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Well, I have officially survived my first weekend seminar. The seminar was a weapons seminar hosted by Eugene Aikikai and taught by Mike Flynn Sensei. The seminar involved some jo work, but it mainly focused on working with the bokken. It was mentally exhausting, but it really was an eye opening experience. In exchange for sweat, blisters, raw skin, mental fatigue, sore muscles and lack of sleep, I gained a better sense of self awareness and met some great people.
The seminar started off Friday night with me sitting off on the side observing. Friday night was just for yudansha, but sensei had me sit in my gi incase I was invited to join. I was secretly hoping the invitation wouldn't happen, as I was still nervous. I did my best to REALLY watch what he was doing and imagined myself out there on the mat practicing. Everything they were doing I had done at one point or another, which was comforting. About halfway through the class, I was invited onto the mat because they had an odd number of students training. By this point, I was no longer nervous. I just wanted to train and I wanted to do my best. It isn't every day that every partner I work with is a yudansha…
I worked with my sensei for a while. One person would have the jo and the other would be empty-handed. The person with the jo would then tsuki and the other person would then use the jo to throw their partner. Despite the fact I have done several variations of this at one point or the other (including the seminar), when it came time to do whatever move you wanted, I couldn't seem to remember them all anymore. That night after class, a bunch of us went out to McMenamins for food and beer. It allowed me to get to know a few other people at the seminar, which was really nice. After we ate and drank to our hearts content, we went back to the house we were staying at and shot some pool for a while. Somewhere around midnight, we decided we should get some sleep since we had to get up at seven.
The next morning came all too quickly and I wanted nothing more then an extra hour or two of sleep, but I forced myself to get up and get ready for the day ahead. Little did I know that today would be "bokken day" and we ended up doing over 5 hours of bokken work. By the end of the day, my hands were raw and sore. I rubbed the skin off of the back of my left thumb because it was constantly rubbing against my right hand. I thought I was going to get blisters on parts of my left hand, but it turns out that it didn't happen. YAY!
Flynn sensei started us off with the very basics of bokken work and tried to give us a foundation to build upon. He told us that we would have to stay vigilant and be diligent about our movements. His most common complaint was that we were all too tense. At one point he stopped all of us and asked us what the most important thing in the room was. People spoke out random answers- center, ki, relaxation, tension, focus, etc. Finally Flynn sensei answered his own question "Air. You can't breathe without it. So, why are all of you trying to kill my air!?!" This caused the entire dojo to fill with laughter. He then went to demonstrate some of the power cutting that was being done and said that it was not necessary and explained that it was a waste of energy and it was not very efficient.
We all went back to building the calluses up on our hands and creating blisters in spots where our hands weren't tough. My focus would be shattered by his periodic intense "NO!" and he would stop us once again to explain what several of us were doing incorrectly. At one point, he said "You aren't being digilent!" and he paused and sort of made a face as he realized the word came out wrong. "Digilent means being diligent and vigilant at the same time. I just created a new word!" At that, laughter once again erupted and we began to go back to working on our cuts. Right before lunch, he had use work on shiho & happo giri and the eight suburi. At one point, Flynn sensei said "Why are you so tense?" I didn't know he was talking to me so I continued with my suburi, so he said "You don't want to talk about it?" I realized he was talking to me and immediately stopped and said "I'm sorry, I didn't realize you were talking to me sensei." and bowed. He again asked "Why are you so tense?" I repsonded honestly, "I didn't know I was. I will relax more." I then bowed and he went on his way to help others. By the end of this class, we were all running low on energy and I think most of us were looking forward to our lunch break. Before we could go though, Flynn sensei told us to do the eight suburi from suwariwaza if our knees could handle it. I was able to do it, but I felt like a horse clodding along the whole time. Then, we bowed out for our two hour lunch break. YES!
By lunch time, my poor left hand was quite sore. I felt as if I would get blisters on a few spots on my hand. I don't think it is from not holding the sword correctly, but instead, my hands aren't used to several straight hours of bokken work. I got back from lunch early and did my best to put some tape on a few areas. It didn't really work though because those areas aren't easily taped… so I figured I would just sort of deal with it and I took off the tape I just spent fifteen minutes putting on.
After lunch we worked on some partnered kumitachi. For the most part, I seemed to work with other low ranking kyu's. I was surprised to learn that there were people there with less experience then me. I found this to be comforting in that I wasn't alone, but at the same time, I often found myself telling my partner what the next move was because they forgot. I also didn't have an idea of who was what rank, so more often then not, I asked my partner to go first. The problem was, when they did something wrong, I didn't feel like it was my place to correct them. Sometimes they would tell me something that was wrong... so then I was in the spot of doing what they said, even if it was wrong or speaking up.
Towards the end of the day, we split up in groups and the yudansha stayed inside and all the kyu's went outside. We went outside and worked on some simple partner exercises. I didn't mind it because it allowed me to get to know Thoms sensei better and get a taste for his teaching style. I have decided that I like him and the next time I am in Eugene for work, I am going to try to stop by and train at their dojo. Most of the partners I worked with seemed to be having problems with sore legs. Since my legs were still holding up fine, I let them do the technique six times or more and then I would only do the technique four times so they weren't squatting as long. Eventually, our day came to an end and we all went back inside to call it a day.
A few hours after the seminar, a potluck was being held at our host's house, which turned out to be quite convenient! Once we got back to her house, I showered, called my husband and then went upstairs to help get ready. The potluck was a lot of fun. Everyone who came brought either food or alcohol. There was a decent variety of wine to sample from, so that is what I pretty much stuck to. I got to mingle and chat with a few of the sensei's who were at the seminar and I really enjoyed getting to know them better. At one point, everyone started to play pool. We decided to play guys versus girls. Well it turns out, that my partner and I were undefeated for about 7 or 8 games of pool. Some of our wins were from technicalities, but a win is a win right!?! I had been playing against my sensei for several games and it got to the point that if he was in my way, he refused to move. HAHA. We ended up winning that game anyway…… at one point during the game, sensei told me "I hope you like nikyo. Lots and lots of nikyo!" We had all been drinking and were having a good time, so some of us had started some friendly trash talking. We were trying to distract each other by making jokes or what not. At one point during the last game, sensei threatened Elmer "If you don't win this game, I am going to kick your ass tomorrow!" Elmer even resorted to wiggling his butt in front of the corner pocket while I was going for my shot. It turns out that Elmer and his partner beat us that game, ending our winning streak. So sensei didn't have to kick his ass after all. By this point, it was after midnight and we decided to call it a night.
The next day I woke up with a headache, which was no surprise with the copious amount of red wine that was consumed the night before. I really should have been smarter because I know red wine can trigger my migraines… but it is so good! Anyway, I groggily got up from the coziness of my sleeping bag and quickly took some Excedrin. I began packing up my clothes, sleeping bag and other miscellaneous crap I had taken with me. I went upstairs and decided to have some cinnamon life for breakfast. That is the breakfast of champions you know….
The last day of the seminar started off with jo, which was quite nice. It would allow my still sore hands a bit of a reprieve. We worked on some basic strikes and responses for a while. I pretty much worked with kyu's, but I did get to work with Aki Fleshler sensei, who I must say is very nice. He was very patient with me and tried to explain the finer points of the technique we were working on (makiotoshi). Eventually, Flynn sensei had us put down our jo's and grab our bokken again. He reminded us that we had to stay "digilent" We worked on some kumitachi a bit. Flynn sensei would stop us periodically and remind us that the chain of reaction is tip, wrist, elbow and shoulder when raising and cutting with the sword. He also reminded us not to stick out our elbows when we had the sword raised above our head.
Before I knew it, the seminar had come to an end. Time had flown by and I found myself sad that it was over. After bowing out, we all walked around thanking people we worked with and then changed. For the next hour or so, people walked around saying their thank you's and good byes. Before leaving, I said goodbye to Elmer once more and gave him a hug. It is kind of odd, because I really don't know these people well at all, yet I feel like they are now my extended family. We all went through our own trials and tribulations together. Good or bad, sore or not, we walked away feeling as if we might be a bit better then we were before.
It wasn't until after I got home several hours later that I realized just how tired I was. I wasn't really sore (that would set in the next day), but I was mentally exhausted. I didn't have anything left in me to give. I guess I had kept my exhaustion at bay by staying so focused and just learning. It wasn't until I slowed down that the fatigue set in. It is amazing how much focus weapons work can take. I don't believe I walked away from the seminar significantly better then I was before, but I did gain a better sense of awareness (which I guess is improvement in one way). I now realize that I don't use my left hand enough and I use my right hand more then I need to. All those small, tiny details really do matter….
The next day my legs began to feel sore and my forearm muscles were sore from doing so much conditioning exercises (need to do more of these!). If there is one thing I know about my sensei, is that when he comes back from a seminar, he tends to work on what they did at the seminar. That means that my thighs and forearms will not get much of a reprieve this week. Turns out I did get a break from bokken on Tuesday, but we did bokken Wednesday and of course I had my regular iaido class that evening. Thursday it was just me and Bret. Sensei started off with throwing us around to get some practice for himself in. Then, he had us work on tai no henko and some basic tai sabaki at first. The bulk of the class was focused on ikkyo, nikyo and sankyo. Nikyo and sankyo are on my next test, so it was much appreciated as my technique is less then adequate.
With each technique, sensei would demonstrate it first on Bret and then on me. I loved this, because it allowed me to watch and then feel the technique. Bret was pretty patient with me. For the most part, sensei just quietly observed, but every now and then he would correct us or make a suggestion. By the end of class, my wrists were a bit sore and while sensei was applying nikyo to me to show me what I was doing wrong, I asked him "Is this the lots of nikyo you were talking about while we were shooting pool?" He chuckled and said "No. This is nice nikyo." At that, I grimaced in pain, dropped to the mat and tapped. I looked up at him and said "Nice?" Bret and I worked on nikyo for a bit longer and then we prepared for the second hour of class.
For the second hour of class, another student, Don had shown up. Sensei had us grab a bokken. Sensei started off with us doing some conditioning, basic cuts and then we partnered up. We ended up spending a large part of the second hour working on kumitachi. I worked with sensei a bit and then I worked with Bret as well. When I was with sensei, he tried to get me to focus on being sticky and not allowing our swords to lose contact with one another. Once class was over, I went downstairs and changed. I was sitting down in a chair when Bret went to the fridge and got a beer. He told me I was welcome to a beer, so I went and got one out of the fridge. Bret showed me how to take the cap off of the bottle using the table, which was easier then it looked. We both sat down and started talking. Sensei came out, got a beer and joined in on the conversation. We sat talking and drinking beer for about an hour. We talked about aikido, our dojo, drugs, gangs, the state budget….. all sorts of stuff. Eventually, we decided to call it a night and we all parted ways, saying we would see each other on Saturday.
Well, today is Friday and I am feeling well for the most part. My wrists are sore from the nikyo's and sankyo's and my forearms are a little sore from more conditioning… but that is what aikido is all about. If my wrists are still achy tomorrow, I will just put some wrap on it and train. In the end, I can officially say that I am officially addicted to going to aikido seminars!