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Three hours on the mats in a 90 degree dojo will not only make you sweat, it'll make you question your own sanity.
It was hot. Hot and sticky. The first class was an intro course with several new students, so there were a lot of basic tai sabaki movements to practice. Nice and slow, methodical and measured.
Class two kicked things into a higher gear. We did a lot of highly choreographed shomenuchi and yokomenuchi strike/blocking practice. When done properly, the movements are fluid, and you're always setup for the next technique.
By the latter half of that class, everyone was drenched in sweat. As we were working on katatori nikyo, you could see the shiny patches on the mats from peoples' faces as a result of the pin. My dogi was getting really heavy from sweat, and the students who were less-than-april-fresh began to add to the aromatic scent of the dojo.
Class three was bokken suburi, taught by Keith Sensei, one of the kenshusei. I really like working with weapons because it makes shomenuchi kotegaeshi very logical. You must maintain maai properly because of the bokken.
However, shomenuchi kokyunage is a lot harder for me with bokken. The concept of throwing people off the end of a stick of wood is hard for me to get my head around. And then when I'm taking ukemi, I'm terrified. I think, in part, it's because we have a very rectangular dojo. The shomen is along one of the long walls, so often we are practicing using the shorter length. I suppos
Despite my best efforts at taking loads of Vitamin C and washing my hands as if I had OCD, I managed to pick up the cold that was floating around Chicago. I woke up Saturday feeling quite bad and stayed home instead of attending the Aikido Seminar.
I'm certain it was the right thing to do, but it left me feeling very empty and depressed. I really wanted to participate. I really wanted to train at the huge beautiful Ryoshinkan dojo.
I really wanted to feel that spark of energy I felt at Toyoda Shihan's memorial.
But it wasn't meant to be this time around. There will be other seminars, and other chances to "raise the roof."
Last night I returned to the mats for the first time since last Tuesday. I had purchased another dogi from a company called Midwest Martial Arts here in Chicago. They have a storefront on Irving Park Road. This one isn't nearly as comfortable as the BuJin one, but it was able to soak up every drop of sweat I could muster up. Sadly, I think I'll save the BuJin for only special occasions, as right now I sweat like crazy. A dripping wet dogi isn't pretty.
Anyway, the first class with Toyoda Sensei was lively and enjoyable. We did lots of kotegaeshi. Ever so slightly I'm working my way into breakfalls. Kirsten, one of the two yudansha kenshusei, is really enjoyable to work with. She's recently become nidan and has been training in Aikido for a number of years. I think she's only 18 or so.
Despite the milder day we had in Chicago, the dojo was like a sauna last night. I had originally planned to stay for all three classes but my feet and my soaked gi couldn't make it to the third.
I had a lot of trouble learning the tai sabaki for the movements in the second class. Since the class was being taught in an additive way, if you don't get the movements during the first exercise, you're way off for the rest of class. Thankfully during a few of the final techniques I was grouped with Kirsten, a yudansha who is one of the best teachers I've met. She has this intuition about body movements and is quite good at coaching me through just about anything.
We ended with renzoku kokyudosa. The funniest thing after all the students lined up for the final bow was how you could see the shimmering patches of sweat on the mats in groups of four, spread out like four-leaf clovers around the dojo.
As much as I want to train again tonight, my feet aren't feeling up to it so it's time to relax. I've been using Arnica gel and cream quite a bit because I don't like taking pills, but I think I might need to augment that with some herbs. The arches of my feet aren't happy, and everybody knows that a good house needs a good foundation.
During class last night, the buzz from everyone getting ready for the upcomming testing weekend was palpable. Everyone is sorting themselves out by rank and going over their testing requirements in pairs. It's amazing to watch and feel the dedication of everyone, but I'm kind of confused.
In my head, I know all the techniques for 7th kyu. I can name them all and the tai sabaki for each one is not difficult for me. The ki tests aren't a problem either. But I've never seen a test and I'm not sure that I'm confident to test when it's all eyes on me.
