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Last night I again visited Aikido at San Leandro. This time I wore my sweats, and got on the mat. This being one of the first times that I had ever been on a mat, I was prepped for it to be really bad, and for me to feel like a beached whale in sweats, surrounded by graceful white dancers. IT DIDN'T feel that way, AFTER we got over the warm up….
Paula helped a lot, provided a constant source of positive energy to me last night. Before class started she took the time to show me some of the more spiritual aspects of the dojo. Which were not visible from the visitors benches. Later she tried several times to be my partner, but was dissuaded by Sensei each time. She did once even hang out in the background and step forward to help me with several of the moves while I was trying to pin my uke. I must have been a big distraction from her practice. Thanks Paula it was very appreciated. I could feel her support which felt good.
The lack of understanding of what was going on was more than a little intimidating, however not as bad as trying to clear your small boat into a French speaking country when you speak no French!
There were a lot of funny parts.. Lining up by rank is really easy on your first night! Just line up at the end of the line. Then we started warm up exercises. (These were wonderful at San Leandro!). We all face the Sensei do a series of things.. I watch try to follow along, can't hear sensei so do what everyone else is doing, only 1 or two seconds behind. The whole thing looked and felt hilarious from my standpoint, I can only imagine what it looked like elsewhere. Then we rotate to face the back wall. No worries I follow everyone else still behind, but putting in a good effort. What is going on with the breathing exercise???? Don't know can't hear people breathing, only them raising and lowering their arms in a strange dance. Turn to face the mirror….Am I Really That fat???….Now I can see the whole choreograph, my being a step out of timing, and I am really having a hard time not loosing it. But wait, now we turn to face the door. I am at the head of the class now. Everyone is behind me….First concern, how do I know what to do, can't hear Sensei, can't see anyone, my wife who was dragged to yet another dojo visit is laughing so hard that tears are streaming down her face. About the time I decide to do jumping jacks just to see if anyone behind me follows a kind Yudansha runs up in front of me, and does the exercises. I have someone to follow now and things are less funny, my wife actually stops laughing. That was the first of many acts of kindness of the evening. I have no idea who that person was, but thanks. During the warm up we do a stretch that stretches by glutimous maximus, it feels really good, unfortunately before I can figure out what it was we are on to something else.
Wow; I got through the warm up, then watch sensei demonstrate a technique on a yudansha. For me this is like watching a humming bird fly. He grabs the sensei. Then sensei does something blurry with her feet, and her hands at the same time, then yudansha flies in the air, then sensei kneels on him while holding his wrist at some really painful looking angle behind his back. No problem I almost got that… Could you do the part right after he grabs your wrist, up to where you are kneeling next to him on the mat again? I seemed to completely missed something in the blurry part there! They do, and slightly slower, however I still seem to miss the blurry part….. The Sensei explains what she is doing, but there is still a lot to take in,,, too much for my thought process.
Now I have to try and do something to someone resembling that technique! High expectations….Luckily Sensei has one of the Yudansha work with me on rolling. He explains it, traces the line that the mat should follow on my arm, shoulder, and back, then has me do one. I actually do it correctly, it feels good, not like I would think 240+ pounds of out of shape fat hitting the mat would feel like at all! Ok lets do that on the other side….Nope, time for another demonstration… Again there is the grab, the blurry part, then another face plant for the Yudansha. This is pretty cool, maybe some day the blurry part will make sense.
Then I am paired off with another Yudansha; Larry. (Larry was awesome! Very helpful with a beginner. These Yudansha seem to be really cool people, lots of help from them…. All of them, only I can only remember Larry's name. Larry says that I am supposed to grab him as he does a slow motion punch, Ok…Nope, more like this shows me where my fingers and thumb go on his hand. Which instantly makes sense both with a pressure point, and in being able to control Larry afterward…Ok Lets try it again…Nope, time for more demonstration…
This goes on for a few more times, we do a technique where you get your arms in front of the uke's neck and your feet behind the uke, then you step kind of backward, and the uke falls down. Lots of my parts to get all going at the same time but lets try it. With a lot of help from my uke…. that works good! My uke actually has to fall over, he doesn't just do it to be polite, he has to… Wow…Now it is my turn. Ok eek, how am I supposed to fall over backwards….Oh well to late, I have to as gravity is still functional. Sensei comes over and tells my Nage that this is my first time on the mat, and that maybe a little more gentleness is in order…No worries lets do it again only slower. I become more round, and hit the mat better this time. Feel less like a board, more like a squid (Where did I get all those arms and legs that seem to be everywhere and uncontrollable????)
This goes on through a lot of partners, both yudansha and people who are not yudansha yet, but still a lot better than I am. Before I know it I have been doing this for an hour and a half. WOW! That was cool. I didn't really feel like an idiot except in the warm up. Ok maybe when I could never figure out where my feet went in the one that you grab the ukes hand in the middle of the punch, step in front of him, and then push him over while pushing his had backwards, while stepping through him….Wait that seems to take three feet, and I only have two……
All in all a lot of fun. Thanks to all of the folks at Aikido at San Leandro Dojo last night for helping out with a brand new person. It was a very welcoming place. The help was amazing, it was much less psychologically stressful than I would have imagined it could be on the first night.