Ideas for Seminar Organizers: Weapons

Having been to a good few seminars where weapons (wooden sticks, that is) were part of the training, I have some thoughts to share.

First, if you’re organizing a seminar, for heaven’s sake please be clear about whether participants should bring sticks or not. I have been left wondering many times, and either had to bring them just in case, or leave them home and hope they wouldn’t be needed. I’ve been wrong both ways.

Please give abundant notice. I’ve been part of a large group flying to a seminar where we were all scrambling two days before the event to buy and/or build airline-appropriate carrying tubes. Given that we were trying to get other things handled before traveling it would have been a lot easier to have dealt with the stick-transportation problem weeks ahead of time instead of at the last minute.

And after all that, we didn’t use them anyway. *headdesk*

Not everyone has their own weapons. Sometimes there are loaners available, sometimes not, and often not enough to go around. The first seminar I went to was actually a retreat, and was to be fairly weapons-centric. I rush-ordered an inexpensive set of weapons (and basically had to refinish them on arrival – the night before the event) to be sure I would be able to fully participate in the weekend’s training.

It’s great to have extras for participants to borrow. It’s a pretty iffy prospect for the participants, though. Maybe they’ll get one, maybe not. It seems there are always a few folks pantomiming what was shown, stick-less, during a seminar. It might be nice to specifically arrange loaners when people sign up. Another check box on the form: “Will you be [ ] bringing your own sticks, or [ ] need to borrow a set?” Dojo members or other local participants could help out by bringing any extras they have.

Also, as a participant, I bring whatever spares I can carry from my own small collection. Someone has always needed to use them. Encourage people to bring any they can share. Just be sure they are clearly marked. No one would deliberately run off with another student’s weapons (right?), but they could get them mixed up with the loaners or something. Make it easy for people to see who they belong to and return them.

Bringing sticks on planes can be expensive! On a recent trip my sticks tube, which counts as a checked bag, cost $25 each way. I split that with a friend (it holds two sets, plus one extra jo), but still… As an organizer be mindful of this when asking folks to bring their sticks along “just in case.”

There’s also the risk that they could be damaged or lost. I have a decent inexpensive set for “away” seminars. My good ones don’t go on planes. Good thing, too – on this last return trip my sticks took an extra day getting home, and for a while there the airline seemed to have no recollection of them at all.

Here are a couple of “out of the box” ideas for seminar organizers:

Provide a local address (the dojo, a member’s business…) where out of town participants could ship their sticks (or other heavy, big, or awkward things like sleeping bags, extra blankets, etc.) so they don’t have to schlep them on a plane.

If your dojo could use more sticks for general use in class or seminars, consider offering the option for participants to contribute to their purchase. For instance, buying a 10-pack of jo from some suppliers means the cost is very reasonable. If a visiting seminar participant could “rent” a bokken and jo for $25 it could potentially save them (net) $25 in checked baggage fees, plus a lot of hassle in getting their own weapons to the seminar. You’d have loaners for next time, and for your regular classes. After a few seminars they’d be fully paid off. Win-win!

At one big seminar locally, where lots of people travel to be there, they used only tanto. Easy to pack, no special luggage required. I thought that was a really thoughtful idea, and it was interesting to see how each of the instructors approached teaching with tanto.

I’d love to hear any other ideas for making it easier for people to get sticks to seminars, too!

Some photos from O Sensei Revisited III, in Occidental, CA. This very rich, full event is led by Robert Nadeau Shihan, and many of his senior students also teach there. Some of the instructors from this year were Jack Wada, Richard Moon, Elaine Yoder, Susan Spence, Jackie Cossman, Denise Barry, Roy and Paul (my apologies – I need to learn their last names), and our own Dave Goldberg. Also, Mary Heiny Sensei was there participating in discussions and Q&A sessions about O Sensei. Thank you to each of them, and everyone who organized and ran the event (Kenny, Brad, … probably a dozen others, too). And thanks to Jamie for shuttling us from the airport to camp, and back. Already looking forward to next year!

A Surprise Visit to Orange County Aikido

I meant to hit the road early last Friday, August 9th. It happened to be my 51st birthday, and I was heading a few hours north to a weekend seminar on aiki, or internal power, in martial arts. It was to be held at Orange County Aiki Kai (http://www.ocaikido.com/), a few miles east of Disneyland. I didn’t have a lot of details – not even a confirmation of my registration – but I thought I was supposed to be at the dojo at 6:30 on Friday evening.

I had been looking forward to this seminar both on its own merits, and as a little weekend escape. I was hoping to get to the hotel by 3:00 to have time to check in, chill out, and enjoy a quick swim in the pool before the seminar began. Alas, getting ready for trips always takes me longer than I think it will. By mid-day I realized I was going to roll in at the last minute, so I put my swimsuit and cover-up back in the closet and stuck with the essentials – 3 days worth of gi and light sweats, because I didn’t know which we would be training in. All morning I was hustling to do laundry, clean up loose ends around the house, and pack. 

It was already after noon when I chucked my bags in the car and headed out. My hotel didn’t offer breakfast, but had a microwave and a refrigerator, so I picked up some fruit and snacks at a shiny new Mediterranean foods market near home while my car got a long-overdue oil change down the street. Then after a quick stop for fuel and a trip through the local car wash – my car was dangerously dirty – I was finally ready to go.

