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Last week I went to Seattle for a week long conference for work. Before I left, sensei mentioned in passing that there is a dojo up there that I might be able to train at. He said he would see about me training and would let me know. Well, I never heard a word (Sensei was busy getting ready for a seminar), so I packed and headed off to Seattle. I was pretty excited because I have never been to Seattle before and I hear it is a nice city. Monday, I receive a call from someone. I look at my caller ID and don't recognize the number, so I let it go to voicemail. When I see the voicemail notification, I listen to it. Turns out, it is this guy from a dojo in Seattle who says that sensei wants me to train with them while I am here. He says that he might be able to give me a ride and lets me know which classes sensei thought I would be able to attend. Uh oh…. I didn't pack a gi! Or any aikido underwear for that matter! (if you are a girl, you would understand this) Sensei never said another word, so I didn't even think to pack it! I call the guy back and leave a message stating that I would love to train, but wouldn't be able to train unless I could borrow a gi and get a ride and that I would be able to train Thursday evening.
He eventually calls me back Wednesday and lets me know that he could pick me up and that they have extra gi's lying around. He tells me that there are three classes on Thursday (kids, basic and all levels). He offers to pick me up after kids class (he helps teach), but I tell him I wouldn't mind watching the class. He agrees to pick me up sometime around 4:30 the next day. The rest of my day goes by fairly uneventful. After the conference, my friend and I decide to go out for dinner and then do some shopping. My first goal of shopping was to get some aikido underwear, which took a bit longer then expected, but I was successful after much digging and searching for my size in the store. At least I got a free t-shirt at the exhibit expo at the conference today, so I don't have to go out and buy one.
We both get back to the hotel room later that night and both of us are getting headaches. In fact, both of us have been getting them all week. We began to speculate that there was something in the room that was causing the headaches, but there isn't a way to prove it. Just an FYI, things like this annoy scientists! You have a suspicion about something, but there is no way to test your theory. Grr….. We both end up going to sleep with headaches. While I am getting ready for bed, I keep praying that the headache will go away by tomorrow. It wouldn't bother me missing a day at the conference (though the talks are interesting), but missing the opportunity to train with this dojo just wasn't acceptable. I pop a couple Excedrin before climbing into bed. Precautions must be taken! Normally, I just tough it out and don't take meds unless I really need to.
Next thing I know, my alarm is going off. I open my eyes and assess the severity of my headache. Not feeling too bad, but my head still hurts. I lay in bed a while and fiddle with my phone. I am so not a morning person! I finally drag myself out of bed and begin to get ready for the day ahead. I make sure I have some more Excedrin in my purse in case I feel my headache getting worse. My friend and I then head out to starbucks. A chai tea is in order (hot drinks help my headaches) and I also buy a cup of fresh fruit. I really should have known better then to buy the fruit. My headaches usually coexist with loss of appetite. The chai tea on the other hand, that was much appreciated! At lunch time, I force myself to eat and I also take some more Excedrin. Uck… the frequency of my headaches remind me of the days where I had them quite frequently…. Luckily for me, over the course of the next three hours my headache goes away. I leave the conference around three to walk back to the hotel, change and get ready for the ride.
I take out the shirt that I was to wear to aikido practice. Hhmm... I stare at it wishing I had another shirt, but this will have to do. It wouldn't be so bad except that I got this shirt from a serology exhibitor and it has flourescent green sperm cartoons all over the back and they are wearing yellow graduation caps! At least it says forensic science on it so they won't think I am too strange. (Just an FYI, the flourescent sperm is actually pretty neat. You put this dye on the slide and the sperm glow green when you add the correct type of light. Should make screening slides from rape kits a lot easier) I put it on and tell myself that the jacket will stay on until I put the gi top on and it will go back on as soon as the gi top comes back off! I look at the clock. I still have plenty of time. I guess I overestimated my ability to get ready, so I laid on the bed. All the extra time gave me time to get nervous! Suddenly, I had butterflies swimming in my stomach and I felt slightly nauseous.
