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07-03-2013, 07:03 AM

Last September, a group of aikidoists from all over the Milwaukee area got together in the park for an afternoon of informal weapons training. It was great fun, and we all lamented that no one had come up with it earlier in the year, before the Wisconsin weather began to drop hints of the coming winter. As it was, we had to be satisfied with one such event last year.

This year, I took it upon myself to make sure there were more of these. I had a brand new list of aikido Facebook friends I'd met at recent seminars, and I started talking to all of them last month about setting up three or four of these events for the coming summer. We had the first of them the first weekend in June. What follows is a list of observations from the event; I don't have a story here that comes to a single point.

Training outdoors requires greater attention to footwork. Every step out in the grass must be a real, deliberate step. Even kata I knew very well were fumbling messes when I wasn't paying attention to my feet. Every little foot movement, even the move colloquially known as a "slide", demanded that my foot be deliberately and entirely lifted off the ground. It was quite different from the dojo, where an aikidoist can get away with "skating"on the mat (some clubs even prefer it).

Weapons training levels the playing field. Get a group of people from a bunch of different aikido clubs together and the hardest thing to get them to do as a group will be weapons work. The Saito, Tohei, and Saotome lineages (for example) all teach essentially the same kotegaeshi but have vastly different weapons curricula. What this means at a gathering like the one in the park is that everything, no matter how basic, must be taught to the group as if to brand-new beginners, even if the group includes some black belts who have been training for decades.

I'm getting better, but I'm still not good enough. Aikido's movements are largely based on kenjutsu, which means, in theory, that weapons training ought to be using mostly the same muscles as taijutsu (unarmed training). This in turn means that if I'm doing it right, my arms, shoulders, and back shouldn't be hurting too much afterward. At the end of two hours with the jo and then the bokken, my abs were sore rather than my arms or my back. I took this for a good sign: finally, I supposed, I had managed to use weapons from my center rather than my arms and back. When I woke up the next morning, though, my previously injured wrist (http://yghmartialarts.blogspot.com/2011/09/aikido-for-me.html) and shoulder (http://yghmartialarts.blogspot.com/2012/04/back-on-horse.html) were very angry with me.

Outdoor training means being stared at. We have managed to find a pretty secluded place for our gatherings, but a public park is still a public park. More than once, a motorist who was just coming by to park or turn around slowed way down to watch the spectacle of more than a dozen grown men and women apparently playing with sticks and wooden swords. One of them had her window rolled down and went by so slowly that my training partner and I could read her lips as she wondered aloud, "What the fuck?"

All in all, aikido in the park is an interesting and educational experience, and there are much worse reasons to get a bunch of friends together. There's another one coming up late in July. Come join us if you're in the Milwaukee area.

Janet Rosen
07-03-2013, 08:49 AM
Sounds like a great training!

07-03-2013, 09:45 AM
Green River Aikido owns a grassy lot next to the dojo that fronts on a busy street. Weather and light permitting, that's where we do weapons practice. I like the extra room, and also the exposure to the elements - we don't train in the rain or the snow, but the heat, the sun in the eyes, the wind, the uneven grouind (gotta roll that lawn), even the distraction of yahoos honking horns. It's good practice. At first I feel a feeling of irritation, sort of like meditating in a less-than-perfect environment, and a reflexive tendency to externalize the difficulty ("Damn sun in my eyes, why am I always the one facing it, stupid moles rucking up the lawn, don't these people have anything better to do than yell and honk their horns") and fix on it as the obstacle to practice. But the more I do it, the better I get at letting that stuff come, and letting it go. And when I'm practicing amidst distractions, I KNOW when I'm focused on the task at hand and when I'm not. I think sometimes, when I'm in the dojo, I can be not-present and not really be aware that I'm not present (because it's the dojo, there's nothing else, I'm here, on the mat, and obviously I"m doing it...right?). So, yeah, I think it's good practice.

