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This past month or so has been an amazingly varied, intense, and joyful period of Aikido for me. I've had a great time, and learned tons. I would not have said a few weeks ago that I was on a plateau. I wasn't feeling frustrated or stalled out in any way. But in the last few weeks I have felt a sort of acceleration kick in. Zero to 60 is one thing. But when you've already been doing 60... Wow.
I'm not sure why it's been like this, but I'm enjoying the heck out of it, and waking up excited about each day. In my experience, as a native San Diegan, this time of year is one of beginnings. It's blazing hot for months, and then things start to cool off. Rain comes, and the hills start to go from gold to green. I associate the changing light and weather with the start of start of the school year, so it just feels like a time for learning new things. Also, I've been writing a lot here (not just the posts you've seen, but drafts for future posts, or just private reflections), plus putting my thoughts down on paper after class in a notebook I carry with me in my dojo bag. Writing helps me digest information, see patterns, and remember. I've been writing because I've been inspired by everything I'm experiencing and learning, but the writing also deepens the experience and solidifies the learning.
Actually, this all really started around the beginning of August. Sensei did some really revealing and inspired work with us on embodying qualities in our Aikido. We had several classes that, even though each was only an hour, generated the kinds of insights I might hope for from participating in a seminar. Lots of discovery and realizations. The kind of work that whaps you upside the head and wakes you up. I was in the midst of several personal transitions, discovering where I fit in, and the processes we did on in class helped me see more clearly the real issues underlying some situations I'd been suffering over.
Later in August, while on vacation with my husband, Michael, I got to train at Portland Aikikai, in Oregon. They were very nice folks. I hope I have the chance to go back. If you're in the area, stop in and train (ask first, of course). They are a warm, welcoming group. I participated in three classes, with three different teachers. That was very challenging! Each one had a little different feeling to their class, and everything was a little different from what I'm used to. So I had to stay very awake! Even warm-ups were done a little differently. Training there was really fun, and mentally exhausting, paying attention that closely for that long.
Also while on vacation I managed to sneak in an Friday morning class at Michael Friedl Sensei's dojo in Ashland, Oregon. I'd trained with Friedl Sensei once before, at the Aiki Retreat, and felt right at home. Here again, if you're in the area, get in touch with him about training. It was a pretty laid-back energy class, which was wonderful, because it was at 7 a.m., and I'm not sure I'd have been up to anything too terribly vigorous at that hour. I'd never trained that early before! At the end of class Friedl Sensei took a moment to explain why they were all (even himself) wearing white belts and no hakama. For a couple of months (if I remember correctly) each year everyone in the dojo wears a white belt. It's to remind them of Beginner's Mind, and that we're all on this path of learning together, even the teacher. I really like that idea, and it fits right into the sense of newness I've been feeling about training.
On our way south we stopped in Chico, California, where I got to observe a couple of hours of Danzan Ryu Jujitsu classes at Chico Kodenkan (founded in 1939!). Aikido has roots in Jujitsu, but I'd never actually seen it before. So I was very fortunate that this dojo was about 3 blocks from where Michael went to play in a traditional Irish music session, and happened to have classes at the same time. Here I only went to watch, but the teacher (maybe Ken Couch?) was very generous about stepping off the mat to explain their teaching system and history, and to answer my questions. He said next time they'd get me on the mat. That would be fun! I also got to meet their Sensei, Delina Fuchs, a gracious woman who made me feel very welcome. Once more, if you're in Chico... Well, you know. :-) The class I watched included two senior students who appeared to be training for an upcoming exam, and a few children who were just beginning. A couple of the kids had to go early, leaving one very new boy and the two seniors in the class. The instructor had them do a really creative, fun Sumo kind of exercise in balance breaking that put the little newbie kid on an equal footing with the much more experienced, bigger students. I often find that watching the teaching and class management is as fascinating as seeing the techniques demonstrated, and this fun, effective exercise was a great opportunity for that.
After returning from vacation, on Saturday, September 1st we had two shodan exams at our dojo. We've averaged about one a year since I started, so two on one day was a big deal. It was great to see two friends who have mentored and encouraged me from day one take that big step. Inspiring. And the next day (Sunday) one of our other shodans celebrated his 75th birthday!
