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Despite my best efforts at taking loads of Vitamin C and washing my hands as if I had OCD, I managed to pick up the cold that was floating around Chicago. I woke up Saturday feeling quite bad and stayed home instead of attending the Aikido Seminar.
I'm certain it was the right thing to do, but it left me feeling very empty and depressed. I really wanted to participate. I really wanted to train at the huge beautiful Ryoshinkan dojo.
I really wanted to feel that spark of energy I felt at Toyoda Shihan's memorial.
But it wasn't meant to be this time around. There will be other seminars, and other chances to "raise the roof."
Last night I returned to the mats for the first time since last Tuesday. I had purchased another dogi from a company called Midwest Martial Arts here in Chicago. They have a storefront on Irving Park Road. This one isn't nearly as comfortable as the BuJin one, but it was able to soak up every drop of sweat I could muster up. Sadly, I think I'll save the BuJin for only special occasions, as right now I sweat like crazy. A dripping wet dogi isn't pretty.
Anyway, the first class with Toyoda Sensei was lively and enjoyable. We did lots of kotegaeshi. Ever so slightly I'm working my way into breakfalls. Kirsten, one of the two yudansha kenshusei, is really enjoyable to work with. She's recently become nidan and has been training in Aikido for a number of years. I think she's only 18 or so.
She has this incredible way of coaching with a new technique. Somehow she manages to individualize the instruction so perfectly for each of us. When I'm nage, she'll help direct me and give me tons of tips on how to do the technique. And then when the next nage is up, she'll explain the technique in a totally different way, tailored for that nage. Her intuition about knowing exactly what you need to hear is amazing. I can see now why she enjoys teaching children. I already know I will miss her when she has left. Fingers-crossed that she comes to Northwestern for college.
As the class moved on, the throws got bigger and harder to execute. I was nage for one or two people, throwing them into a breakfalls. Scary as it seemed, after the second one I instantly understood not only how to throw, but how to take one. You must rely on the energy transfer from one person to the next. And above all, relaxing is the key. I was able to take only one breakfall. I had my feet and everything positioned properly, but I forgot to slap and I took the force of it on my side. I didn't hurt myself, but now I see why you need to release the force by slapping.
The very last technique was terrifying. Toyoda Sensei picked up a kenshusei named Rachael and flipped her over his back. He did it a few times and gave a pretty good explanation of it. He then had all the yudasha position themselves as nage. The white belts weren't expected to do the flip, but when Kirsten had me on her back, she asked me if I wanted to go for it. I did, and effortlessly she flipped me over and I landed properly on both feet. I was grinning like an idiot. Kathy, my newly found kenshusei friend began to clap with glee that I did the flip. Class was over and I felt on top of the world.
The second class was taught by one of the teachers I don't know well. His style is to focus a lot on the philosophy of the movements and honing techniques. He likes to talk a lot about the various techniques and how they can be boiled down into just a few basic body movements. The only down side to his class was that he seemed to be talking mostly to the more advanced students. For each technique, he didn't really demonstrate a less-advanced version. It's not a huge deal, but I like when the other teachers present the basic body movements first and then work into the full teachnique.
His class consisted of showing the full technique, and then when people weren't getting it (thank god it wasn't just me), we reverted back to just the tai sabaki practice. Then back to the technique. I'm not an expert on teaching people Aikido, but the class seemed to lack the building-block flow of a lot of teachers I've experienced: Learn the tai sabaki, do a simple technique. Add a bit more to the tai sabaki, build a bit more on that technique, and so on.
It could just be my feet. They are still pretty ignorant. Despite what everyone's hands do, I'm trying as hard as possible to watch all the footwork and learn how to dance as both uke and nage. I call it dancing because that's exactly what it feels like. As nage, I must learn to move my body in deliberate and structured ways in order to take uke's balance. As uke, I must be able to follow the dance that nage wants to do.