One of the yudansha took me to the side and told me "Look, when you're up there to test, it's all about you. It's your show. Take control of each movement and really feel it."
Normally that's exactly what I do off the mats. I'm a DJ. I live for a crowd. I perform in front of (sometimes) hundreds of people each week and don't ever think twice about it. But DJing isn't physical, at least not in the way Aikido is.
I want to test because...hmm, I don't know that I can finish that sentence.
There's my answer I suppose. If I can't really describe why I want to test, then perhaps I shouldn't be testing yet.
In any case, my two hours on the mats last night ended with some randori demonstrations. Up to that point I'd only seen videos online. Watching a six man randori made me nervous, excited, scared, and awestruck. I could barely see any of the techniques executed, but bodies kept flying
My dogi arrived yesterday. I wanted to rip open the packages and try it all on, but I was at work and didn't think that idea was too wise. So I anxiously made my way home a bit early and ran up the stairs.
It was far more lightweight than I expected but the fabric seems very sturdy. I ordered the 8.5oz Bujin jacket but the 12oz pants. After one wash (and 30 minutes in the dryer) it was supple and comfortable. I tried to tie the belt but I really couldn't get it right. I'd have to wait for someone to show me.
On Saturday I made my way to the dojo way early to practice moving around in the uniform as best as I could. After asking five people how to tie the obi (more techniques are always better) I finally got a working system. Being in a true uniform on the mats heightened my awareness right away. It was like someone flipped a switch on.
Seiza is so much more comfortable in the dogi pants. Perhaps their stiffness helps, I'm not sure. In any case, the first class went by quickly and I found myself able to roll a bit better in the dogi than I had been in a plain shirt.
The second class was dedicated to kyu testing. There is a kyu test next weekend, but I'm a bit too green to test right now. I know the basic footwork for all three techniques we're expected to do, and the ki testing won't be a problem for me. But I'm not fluid yet and I feel like I'm thinking too much about the movements. Only for a brief moment during a previous practice was I able to re
Last night I arrived at the dojo at 5:15. Many of the kenshusei were milling about, getting ready to travel to one of the other AAA dojo's, the Burbank one I think. I began to get a little excited because no one was there except myself and them, which meant I would possibly have a private lesson with Erickson Sensei.
But, in due time, another student from my six week intro course came in and we began class. After a series of warmups, the kenshusei's ride happened to arrive, so they left the dojo and the three of us alone.
We began with *wince* breakfall practice. Sensei had us lie on the floor and practice slapping and positioning ourselves in the proper way. My shoulders aren't used to landing like that, so this is going to be a big hurdle for me. I could manage the slapping with the arm and the opposite food coming down flat, but that shoulder land is going to be a big thing to get over.
After flopping around like dead fish for a while and landing painfully several times, Erickson Sensei asked us what we wanted to work on next. I chose katatekosatori kokyunage, the other student chose katatori ikkyo.
By this time we were all pretty sweaty, and since both of us were only in tee shirts and sweatpants, we were soaked through. I didn't relish the though of placing another persons' head directly on my sweaty shirt, nor did I look forward to being smashed against someone elses' sweaty shirt, but we got through it.
In fact, ten minutes into it we were worki
I made a quick exit from work at 4:45 so I could make it to the dojo in time for the 5:45 beginners class with Toyoda Sensei. More mae ukemi roll practice, which is great because they are starting to get a little faster and a little easier for me. I'm able to somewhat do them from standing, but if I hesitate in the least I end up rolling as smooth as a flat tire...thumpa-thumpa-thump.
I decided to stay for the mixed rank class at 7 with Parks-Casey Sensei, but it turned out that another teacher, a long-time student of Toyoda Shihan, was going to teach our class. We did katatekosatori kokyunage with the head throws and some kotegaeshi as well. At that point we switched to something with iriminage and a serious throw.
One of the uchideshi gave me a good yank and a good throw and I flew into a roll and bounced back up to standing like nothing happened. He and I both had an expression of suprise because neither of us heard a thing, which meant the roll was good and I actually seemed to do it properly.
It was a breakthrough, but there's still so much more work to do.
