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So I made it down to Santa Cruz via Hwy 35 and a nostalgic visit to Alice's Restaurant (where you can get anything you want!). 20 years ago I had pulled up there on a motorcycle, along with many many others, showing off their mean machines, still ticking with heat from the thrashing along the skyline drive. This time I burbled up in my air-cooled VW and sunk a creamy topped hot chocolate (how times have changed).
Friday evening class at the Santa Cruz dojo was lead by it's chief instructor Sensei Linda Holiday. This was a well attended class of about 25, with a mix of grades. As usual I am writing this days after the event, so I don't remember the names of all the techniques practised Suffice to say, I enjoyed the practice as usual and Sensei Holiday's calm, knowledgeable and focussed teaching style. When doing her rounds of the mat, I practised with her a few times, nice aikido, soft and direct. After the class I spent some time talking to her, as she expressed a fair interest in my lineage and aikido in the UK. I decided to stay for the following morning's class which would also be taken by her. Besides, Santa Cruz is a nice place to hang out for a while, I might even make a weekend of it.
Saturday class was started with some misogi exercises that had learnt during her time in Japan. The class then followed a similar format to the previous evening, although this time, there were more kokyu projections, an exercise I always enjoy to both give and receive, they were similar to my own practice and I couldn't help myself reverting to the leading -- virtual no touch throws that I am accustomed to. There were a few surprised smiles from the ukes as they rose from the mat.
After class, Peter Sol one of the dan grades there, asked me if I would like to join him on visit to a couple of 'pot luck' parties, later on that day. This I was happy to agree to, and drove off to the beach to while away the afternoon with my kindle (I have just discovered a writer that I can't get enough of -- Christopher Moore -- recommended to me by the Deadhead in the VW back up on the Oregon coast, remember him?).
So I picked Peter up and off we went. The first party was fairly quiet and conventional, but I had a nice time chatting to some interesting folk. The second party/gathering was pure Santa Cruz Ca. We arrived slightly late, so the eating had been done and all present had moved into a large Yurt, we were encouraged to join them. Luckily we found places by the wall close to the door. The chap who's birthday it was lead the gathering, by starting off with some 'heartsong' accompanying himself rather ineptly on the guitar, everyone (apart from me) seemed to join in the singing of the rather uninspired, simple, repetitive lyrics (at this point I thought of poor old Charlie Parker turning in his grave). Anyway, I thought, it's the old guy's birthday, give him a break. I hate to sound so disparaging, but there is such a fantastic body of brilliant music that we are all privileged to have access to, my ears just can't take much in the way of 'new age' wiffle waffle). Most of the throng did their singing from the lying down position, where they all seemed to be cuddling and/or stroking everyone else. I was starting to feel that I was observing a weird mating ritual, luckily the throng remained clothed at this point.
After a short video, which featured a brief section of a talk given by a youngish German philosophical type, in which he seemed to be saying that there are two types of people, those that are 'givers' and those who are not. And it is the givers who are on the higher plane, they are the ones to lead us into the brave new world. This seemed to please the writhing throng as there were mm's of agreement. I just thought, that they are in the us (we are the chosen ones) camp, and the rest are not. There was talk of the need to build community (as if this is some new idea). I managed to make a break for the relative cool of the dark forest night and a thoroughly unenlightened Camel cigarette. Which I smoked with relief, knowing that I had escaped the semi naked dancing that was now starting up in the Yurt. Overall I enjoyed the experience for it's pretentious theatre, but I come from Totnes, this type of thing is old hat there.
If you are reading this Peter, I hope you don't think I am ungrateful, I enjoyed it and thank you for the experience. I was just a little thrown by feeling that I had stepped into a time warp, where people feel like they are at the cutting edge, but are really just stroking each others rainbow coloured opinions.
