Aikido Seminars, Camps, & Retreats

First, this page is not intended to be an up-to-date list of seminars, and it is far from all-inclusive. To find more complete listings of upcoming seminars, check these places:

Now that we have that out of the way… This page is a listing of a few annual or relatively regular seminars I have actually participated in at least once, and personally recommend.

Joshua Tree Evolutionary Aikido Retreat

4 days, over Presidents Day weekend (in February), at the Joshua Tree Retreat Center, Joshua Tree, California

A live-in retreat in the Mojave Desert of Southern California, with Patrick Cassidy, Miles Kessler, and Dave Goldberg Senseis. The instructors are open and accessible, and the vibe is cohesive and supportive. Participants range from having decades of experience to just starting out, with everyone exploring new perspectives together. If you want to expand your training beyond just mastering techniques (not that there’s anything wrong with that), and take a look at who you are and what you’re up to in life, go to this retreat.

In addition to many hours of vibrant, joyful, and insightful training on the mat (often to thoughtfully selected  music), the experience includes hiking in the desert, chef-prepared meals in the dining room, swimming, or enjoying the spa. Spontaneous singing and yoga might break out, or talking until the wee hours, in the Sanctuary / training hall. Housing is in apartments for 2-4 people, and each has a private bathroom, small kitchen, and patio. Everyone takes meals together in the dining hall. There is a cute book and gift store near the office, and town is just a few minutes away if you need anything. This would be a great event to bring a non-training spouse or friend, as there is plenty for them to enjoy at the Retreat Center and nearby, including Joshua Tree National Park.

O Sensei Revisited Workshop

A 3-day live-in camp in late April, at the CYO Retreat Center in Occidental, CA (near Santa Rosa).

This is a unique, intimate camp with a specific focus: to pass along O Sensei’s process for developing one’s self. From the event  “The inner work of O Sensei should not be lost. Nadeau Sensei believes that it is critical to preserve this facet of Aikido and to experience the O Sensei process of development.” This is not a technical seminar, although through the work you do here your technique will almost certainly improve.

Robert Nadeau Shihan leads the workshop, along with Mary Heiny Sensei and many of Nadeau’s senior students, including my own teacher, Dave Goldberg Sensei. Nadeau was a direct student of O Sensei, and is one of a very few who are still teaching. According to his City Aikido website, “He is particularly interested in the spiritual aspects of the art, using Aikido as a process of expanding consciousness.” Nadeau’s teaching has had a powerful influence on my Aikido training, both directly, and through my sensei.

The facility is a lovely, rustic camp in the woods. There is a beautiful, large hall which is half training area, half dining hall. The teachers are remarkably accessible, hanging out and eating with the students. It is an incredible opportunity to connect with people of all ranks, from the leaders of the seminar to white belts coming to their first seminar. You can ask questions, listen to stories, and discuss all things Aiki. It’s also a great seminar for dojos to attend as a group, and you will likely return with some stories to tell (turkeys, Wilson, “Is he still alive?” to name a few).

Housing is in cabins, which are newer and clean, but austere. You walk to the restrooms and (hot) showers. Our dojo has gone in varying numbers since the beginning, sometimes filling two cabins. It’s the kind of camp where you get to know each other, and sit around a big fire ring on Saturday night talking until the wee hours. Tuition includes your room and meals.

I have only missed O Sensei Revisited one year, for financial reasons, and I regret not going. It’s my intention to participate in this workshop for as long as Nadeau and the other teachers continue offering it. There is not, and will not be, another seminar like it.

San Diego Bridge Friendship Seminar

5 days, over Martin Luther King Day weekend (in January), at Jiai Aikido, San Diego, California

I think I’m terribly lucky to have this seminar every year just down the road at a neighboring dojo. I’ve been going since 2010. This is a seminar where three great, high-ranking teachers from different associations share the stage (hence “friendship seminar”). Typically the main teachers are Hiroshi Ikeda Shihan, Frank Doran Shihan, and Christian Tissier Shihan. The point is to break down barriers and strengthen ties between dojos and affiliations. It’s a fairly large seminar (in a large facility). It’s a pretty big deal, really. You get lots of time on the mat each day, and some vigorous training, primarily focused on the technical aspects of Aikido. Many of the participants are senseis with their own dojos, so it’s an impressive group on the mat, but the seminar is also very beginner-friendly. The first time I went I was a 6th kyu. I had a great time, and made many friends who I look forward to seeing there (and elsewhere) each year.

The Bridge Seminar, as it’s often called, has some cool features, which vary from year to year. A couple of times there was live-blade tatami-cutting practice in the parking lot, with David Goldberg Sensei (the sword maker). Usually on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday there will be a special guest instructor each morning and evening, selected from the teachers attending the event. That means that in addition to the 3 headliners, you have the opportunity to train with 6 other senseis. I’ve gotten a lot out of these sessions – some special point that finally got through to me, or a way of thinking that resonated with me. One year, each of the main instructors led a session on tanto (knife) take-aways, so we go to see three distinct approaches to working with that.

