Great Trip, Happy to be Home

Long time, no blog post! After the recent seminar, circumstances promptly dumped me back into my normal life. Work was busy. The weather was insane, with the most dramatic storms we’ve seen in years. The power was unreliable for days. Rainy the horse, and the donkeys, have needed extra tending with all the rain and muck. And after one 6-hour power failure our refrigerator broke for good, which meant an evening throwing out everything, and filling an ice chest with enough to get by on. It’s been like camping in our own house. On top of that, I’ve been training all I can, because my 5th kyu test is coming up a week from Saturday.

Now work is settled back into a good steady pace. The rain is coming down more gently. The new fridge arrives tomorrow, and we’re making a restocking run in the evening. Training for my test is proceeding apace. Almost back to a normal routine.

For the past week I’ve been wanting to post something to sum up my experience of the Aikido Bridge Friendship Seminar. It was such a long, intense, diverse, and new experience it’s hard to know where to begin, so I’ll start at the end.

I’ve lived in San Diego County all my life. It’s a lovely place. People from all over come here for vacations. Whenever I’ve flown back into San Diego on a commercial flight there have been people visibly and vocally excited about coming here, many for the first time. “Yay! We’re in San Diego!!!” It doesn’t matter where I’ve been, what I’ve seen, what I’ve been doing, when I come back here I have that same feeling. It’s not only that it’s familiar and comfortable, it’s really a beautiful, rich, amazing part of the world. I’m very lucky to live here, and happy to be home.

Coming back to my own dojo after the seminar, which actually was my vacation, was a similar experience. I feel so fortunate to have a great “home” to return to. Tonight’s classes just reinforced that feeling once again. I’m very lucky to live here, and happy to be home.

The seminar was the first Aikido training I’d done outside of events with my own dojo. The facility was lovely, and the event (in its 4th year, I believe?) was well-run. Thank you again, to Jeff Sodeman Sensei and everyone at Jiai Aikido who made the seminar possible. Everyone I met was friendly, helpful, and serious about training.

The teachers were amazing, of course, kind, often funny, and very generous about connecting with students at all levels. I had the privilege of working with each of them several times, and tried my best to stay present and really get what I was feeling. Ikeda Sensei was like grabbing a cloud – just nothing to hold onto. It seems that the wonder of this stuff working never grows old for him. Several times he allowed that “It’s weird!” Many of Doran Sensei’s techniques included what I think of as the kind of misdirection used by magicians. He often taught with a very charming sense of mischief. On the last day I and another white belt (just there for that day, I think) were trying to work out the details of some seemingly impossible technique, when Tissier Sensei stopped to offer us a few words of encouragement. Such a gracious man.

I’ve never done anything so physically and mentally intense, for so long, before. I was very glad for all the Aikido classes I’d been doing, the walking at lunch, the time on the elliptical trainer, and heavy yard work. I came home utterly exhausted (but exhilarated) each night. I had told my husband, Michael, to basically consider me to be “out of town” for the duration; to make his own plans for the evenings. That was a good call. I had just enough energy left to throw my dogi in the wash, feed the critters, shower, eat something, set the alarm clock, and collapse into bed.

I cannot come close to remembering everything we covered in those 5 days. I certainly can’t describe it with any accuracy. Here are some of the impressions that particularly struck me:

Tissier Sensei – Emphasized economy of motion. His speed was incredible. There were techniques he demonstrated “slowly” and some parts where just blurs, they happened so fast. He also worked with us on looking where we were going (for instance, to a point on the floor, and not at Uke’s hand). This point really stuck with me for two reasons. First, it made an immediate, clear improvement in the feel of the technique when I did it. Second, it’s very familiar from horseback riding – jumping in particular. You don’t stare down at a jump as you’re going over it, you’re already looking to the next one. Your attention (or intention, really) on the next jump naturally helps guide you and your horse to it – it’s palpable. And the effect is the same in Aikido.

Ikeda Sensei – Taking Uke’s balance at the first touch. Subtle, internal waves. Giving the impression of something to grab, but nothing being there. I was able to see little glimmers of this working, like seeing the shadow of a fish in dark water. I caught a glimpse. I know it’s there, somewhere.

