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Wow. The mats get cold in the dojo. And it was only 50F(10C) outside. What is it going to be like when it's a real winter day in Chicago?
The first class was a beginner class, a perfect segue back after a week away. There was one new student on the mats, and one familiar face from the summer kenshusei program. I was happy to see him back with us.
We did the usual koho tento undo, orenaite, and sumitoshi stuff, making our way to kotegaeshi. While the very new students were working on the techniques, Toyoda Sensei approached John and I, who have a little more experience (but not much by any means) and showed us about threatening atemi to change uke's focus.
All of the sudden, the little fake punches I'd seen in many techniques started to make a bit of sense. You don't actually intend to strike uke, but you're moving their awareness away from their active hand and forcing them to block.
Not only does it make it easier to control the hand you have, uke's balance could be upset with the push of a feather. Ok, well maybe not a feather, but John and I are so new that it totally changed the rules on us. For five minutes or so we kept at it, and every single time we both fell prey to the threat of a fist coming at our face.
It reminded me of magic tricks. You hold the attention of the audience with one hand while the other hand does something naughty or otherwise unseen. Change their focus. Control their minds.
Easy to think about. Hard to do.
Classes two and three were with Parks-Casey Sensei. Yoko ukemi, yoko ukemi, yoko ukemi and more yoko ukemi. We did lots from squatting, and I can really use the practice because I'm terrible at it.
I missed the name of the technique we used to practice. It was munetsuki something-or-other. Uke goes in for tsuki, then nage gets right into uke, putting their arm right under uke's armpit (from outside the tsuki). You grab uke's dogi and swipe your hand down and back (under uke's butt) while dropping your hips and stepping back with the outside hand.
The effect is to quickly drop uke straight down into yoko ukemi, but to help lessen the impact because you're holding onto the shoulder of their dogi. It looks frightening and it hurts a bit if you don't get the yoko ukemi right. But that's the point; to teach you the proper way to fall.
We did that for a bit, then did some katatetori throwing to really warm everyone up. And then the confusion set it as we began. Katatetori kaitenage, tenkan version.
Sensei showed the technique a few times and then had us start. It's the most confused I've felt on the mat thus far. I don't think I ever quite got the hang of it, but that was the lesson; sometimes it's ok to be confused. Sometimes you just have to work it all out for yourself. Everybody has to start somewhere, and when you're confused, you're a blank slate, ready to learn.
We ended with my favorite, kokyudosa. I'm seeing a black and white pattern emerge. There are those people who are determined at all costs NOT to let you throw them over. They fight against you with all their muscle, squeezing the life out of your wrists in an effort to resist.
And then there are those people who get more zanshin about it. They breathe deep and get their Buddha face on; half-closed eyes, relaxed shoulders, and a sort of dreamy loose wash over their body. They too resist, but it's slight and with lots and lots of ki. It's a much more intimate experience to do it that way, which I believe frightens the heck out of most folks. Cathy, a 1st kyu (soon to be shodan!) kenshusei from Dubai, taught me to do it in this way. Every time I do it, she's on my mind. She's really a part of my Aikido, especially kokyudosa.
I miss her spirit on the mats.
The final hour was weapons class. Shomenuchi bokken taisabaki. Despite the terror in my mind when I'm doing a yokomenuchi counter strike to the head, I did pretty good while moving through the techniques. My bokken work has become a little less wobbly and my hands aren't getting as tense when I'm working with bokken because I'm remembering to relax them.
However, my shoulders are still tight after bokken. Jo too. I'm getting better at not shrugging them up like I was doing before, but they are still far too tense. They feel wrinkled up when I return to chuudan no kamae. I never seem to think of breathing when I'm working with weapons (except if its some kind of nage technique), but I need to write it on my hand or something so I can remember. I'll bet it makes a world of difference.