I carefully entered “610 East Katella Ave” into the Google Maps app on my phone, put on some tunes, and hit the road. Luckily there wasn’t much traffic, but because of the late start I was just on track to make it to the dojo with barely enough time to change and warm up. I’d have to check into the hotel afterward. I followed Google’s directions, although it seemed to be taking me further west than I expected. At 6:25 p.m. I found myself in front of Fritz’s Gentlemen’s Club. “Your destination is on the right.” Hmmm… It was possible that the dojo leased space in the back of the club or at a nearby warehouse, but if so there was no sign of it. Now having only 5 minutes before the seminar was supposed to begin, I pulled into an empty parking lot and called the dojo. 

A gracious man named Michael answered the phone and let me know that the seminar wasn’t even there that night. It was somewhere near the beach, at a pier, and he didn’t have any other details. I confess I was a bit peeved, having rushed all day to get there, and then learning I was going to be missing it anyway. If there was a memo, I hadn’t gotten it. Rrrr… Bless his heart, Michael kept his center, along with his cheerful demeanor, and let me know that the seminar wasn’t a dojo-affiliated event – it was just using their facility on Saturday and Sunday. He also gave me correct directions to the dojo – same street address, next city to the east (Orange, not Anaheim), just 4 miles down the road. Given that I was suddenly free for the evening he invited me to come on over and watch some shodan (first black belt) exam run-throughs. I could even take ukemi if I wanted to. They’d be starting at 7:30.

Time to practice some real-life Aikido. Things were not unfolding as I had expected. I needed to flow with what was actually before me at the moment, letting go completely my ideas of how things were supposed to have gone and moving forward into this new reality.

Now with an hour to spare, and not sure what I wanted to do yet, I headed to the hotel and checked in. Cute enough place, quiet, with friendly staff. A tiny room, but with all the necessities of life. I considered my options as I unpacked my bags. I’d only grabbed snacks here and there all day, and I was really hungry. I could go to dinner, have a relaxed evening of writing, and get a good night’s rest to be ready for tomorrow. I was right across the street from Disneyland, too! It was a warm summer night, and I could easily walk over and hang out at the park for a few hours. That would be nice! Or I could go to a completely unfamilar Aikido dojo in a different lineage from my usual training, where I didn’t know anyone, and crash their exam run-throughs. 

If you know me you’ll have already guessed what I chose. I snarfed down a handful of raw Brazil nuts and a banana, and set off for the dojo. I threw my gi bag in the car, just in case, but figured it would be stressful enough for shodan candidates to be doing exam prep without having to deal with an unfamiliar uke. 

Equipped with proper directions the dojo was easy to find. There was a big sign and plenty of off-street parking. It was a beautiful, spacious facility, too!  When I arrived a class of well over 20 kids was just ending, with parents relaxing in a lounge area with several couches and chairs. In another corner there was an office area defined by folding screens. On the wall near the desk there was one of those big boards that I’ve only seen in photos, with a vertical wooden “card” with each member’s name, in kanji (I think), organized by rank. The far side and rear walls, opposite the shomen, were mostly floor-to-ceiling windows, with tidy weapons racks on the narrow solid parts between the glass. In addition to the lounge area there were wooden benches along the windows.

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A lot of people were milling around, with kids leaving and adults arriving for the exam run-throughs. I found someone, who found Michael, and I introduced myself as the one who had called earlier. It turns out that in addition to training there, Michael is an acupuncturist with his practice at the dojo. Having let them know who I was, this stranger lurking in their dojo, and knowing they were all busy getting ready, I excused myself, found a place on a bench along the far windows and sat down to watch. Almost immediately I saw I’d made the right choice by not trying to bow in for the session. Everything was different from how we train, and I would definitely have been in the way! Better to watch and see how things are done in another organization.

Everyone lined up by rank, another thing I’d only heard about. Someone shouted an instruction to bow, which I had seen before at least, and they began. A young brown-belt, Liz, who I soon learned was to be one of the exam candidates, was asked to lead warm-ups. This is something I’m often called on to do at our dojo, so I was eager to see how she went about it. After leading everyone in running a few laps, slapping the mat at all four corners as they went, she called out the name of each exercise, and the class responded by repeating the names. “Aiki taiso, ikkyo undo! Ichi, ni, san,” and so on. I thought it might be fun, if I could remember all the names, to lead warm-ups like that one day at our dojo, just to change things up. As part of the warm-ups they even did line drills, running everyone through a variety of techniques and ukemi in three or four groups going across the mat.

After warm-ups the class lined up, sitting in seiza, again by rank, along the back edge of the mat. The higher-ranking students sat on the right, farthest from me. Three yudansha (black belts) sat at the front, in the corner to the right of the shomen, like Sensei does for our exams. There would be two people doing their mock exams, Liz and a man whose name I regret I’ve forgotten. Liz was to go first.

The way it went was that one of the black belts, who turned out to be Ishisaka Sensei, the dojo cho, called an uke up, specified an attack, and instructed Liz to demonstrate “five arts” from that attack. The uke would pop out behind the line of students, dash to the end nearest me, bow onto the mat, and join Liz at the center. The attacks were much faster and harder than we normally do, with correspondingly fast and hard techniques and ukemi. Again I was glad I’d decided just to watch. At best I’d have been a nuisance. At worst I’d have gotten myself injured in a big hurry. Perhaps I could work up to it, but coming in cold to a shodan-level workout… Uh, no, thank you.