Doran Sensei – Lots of very sensible techniques, presented in clearly-explained chunks I could mostly manage to understand. I got it about the train coming, and getting off the track. I got it about catching the shomen strike like catching a fish on a hook. I got it about using atemi to get Uke to take their own balance, so you don’t have to.

These things were just moments. An image here or phrase there that was able to snatch up and tuck into my memory as they flew past in a hurricane of information for 5 days. There were also the guest instructors, and dozens of training partners, and new friends, who I learned so much from. It was a pretty mind-blowing experience. I’m already looking forward to going again next year.

Today was the last day of the Aikido Bridge Friendship Seminar 2010, at Jiai Aikido in San Diego. I’ll write up more notes another time (because our power is flickering with the arrival of a storm, and I’m going to shut the computer off).

The very short version is that it was a tremendous opportunity to see and practice a lot of Aikido, and was great fun.

If you were there, please find me on Facebook or Twitter, or even email, at I’d love to stay in touch.

More soon… :-)

I had a great time today (Sunday) at the Aikido Bridge Friendship Seminar at Jiai Aikido in San Diego. I found myself understanding a bit more, able to do a bit more, and somehow not being quite as exhausted or sore at the end of the day as I was on Saturday. Maybe one eventually gets used to training all day? LOL All in all a really enjoyable day, and I feel like I can actually apply some of what I learned.

The guest instructor this afternoon was Francis Takahashi Shihan, 7th Dan. He was very generous about working with everyone, and has a warm sense of humor. He will be holding an Intensive Practice on Saturday, February 6th in Alhambra, California. Here’s a flyer (PDF) with all the info. (Post it at your dojo!)

After the seminar tonight a really big group went out to dinner at Todai (a Japanese buffet). The photo above is of a few of us stragglers still hanging out and talking as the staff tried to close up for the night. A special shout out to Wayne. Looking forward to training with you and everyone on Monday morning.

Aikido Bridge – Saturday

Another amazing day. I’m learning a lot about attending seminars. Sit in the middle, so you can hear. Drink more water than you think you need to. Eat something at each break. And now I know that if you throw the morning’s sweaty gi in your car at lunch, all the windows will be fogged up when you go to leave in the evening.

There are a lot of levels of understanding at work. There are some things I just Do Not Get. I can’t even understand what’s being explained, never mind attempt it. There are other things I understand, conceptually, but cannot begin to do at all. Someday… Then some things I get glimmers of success, and could see being able to do them with some exploration and practice. And there there are the ones where I Really Got It, and was able to do the technique the way it was shown. Woohoo!

This morning’s sessions included a good mix of all those things. A few “duh… what”  moments, and a few “aha!” moments, with a lot of everything else in between.

At lunch a few of us went to the park at the bay to take a quiet break, and just rest. We ended up with a dead battery, but luckily another friend was able to come rescue us with a jump start, and we all got back in time for the afternoon sessions, which started at 3:00.

About midway through the afternoon I was really tired, and my knee was tight from sitting around on the lunch break. I and some of the people I was working with were not catching the subtleties of whatever was being shown, and were sort of just trying stuff. I almost bowed out, figuring I was wiped, and not getting anything out of the rest of the day anyway. Maybe I could grasp it better by just watching. But then I got to work with a couple of folks who got what was going on. Their technique was great, and/but not subtle at all. I did a whole bunch of the hardest falls I’ve done in Aikido (not high breakfalls, just going down hard) and had no problem with that. The technique was really effortless to do, sneaky, and very effective. LOL It was actually hard to not drop Uke like a ton of bricks. Then on the next technique we did quite a lot of pitching each other rather forcefully into forward rolls. All of that kind of woke me up, and I was able to make sense of at least some of the rest of the afternoon.

