Lessons From a Long Weekend of Aikido
I undertook seven hours of aikido training between Saturday the 21st and Sunday the 22nd of last month. It's not quite a record for me, but it's still much more than I'm used to in such a short period of time, and I was sore for days in the wake of all that training.
On Saturday I attended a large "friendship seminar", during which five different instructors from five different clubs taught and students from all over Wisconsin and northern Illinois trained together. Sunday morning I attended a workshop at a club I've visited once before, led by two high-level instructors from that club's organization.
It was all free, so I had no business missing any of it. Money (or, more precisely, a lack of it) keeps me from many a seminar, so opportunities like these need to be seized.
As is usually the case when I write about events like these, my post here is going to take the form of a list of observations rather than a cohesive piece building to a single point.
I'm getting better. That's not to say that I still don't have a long (long!) way to go, but the long workout gave me an opportunity to observe some changes in my posture. My knees were more relaxed, my stance was lower, and my head and shoulders followed throws less and stayed over the rest of me more. What this means practically is that I was keeping my balance better and using more core and less upper body in my techniques than I have noticed in the past.
Aikido, in general, is not an activity for people who want to feel like they're accomplishing something. The more I train, the less I go looking for milestones and the more I try to enjoy training for its own sake. Trying to get somewhere seems to just get in the way. I have to admit it's nice, though, for just a fleeting moment, to feel like I'm getting somewhere.
It's all aikido. The organizer of Saturday's seminar counted 15 different aikido clubs represented by the attendees, and there were probably a couple more at Sunday's workshop. Among these clubs, I myself counted affiliations with at least five different organizations (one of which is not even affiliated with Aikikai Hombu), as well as one independent club with no affiliation.
Aikido is an art which has written a very fractious history for itself in a very short period of time, and much is made of the differences between different lineages of aikido. Over two days, I trained with students of many different lineages, and we all did the same techniques, we all used the same terminology, and we all learned from the same instructors. In light of this, it's hard to see the differences between "styles" of aikido as anything but overblown.
There is a good sore and a bad sore. After doing seven hours of any kind of strenuous exercise in two days, you're going to be in some pain. I certainly always am after a lot of training. There are ample opportunities for pain in aikido: hard falls, wrist locks, and unblocked atemi, to name a few.
What was sore for me after the weekend, though, were my abs, glutes, and thighs. This is the good kind of pain. It's a soreness from using muscles (they're even the "right" muscles), rather than from being twisted, hit, and thrown. It's the kind of soreness that indicates I got a workout, rather than the kind that indicates I was abused. This is the soreness I'll try to reproduce at my next seminar.
There are no strangers at a seminar. I've said this once before (see the link above), but it bears repeating. After the seminar on Saturday, the instructor whose club had hosted the seminar threw a party at his house. I found myself talking at length with an instructor from Chicago like we were old friends -- about music, about movies, about Cracked.com lists, about anything and everything. I'd never met him before, and only knew him by reputation.
There is something about an aikido seminar that breeds familiarity at an accelerated pace. I still haven't figured out what it is yet, but it's definitely there.
It's easy to forget how easily I can hurt someone. Aikido is hardly the roughest or most dangerous martial art, but there's still ample opportunity to cause a great deal of harm in the course of aikido training. For my part, aikido has sprained my wrist and permanently messed up one of my shoulders.
This particular weekend, I stepped hard on one uke's foot, causing a bruise troublesome enough to force her off the mat, and clocked another in the face with a strike I had expected him to anticipate and block. Neither incident resulted in a serious injury, but both were reminders of an important truth I sometimes forget: uke is giving me the power to hurt him, and that is a power that needs to be respected.
Aikido is fun. This should go without saying, since I'm still doing it after almost four years, but there is something about a weekend like this that brings to mind everything I like about aikido all at once. The friends, the workout, the struggle to understand something too big to ever be fully understood: they were all there in abundance. It was a good weekend.
(You can find the original post on The Young Grasshopper here.)
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