Liz’s technique was really sharp, very impressive. After each set of techniques the uke would be excused and the three instructors would review what she’d done well, where she could improve, make note of things to go over in class, and so on. What a privilege to get so much insight into how they train in just one evening! 

A few times they commented on her getting winded. Clearly she was in awesome shape, so that wasn’t the problem. But she was also nervous, I think. Who wouldn’t be? I could see she wasn’t breathing enough during the first few techniques of each set – her mouth was shut tight – and then she couldn’t get caught up. I sat watching, trying to will her to breath deeply right from the start. “Breathe, Liz!” I thought. Funny how that doesn’t work. Haha.

I’ve noticed this in myself too, of course. I’m sure we all do it – especially under pressure. I observed something about this while doing randori, oh, maybe a year ago. For the first two rounds, when I was attacking/taking ukemi, I wasn’t breathing enough at the beginning, and so I was quickly gassed and couldn’t seem to take in enough air. But later, after several more rounds, I was fine. I kept jumping up when Sensei called for ukes, and wasn’t having any trouble breathing at all. I was breathing hard, for sure, but was not winded. I knew it wasn’t that I got into better shape over the course of an hour. What I think I figured out was that in the later rounds I was already breathing fully right from the start. If you’ve trained with me much you might have noticed that I often jog around the mat before class to warm up, adding in faster laps and sprints, too. (Actually, people at the Aiki Retreat were kidding me about it.) In part it’s to get the blood flowing, and warm up my muscles before class starts, but I’m also working on developing the habit of breathing hard right away. Ideally I should be able to do a sprint or two without being winded, and without my heart trying to pound itself loose from my chest wall – those are signs of not breathing enough. I’ve also played with training and singing – like horseback riding instructors have students do sometimes. You can’t hold your breath if you’re singing! I’m getting better at it, but of course I forget a lot, too, and then I find myself gasping for air all over again. But I digress…

After the open-hand techniques there was some weapons work – solo forms (kata), take-aways (dori), and throws (nage). The kata were different from ours, but the principles were the same. Then randori, free technique with 3 or 5 attackers, I forget which. At my dojo we attack as though we intend to land the strike, reaching our target and following through, but man… This was faster and more intense. Have I mentioned it’s a good thing I didn’t try to join in? Wow!

Liz received some more feedback from the instructors and returned to the line. The next candidate came forward and the process was repeated. Finally, around 9:30, the group bowed out.

Afterward I introduced myself to Liz and the other candidate, and thanked them for the opportunity to watch their test run-throughs. I’d hoped it hadn’t distracted them to have some unknown person watching from the sidelines. It was a really special glimpse into how people train at another dojo, and I was grateful to be there. I also met Ishisaka Sensei, who I think was the first person I’d spoken to when I arrived, but hadn’t realized at the time he was the dojo cho – he’s a young-looking sensei! 

A group was forming to meet up for dinner, and he invited me to join them. How could I resist hanging out with such friendly Aikido people? Besides, by that time my earlier snack had worn off completely and food was again a high priority. About 15 folks met up at Norm’s restaurant, just down the street. They shared the usual recounting of the evening’s events, a lot of laughs, and some tales of past adventures at the dojo. We talked a little about teaching, dojo management, and Aikido politics.

At dinner I was honored to speak with Ishisaka Sensei a good bit. He is the grandson of the dojo founder, Harry Ishisaka. What a nice person! I was really impressed with his warm, family approach to leading his dojo community. I learned that the dojo is approaching its 50th anniversary, and is run as a non-profit organization. They moved to the current location a few months ago (in early 2013). Ishisaka Sensei and his students have been breathing renewed life into the dojo and programs along with the new facility and even a new website. Somehow he manages a full-time career, a young family, and the dojo. Much respect!

Eventually dinner was finished, everyone tossed in their share of the check, and we all parted ways. I finally ended up back at my hotel around 12:30 in the morning, with just enough time to get a decent night’s rest before the seminar started in the morning.

In the end, what started out as a disappointing, frustrating misunderstanding turned into a lovely evening, expanded horizons, and new friends I wouldn’t have met otherwise. The weekend’s seminar wasn’t a dojo event, so I wouldn’t see these folks again in the morning, but I was very glad to have had the chance to spend such a special evening with them. I’d love to get back up to train with them someday soon, too. 

If you’re in the area, go visit. They are a very friendly, welcoming bunch of folks. Just be sure to specify “Orange, CA” when you enter the address in your phone or GPS. ;-)

A Few Friends at the Retreat

This is the first of several sets of photos I’ll post about last week’s Aiki Summer Retreat 2013, at Feather River College in Quincy, California.

It was such a pleasure to see so many people I knew! I had met probably half the participants before. I knew a few well already, and got to know others better, and made quite a few new friends, too. These photos are of just a few of the awesome folks I was privileged to spend time with at the Retreat.

NOTE – Click the images above, and then keep clicking to step through them. Each one has a descriptive caption to read.

So Exciting! Off to Camp Soon!

This is quick, because I have a lot to do today. I’m going to the Aiki Summer Retreat 2013 – the one formerly held at Menlo College – at Feather River College in Quincy, California. This will be my second time going. Some people have been going for decades!

