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Well, finally, I can put some time in at the keyboard. I had intended to keep a diary of each days events, as they unfolded. But, I have come to realise that, quite often, my intentions do not always manifest themselves in reality.
So a little like the pattern of the journey itself, I will write when I feel the urge, not when I think I should .
I have been in the US for two weeks now. Much of the first 10 days were taken up with essential work on the old VW Bus that I had won on ebay, before I arrived.
I could probably create a blog just on the trials an tribulations of the "Twinkie" (as my old friends kids quite aptly named the white bus). However I am here supposedly to tell y'all about my adventures in aikido, rather than give you a running maintenance log on the V Dub.
Having said that, if there is anyone out there reading this, who has decent knowledge of the Type 2, 2 litre fuel injected van, then please make yourself known to me via PM, I may need to pick your brain at some point.
Anyway, back to aikido...
After a slow start, I managed to make it down to the very lovely dojo of the Two Cranes Aikido group, in NE Seattle. I managed to train there for three separate sessions, with three different teachers. More of this in a moment.
I know that some of you reading this, will be disappointed in my reporting style. I am not great on detail, and particularly not great on remembering the names of the techniques that were practised. There are a couple of reasons for this. Firstly, it is going to take me a while to get used to all the Japanese terminology being used. I know this may seem odd for someone who has practised aikido for nearly 20 years. But my teacher preferred english wherever possible. We still used the Japanese terms for all the techniques e.g. Ikkyo, Nikkyo, Shihonage etc. but just about everything else, we used english. Secondly, I am just not that into fine detail (being an INFP an all). I am more comfortable with big picture stuff, purpose, flavour, feeling etc. However, I will try to discipline myself to drill down a little, but that will remain to be seen.
If anyone wants the answer to a question, they feel I have left hanging in the air, please ask for some specific info, that will hopefully make me focus.
Back to Two Cranes... I was made to feel extremely welcome by everyone there. The dojo space itself is beautifully presented, and I could feel how proud the group were to be practising in such a pleasant environment. My first session was with Sensei Richardson, her style was very smooth, graceful and full of purpose, her communication was clear and direct. Although some of the footwork and movements were different to my own practice, I found it relatively easy to follow what was being done. Having said that, as soon as speed started to increase I found myself reverting to my own habits. This was not really a problem, as everyone I practiced with, both dan and kyu grades, followed the techniques well, trying to maintain connection throughout. I lost count of the number of different partners I had in the session, as we switched, every few minutes. This is something I will do more of, when I eventually get back to teaching my own group.
After the session I felt completely human again, as the previous week had been pretty stressful. I had left behind me, my girlfriend, my family, my friends and not least of all, my aikido teacher and my own students, all of whom, I had grown to love. To head out into the unknown....
So to be made so welcome and to have such a good first session, I felt was a good omen for the rest of my trip. One of O Sensei's sayings that means the most to me is "Aikido should be practised in a joyful atmosphere" (that might not be the exact quote, I told you I was not good on detail!). I have tried to maintain this in my own dojo over the years, and this was the feeling that I got from the two cranes people.
My two subsequent sessions were a basic class with Sensei Jen Stoakes, and a more advanced class with Sensei Dan McAbee, both of which were equally as enjoyable as the first, however, the teaching style of both was to give less verbal instruction ( I cannot really compare, as one session is not enough to make any meaningful evaluation. ) I did not mind this, as I was just happy to be practising. As teacher myself, I have found that I love the role immensely, it feels like something I was born to do. I do however, miss the joy of continuous making ukemi and switching, there is something very liberating (not to mention fitness inducing) about being thrown and recovering with some gusto.
So my thanks to all of the two cranes crowd, I hope to revisit, on my return to Seattle on my way to the next leg of my trip.
I had hoped to meet with the Eastside Aikido group, but circumstances prevented me each time I made the attempt. I will try to see them also on my return.
To anyone else who may have invited me to train - Matt Gano et al, my apologies, I wish I had had less mechanical work to do and more time to be in touch.
So, van running relatively smoothly, I picked up a very old friend (my friend is not that old, I've just known her for a very long time) and headed south on I5. I stayed with my friend's daughter and her 2 very sweet granddaughters.
I left them the following day to travel up to Portland to meet Allen Beebe. Dan Harden had recommended I seek out Allen on my journey south. After getting frustratingly mixed up with the US road numbering system, I finally made it to Allen's place, and spent a very informal but informative time with him, before he went off to do 4th of July things with his family. Allen invited me to meet his group to do some training with them.
So after a day out, spent at the Portland Waterfront Blues Festival, which I have to say was a real treat for me. The first couple of hours was spent in some dance classes. I had first come across 'Blues Dancing' as a separate dance form, when I discovered it by accident on youtube. I was immediately drawn to it, for it's sensual and expressive quality and the fact that it was specific to the blues music itself. Anyway, one of the instructional videos I had come across, was by a young couple from Portland Or. I made a vow that if I ever passed through Portland I would look them up. Well I'm not sure if I actually met the same people as in the video, but I am sure I had a great day of music, dance, and a fantastic atmosphere down on the waterfront. Not only that, the sun was out! Those of you in the rest of the US will wonder why that was such a big deal. Those of you from either Western Washington or Western Oregon or indeed anywhere in the UK, will know how momentus, that is, I seem to have been under permanent grey clouds for the past six months.
So this evening I am writing this blog, after a really great session with Doug Walker and Tom Wharton. I wont even begin to try and explain everything they ran through, in the hour and a half I spent with them. What I will say is, I am glad that I have practised my ukemi skills! The techniques we practised were precise and very effective. I thoroughly enjoyed the complete contrast to what I normally do, although I saw and felt enough of what I understand, to be able to make a decent attempt at what was being done.
So I am going to fall asleep, pretty exhausted but smiling on Allen's dojo floor ( not so austere, as Allen has kindly provided me with a blow up mattress). After a kip, I will be up and ready for the Saturday morning session... more training.... then a trip out to the coast and my first glimpse of the Pacific ocean, for a long time. To be continued....
contd... Well, I spent a really good morning session with the 'budo boys' of Portland, we were working exclusively on IS stuff. These guys are really serious about getting it. They really helped me see the progression, by gradual increasing stress. It is one thing to be doing standing solo/paired testing to get the model. Getting it to work under load is where it really starts to make sense. Particular thanks to Tom for his patience in our practice. Cheers guys, an awesome morning. I hope to see you if I get a chance, at the back end of my trip.
Two days of driving along the spectacular Oregon coast, and over the equally spectacular Klamath Mountains, finds me in Ashland. I could write much more on the social side of the drive -- I met some really interesting folk along the way -- An old hippie in a VW Bus, picked up two young musicians, who were walking from Tacoma to San Diego! and met some very colourful folk, high up in a mountain campsite.
I am looking forward to meeting Mike Friedl this evening, as he has been recommended by a number of West coast folk.
I'll let y'all know how it goes when I reconnect, from somewhere in California.