In the evening there was a beer social at the dojo. It was great to have a chance to sit and chat with some of the folks I’ve met. I’m starting to put names, faces, and dojos together. I’ll probably finally get a few names right on Monday, when the seminar ends. ;-)

Now I’m in that state of mind when one is immersed in an experience over a few days where you start to hear your own thoughts in the accents of dialects of the people you’ve been listening to all day. Even the way I was moving when doing my laundry and feeding the critters felt different. Weird zone to be in. I’m completely wiped out, and on my way to another hot bath and early bedtime.

What a long day! I’m exhausted. A hot bath and a good night sleep (and some ice packs on my knee) are at the top of the priority list, so just a quick post tonight. I need to sit down with my notebook and try to remember what we did today. It’s all in there somewhere, but describing much of it is beyond me at this point.

The guest instructor this evening was Wilco Vriesman Sensei from the Netherlands. (The video above is of him at another seminar – not today.) He had a really interesting way of breaking down the areas of the body, and which area does what. A sort of short hierarchical checklist one can go through when doing techniques to be more aware of where things are falling apart. I would love to spend more time on it (and will try to be aware of it when I’m practicing). There was a lot packed into that one hour!

Aikido Bridge Friendship Seminar 2010 – First Evening

Umm… O… M… G…! What fun! I’ve met dozens of lovely people (and I’m sure will have to be reminded of their names in the morning) from all over California and the West – a few from the Bay Area, some from Boulder, Colorado, one who drove down from the Tahoe area, I believe. Some are even from here in San Diego. ;-)

Each of the three featured instructors, Ikeda, Doran, and Tissier, taught for part of the evening tonight (from 6-8). I wouldn’t want to guess how many participants there were tonight, but it’s a big dojo, and it was pretty crowded – we lined up two rows deep, the length of the dojo. A very good environment for developing eyes in the back of your head – both to find a safe place to fall (or to throw someone), and to keep an eye on the instructors, who move through the dojo stopping to work with groups here and there. They are all very generous, patient, and approachable. When Ikeda Sensei wasn’t teaching, he was in the loft getting video of the event.

There were at least 5 people from my dojo, and I think I got to train with all of them, but we weren’t sticking together overly much. The evening was very fast-paced. The instructor would show a technique, possibly pointing out a detail or or two, and set us to training for a few minutes. Then another, and another… I may have found a cure for thinking too much: Train so fast you don’t have time to think. :-)  I got to work with a couple dozen people or so, and experience a huge variety of feels, body types, styles, temperaments… Well, a lot of variety. I got the idea of most of what was being shown, and was able to do most of it OK. Nikkyo is still a mystery. LOL At one point Tissier Sensei picked me out of the crowd and had me try the technique we were doing on him, and later demonstrated a different technique on me, and worked with my partner on it for a few minutes.  I also got to train a couple of times with Jeff Sodeman Sensei, whose dojo, Jiai Aikido, hosts the seminar. My little 6th-kyu head is spinning a little from all of this. Haha. Seriously, it was great fun, with tons of new… I don’t want to say “information,” but lots of new stuff to play with.

By the way, the floor, which I’d been concerned about because it looked and sounded hard in the video of an earlier seminar, is perfectly fine – not squishy-soft, but firm and springy, and very comfortable to move and fall on.

The image above is of the back of the seminar t-shirt. If I heard correctly, Sodeman Sensei created the design. In any case it’s very pretty.

At the end of the evening I met someone who knew my name because he reads my blog! Now I can’t think of his, dangit. That was very cool. (If you’re reading this, thanks! And come say hi again!)

Time to feed the critters (who had a late lunch today), grab some dinner and a shower, ice a few things, and get some sleep! Back on the mat at 9:30 in the morning!

It’s Seminar Time!

Starting this evening I’m off to the Aikido Bridge Friendship Seminar (14-18 January, 2010, at Jiai Aikido, in San Diego). For anyone who’s curious, here are some videos (by others, from other events) of the three featured instructors:

Christian Tissier Shihan

“Christian Tissier 7th dan Aikikai Shihan, Austria, Vienna, Matsumae Budocenter, 19-20. 12. 2009 ”

Hirsohi Ikeda Shihan

“Hirsohi Ikeda Sensei demonstrating the principles of "aiki” during a class at the ASU Summer camp in Colorado.“

Frank Doran Shihan

"Frank Doran Shihan at Aikido Summer Camp in the Rockies 2007.”