I had a great time talking with Frank Bloksberg Sensei, one of the organizers, a few weeks ago. We chatted about what it’s like to go to the Retreat, especially as a first-timer and lower-ranked student. It was a lot of fun. You can watch our 40-minute webinar here, if you like:

http://www.joinaikido.com/aiki-summer-retreat-2013/summer-retreat-videos-and-webinars/webinar-with-linda-eskin/#

I’ll be blogging throughout the week. Here’s the big picture:

Today I’m packing and setting my bags by the door, and then tonight I’m going with some friends to train in Mexico. My teacher, Dave Goldberg Sensei will be leading a workshop at Aikido Tijuana, as he does every few months. 

Saturday morning I’ll hop on a plane to Sacramento (only after taking Sudafed, drinking plenty of water, and chewing gum, all to ward off vertigo – I hope) . There I’ll get to visit with Michael’s parents, who are lovely people. I’m planning to show them how to make my favorite kind of gluten-free bread. On Sunday morning they will drive me the 2-½ hours to Quincy and drop me off at the campus.

Sunday afternoon through the following Saturday morning will be Aikido, Aikido, Aikido, plus some food, a little sleep, lots of friends, and the infamous Aiki Retreat. I have a song half written. Must get that finished!

After the Retreat I’m hitching a ride back to Sacramento with a dear friend, one of my Aiki mentors, and flying home. Back to the dojo on Monday.

I’d best get busy packing!

My Chat with Frank Bloksberg Sensei, about the upcoming Aiki Summer Retreat 2013

My Chat with Frank Bloksberg Sensei, about the upcoming Aiki Summer Retreat 2013

Going to the Aiki Summer Retreat 2013!

[If this looks familiar, it’s because this is a revised version of my post from 2011, when I went the first time. This has updated information for the 2013 Retreat.]

This summer, June 23-29, 2013, I’m going for the second time to the Aiki Summer Retreat, now at Feather River College, in Quincy, California (just east of Chico). It’s the kind of thing where you stay in the dorms, eat in the dining hall, sit by the river, and eat, breathe, and sleep Aikido for a whole week. Woohoo! 

On Friday (May 24th), I got to chat with Frank Bloksberg Sensei, who is doing most of the organizing for the event. We talked about why I enjoy going to seminars and retreats, what people can expect, what to pack, etc. I promised to post my packing list, so here it is – along with whatever else might be helpful. You can hear our conversation (just as soon as it’s available) here: http://www.joinaikido.com/aiki-summer-retreat-2013/summer-retreat-videos-and-webinars/#

I know a bunch of folks who have gone to this event in past yeast, both fellow students from Aikido of San Diego, and people I’ve met at seminars (and am looking forward to seeing again!). My teacher, Dave Goldberg Sensei, has gone many times, and says he’s never had a bad day there (besides, it’s a cheap vacation). If you are on the fence about going, hop down before you get splinters, and sign up!

OK? Let’s get started. If you aren’t interested in any of the preparation stuff, don’t worry, there’s more. Keep scrolling to the part about what to do at camp.

Getting Ready – What to Pack

Being the planning, list-making sort, I’ve been planning and making lists. If you’re going to a retreat too, you might find them helpful. Last time I did a big solo road trip, which was great fun. This time I’m thinking of flying up, but I’ve left the road trip info for those who might need it. Here’s what I’ve got – you can use these as starting places for your own lists:

TO-DO LISTS:

Car (if you’re driving there)

  • Get tires checked and rotated
  • Be sure your alignment is OK
  • Oil change & check fluids
  • Wash / vacuum car
  • Check battery and wiper blades, too

Other Chores

  • Shop for food & supplies
  • Do laundry. Write name in all my gi / belt.
  • Arrange donkey and kitty care [Done. Thanks, Michael!]. Others may be able to skip this step. ;-)
  • Arrange to visit with friends and family on the way up and back. 
  • Print a list of critical phone numbers and information, in case of phone failure.
  • Set up iPad and iPhone with tunes, playlists, photos, and videos.

PACKING LISTS:

Everyday Stuff

  • Wallet
  • Checkbook
  • Purse
  • Notebook or journal
  • Pens

Road Trip Stuff

  • Maps
  • Roadside emergency kit (triangles, tools…)
  • Basic tool kit
  • Duct tape (just in case)
  • Multi-purpose tool (just because)

Food

Note that I don’t eat meat (except for fish), or gluten (wheat, barley, rye). I don’t like onions or garlic, and am mildly allergic to cinnamon and walnuts. So I’m hard to get along with. When I go to events where food is included, I bring my own, too. If there’s something there I can eat (salad, fruit, cheese), great. If not, I won’t starve. I have been told there is a microwave in the dining hall, and a Trader Joe’s across the street from the college, so picking simple things up and cooking them there should be easy, too. 

  • Raw nuts (almonds & Brazil nuts)
  • Bananas (buy ahead so they’ll be ripe!)
  • Promax gluten-free protein bars
  • Pre-cooked Pad Thai (w/rice noodles – gluten free)
  • Shelf-stable tofu (it comes in little paper boxes)
  • Instant coffee (little individual paper tubes are handy). Yes, there will be coffee at breakfast, but before you can get there you have to get up, get showered and dressed, and stumble over to the dining hall. The instant coffee can get you going until you get there, and can come in handy on the road, if you’re driving.
  • Powdered Gatoraide (to put in water bottle). You can get this in packets that make 1 quart each. It’s much easier to pack than a case of bottles! Note that the packets are – at least at my local Walmart – not sold near the groceries! Instead they are with the camping and fitness gear. 
  • Your favorite big water bottle
  • Big insulated mug (for instant soups or coffee)
  • Spoon, fork, and knife (big enough for cutting up fruit). Remember, don’t try to carry a knife onto a plane. Trust me. Check it.

