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I spent most of my weekend at the dojo. It's safe to say that yes, I'm addicted to Aikido. Maybe it's just the outfit, I'm not sure, but I enjoy every moment of training. Especially those little breakthroughs that signal progress.
The classes on Saturday were great. There were lots of techniques that were new to me, including henka waza. We changed from ikkyo to kotegaeshi and back. Neither my ikkyoi nor my kotegaeshi is flawless, but I can now see how it's possible to sort out what to do when things go wrong.
The biggest thing I took away were Toyoda Sensei's words "You have no right to throw until you take uke's balance." I wish I would have heard that earlier, and I wish more of the students would have taken that to heart. Of course, beginners like me are unsure of ukemi, so it's sometimes hard, but the 4th kyu folks should know what they are doing instead of plowing into their uke.
Anyway, the second class was jo work. In fact, we did jo kata two, a 22 movement kata that is required on the AAA shodan test. After watching Kirsten Sensei do the full kata, I thought I'd never be able to get it. But she broke it down into pieces and worked us through it. At the very end of the hour all the ranks did the kata as groups. First the 4th kyu's, then the 5th, then the 6th, and finally the 7th and below. I couldn't believe I made it through all 22 steps. She is truly a gifted teacher.
I spent Sunday at the dojo with Cathy transferring some Aikido videos she taped to DVD. They were mostly technique explanations and demonstrations, but she did capture a shodan test because she will be testing for it sometime next year. I do not know the Aikidoka who was testing, but he was stellar and had the stamina of a soldier of Troy. His kata work was beautifully fluid, and he did quite well during the randori section. He definitely deserved shodan, and I was pleased to find out he passed.
Monday I made it through just the beginners class. It was boiling hot in the dojo. More henka waza and oyo waza. I'm still not 100% clear on the difference between the two, but I think henka waza is where you start one technique and change to another, while oyo waza is more of a "my own Aikido" kind of thing.
I don't even have anyone elses' Aikido, much less my own. So I'm not sure that the concepts behind oyo waza are for me yet. No worries. It'll come in time.
Tuesday, last night, was very special. A Sensei from AAI came to teach. He is a priest in the Vatican, and was a long time student of Toyoda Shihan. For the life of me I cannot remember his name, but he was so incredible it's almost beyond description.
He focused on ryotedori. His thought was that ryotedori was often taught less than techniques that deal with katatori, katatetori, or katatekosatori, but in life you are more likely to encounter someone slamming you on the shoulders with both hands than someone grabbing for a hand.
Looking back on the kinds of bar-fights and brawls I've seen (I don't look for rough places to hang out, I've just happened to see a few...) They usually start with someone taking both hands and pushing the other person on the shoulders. Exactly the way you start ryotedori.
We did numerous pivots and turns, stepping back and out, following through to do lots of throws. He was amazing at explaining the technique, and as we all practiced, he came to each pair or group and made adjustments to our technique.
The group went from 1st kyu to the plain white belts (myself and another two guys). It was quite widely dispersed in rank, yet I didn't ever feel that anything was too hard for me to do. His words were clear, concise, and his comments on form were helpful and accurate.
The second class was a bokken class. For nearly 20 minutes we were shomenuchi-ing, and yokomenuchi-ing. Then tsuki and stepping-tsuki. I thought my arms were going to fall off, but just as my energy reached an all time-low, Sensei came up behind me, adjusted my form, and told me "try it this way, you'll be able to last another 30 or 40 counts at least."
He was spot-on right, and I was able to keep going without pain. We even went through a couple kumitachi forms, slowly working to perfect the spacing and footwork. My bokken blocks are starting to get less wobbly, but I still have trouble with spacing when I'm uke.
At the very end he read a passage about Aikido from one of O-Sensei's students. We followed that with some breathing exercises, focusing on one point and extending ki into the area to "look around the room without eyes". It was the most spiritual thing I've done in Aikido, and while I don't really understand what's going on, I'm feeling something.