And you can go to Shutterfly for a slideshow of photos from the 2007 Aikido Bridge Friendship Seminar

The Near Future

This weekend, Thursday through Monday, 14-18 January, 2010, I will be participating in my first big seminar at another dojo. It’s the Aikido Bridge Friendship Seminar, at Jiai Aikido in San Diego. The featured instructors are Frank Doran Shihan, Hiroshi Ikeda Shihan, and Christian Tissier Shihan. What a privilege! Several other students from Aikido of San Diego will be attending, too. I’m looking forward to training with them, and to meeting new friends there. At least one of my Aikido friends from Facebook will be at the seminar. I may be posting to my blog in the evenings, but only if there’s time after dealing with the critters and getting enough sleep.

The following weekend is our dojo community service project. On Saturday we will be doing a work day at the ranch where our Retreat is held. That should be a fun time.

On January 31st Sensei is offering an Aikido In Focus workshop on Ukemi. These workshops are only 2 hours, but those I’ve done so far have each provided a great opportunity to explore some aspect of one’s Aikido. I’m really looking forward to this workshop.

Next month, on February 6th, I’ll be taking my exam for promotion to 5th kyu. I’ve started reviewing the techniques, and working with my mentor, and of course training at every opportunity. I don’t feel entirely lost, but will certainly need every moment of preparation I can squeeze in before that date!

March 21st brings another Aikido In Focus workshop with Dave Goldberg Sensei. I’ll also be going to a non-Aikido thing, the App Masters conference by User Interface Engineering, later that same week. Maybe I’ll wear my “Don’t Make Me Think” t-shirt to both.

In April, Robert Nadeau Shihan, my teacher’s teacher, and a direct student of O Sensei, is coming to Aikido of San Diego for a 3-day seminar the 9th through 11th. I was fortunate to be able to participate in the seminar when he visited last year, and am excited about getting to work with him again.

May 7-9 I will be participating in a horsemanship clinic with Kathleen Lindley. Kathleen spent a year on the road (as basically an uchi deshi), training and teaching with Mark Rashid, the horseman and author who introduced me to Aikido. It would be helpful if I were to be working reasonably well with Rainy by then, so we can best benefit from our time with Kathleen.

May 15th brings another round of exams at the dojo. I will surely not be testing that time around (well… unless I blow it this time!), so I just get to watch and learn.

May 22nd will be our dojo’s annual Spring Picnic. The Spring Picnic was the first dojo event I went to, shortly after I first started training (on May 5, last year). It was a great chance to get to know everyone a bit, and I’m looking forward to this year’s, too.

Whew! It’s going to be a busy and fun few months ahead.

Being Inspired

Our dojo lost a good friend this past week, Keo Power. Sensei shared a lovely tribute on his blog, and I urge you to read it. I had never met the man. From everything I’ve heard about him, and the few photos I’ve seen, I wish I’d had the opportunity.

Some months ago a friend advised me to feel and be inspired by the love and sweat of all those who’d gone before me on the mat. Keo not only trained on our mat, he helped create it, along with much of the rest of the dojo. Tonight, during meditation before class, I let myself be open to feeling his presence. Afterward I spent a few moments noticing the places where I know his hand touched this little world I love so much.

Our dojo is physically beautiful, and an oasis for the spirit. Much of that was his doing. I don’t know if one’s contemporaries can become kami, but I like the idea that Keo, a generous and passionate man I never met, will always be present in that space.

How to go to your first big seminar

I have been around music and horses for many years. In both of cases there are festivals, seminars, workshops, and clinics. I’ve been to many local one-day workshops with touring guitarists and fiddlers, weekend-long annual festivals with hundreds of music workshops going on all day, 4-day riding clinics with world-famous horse trainers, and even one week-long live-in camp in West Virginia to work on fingerstyle blues guitar. These are always intense, worthwhile experiences. Even in cases where the workshop is above my skill level it’s fun and useful to see what could be possible at some point in the future. Workshops are a great way to learn new skills, discover new ways of looking at things, meet new friends, and reconnect with old ones.