Cooler

Note that we will be staying in on-campus apartments, with kitchens, so the cooler may not be needed, and gel packs that need to go in the freezer should work. Generally when I travel, though, I bring two of the old-school cloth bag kind that you fill with ice cubes and water. These are great to keep in your dojo bag, because any convenience store or food service place can be a source of ice when you need it.

  • Little, rolling cooler said to hold ice for 2 days at 90 degrees (not a wimpy picnic / 6-pack cooler) 
  • Ice packs (for icing joints, etc.).

Toiletries

  • Toiletries kit – remember that this is a dorm, with bathrooms down the hall.
  • Shampoo & conditioner
  • Blow dryer & straightening iron
  • Brush & comb
  • Fingernail / Toenail clippers
  • Callous remover
  • Soap (little bottles of shower gel – no wet bars to deal with)
  • Toothbrush, toothpaste, floss
  • Lotion, sunscreen, hand repair cream (Burt’s Bees – highly recommended)
  • Sunscreen
  • Road trip emergency medicines: Tylenol, Tums, Immodium
  • Vision stuff: Contacts, glasses (regular and reading) eye drops, soaking solution, contact case, spare set of lenses, sunglasses
  • Breathing stuff: Saline nose spray, Sudafed
  • Ladies, if you need lady stuff, add that to your list, too!

Training Things

If you are a dan-ranked sort of person, remember your yudansha book and hakama, too. I don’t have to worry about those yet!

  • Gi (the more you can bring, the less you’ll need to do laundry)
  • Underpants (several sets per day)
  • Sports bras
  • Sweat-wiping cloths
  • Flip-flops
  • Water bottle
  • Hair bands (and headbands?)

Weapons Bag (if needed)

I don’t know if we will be doing weapons work at the Retreat. But here’s the info, just in case… If you are flying, you can make a tube out of plastic drain pipe or PVC, with two end caps, and check that. Tape the end-caps on with duct tape – the TSA will definitely want to open the tube and see what’s in there. Bring extra tape for the return trip.

  • Weapons bag
  • Jo
  • Bokken
  • Tanto
  • Weapons Repair Kit (oil, sandpaper, rag)

Play Clothes

The historical weather stats for Quincy look awesome – average highs in the low 80s, average lows in the mid 40s. But… The records have been in the 100s and down in the 20s, so plan accordingly. 

  • Yoga pants
  • Jeans
  • Shorts
  • Skirts
  • Belts
  • T-shirts
  • Tank tops / undershirts
  • Light jacket
  • Heavy jacket for evenings out
  • Swimsuit (for the river, it it’s warm enough)
  • Underpants
  • Bras
  • Socks
  • Hat
  • Shoes
  • Flip-flops

Dress Clothes

Guys, you might want to skip the dress. Heck, I might even skip the dress. I just want to plan one outfit that would be appropriate if there’s a trip to an off-site sit-down restaurant or something. Some people like to dress up on Friday night. I’m probably going to be going casual.

  • Dress
  • Shoes that go with dress
  • Necklace
  • Purse

Things for Aiki Follies?

If you have something in mind to do, bring whatever you need. I didn’t bring or need anything in particular. I was able to cobble a “costume” of sorts together from my regular clothes, and slick my hair back with conditioner, and presto. Anything from a guitar to clown shoes might be handy. Use your imagination. 

  • _______________________
  • _______________________

Dorm Living

I am told the dorms are austere, with concrete floors. (One online review says “small, dirty, cramped,… poorly maintained”). I think basic bed linens are provided, but I may bring my own anyway. Some people bring area rugs. (Some even bring flowers in vases!) I’m figuring a run and/or mat for stretching. A small fan can be really nice. Been there, done that: U of W dorms for the Oshkosh EAA Airshow. Damn… We thought we were going to melt. People who’d been there before packed big box fans on the plane! Others tried to buy locally, but all the stores ran out.

  • Area rug (I used a yoga mat) – just something to stand on or stretch on in your room
  • Little brush and dust pan, for the dorm room floor
  • Yoga mat
  • Fan
  • A folding clothes/gi/towel drying rack (or plastic hangers, or travel clothesline) – thanks to seminar expert Geoff Yudien for that tip!
  • Reading lamp
  • Pillows (two buckwheat hull-filled ones I can’t live without!)
  • Zafu
  • Towel / Washcloths / Rags
  • Beach towel (for the river, sitting on the lawn, whatever)
  • Sheets & blanket – NOT necessary this time! Bloksberg Sensei has arranged for linens to be provided, so you don’t have to bring them.
  • Sleeping bag (for sleeping on friends’ floors, maybe)
  • Folding mattress (ditto, and in case bed is too mushy or hard, and for visiting friends on the way)
  • Magnifying mirror for putting in contacts
  • Bug repellent (skeeters?)
  • Plenty of change for doing laundry
  • Laundry detergent (unscented)

Photography (or maybe just use iPhone?)

  • Camera
  • 3 Batteries
  • 2 Chargers
  • Several SD Cards
  • Case

iThings

I think the campus may have some WiFi. I’ve heard it’s slow, but it should do the trick. I’m on AT&T… No idea what coverage is like there.

