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Monday night practice at Aikido Ashland. Sensei Michael Friedl took the class. Michael epitomises the instant generosity of American folk, that had so surprised me when I first visited the US back in the 1970's. Within moments of meeting, he had offered me his dojo as a place to sleep and clean up, we hadn't even got to the changing rooms!
The practice was good, the temperature was still pretty hot (it had been in the 90's all day). So the doors were wide open and we all practised without hakama, wearing white belts. I liked this approach, but felt slightly at sea with each change of partner, as I didn't have the 'known' grade of the new partner to gauge things by. Not a problem though, each new person I feel is just another new colour in the kinaesthetic pallet.
I learnt a number of variations of techniques I recognise. I am finding that my footwork is are where there is most divergence from my own habit. The hands are relatively easy to change, but my feet instinctively want to react in the way I know. Much of the footwork I have encountered over here, is of a more linear nature than I am used to. So I am aware that in learning, my mind is focussed in a different way than when I just 'do'.
I have decided by this point to just practice and not try to remember everything, which is virtually impossible, given that everywhere I go, I encounter things that are being done differently (if even only slightly). I will trust that this varied exposure will find it's way out in my own aikido eventually.
I enjoyed Sensei Friedl's class and the friendly, informative atmosphere he creates. Anyway, I felt very welcome there.
I had decided to take the class the next morning, so having seen the showtimes earlier, I took myself off to the Cinema. I saw the new Oliver Stone movie 'Savages', which is pretty typical of him, stylish, sexy and very violent. Not to everyone's taste but I enjoyed it.
One of Michael's senior students (Shawn?) took the morning class. Not so many students, but to be expected for a midwek morning. I really enjoyed the warm up session that was conducted using the Jo, I want to incorporate some of those into my own. I also like the jo exercises we did, again mainly because of the difference to that which I am used to. I was also one of the first opportunities given to me to show the rest of the group 'my' variation of a technique. In this case we were working on what I know as 8th Form, which in English is a two handed grip in the one arm. I am still a neophyte on the Japanese terms for each attack. I'm not sure that I need to learn them either as I can get by perfectly well without.
After the session, James Irvine kindly offered to throw my gi in the wash with his. So we spent a couple of hours drinking 'real' English tea and chewing the fat over aikido and related subjects, while the kit was being done. James sent me off with a stash of teabags and some spare oil for my van, thanks James!
So, over the hills to the northernmost section of the California coast. Spent a night free camping on the beach where I was joined by another couple in a white VW Camper Van (theirs was about 25 years newer). We had a lovely fire on the beach, where fresh fish, corn, potatoes and stirfry, were cooked up, mmmm nice. The sunset and the lines of Pelicans skimming the waves were a magical backdrop to the fine dining.
First Aikido stop on the journey south, was at Acarta. I attended the class given by Sensei Peggy Ilene. Again, I enjoyed the practice (this is becoming a bit of a theme). This class was comprised of young and old, I practised with virtually everyone. The warm up routine was done very quietly, and there were quite a few yoga inspired stretches, which were, I feel, useful in preparing aikidoka for general practise.
The class itself was a combination of slow study of basic movements, and later much more dynamic movement. Sensei Ilene gave clear instruction and was able to demonstrate the power that was inherent in the technique without using force.
The common feeling for me by this stage, is that the footwork and mode of moving that I have learned so far, is different in many situations. So as I watch the technique being demonstrated, I am having to pay attention to what I don't know, as opposed to what I already do. So when I partner up with someone, my first rep, is usually focused on foot placement. I fully realise that when one is focussing on the what, how or why of technique, one is not doing 'aikido'. However, if I want a wider set of responses to any given situation, then this vital stage can not be bypassed.
Also, I fairly big difference to the way I normally practice and teach, is the strength that is used in the grip made by uke. Many of the folk I have practiced with so far, use far more 'juice' than I would normally do. I personally have no problem in moving a uke who is 'clamping down', - relax, extend, move centre etc. I know that the way hold is not the norm here, and some people find that they are 'clashing' in a way they are not used to. I certainly don't want to be a pain to anyone in practice, so I find myself adjusting in their favour, knowing that, the technique was not being executed as well as it could. All part of practice and no cause for concern or conflict.
Interestingly, when I practiced briefly with Sensei Ilene, her grip was of the kind that I am used to, relaxed and connected.
I did consider staying a couple of days to hopefully catch Sensei Tom Reed on the friday evening session, however, there was some question over whether he would be there, as his health was not so great. So I decided to move on down the coast the next day.
After my ubiquitous stop at Starbucks for caffeine and wi-fi, a google search showed up an Aikido class in Mendocino that evening. So I decided to make that, before crossing over the coastal range (again!) to meet Janet Rosen in Ukiah.
My journey south on 101 took me down through 'The Avenue of the Giants'. Spending time in the presence of these magnificent trees was a pure treat. To be with such old living things, is to be made to feel humble, and to reflect on ones own impermanence. So after a forest meditation, I continued south, feeling calm, refreshed and renewed by my short time with the mighty Redwoods.
I made it to the Mendocino dojo with time to spare. I waited for folk to arrive for the 7.00 p.m. Class, however, they never did. What did happen though, was a single guy turned up, who I introduced myself to. I discovered that his name was Adam and that he knew nothing about the Aikido class that was meant to be on. He was there as a practitioner of Seibukan Jujutsu. He was planning on doing some solo weapons kata practice. He invited me in to watch and or join him on the mat, to do some of my own solo practice. This we did for a while. Then we started a sequence of showing and practising with each other, a typical technique from our respective arts. This was incredibly useful for both of us. For me, I experience some of the real martial/battlefield roots of my own art. For Adam, I was able to translate some of what he was doing into a much more liquid/flowing movement, which he was fascinated by, as he told me that his focus in his personal practice was to move up to the 'water' level that he knows is in the higher level practice of his art.
So after a time of trading techniques, we spent at least half an hour of taking it in turns to attack each other and see what came out of the encounter. I found this process both hugely enjoyable and invigorating. I have had little exposure to this type of training. Randori with other aikidoka, is not the same as someone throwing punches and kicks (Adam was proficient in TKD as well as Jujutsu). I was pleased with my own account of myself, Adam (I think) was surprised how effective the 'non-resistive' approach could be.
I fell asleep that night pretty exhausted from the strenuous practice, and happy with another door having been opened up in this interesting journey into aikido on the West coast.