I scolded myself that there was nothing to be nervous about. Just because it was a different dojo and different people didn't mean the training would be that different. As I sat there, I thought about what sensei might have said to the sensei. Did he make me out to be a better student then I am or did he make me out to be a worse student then I am? Honestly, I would prefer the later. I was so nervous in fact, that I began to text my husband in hopes that he would help me calm down. It worked. He said all the right things and I soon realized I was being silly. I went downstairs and waited in the lobby for my ride. Soon, I received a call saying he'd be there in about five minutes. Sure enough, I see the black car pull up and I go outside. Turns out, the guy was very nice. We had a nice conversation on the way over there. Once we got there, he tried to help me find a gi to wear. Turns out, this was a more difficult task then we first planned. I told him that I wear a size three gi and that my belt is a size two.
He handed me a size 2 pair of gi bottoms and a size 4 top. I go into the changing room and quickly realize that the size two pants are not going to cut it. The top is a little big, but it is good enough. I go out and show him the pants (which barely cover my knees and are tight enough to rip if I bend over too quickly). He tells me that he is going to go try to find another pair. He comes back with size 5 pants. I tell him that they will probably fit length-wise, but he seems skeptical. Sure enough, the pants fit, but I have the waist area pulled so tight that the strings hang down to my knees after tying them in a bow! Hey, at least I have a gi that I can move in! He then joins in the kids class and I go off to the extra mats and begin stretching. After about ten minutes of stretching, the sensei comes over and asks if I want to join in the kid's class. I join in.
Because it was a kids class, things were pretty simple. We played a few games and I am proud to say that I even won one of the games! I also found out that I am really bad at "Sensei says". We then worked on walking in a straight line and punching (which reminded me a lot of my old style), worked on using tenkan to get out of the way of a punch and ryotedori kokyuho. It was really cute getting the chance to work with the little kids. I found myself smiling the entire time whether it was from having fun or just enjoying watching the little kids play. I'm sure the parents found it weird that someone of my size and age was in the kids class, but I really could care less. I was having fun!
At the end of that class was the basics class. I looked over at the warm up mat and found myself feeling a bit intimidated. I guess partly because I had no idea where I stood in the ladder of things. To be safe, and to make myself feel more at ease, I simply put myself at the bottom of the ladder; less pressure that way. I'm sure most of them assumed I was a beginner anyway. I was surprised to see that there were several females stretching out. This is something that is lacking at my dojo (though I kind of like it that way). Most of the people were older, which also put me a bit at ease. After a lengthy warm up process (which was strange because you get used to your sensei's particular warm up routine and exercises), we lined up to see what we would work on. She had us start off the evening with three variations of tai no henko. I did my best to do what she was showing and not assume what was being shown. I didn't want to be one of those students who doesn't venture outside of their own little box.
For this, I worked with an older gentleman. He was very nice. I think he was a newer student, so it made me feel a bit better that I wasn't the only one with very little knowledge. Once that was done, she had us work on just the strike for yokomenuchi. Once that was done, we worked on two responses: irimi and irimi-tenkan. Finally, she had us add in a forward roll to the irimi-tenkan. You simply grabbed their arm that they used to strike and put them in a roll. For this I worked with a girl. I say girl lightly because really I have no idea how old she is. She seemed to be having a hard time with the technique. I wanted to help her, but I wasn't sure if this is something that is allowed. I am just a guest after all; I don't want to overstep my boundaries. Instead, when it was my turn, I did the technique slowly in hopes that she might catch what she was missing. Eventually, the sensei came over and helped her.
We also worked on suwariwaza yokomenuchi gokyo. For this, I worked with a yudansha. He seemed nice enough. I found out that I am later on one side then I am on the other. This went on for a bit. Sensei then had us work on suwariwaza shomenuchi ikkyo. For this I worked again with the girl who was having a hard time earlier. Up until this point, I had been telling everyone to attack me first. Sensei came over and told the girl to make me do the technique first. At that point, I made an internal pouty face accompanied by a "hmph." I liked being the lower one on the totem pole. She was still having some problems with the technique when she told us to work on nikyo, sankyo and yonkyo. She came over and told us to continue working on ikkyo. I didn't really mind not doing the other techniques. Sometimes it is nice to work on something that you are familiar with. The only thing that threw me off is that she would bring her hand up over her head and pause a few seconds before attacking. This definitely threw off my timing a bit since I usually move in when they raise their hand up. Pretty soon, the hour was up and we were bowing out. It went by fairly quickly.