  • iPhone
  • iPad
  • Old iPhone as backup, and for recording ideas, blog posts, and other random ideas on the trip up and back.
  • Phone earbuds (with mic)
  • 2 chargers
  • Charging/speaker dock

Physical Therapy / First Aid

  • Yoga mat
  • Foam roller
  • Stick (or Tiger Tail)
  • BioFreeze
  • Arnica
  • White sports tape
  • Vet Rap
  • Band-Aids
  • Lamb’s wool
  • Moleskin
  • ACE bandages
  • Ice / hot water bag
  • Back brace (for holding ice/heat packs on lower back)
  • Knee brace (for holding ice/heat pack on knee or elbow)

That’s is so far. I’ll probably post some amendment, too. If you have any suggestions, especially if you’ve gone before, I’d love to hear them. See you there? I hope!

What to Do at Camp

You will probably find yourself caught up in the flow of things, and ultimately will find your own way just fine. But if you’re like me, and feel more comfortable knowing what to expect, here are some tips:

Introduce yourself. Get involved. Don’t hang back. In 2011, as the only person attending from my dojo, and my first time there, I didn’t know how things would go. I assumed each dojo would do something they had prepared ahead of time for the Aiki Follies on Friday, and that I wouldn’t be participating. But the end of the first day’s training someone asked for anyone who would like to be part of an ensemble singing group. My hand shot up – and so should yours. I had a blast rehearsing throughout the week, and it was a great way to get to know people!

Be respectful of the instructors’ time and privacy, of course, but don’t be afraid to approach them. Say hello. Invite them to sit at your table at a meal, or ask if you may join them. Join in the conversations that spontaneously pop up here and there. They have come to teach and share Aikido! Show your appreciation and interest. One high-ranking person I spoke with was disappointed that people were not asking more questions or engaging him in discussions – he’d come all that way to be available, and students were not taking advantage of the opportunity! I got to sit and chat with him for a good part of the evening. Lucky me!  

Read this. This is great advice from one of my favorite Aikido people, George Ledyard Sensei – his blog post from just a few weeks ago: How to Get the Most Out of Attending Aikido Camp.

A few practical things…

People dress in their rooms and walk to the dojo in their gi. So you don’t need a dojo bag – you won’t be changing in a locker room. That was a surprise to me the first time.

It’s OK to not train in every class. I’m one of those stubborn people who tries to do it all, but you don’t have to! It’s totally OK to take a nap under a tree, sit off the mat and watch, or even go into town if you just need a break.

Enjoy!

Acceleration. As in rocket sled.

This past month or so has been an amazingly varied, intense, and joyful period of Aikido for me. I’ve had a great time, and learned tons. I would not have said a few weeks ago that I was on a plateau. I wasn’t feeling frustrated or stalled out in any way. But in the last few weeks I have felt a sort of acceleration kick in. Zero to 60 is one thing. But when you’ve already been doing 60… Wow. 

I’m not sure why it’s been like this, but I’m enjoying the heck out of it, and waking up excited about each day. In my experience, as a native San Diegan, this time of year is one of beginnings. It’s blazing hot for months, and then things start to cool off. Rain comes, and the hills start to go from gold to green. I associate the changing light and weather with the start of start of the school year, so it just feels like a time for learning new things. Also, I’ve been writing a lot here (not just the posts you’ve seen, but drafts for future posts, or just private reflections), plus putting my thoughts down on paper after class in a notebook I carry with me in my dojo bag. Writing helps me digest information, see patterns, and remember. I’ve been writing because I’ve been inspired by everything I’m experiencing and learning, but the writing also deepens the experience and solidifies the learning.

Actually, this all really started around the beginning of August. Sensei did some really revealing and inspired work with us on embodying qualities in our Aikido. We had several classes that, even though each was only an hour, generated the kinds of insights I might hope for from participating in a seminar. Lots of discovery and realizations. The kind of work that whaps you upside the head and wakes you up. I was in the midst of several personal transitions, discovering where I fit in, and the processes we did on in class helped me see more clearly the real issues underlying some situations I’d been suffering over.  

Later in August, while on vacation with my husband, Michael, I got to train at Portland Aikikai, in Oregon. They were very nice folks. I hope I have the chance to go back. If you’re in the area, stop in and train (ask first, of course). They are a warm, welcoming group. I participated in three classes, with three different teachers. That was very challenging! Each one had a little different feeling to their class, and everything was a little different from what I’m used to. So I had to stay very awake! Even warm-ups were done a little differently. Training there was really fun, and mentally exhausting, paying attention that closely for that long. 

Also while on vacation I managed to sneak in an Friday morning class at Michael Friedl Sensei’s dojo in Ashland, Oregon. I’d trained with Friedl Sensei once before, at the Aiki Retreat, and felt right at home. Here again, if you’re in the area, get in touch with him about training. It was a pretty laid-back energy class, which was wonderful, because it was at 7 a.m., and I’m not sure I’d have been up to anything too terribly vigorous at that hour. I’d never trained that early before! At the end of class Friedl Sensei took a moment to explain why they were all (even himself) wearing white belts and no hakama. For a couple of months (if I remember correctly) each year everyone in the dojo wears a white belt. It’s to remind them of Beginner’s Mind, and that we’re all on this path of learning together, even the teacher. I really like that idea, and it fits right into the sense of newness I’ve been feeling about training. 

