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I recently participated in yet another Aikido seminar. In fact, it was the weekend immediately following one at our own dojo. Between the two weekends, as I was leaving after Tuesday night's class, a friend observed that I do a lot of seminars, and must really enjoy them. She asked me what I get out of them. It's a good question, and one that has a lot of answers.
I find seminars physically and mentally challenging, and that's fun for me. Training with different instructors, and seeing techniques done in different ways help me get a broader view of the Aikido world. It also helps me see the "normal" way I'm used to doing things with fresh eyes. Sort of like doing everything with your non-dominent hand for a while.
I get to hang out with good friends I only see a time or two a year, some of whom I consider to be my mentors, or maybe more like sisters and brothers. We exchange stories, share ukemi pointers on the backyard lawn, and demonstrate techniques on each other, right in the middle of restaurants. We inspire and encourage each other.
Training with new people lets me feel some really different energy. It gives me a chance to learn to deal with that, and see things I need to work on. At my home dojo we really focus on committed, on-target, intentful attacks. At this seminar, with George Ledyard Sensei*, we did that too, but some of the training was a lot faster and harder than I'm used to. It was a great opportunity to notice where I get reactive, and also where I hold back and get tentative (and I got called out on it, too, LOL).
At first of course holding back in some cases can be appropriate. We were doing unfamiliar kumi-tachi, starting from a kamae that was new to me (gedan hasso), moving quite fast, just making contact with Uke, plus I was using a borrowed bokken, so starting out slowly made sense! It was an intense (in a good way) exercise, and I was very glad Aikido people are kind and patient. I didn't even get to any basic level of competence in a couple of hours, of course, but I did start getting the idea (and didn't hurt anyone).
We did a lot of empty-hand training, including combination attacks (two or three strikes in quick succession) on the last day, which were a blast. I went from completely blowing it and getting hit, to at least *noticing* the strikes, and sometimes even responding to them effectively. That was a whole new thing to play with. It was great fun, and helped me be more alert and relaxed.
On my way to the seminar and home again on the train, I was trying to take some really challenging photos, with my iPhone. I got ‘em, too! I got I got pelicans flying alongside the train. I got the head of the train going over a trestle near a curve right along the beach, and the whole train rounding a curve in the hills. I got an Atlas V rocket launch! I got deer browsing near the tracks. I got beautiful sunsets and sunrises, farmland and rolling hills. None of them are spectacularly good photos, and I missed many more (like the wild pig galloping alongside the train!). But it's pretty cool that I could get them at all, using a phone, Trying to anticipate or notice an opportunity, frame the subject and foreground, focus, and shoot, while on a moving train in unfamiliar terrain is very different from the photography I usually do. I was not expecting great results. I shared my photos with friends on Facebook as I went. I am not looking to replace the SLR I normally use, and if I wanted to get really good photos I'd be spending hours on a single subject. It was a fun exercise, though! By changing things up I was able to see in new ways and be more creative without any expectation that I'd capture something brilliant. Sort of a way of reconnecting me with beginner's mind.
That's kind of how seminars are for me. I'm not looking to replace what I have - not searching for a better way. Just getting a fresh perspective, seeing things in a new light, noticing things I hadn't noticed before. I always enjoy the challenge, and I'm always happy to come home.
And right after I post this I'm going to bed, to get up early on a Sunday and head to Tijuana, Mexico with a group from our dojo. Our own Dave Goldberg Sensei is co-teaching it, along with Victor Alvarado Sensei of Aikido Tijuana Dojo. Another new perspective, another way of seeing things. Looking forward to it!
*A few personal comments about Ledyard Sensei
This seminar I traveled to last week was with George Ledyard Sensei of Aikido Eastside, of Bellview, Washington. I've admired Ledyard Sensei for as long as I've been training. Actually, a little bit longer than that.
After I learned of Aikido, but before I ever ventured into a dojo, I wanted to find out if it was really what I was looking for. To that end, I downloaded a series of podcasts - interviews with Aikido people from several lineages. Interviewees included Robert Nadeau Shihan, Paul Linden, Ellis Amdur, and others. Each one's discription of Aikido resonated with me in a particular way, and helped confirm I was heading in the right direction.
One of the interviewees was Ledyard Sensei. He discussed the very things I was interested in at the time, especially with regard to my riding and horsemanship -- relaxation in the face of incoming energy, training in a way that supports people in handling progressively more threatening situations without developing tension, and dealing with many levels of fear. He helped me determine that indeed, Aikido was what I was looking for.
When I first started training I was completely lost, of course. Because at the time I could only train one evening a week I also spent a lot of time watching videos and reading about Aikido. I found Ledyard Sensei's DVDs on Entries, and on Aiki, to be very clear and accessible. They helped me grasp and understand what I was seeing in my own training. Sometimes it's just good to hear things said a few different ways, and Ledyard Sensei's words about the psychology of perception and about motor learning made a lot of sense to me.
A couple of years later I had the privilege of meeting Ledyard Sensei at the Aikido Bridge Friendship Seminar in San Diego. Although I was, I think, just a 5th kyu at the time, he hung out with me at lunch, discussing Aikido politics and history, the joys and challenges of running a dojo, and a dozen other things.
I'm very grateful for Ledyard Sensei's teaching and openness. I finally got a chance to train with him, and am very glad I did. Looking forward to the next opportunity.