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In the Chicago heat I trained on Saturday, working with a newer group of beginners on forward rolls. I'm still taking a bit too much time to setup my roll, but it's getting easier and easier. At least I'm rolling straight.
We ended class by doing some katatekosatori kotegaeshi, which as I understand it is a 7th kyu requirement. The footwork is far from natural, but it's starting to make sense how I can shift my weight around and take uke's center. I left the dojo with a smile and a sheen of sweat on my forehead.
On Monday, after having a VERY late night out on Sunday (in bed by 5am!), I arrived in a rental car at Tenshinkan dojo at 8:00am. Everyone had been awake for a bit longer than me, but everyone had a long face. It was the day of Toyoda Shihan's memorial service at Ryoshinkan dojo in Palatine.
Kathy decided she would ride with me, and I couldn't have been happier. It gave us a long time to talk about Aikido and how our lives have been and are being changed by it. She has such an amazing perspective on life and how Aikido fits into hers.
Ryoshinkan is beautiful. The mat area is at least six or seven times larger than Tenshinkan, and the ceilings seem to rise up forever. The shomen is set in a gracefully curved area with two shelves. A youthful picture of Toyoda Shihan hangs on one of the other walls, and the Japanese tatami are quite comfortable.
Before the service began I sat on the mats for a while with Kathy flanking me. I tried my best to clear my mind and breathe slowly and deliberately, but I couldn't shake the picture of Toyoda Shihan from my mind.
I think it was a testament to how strongly his spirit permeates that place. I never had the chance to meet him, but if someone asked me about that day, I'd tell them I was able to feel him. In that place, on those mats, in the company of so many who loved and admired him, his spirit is still alive in this world.
After everyone was in their uniforms, we lined up on the mats. Toyoda Sensei, his son, said a few words to open the memorial and took everyone through warm-up exercises. From there, he offered a stick of incense to each of us. We each, in turn, lit the incense and placed it on the shomen.
I felt a little out of place because I haven't yet received my dogi (although I ordered a bu jin one which should be on the way.) As I was watching all the yudansha in line, followed by the brown, blue, yellow, and white belts, the sadness of the event hit me. Toyoda Shihan was truly a man who changed the world, and his loss made me feel empty inside. I could see the emptiness making it's way across the faces of those who knew him, and those, who like me, never had the fortune to meet him.
But as anyone who has heard a story about Toyoda Shihan knows, they always end with a laugh or a great big smile. Each of the higher ranked yudansha, those who were his students, related a story about him, and then demonstrated a particular technique that fit. This was followed by everyone practicing the same technique for a short while.
The techniques were far more advanced that I had ever attempted before, but there wasn't a minute of it I didn't enjoy. With so many people around me training hard and smiling, the Aikido energy that day seemed far stronger than I have ever felt before.
After all the yudansha had spoken and demonstrated, Toyoda Sensei, Toyoda Shihan's son said the final few words. For his technique, since the dojo was buzzing with energy, he had everyone work on punches all at once. At first we kiai'd on the fifth count. But when he had everyone kiai on every punch, I though the roof of the dojo was going to blow off.
Every person was shouting with every bit of ki they could summon. The effect was almost breathtaking. I didn't just hear each kiai, I felt every single one in that room. In unison, in praise to Toyoda Shihan, we were all one.
When it came time to pair off and practice blocking punches with the kiai, Erickson sensei asked me to be her partner. I was flattered and grateful at the same time. I can't remember the name of the technique because my head was in the clouds from all the energy in the dojo, but basically uke went in to punch and nage shot out an arm, barely catching uke's face and pushing them back into a fall.
After two slow attempts for me to get the feel of it, we did it at high speed. It was magnificent, and if I could still be on the mats doing it right now, I would. With everyone practicing around us and kiai's thundering through the air, I know Toyoda Shihan's spirit was there on the mats with us. And I think he was smiling.
On the drive back, we hit a furious rainstorm. The rain was falling in sheets, pounding the car and the pavement. I could barely see the car in front of me, much less anything more than five feet from the windows. The world was being drowned by rain. All I could think was that the heavens were weeping because of the loss of such a great man from this world.