On our way south we stopped in Chico, California, where I got to observe a couple of hours of Danzan Ryu Jujitsu classes at Chico Kodenkan (founded in 1939!). Aikido has roots in Jujitsu, but I’d never actually seen it before. So I was very fortunate that this dojo was about 3 blocks from where Michael went to play in a traditional Irish music session, and happened to have classes at the same time. Here I only went to watch, but the teacher (maybe Ken Couch?) was very generous about stepping off the mat to explain their teaching system and history, and to answer my questions. He said next time they’d get me on the mat. That would be fun! I also got to meet their Sensei, Delina Fuchs, a gracious woman who made me feel very welcome. Once more, if you’re in Chico… Well, you know. :-) The class I watched included two senior students who appeared to be training for an upcoming exam, and a few children who were just beginning. A couple of the kids had to go early, leaving one very new boy and the two seniors in the class. The instructor had them do a really creative, fun Sumo kind of exercise in balance breaking that put the little newbie kid on an equal footing with the much more experienced, bigger students. I often find that watching the teaching and class management is as fascinating as seeing the techniques demonstrated, and this fun, effective exercise was a great opportunity for that. 

After returning from vacation, on Saturday, September 1st we had two shodan exams at our dojo. We’ve averaged about one a year since I started, so two on one day was a big deal. It was great to see two friends who have mentored and encouraged me from day one take that big step. Inspiring. And the next day (Sunday) one of our other shodans celebrated his 75th birthday! 

The next weekend, September 7th-9th, we had a seminar on Connection, co-taught by Denise Barry Sensei from Kuma Kai Aikido in Sebastopol, and our own Dave Goldberg Sensei. Part of it was at a retreat center in the mountains. We worked on what it means to be connected – to ground, to ourselves, to our partners, to others. We took a long look at how we relate to being connected. What qualities would a connected person have? What’s easy/difficult for us about connecting. I really started to see connection in a broader context. That whole experience is still reverberating for me, and I’m sure will be for a very long time.

Back at the dojo I was available to help out in the kids’ classes for the first time! During the past month I’ve been able to assist a few times with both the 5-7 year-olds, and the 8-13 group. I don’t have a lot of experience working with children, and am grateful to be able to see how Sensei interacts with them, and to have my more experienced dojo-mates, Oya and Gilbert, as examples and mentors. He uses a balanced mix of action and stillness, fun and discipline, teaching and participation. It’s been interesting seeing how they learn, and I got to participate in some fun games and exercises, too.

The week after our own seminar, I took the train (20 hours each way!) to a Weekend Intensive with George Ledyard Sensei, at Two Rivers Budo in Sacramento, on September 14th-16th. I’ve posted a good bit about that already. The short version is that it was three days of looking at things from a slightly different perspective, and was great fun. A little extra-special aspect of the weekend was that I had the opportunity to interview Ledyard Sensei. (One video is out on YouTube now, and the others will be available soon.) 

The next Saturday, the 22nd, we had kyu exams at the dojo. I got to be uke for a friend testing for 4th kyu. He did a great job on his test, as did the others testing that day. As is traditional, we all went for lunch afterward.

The day after exams, Sunday, a big group of us went to Tijuana, Mexico (about 20 miles south of the dojo) with Sensei, who was teaching a seminar, “The Evolution of Flow,” along with Victor Alvarado Sensei of Aikido Tijuana. The trip was an adventure, the seminar was brilliant, and the party afterward was great fun. What a nice bunch of people! And of course the seminar was another path to seeing things with fresh eyes and feeling new energies.

Both at that seminar and in class a few times recently I’ve gotten to take ukemi for Sensei. I love having that chance to feel his technique. It means having to really pay sharp attention and be extra sensitive and responsive. It’s an especially rich experience, and I really enjoy and appreciate having that opportunity.

Classes at our dojo are never “the same old thing,” but this past week has been, for me at least, an intensive period of in-depth, precise, technical training. Honestly I don’t know how much that’s what’s being taught, and how much it’s that I’m paying attention more closely. Either way, the whole week has been like opening my head and pouring buckets of information into my brain (and body). I’ve been noticing bigger patterns and relationships between blends and techniques from various attacks. More layers to the onion. I’ve been taking pages and pages of notes after class, trying not to lose any of the precious details I’ve been noticing. This is what inspired my poetic post recently about trying not to drop any of bounty of delicious gifts from a friend’s garden.

Wrapping up the month, on Saturday the 29th I took a 3-hour Self Defense for Women class at our local adult education center. I wanted to see what the class covered, how the teacher managed a roomful of newbies, and what kind of concerns the participants brought to the class. I get a lot of people asking me about taking Aikido for “self defense”/personal safety reasons. This is a class I would feel comfortable referring them to, if that’s really what they want. It was interesting seeing how the participants approached training. Some were quite good at picking it up. One didn’t grasp the concept of “pulling” an elbow strike to the solar plexis. (Ooof!) Another woman, in a game of balance-breaking, kept pushing off me when I was solid and she wasn’t, and knocking herself over. And she thought I’d done it to her. Interesting… I wonder where else that happens in her life? It was a fun class, and yet another perspective.

What fun!  Lots of great classes, five dojos, three seminars, about a dozen teachers, working with kids, taking ukemi, shodan exams, kyu exams, four parties, travel, writing, high falls, technical work, personal process work… And I’m probably forgetting a lot, too!

Today I started out with a massage. Now I’m off with Michael to visit a great bookstore, listen to music, and have dinner with friends. And tomorrow… Another new month of Aikido begins. Yay!

Why seminars?

I recently participated in yet another Aikido seminar. In fact, it was the weekend immediately following one at our own dojo. Between the two weekends, as I was leaving after Tuesday nights class, a friend observed that I do a lot of seminars, and must really enjoy them. She asked me what I get out of them. It’s a good question, and one that has a lot of answers.

I find seminars physically and mentally challenging, and that’s fun for me. Training with different instructors, and seeing techniques done in different ways help me get a broader view of the Aikido world. It also helps me see the “normal” way I’m used to doing things with fresh eyes. Sort of like doing everything with your non-dominent hand for a while.

I get to hang out with good friends I only see a time or two a year, some of whom I consider to be my mentors, or maybe more like sisters and brothers. We exchange stories, share ukemi pointers on the backyard lawn, and demonstrate techniques on each other, right in the middle of restaurants. We inspire and encourage each other.

Training with new people lets me feel some really different energy. It gives me a chance to learn to deal with that, and see things I need to work on. At my home dojo we really focus on committed, on-target, intentful attacks. At this seminar, with George Ledyard Sensei*, we did that too, but some of the training was a lot faster and harder than I’m used to. It was a great opportunity to notice where I get reactive, and also where I hold back and get tentative (and I got called out on it, too, LOL).

At first of course holding back in some cases can be appropriate. We were doing unfamiliar kumi-tachi, starting from a kamae that was new to me (gedan hasso), moving quite fast, just making contact with Uke, plus I was using a borrowed bokken, so starting out slowly made sense! It was an intense (in a good way) exercise, and I was very glad Aikido people are kind and patient. I didn’t even get to any basic level of competence in a couple of hours, of course, but I did start getting the idea (and didn’t hurt anyone).

We did a lot of empty-hand training, including combination attacks (two or three strikes in quick succession) on the last day, which were a blast. I went from completely blowing it and getting hit, to at least *noticing* the strikes, and sometimes even responding to them effectively. That was a whole new thing to play with. It was great fun, and helped me be more alert and relaxed.

On my way to the seminar and home again on the train, I was trying to take some really challenging photos, with my iPhone. I got ‘em, too! I got I got pelicans flying alongside the train. I got the head of the train going over a trestle near a curve right along the beach, and the whole train rounding a curve in the hills. I got an Atlas V rocket launch! I got deer browsing near the tracks. I got beautiful sunsets and sunrises, farmland and rolling hills. None of them are spectacularly good photos, and I missed many more (like the wild pig galloping alongside the train!). But it’s pretty cool that I could get them at all, using a phone, Trying to anticipate or notice an opportunity, frame the subject and foreground, focus, and shoot, while on a moving train in unfamiliar terrain is very different from the photography I usually do. I was not expecting great results. I shared my photos with friends on Facebook as I went. I am not looking to replace the SLR I normally use, and if I wanted to get really good photos I’d be spending hours on a single subject. It was a fun exercise, though! By changing things up I was able to see in new ways and be more creative without any expectation that I’d capture something brilliant. Sort of a way of reconnecting me with beginner’s mind.

That’s kind of how seminars are for me. I’m not looking to replace what I have – not searching for a better way. Just getting a fresh perspective, seeing things in a new light, noticing things I hadn’t noticed before. I always enjoy the challenge, and I’m always happy to come home.

And right after I post this I’m going to bed, to get up early on a Sunday and head to Tijuana, Mexico with a group from our dojo. Our own Dave Goldberg Sensei is co-teaching it, along with Victor Alvarado Sensei of Aikido Tijuana Dojo. Another new perspective, another way of seeing things. Looking forward to it!  

*A few personal comments about Ledyard Sensei

This seminar I traveled to last week was with George Ledyard Sensei of Aikido Eastside, of Bellview, Washington. I’ve admired Ledyard Sensei for as long as I’ve been training. Actually, a little bit longer than that.

After I learned of Aikido, but before I ever ventured into a dojo, I wanted to find out if it was really what I was looking for. To that end, I downloaded a series of podcasts – interviews with Aikido people from several lineages. Interviewees included Robert Nadeau Shihan, Paul Linden, Ellis Amdur, and others. Each ones discription of Aikido resonated with me in a particular way, and helped confirm I was heading in the right direction.

One of the interviewees was Ledyard Sensei. He discussed the very things I was interested in at the time, especially with regard to my riding and horsemanship relaxation in the face of incoming energy, training in a way that supports people in handling progressively more threatening situations without developing tension, and dealing with many levels of fear. He helped me determine that indeed, Aikido was what I was looking for.

When I first started training I was completely lost, of course. Because at the time I could only train one evening a week I also spent a lot of time watching videos and reading about Aikido. I found Ledyard Senseis DVDs on Entries, and on Aiki, to be very clear and accessible. They helped me grasp and understand what I was seeing in my own training. Sometimes its just good to hear things said a few different ways, and Ledyard Senseis words about the psychology of perception and about motor learning made a lot of sense to me.

A couple of years later I had the privilege of meeting Ledyard Sensei at the Aikido Bridge Friendship Seminar in San Diego. Although I was, I think, just a 5th kyu at the time, he hung out with me at lunch, discussing Aikido politics and history, the joys and challenges of running a dojo, and a dozen other things.

Im very grateful for Ledyard Sensei’s teaching and openness. I finally got a chance to train with him, and am very glad I did. Looking forward to the next opportunity.