I realized that during ukemi, if you can do it in one long exhale and totally relax, the fall/roll/etc. works so much better. I really felt like I was extending ki properly and letting the movements just happen. It felt right.
I was so energized after that, so I stayed for a third hour of training. It was going to be a bokken class, which I had never done before. A few of the kenshusei studen
In the Chicago heat I trained on Saturday, working with a newer group of beginners on forward rolls. I'm still taking a bit too much time to setup my roll, but it's getting easier and easier. At least I'm rolling straight.
We ended class by doing some katatekosatori kotegaeshi, which as I understand it is a 7th kyu requirement. The footwork is far from natural, but it's starting to make sense how I can shift my weight around and take uke's center. I left the dojo with a smile and a sheen of sweat on my forehead.
On Monday, after having a VERY late night out on Sunday (in bed by 5am!), I arrived in a rental car at Tenshinkan dojo at 8:00am. Everyone had been awake for a bit longer than me, but everyone had a long face. It was the day of Toyoda Shihan's memorial service at Ryoshinkan dojo in Palatine.
Kathy decided she would ride with me, and I couldn't have been happier. It gave us a long time to talk about Aikido and how our lives have been and are being changed by it. She has such an amazing perspective on life and how Aikido fits into hers.
Ryoshinkan is beautiful. The mat area is at least six or seven times larger than Tenshinkan, and the ceilings seem to rise up forever. The shomen is set in a gracefully curved area with two shelves. A youthful picture of Toyoda Shihan hangs on one of the other walls, and the Japanese tatami are quite comfortable.
Before the service began I sat on the mats for a while with Kathy flanking me. I tried my best to
My first weapons class went by so fast it seemed over before it began. There were perhaps sixteen of us training on the mats, so the dojo was sort of full. Kristen, a yudansha with a kiai that will knock you over flat, coached me through the first movements with the jo while Erickson Sensei led the class.
The fluid movements of jo practice are so wonderful to watch, I found myself thinking I should try to be in the back row next time to watch the other aikidoka move. When it's done right, it's very graceful. There's something spiritual about moving with the jo, and it makes every movement I've learned begin to make sense.
After quite a bit of jo tsuki practice with each other, we moved onto jo dori with a kotegaeshi pin. I knew the pin (although a bit awkwardly) but bringing the jo into the mix made the movements more understandable. The reasons for moving the way you do when doing kotegaeshi are magnified when you're swinging a jo around.
At the very end we did kokyu dosa practice. I was partnered with an incredible brown belt from Dubai. She's a native Australian (I believe her name is Karen) and has such good energy that our kokyu dosa practice was as fluid as a stream of water. She coached me on when to breathe and when to cut. My previous partners made it difficult for me to tell what was muscle and what was ki, but with her it was obvious. I later learned she's certified in Reiki, which completely made sense given how she works.
When I arriveda the dojo yesterday, there were quite a number of people on the mats. This week marks the beginning of the Summer Kenshusei, so the mats are going to be quite full for the next month.
It was intimidating looking at a group of younger students, full of life, with many colors of belts tumbling around the mats. There was me, in a white tee and sweatpants, with no dogi. The dojo still doesn't have any in stock in my size. I suspect I'll have to order one online very soon. I don't particularly relish the thought of that heavy jacket in the heat, but I'm certain training in the dogi will feel different from a tee and sweats.
It was even more intimidating when I had to roll across the length of the dojo in front of everyone. My rolls aren't horrible, and I can keep them pretty straight, but I still have to think about it quite a bit. When I lose concentration I sound like a flat tire rolling down the street. Thumpa-thumpa-thump.
A fellow student told me not to worry about being slow. It gave him a chance to take a break...
This was my first class with Garza Sensei and I couldn't have had more fun. He kept the conversation light and to the point, even recounting a story or two about Toyoda Shihan. He's a very good humored man who seems to really enjoy what he does on the mats.
However, the real reason I enjoyed class was because I had the chance to work with so many people who are much more advanced than I am. Everyone I worked with had a ti