Quite a few people left after this class. The guy that gave me a ride and I sat on the mat talking while we waited for the third and final hour of class to start. We talked about his training with my sensei before he moved, sensei trying to get me to have softer breakfalls by landing with my feet first instead of my whole body, testing and several other topics. He told me that he was coming down to train with sensei not too long from now and I said that we would have to make it a point to train together since I had yet to work with him. We then got into line for the next class to start. The second hour of the class also went by rather quickly. I am afraid I hardly remember any of it at all. At one point, she had us start off with shomenuchi. You were to step in and do the omote variation of ikkyo, except that once you had their arm, you let your hand slip off the front and you reached back towards your body, passing under their arm and you grabbed their wrist. You then stood up, took a step forward, tenkaned and then dropped to both knees. It ended up being like a kotegaeshi technique. I have only done this like once or twice before, so I had a lot of fun with it. I took my time because I wanted to make sure I was doing it right instead of ripping off ukes arm!
At one point during the class, the sensei reid to me and asked me up to be her uke! I was baffled by this gesture, but quickly ran up there. She said something and I didn't understand anything except ryotedori. She then motioned to her shoulders. I grabbed her shoulders and she did this technique. I didn't quite feel what she wanted me to do, so I took a sort of backwards ukemi for it. She then said that we would stick with the hands and I grabbed her wrists. With this, she pulled me in a lot harder and I naturally turned to take forward ukemi. This happened a few times and then we reid to each other. I ended up working with a tall woman who turned out to be very nice. She wanted to grab me first since she thought I was higher ranked then her, but I insisted that she do the technique first. I had a bit of a problem with this technique. First, I wanted to tenkan and put them in a roll. Second, it seemed like her feet were off whenever I tried to put her in the roll. It could be because I wasn't using enough oomph to draw her in and she didn't take a step or it could be she slid in or wasn't effected much because of her height. Unfortunately, I didn't get the chance to really figure it out.
At the end of class, she had us all get bokken. She then turned off the lights and lit two candles. She told us that we would be doing a form of standing meditation and that we would have to make 108 shomen cuts at our own pace. Once we were done, we could sit in seiza and meditate some more. This was an interesting experience for me. It was nice to stay at a steady pace that didn't wind me at all. Part of me wanted to look around in the darkness to see how fast everyone else was cutting. I caught myself peeking once and quickly quit. Instead of worrying about whether or not I'd be the last one, I took the time to do nice, clean cuts. I made sure to let the bokken fall on its own accord as I dropped my body. If I cut with my arms, my arms would quickly fatigue or be dead after 108 cuts. I was amazed how meditative this actually was. It is something that I wouldn't mind doing again in the future.
At the end of class, we all went around thanking each other. People introduced themselves to me. Turns out that one of the girls trained at my dojo several months ago. As soon as she said it, I remembered her. She trained for a weapons class with Caley and no other students were there. I think Howard had to work late that day and we weren't able to make the weapons class. Turns out, everyone at the dojo was very nice. All were kind to me. A few of them asked if I was coming back, to which I told them that I was from Oregon. While I was in the dressing room, I asked the tall lady how long she had been training. She told me she had been training for about 4 years. She then asked me how long I had been training. I told her that I had been training for about a year. I suddenly felt bad that I had asked that question because I had assumed she was new like me. I quickly added that I train 4 days a week and minus tai chi and iaido that I train about 6.5 hours a week. After that, I kept my mouth shut so as not to make a fool of myself again……
Once I had finished training, I went out and found the sensei at her desk. I made a point to thank her for allowing me to train at her dojo. I said that I thoroughly enjoyed myself and commented that she has a nice dojo. We talked about a few minor things and she asked if I would be able to train anymore this week. I told her that I wasn't able to train, but it would be nice to train with them again in the future. She doesn't know it yet, but I am hoping to send her a thank you card. The dojo was nice enough to have a student pick me up, wear one of their gi's and I trained for free as the mat fee was waved. It was a kind gesture that will not be forgotten.
In the end, I can say that I had a lot of fun. I got to meet and train with some great people. I think training with different teachers and students really helps expand your training. My sensei was right in wanting me to take a class with Malory. It was an inspiration to learn and work with someone like her. The whole experience, though short lived, has me eager to get back to training and I can't wait until Tuesday night's class. Howard has already told me that sensei wants to hear all about it. All I can hope is that I did my sensei proud. I can say that I tried and I had fun doing it; and if Graham sensei and Bluhm sensei don't talk about me, that is even better.