My way of thinking about these things is if the opportunity presents itself, take it. I’m not much of a flat-picker, but when Dan Crary offered a local workshop, darned right I went. When the Mark Rashid comes to town for a horsemanship clinic, if I can manage it, I sign up. I always benefit from going, and it’s always money well spent.

So going to an Aikido seminar at some point this year seemed like the natural and obvious thing to do. But with large animals to care for (or to haul off to board), and inner ears that don’t like air travel (not to mention the expense of flying and hotels), getting to one of the big summer camps didn’t seem feasible.

I was whining about just that online back in October when someone pointed out that the Aikido Bridge Seminar, 5 days with Shihans Tissier, Doran, and Ikeda, was coming up in January, right in my own backyard. OK, not exactly in my backyard. It’s actually in a building were I used to have a business. Three world-class teachers, no travel required. How could I say no?

For the benefit of other newbies I thought I’d share my experience of how to go to your first big Aikido seminar:

  1. Learn that there is a killer seminar happening right near you, months away. Get all excited about it, but wonder if you’d be nuts, as a middle-aged 6th kyu student, to go to it.
  2. See that your sensei is on Facebook chat that moment, and ask him if you’d be nuts to go. He says you’d be OK.
  3. Sign up right then.
  4. Jump around the room all excited about getting to go to your first big seminar outside of your own dojo.
  5. Knowing that having some background and context helps you understand teachers better, order the videos of the 2007 seminar, so you can see what this is all about.
  6. Sit by the door and wait for UPS.
  7. When UPS shows up run and pop one of the videos in the DVD player. See that 90% of the participants are in hakama. Hear that the floor sounds awfully hard.
  8. Panic.
  9. Notice that several of your friends from the dojo are in the video, and one is Uke for a couple of the teachers a lot of the time.
  10. Start breathing again.
  11. Pester everyone who’s been to past Aikido Bridge Seminars for information on what it’s really like.
  12. Recruit your fellow students to join you, and experience great relief knowing that there will be several friendly faces at the seminar.
  13. Watch the DVDs again.
  14. Realize that 24 hours on the mat over 5 days might be more physically taxing than you’d considered.
  15. Start training harder. Change your work hours and sleeping habits to get to more classes.
  16. When your husband goes out of town for 2 weeks go to every available class. Notice that this doesn’t kill you, but learn a few hard lessons about eating, sleeping, and setting aside everything else in life for the duration.
  17. Request more vacation time, rather than trying to squeeze the seminar in before or after work.
  18. Keep training. Keep doing the exercises your PT recommended. Keep saying that you really ought to start doing more cardio work on the elliptical.
  19. Order another gi for the seminar, so you can change into a dry one at the lunch break each day.
  20. Watch the DVDs again. Start to see the techniques, and hear what the teachers are saying.
  21. Fall off your horse on Christmas. Get a little dinged up and worry that you might not be able to do the seminar.
  22. Come down with a cold that same night. Remember the month-long Cold From Hell last year, and and worry that you might not be able to do the seminar.
  23. Hit both problems with everything you’ve got. Vitamin C, zinc, rest, fluids, echinicia for the cold. Ice, stretching, and arnica for the bumps and bruises.
  24. Recover from the cold in only 3 days.
  25. Go to the dojo and discover that you can roll without the bruises hurting too much. Get all excited and jump around the room.
  26. Notice that the calendar says January, and that the seminar is JUST TWO WEEKS AWAY.
  27. Remember what you’ve been saying about how you ought to be doing more cardio training.
  28. Panic.
  29. Actually get on the elliptical trainer and get to work. Two weeks is better than nothing.
  30. Start a list of things to take to the seminar: Water, coffee, protein bars, bandages, tape, notebook, pens, paperwork, gi, an ice chest with ice packs in it…
  31. Order feed, catch up on chores, stock up on groceries, do laundry. Arrange life so there’s nothing else that needs to be handled during the seminar.
  32. Relax.
  33. Get all excited and jump around the room.
  34. Keep training.

Only 11 days to go. Not that I’m counting. :-)