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This past Tuesday featured absolutely horrible weather, mostly driving rain. As a result, it took me almost twice as long to get to the dojo as it normally does. I missed the warm-ups, so I warmed up on my own while our instructor demonstrated the first technique.
Because of the weather, only two other students, Richard (2nd kyu, like me) and Robert (4th kyu, but ready for 3rd kyu), showed up. It was nice to have a class with just senior students. I tried to describe it to my wife, but had a hard time. Basically, the atmosphere was relaxed. It's not that we didn't work hard, because we did. We attacked hard, made some mistakes, and executed vigorous techniques and ukemi. Yet for all of that, there was a relaxed feeling to the practice. I think all three of us were very comfortable with one another's abilities, so we were able to simply attack or throw without so much attention to protecting ourselves from unexpected mistakes (too much muscle, improper body position, etc).
Strangely, or maybe not so strangely, when we make a mistake as nage at this level of training and with skilled ukes, the technique stops almost immediately -- by mutual concent. A couple of times we each switched to another technique; maybe just to show ourselves that we could adapt and recover from mistakes. But most of the time, we stopped and worked out what was going wrong.
I guess that's the key to why things felt so relaxed: we all knew what is expected of nage and uke, and we all met those expectations. It felt good.