07-03-2013, 10:21 AM

One summers evening several years back we took the mats outside to practice, there was a group of local yobs making Bruce Lee noises which we totally ignored, until two of them decided to run onto to the mat to the cheers of their fellow morons, two of my dan grades met them head on - not with Aiki love a cuddle and a do-nut - but with a positive irimi nage that just crashed them into the mat, they had to be carried off the mat.
Never had a problem since.
Enjoy your practice.

Henry Ellis
Co-author `Positive Aikido`

Marie Noelle Fequiere
07-04-2013, 11:54 AM
Distractions? One day, I came to class a bit late to find that a voodoo ceremony was raging in the house next door. And since we have no air conditioning, the mat is only surrounded by big windows only protected by iron bars. As a result, it was like the event was going on in the same building. The drummer was good, and I confess that while I was changing in the ladies' room, I really felt like dancing. But when I reached the mat, I found everybody training happily, ignoring the racket, and I did the same.
Once we were on the mat, it was just us and O Sensei. :)
Also, my karate school was twice forced to find refugee in a fitness club - a different club each time, and each time, we had to put up with the music and the roars of laughter of the club members exchanging jokes as they lifted weights. That also was good for developing our concentration.
I really like the idea of outdoor training, too bad it's not easy to find a safe place to do that where I live.

Andrew S
07-04-2013, 02:26 PM
Back when I was in Australia we did a few demonstrations outdoors, and I agree that the movement is somewhat different.
Oddly enough, we had fewer hecklers than the few times the Flinders University club practiced outside on university grounds.

Practice anywhere that is visible to the public often requires special concentration and patience. Or a willingness to "deal with" the situation. (I am reminded of karate practice held in a school gym last year, when some kids decided to mock our instructor - something they won't ever be doing again in a hurry!)

As I've said on other forums, every dojo should have its own kydo branch or at least some of Heckler and Koch (http://www.heckler-koch.com/en/welcome.html)'s fine products to deal with hecklers.

Mert Gambito
07-04-2013, 03:34 PM

Plenty of 'em back in L.A.

None that I've encountered in Hawaii. Many martial arts schools/groups regularly train outdoors at parks, school campuses, parking lots, and other public places. It's just part of the fabric of life here.

Locals as well as tourists have stopped to watch and join class. A few passersby have even formally become part of the dojo/group.

07-07-2013, 09:43 PM
We didn't have any hecklers or interruptions, just a few people staring. We have a pretty good spot that keeps the audience small, or at least as small as it can be in the middle of a public park.

07-08-2013, 05:41 AM
we do most of our weapon works outdoor on various surfaces: on parking lot, on grass (quite slipery when wet with morning dew), on dirt, near trees that droped large round seeds on the ground that make stepping interesting. we learned to pick up our feet and not to take large steps. you can't drop quickly to your knees on gravel or cement without feeling the pain. you learned to relax your hips, knees and ankle joins. you learned to be more aware of your surrounding. the elements usually conspired against you along with the bugs. it's fun to do stuffs outdoor.

Rob Watson
07-08-2013, 04:51 PM
All of our major events have a significant component of training out doors in a fairly secluded park. Except for the occasional birthday party or frisbee golfers there is no interruptions. No such thing as sliding or gliding over sticks, tree roots and uneven ground - one must step purposefully and diligently. 100+ folks doing kata with synchronized kiai does disturb the wildlife and bystanders a bit ...

Great fun ... highly recommended.

Matt Fisher
07-08-2013, 07:56 PM

Tim Sheldon Sensei, chief instructor of Bryan Park Aikido in Richmond, VA (www.aikicommunications.net), has been doing outdoor weapons training for years...and doing it year round.

Tim has been a student of Bill Witt Sensei for many years, so the weapons practices they uae are the ones taught by the late Morihiro Saito Sensei.


07-09-2013, 06:55 AM
No such thing as sliding or gliding over sticks, tree roots and uneven ground - one must step purposefully and diligently..

one of the unspeakable, and yea major rudeness, when practicing in the park where there are ducks and geese. yes, you know what i am talking about. damn things laid anti-personnel mines everywhere. :grr: