage distinct pauses a number of times, particularly in practicing with Joshua, a new student. He needed a slower pace, and that was a help in reminding me to wait the extra second or two.

Back at home, fixing breakfast, I decided to continue the effort. There I’d be doing different things—making coffee, poaching an egg, splitting a whole-wheat croissant, toasting it and eating it with the egg. One thing at a time. . .

I take a beginning impression of myself standing at the sink, my hand on the spigot as I watch the water pour into the carafe. From there’s it’s few steps to the coffee machine, and on the way I pick up a plate that needs to be put away, sliding it into its place in the cupboard as I pour the water into the coffee machine. I’m about to grind the coffee beans when I remember that the egg poacher needs heated water too, so I get it out, fill it at the sink, and place it on the stove. It’s 9:05, there’s that radio program I like, and I dash over to turn on the radio. Now back to the coffee grinder. On the way I’m passing the refrigerator, might as well get out what I need now. I open the refrigerator and take out one egg, one croissant, and a jar of salsa. Then I’m at the grinder, giving it three long spurts. I load the coffee into the filter, swing everything into place, press the button and start the coffee. The egg goes into the poacher and I set the timer. The radio program doesn’t appeal, so I turn off the radio. But here’s the paper; it opens to the comics, the horoscope, the CryptoQuip. . . .

Buzz! It’s the timer! Five minutes gone. The egg is cooked and I haven’t sliced the croissant or put it in the toaster. . . .

It’s been a wild randori with unforeseen attackers popping up on all sides.

And what’s not to like? That continued wish to be aware of where things start and stop has revealed the way they are, that I’m not actually doing one thing at a time, or even sticking to the subject. I feel interested in that. As the psychologist Carl Rogers used to say, the facts are always friendly.

The croissant gets split, and toasted, and put onto a plate with a well-done egg, laced with salsa, divided between its halves. I settle down before it.

Mary Stein practices aikido at Suginami Aikikai in San Francisco. Her book, The Gift of Danger: Lessons from Aikido, will be published later this year by North Atlantic Books.


  1. My flying sensei, who rarely makes some tiny mistakes in a landing, always evaluates them and talks about them. Granted it takes a few minutes to get flying again which makes that easier.

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