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Up early and over the hills to Ukiah, a beautiful but very winding drive from the misty cold of the coast, to the dry heat of the valley. At the first sight of sun, I found myself outside of my van, basking like a lizard, warming up my blood before dropping down to the valley floor and the welcoming faces of Janet (Rosen) and her partner Stu. A welcome shower, some cool drinks and much pleasant conversation covered most of Friday.
On Saturday I travelled with Janet, down to The Wellspring Dojo in Santa Rosa, for a day seminar with Wendy Palmer. I was pleased to be able to do this, as I had read one of her books back along. The morning session was not aikido as such, rather a taster of the somatic work that Ms Palmer is engaged in with her wider client group. It was interesting, but not really new to me, as I had been doing similar work to this, with corporate clients back in the 1990's. The afternoon session was aikido, which was a pleasant session. Sensei Palmer is a very erudite, calm and graceful teacher. I managed to practice with just about everyone there (it wasn't a huge group). I had fun and enjoyed the day, it felt very 'Californian' though, which is not a bad thing, just very flavoured in the 'West |Coast' style. There were a few students there who practice with Richard Heckler, so they suggested I stop by their class on Tuesday, as Sensei Heckler would be teaching. This I decided to do.
On Sunday Janet and I cruised down to her home dojo, spending an hour or so, swapping techniques and practice methods. As we both have Tohei Sensei in our lineage, we found many similarities, as well as some differences in the way we train, cool.
I left Janet and Stu (and their great hospitality, thanks guys!) on Monday, and decided to head on down to Aikido of Marin in Fairfax, as they had a class on that evening. The class was lead by Sensei David Hawley. It was only a small group with 2 you young guys and one new older lady student. I had fun practising with the young guys, as they were into being thrown around quite vigorously. I also enjoyed practising with the new student, it reminded me of my own first practice. I also admire anyone of advancing years, who has the courage to take on this aikido practice. It is not the easiest thing to do or to learn. Just about everything is unfamiliar. So hats off to all new students everywhere.
Anyway, after another movie ('Ted' done by the makers of 'Family Guy' -- crude but funny as expected) and a sleep, I headed back north to Petaluma. I spent a pleasant morning in a great music store, very nearly buying myself a new guitar. I managed to stop myself as I already have a good one back home, but it did make me realise how much I miss my musical mistress
The class that evening was at Sensei Heckler's ranch/dojo in Two Rock. I must say, it is a beautiful dojo, with some lovely views. The class was good, and Sensei Heckler is as good a role model for an Aikido teacher, as I have met. He exudes calmness and peaceful intent. He has a great bunch of students, who invited me to join them for a beer and pizza fundraising event after practice, which was great.
Then off to Modesto, to pay an old friend a surprise visit. I hadn't seen my friend Dee for over 16 years, when he came to visit me in the UK. I first met Dee in 1990 when I was travelling in Mexico, we became great friends, with us staying at his place in Bonny Doon (near Santa Cruz), when we travelled north. It was at Dee's place that my own aikido journey started. I was there one day on my own, just browsing the books on his shelves, when I came upon 'Aikido in Daily Life' by Koichi Tohei. Within a dozen pages of this book, I knew I had found my path. I told Dee that evening on his return, that I had found my path, and that I was going to practice this art, then teach it for the rest of my days. He was dumbfounded that I could make such a decision, I too had no real explanation for him. I just 'knew' that it was going to be this way. To this day, I still can't explain why I was hit with such certainty. But 20 years later, it still holds true.
Anyway, Dee was delighted by my surprise visit. I spent a great week with him and his lovely partner Mary Jane. Dee and MJ are 79 and 80 respectively, but they both live as much younger souls. Theirs is a life of quality and adventure. They still travel to Mexico every winter and cross the states every year to visit family on the east coast. They looked after me superbly .
I managed to practice at Aikido of Modesto for one session. Unfortunately, the head instructor was away on tour. However, the class was lead by a very competent guy (Brandon, I think). I had a pretty strenuous practice in the Modesto heat. I don't think I have ever done quite so many forward rolls as in that session! We did some Jo practice that was completely new to me, and some bokken practice that wasn't. I was asked to show them one of the bokken taking exercises that had spontaneously cropped up in practice. This I was happy to do. It is always good to be asked to show something, and the guys there were all open to new methods of doing things.
So time to leave the heat of the valley and head on back to the relative cool of the bay area. My first point of call will be Aikido of Berkeley, as many folk have recommended I meet Kayla Feder, so this I will do and let you know about in the next instalment.