The Stillness After the Seminar

So about that seminar, finally… I had a great time at the Aikido Bridge Friendship Seminar a couple of weeks ago. Doran, Ikeda, and Tissier Sensei taught again, and this time each also did a tanto (knife) class. I got to train and hang out with some really nice folks I met there last year, several of my Aikido rock star heroes, and some new friends I hope to see again soon. I even got to have a house guest for the duration. On the basic “having a good time” scale, it was way up there. Lots of fun.

I love training at the level of intensity available at seminars – really focusing on nothing else for several days, without distraction. I definitely plan to be back next year, and am looking forward to 4 days with Patrick Cassidy Sensei in February, the Aiki Summer Retreat at Menlo Park in June, Robert Nadeau Shihan some time this summer, and our dojo retreat in the mountains in the fall. And some day, on my wish list, George Ledyard Sensei’s Weapons & Randori Intensive. There’s something about that removal from everyday life to just train that allows for breakthroughs. 

It was interesting to notice that this year I got more frustrated and impatient with myself. Last year I was only a 6th kyu with about 6 months of training behind me. My most fervent wish at that point was to not make a complete fool of myself – to clap at the right time when bowing in, address the instructors appropriately, and to not be an embarrassment to my dojo or teacher. This time around, as a 4th kyu training for 18 months, I thought I should know something. Not in the “yeah, yeah, I already know how to do ikkyo” sense (I’m not that thick headed), but when I missed the point of an exercise at first, or failed to execute a technique as smoothly as I’d just seen demonstrated (or flat out screwed it up), I found I was kicking myself, thinking I should be able to do better. Many, many (many) times I had to remind myself that the instructors and almost everyone else on the mat have been doing this for much, much longer than I have. There’s a little voice in my head, reminding me: “Patience, Grasshopper." 

People now have been asking me what I learned. It’s hard to say. Yes, there were some cool new (to me) techniques, new (to me) ways of doing familiar techniques. There were reminders, about atemi, dealing with different energies, what-ifs, and so on. And there was a lot of really interesting work with the tanto.

It was a great opportunity to see and feel a lot of different kinds of ukemi. There had been a very good discussion going on AikiWeb about ukemi at seminars, and in particular one where Ikeda Sensei was teaching. So I had that on my mind, and was more aware of various styles and philosophies of ukemi than I would have been otherwise. Right from the start there was plenty to pay attention to. There was one person who repeatedly walked right through me, zombie-like, instead of doing the connection exercise we were shown. A couple of others basically launched themselves into breakfalls when I showed some intention of doing a technique. But the vast majority tried to give honest feedback – not fighting, but not letting me continue in ignorant bliss if I didn’t have them. And many, bless their patient and generous hearts, coached me in being a better uke – in particular providing better attacks. Ukemi and connection was a major focus in Tissier Sensei’s classes, with one really valuable exercise taking most of a 75 minute class. I like to think my ukemi got a little better from all this. A little… I hope.

Mostly, the seminar somehow seems to have left me more open, more receptive – left some cracks that let a little more light through. There’s a kind of clarity and stillness, like when you can hear sounds you never noticed before after living in a quiet environment for a while. Or maybe it’s more like the peaceful pre-dawn silence after a loud concert. It’s hard to describe. The past couple of weeks at my own dojo have been particularly intense. My mind has been quieter, and I find I am hearing things in a new way. Exercises I’ve done before, words Sensei has said before, hold new levels of meaning, as if I were going back and re-reading a book I read as a child, and am finding that there was much more to it than I realized then. ("Oh… That’s what that whole scene was about…”) Another layer of the infinitely-layered onion has been revealed. 

Aikido Bridge 2011 – Sunday

Wow… What a fun day. Started to get a few things. I really enjoyed Tissier Sensei’s class, which was all about connection and honest ukemi. I got to train with several people who were very good, and also gave me a few very helpful pointers. We got to stick with the same kinds of exercises for quite a long time, which allowed for some experimentation, and a few light-bulb moments. I got to work with Tissier himself briefly, which was an honor. Kinda screwed up the connection point of the exercise when I tried to come back up from a fall, but he still had me. D’oh!  

I also really enjoyed Doran Sensei’s class, although in my exhaustion-addled state I can’t recall what we worked on. Some of it was nikkyo, and I have to say I really enjoyed training with Adam, who is a model of relaxed, force-free, effective Aikido. His technique is very quiet, unhurried, and gentle, and will drop you to your knees as well (or better) than someone cranking on your wrist. Really a pleasure to train with and learn from.

Bless Ikeda Sensei’s heart, he has gotten video of the whole seminar, and will be offering the DVDs to participants. I’m bringing my check tomorrow! That will be tremendously helpful for recall later.

Ikeda Sensei’s tanto class was fun. Lots of very solid techniques with interesting ukemi. I trained with people at a variety of levels, and we did the baby version of the technique (the slo-mo, non-high-fall kind). Everyone I trained with, thankfully (even when we both ended up on the mat) went slowly, and was very careful. Did some potential arm-breaking things, if people got rushy or forceful. 

Day Three – Whew!

An intense day today. Not physically, hardly broke a sweat, in spite of the heat. But a lot to assimilate. On the mat I compared a few of techniques to sounds that aren’t present in your native tongue – it’s hard to even perceive them, never mind pronounce them correctly. But I did get a lot of it – at least managed to grasp or improve some aspect of what was demonstrated each time we would work on it. Received a couple of very kind complements. Saw and attempted lots of new stuff, some familiar stuff, and some things I remember seeing from last year, and am seeing in a new light this year. Got to just sit and chat with some very nice people. Found several new ways to humiliate and embarrass myself. Received a lovely, and very thoughtful gift. Got to train with people from all over California, Salt Lake City, Phoenix, Houston, New York, The Netherlands, Seattle, and I’m sure a dozen other places. Last year I didn’t expect much of myself, I just wanted to go with my eyes open, get exposure to a variety of things, and not do anything too obviously stupid. This year, with a little more training behind me, I’ve had to keep reminding myself every time I got frustrated (every few minutes!) that I’ve not even been at this for two years. Patience…

Saturday, 6:30 a.m.

This is the point at which it feels like we’ve been doing this for a long time, but it’s only been one evening and one full day. There are two full days and one morning ahead, plus a big group dinner tonight, and a mixer at the dojo tomorrow.

Now it’s the weekend, so there will be many more people, and lots of new faces today.

Time to get moving!