The dojo has a comfortable loft area, so if you need to sit out a training session you can go there and watch from above. There is usually one organized dinner, but most lunch breaks and evenings you can find friends to join you at a local restaurant or hang out and eat your brown-bag lunch at the dojo. If you are local, go to this. If you’re from someplace where it’s cold in winter, this seminar is a great excuse to come spend a week in sunny San Diego.

Aiki Summer Retreat

A full week, Sunday-through-Saturday, usually in June, at Feather River College in Quincy, California

This retreat has been happening almost-annually for over 30 years! I first went in 2011, the last year it was still at Menlo College in the Bay Area. In 2013 and 2015 the Retreat was held at Feather River College, an small community college in the tiny town of Quincy, in the beautiful Sierra Mountains, northeast of Sacramento. The college specializes in training students for outdoor recreation jobs, and has a large equestrian program. You will see deer and other wildlife on campus. (I saw a bear in 2011!) Housing is in shared dorm-apartments, with private baths and full kitchens. Beds and bed linens are provided, but you bring everything else. There’s no other furniture, no trash bags, no pans or coffee makers. If you want it in your room, bring it. Meals are served in the dining hall, and are pretty good. It’s a small college, not a resort. Go for the people, not for a luxury vacation.

The character of the retreat has evolved over time. This is not just a showcase of big name teachers. A new generation of instructors, headed by Michael Friedl Sensei and Frank Bloksberg Sensei, has taken on producing and leading the event, with Robert Nadeau Shihan coming to work with participants on one day of the retreat. The instructors, famous or less-so, are also participants, and hang out at meals, chat on walks around campus, and perform enthusiastically at the traditional Friday night Aiki Follies.

There is a special emphasis here, which I have not experienced elsewhere, on strengthening the Aikido community, supporting each other in growth as martial artists and instructors. In 2013 some the senior instructors mentored newer instructors in leading seminar sessions. In both 2011 and 2013 there were breakout sessions for discussion dojo management, marketing and promotion, etc. There is plenty of free time between sessions, at meals, and in the evenings to hang with old friends, and make new ones, and that’s one of the points of going here.

George Ledyard Sensei’s 4-Day Randori Intensive

Schedule and locations vary. Sometimes at Aikido Eastside in Bellevue, Washington, near Seattle.

The most physically and mentally ambitious seminar I’ve done. I absolutely loved it, learned tons, and am looking forward to returning as often as I can get up there. If you are preparing for a dan exam, do this seminar. If you want to think strategically about dealing with multiple attackers, get more comfortable with handling pressure, or just love to train and challenge yourself, sign up and go. Participation is very limited, and it truly is hands on, with lots of personal attention and direct instruction. Ledyard Sensei is a skilled and experienced teacher, who has been presenting and refining this work for many years. Most of the participants have done the seminar several times before. It’s very high-level training. I’ve never been to another seminar like it – much more like the kind of work you’d do in a riding clinic, with specific coaching and corrections -than the typical big-group training you find at most Aikido events.

Here are some of my thoughts after participating for the first time in 2014: An Intense Intensive.

Saotome Shihan at Redlands Aikikai

3 days, usually in August, at Redlands Aikikai, Redlands, California

Saotome Shihan is one of the few people still teaching who trained directly under O-Sensei. I’ve only gotten to train with him once, for one day, but really enjoyed it. If you are within driving distance of any direct student of O Sensei, you should go train with them. I found the teaching hard to grasp, because Saotome Sensei’s approach is a little different from what I’m used to, but we need to get out of our comfort zones from time to time, so I didn’t mind that at all. Personally I really liked him, and had a good time both during training and at the dinner on Saturday night.

Redlands Aikikai is headed by Chetan Prakash Sensei. It’s a beautiful facility, and a lovely community of people. They do a great job of organizing seminars, and always make me feel welcome. Note that while Redlands can be hot in August, the dojo does have air conditioning. I also recommend participating in any seminar led by Prakash Sensei. I’ve done one on weapons, and one on ukemi, and both were valuable experiences with some good “aha” moments for me.

Any Seminar at Aikido of San Diego

Check the event schedule, at the link above, for upcoming seminars.

Most years we have one or two major seminars in addition to the Joshua Tree Retreat. Each is usually a weekend event – Friday evening through Sunday afternoon. We have had some great instructors, some coming on several occasions, including Robert Nadeau Shihan (a direct student of O-Sensei, and a brilliant teacher), Mary Heiny Sensei, Miles Kessler Sensei, Patrick Cassidy Sensei, Richard Moon Sensei, Kayla Feder Sensei, Denise Barry Sensei, and of course our own Dave Goldberg Sensei.

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