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So, after taking a wrong exit off of the very confusing freeway intersection. I took a long detour over the Oakland Bay Bridge and a double back on the Merlin(?) Island. I managed to avoid the toll, by being completely flumoxed by the signage and drove down a lane reserved for those that have paid. I have no idea if I was caught on camera, only time will tell.
I finally arrived at Aikido of Berkeley, was invited in and another practice began. Sensei Feder lead the class. I liked what she was doing. She has a great energy and enthusiasm in her style of teaching. Sensei Feder seems to have a fairly eclectic style having trained widely. Anyway, she was very clear and concise in her descriptions and demonstrations.
As usual, I got to train with just about everyone on the mat. In all of the dojo's I've visited so far, they have followed the same pattern. A technique is demonstrated, students pair up and the exercise practised for a short space of time. The teacher then demos again, usually another technique, a new partner is found, and the cycle repeated.
This is different to the way I have been accustomed to. I have been used to less frequent changes of partner and more study of the technique being demonstrated. When I return to teaching, I will definitely take some aspect of this way home, but not all. I think the changing of partners more frequently, has the obvious benefit of everyone getting to practice with multiple partners. However, I think I will stick to my own rate of changing techniques and more focus on exploring the technique in more depth. The other reason is, that when more time is given to one exercise, I can visit each pair/group, watch what is being done and make corrections to their practice.
Anyway, back to the practice in Berkeley. During the start of practice, I realised that my right shoulder and elbow, had been affected by the previous weeks daily Tennis game with Dee. Probably the 35 year lay off from the last time I'd played the game, didn't help. That coupled with a few throws executed with more effort than was required, and I had a case of pretty painful, tennis/aikido elbow. A nights sleep didn't do much to heal it.
Even so, I decided to take the 7.30 class with Sensei Brandon Williams. I reckoned that I could take care of my arm. Sensei Brandon's warm up routine was well worth the effort or the early rise and the minor discomfort of the apendage. He gave the class a constant commentary on precisely what to do with the body, the shifting of weight, the moving from centre, the balance etc.
Excellent teaching in my view.
Along with quite a few recommendations from the Northern dojo's, and an invitation from Rob Watson of Aikiweb. I headed for Sensei Pat Hendricks' place in San Leandro. I'm glad I did. Sensei Hendricks was very welcoming. This was my first opportunity to train in the more traditional Iwama Style, (although I believe that Kayla Feder's lineage is Iwama, the training felt the same as elsewhere, if not a little bit more linear in application), which I was looking forward to anyway. Sensei Hendricks inquired of my rank and lineage, she was interested in some depth, having just returned from a teaching trip to the UK, as she has some affiliated dojo's there. She has been the first teacher so far, to have been so formal . Up until now, most teachers have not enquired about my rank, and I have been happy to remain a ronin black belt. My Godan grade is only recognised by the Ki Federation of GB. As everywhere else I have trained, I was made to feel very welcome, but here, I was afforded a more 'elevated' status. It felt very polite and formal (but in a laid back California way).
The practice was good, the style less different than I had anticipated. Sensei Hendricks puts everyone through their paces, changing techniques often, directing partners together, making sure that students up for grading soon are getting what they need. I managed to adapt fairly well, and every one was patient with me when all the techniques being called where in Japanese.
The weapons class was particularly taxing on my learning capacity as nearly all the jo against jo katas were completely new to me. So I had to watch and follow the best I could.
I slept close to the dojo as there was a class at 6.30 the following morning, which I managed to make, fuelled only by coffee. A much smaller class of course, mostly Dan grades. Sensei Hendricks lead the class, half open handed, half weapons. It felt good to get some training in so early in the day.
A short drive over a very long bridge, found me over the other side of the Bay, I spent a relaxing day over by the Hetchy Hetchy water system20, reading and catching up on some writing. Later I headed into Redwood City in search of Aikido West and Sensei Frank Doran, who has been the most recommended teacher to see on my travels. I arrived early enough to attend the beginners class, which was being lead by one of the senior students there. Practicing with beginners, I find focusses my mind on what it is like to have a 'beginners mind'. It also helps me understand what is needed to help them move forward. As a teacher, I am always looking for the words and the exercises that are going to help students get the principles being demonstrated. One of the things that makes Aikido so fascinating to me, is that even the simplest actions, can take so long to really embody. Once there, you wonder why it took so long, but it seems to be a long process for just about everyone I have come across.
Anyway, Sensei Doran's class, was very well attended (around 30), the largest class I have attended. As he stepped onto the mat, He had the same dignified presence that I recognise from my own teacher. Maybe age has something to do with it, my teacher is over 80, Sensei Doran must be in his 70's. Either way, you had no doubt that here was someone who knew what they were doing. Interestingly, the first few exercises were demonstrated wordlessly, everyone just got on with it. I wondered if the whole class would be conducted this way. Luckily he started to give instruction in subsequent techniques, often using the bokken to demonstrate both the movement, intention and principles involved in correct execution. He seems to come across as quite stern and serious, but when he met me on the mat, he was very warm and welcoming, and any instruction given was accepting of the difference in style that I was in.
Near the end of the class, we were working on sankyo which had a different start but a familiar end to me, anyway, I was really getting into the flow of it, having repeated it enough to let go of the steps. Sensei Doran happened to be behind me watching, I must have impressed him, as he said "that was beautiful".
So onwards and southwards. I am heading down the coast towards Santa Cruz and points beyond... I have squeezed in 5 sessions in 3 different dojos inside 3 days. And if I get my backside in gear and out of this wi-fi providing Starbucks, I might make the early evening session in SC.