The next weekend, September 7th-9th, we had a seminar on Connection, co-taught by Denise Barry Sensei from Kuma Kai Aikido in Sebastopol, and our own Dave Goldberg Sensei. Part of it was at a retreat center in the mountains. We worked on what it means to be connected - to ground, to ourselves, to our partners, to others. We took a long look at how we relate to being connected. What qualities would a connected person have? What's easy/difficult for us about connecting. I really started to see connection in a broader context. That whole experience is still reverberating for me, and I'm sure will be for a very long time.
Back at the dojo I was available to help out in the kids' classes for the first time! During the past month I've been able to assist a few times with both the 5-7 year-olds, and the 8-13 group. I don't have a lot of experience working with children, and am grateful to be able to see how Sensei interacts with them, and to have my more experienced dojo-mates, Oya and Gilbert, as examples and mentors. He uses a balanced mix of action and stillness, fun and discipline, teaching and participation. It's been interesting seeing how they learn, and I got to participate in some fun games and exercises, too.
The week after our own seminar, I took the train (20 hours each way!) to a Weekend Intensive with George Ledyard Sensei, at Two Rivers Budo in Sacramento, on September 14th-16th. I've posted a good bit about that already. The short version is that it was three days of looking at things from a slightly different perspective, and was great fun. A little extra-special aspect of the weekend was that I had the opportunity to interview Ledyard Sensei. (One video is out on YouTube now, and the others will be available soon.)
The next Saturday, the 22nd, we had kyu exams at the dojo. I got to be uke for a friend testing for 4th kyu. He did a great job on his test, as did the others testing that day. As is traditional, we all went for lunch afterward.
The day after exams, Sunday, a big group of us went to Tijuana, Mexico (about 20 miles south of the dojo) with Sensei, who was teaching a seminar, "The Evolution of Flow," along with Victor Alvarado Sensei of Aikido Tijuana. The trip was an adventure, the seminar was brilliant, and the party afterward was great fun. What a nice bunch of people! And of course the seminar was another path to seeing things with fresh eyes and feeling new energies.
Both at that seminar and in class a few times recently I've gotten to take ukemi for Sensei. I love having that chance to feel his technique. It means having to really pay sharp attention and be extra sensitive and responsive. It's an especially rich experience, and I really enjoy and appreciate having that opportunity.
Classes at our dojo are never "the same old thing," but this past week has been, for me at least, an intensive period of in-depth, precise, technical training. Honestly I don't know how much that's what's being taught, and how much it's that I'm paying attention more closely. Either way, the whole week has been like opening my head and pouring buckets of information into my brain (and body). I've been noticing bigger patterns and relationships between blends and techniques from various attacks. More layers to the onion. I've been taking pages and pages of notes after class, trying not to lose any of the precious details I've been noticing. This is what inspired my poetic post recently about trying not to drop any of bounty of delicious gifts from a friend's garden.
Wrapping up the month, on Saturday the 29th I took a 3-hour Self Defense for Women class at our local adult education center. I wanted to see what the class covered, how the teacher managed a roomful of newbies, and what kind of concerns the participants brought to the class. I get a lot of people asking me about taking Aikido for "self defense"/personal safety reasons. This is a class I would feel comfortable referring them to, if that's really what they want. It was interesting seeing how the participants approached training. Some were quite good at picking it up. One didn't grasp the concept of "pulling" an elbow strike to the solar plexis. (Ooof!) Another woman, in a game of balance-breaking, kept pushing off me when I was solid and she wasn't, and knocking herself over. And she thought I'd done it to her. Interesting... I wonder where else that happens in her life? It was a fun class, and yet another perspective.
What fun! Lots of great classes, five dojos, three seminars, about a dozen teachers, working with kids, taking ukemi, shodan exams, kyu exams, four parties, travel, writing, high falls, technical work, personal process work... And I'm probably forgetting a lot, too!
Today I started out with a massage. Now I'm off with Michael to visit a great bookstore, listen to music, and have dinner with friends. And tomorrow... Another new month of Aikido begins. Yay!