So back to Aikido- The Sunday morning class was lead by Sensei Aimen Al-Refai. Who is normally in charge of the youth programme. A very enjoyable class, I liked the humour (which my own teacher has used so effectively over the years) and the focus on intent. Nice clean lines and dynamic movement. Sensei Al-Refai mentioned that he had been instructed by Sensei Holiday to ask if I would like to teach a section of the class. This I felt was both an honour and a pleasure. So I demonstrated a few exercises from my repertoire, Shihonage from both static and dynamic, then a Shomenuchi kokyunage. My emphasis was on leading the mind ahead of the body. My footwork and approach was different to theirs, but everyone threw themselves into the practice, and I thoroughly enjoyed going round making adjustments and demonstrating the principles. Aterwards, I had many thanks and words of enjoyment of what I had shown. It made me stop for a moment and reflect on the raison d'etre for my trip. I simply love to teach. However, I have more to learn, and as far as I can make out, a teacher who stops learning is short changing his/her students.
Peter and I had some time to discuss different teachers we had both experienced, he mentioned that on of his preferred teachers was teaching on Monday evening, and suggested I join him there. This I did, and so I met Sensei Glen Kimoto one of the dojos most senior teachers. He is a delightful and humble man, I really liked his energy and approach, as well as the bokken work he showed. He too passed the class over to me for a while and a couple more exercises from the Brit visitor.
I left Santa Cruz feeling tired (9 sessions in 7 days) but happy, nice place, nice people, lovely dojo, the longest I had stayed anywhere so far, thanks to all there, for making it such a pleasant stay.
Anyway, a short drive down the coast saw me in Monterey. After a pleasant afternoon strolling around the marina and fisherman's wharf, I turned up at Aikido of Monterey and a session with the dojo head Sensei Danielle Smith. Sensei Smith had been recommended to me by Sensei Hendricks. It seems that most of the long term teachers on the West Coast have trained with each other at some point. The Monterey dojo is one of the most beautiful, It has a wonderful light from the large windows at one end and a pristine white mate, which gives a nice feeling of air and space, the dojo is by no means large, just a lovely space to train in. The class was fairly small, with one other dan grade, a junior dan grade preparing for his full shodan, a couple of kyu grades and a brand new student (still with all the starchy creases in her gi). Sensei Smith lead a class appropriate for the mix, calling on me to help her with the rolling practice for the students by us projecting them repeatedly. Sensei Smith teaches with great empathy and care for precision.
After a sleep and pretty foggy drive along the Big Sur coast (spectacular!) and nearly running out of gas. I discovered how supply and demand works in the land of free market capitalism. They wanted over $6 a gallon, so filling up the minimum, to get me to the next hopefully cheaper pump, I finally made it to Santa Barbara and the Dojo of Sensei Lia Suzuki.
Sensei Suzuki's class was very interesting, most/just about all that I experienced, was new to me.
The warm ups, the ki-ai's, the Shoto (a small bokken which I guess represents a wakazashi) work (I'd never even seen one before, let alone practised with one). This I really liked, as I felt being completely outside of my normal frame of reference was a great learning experience. The movements were much more linear than I have ever experienced. However, it was Sensei Suzuki's shear gusto, brio and elan in the way she performed the techniques that won me over. A mentally and physically challenging session, phew!
Afterwards I was invited to sample some of the local Brewhouse ale (A custom that we observe almost religiously in the UK). I spent a very pleasant evening, talking aikido, eating some lovely food, and drinking said ale, with I must say, delightful company, Thank you Lia.
One of the topics of conversation prompted by me, was the high proportion of Dojo's headed by accomplished women aikidoka, that I had visited on the West Coast. Just an observation, for which I and she had no real explanation for, it is just the way it is.
It was late when I returned to my van, and my desire to get my head down, I didn't drive around too much looking for the right place to sleep. So I awoke with a parking ticket and a fine to pay. Oh well, an expensive mistake I won't make again.
Off to LA and a meetings with Corky.... and Dan...