This weekend was the first time I've been on the mat for an Ikeda Sensei seminar, and my first time visiting the new location of Aikido of Tamalpais (I had been an observer, on the injury list, at a seminar of his many years ago at their old location). It also marked my first seminar, period, in a few years, partly due to financial constraints but largely due to shyness about feeling not up to my own standards because of my knee and intermittent issues with forward rolls (as in, sometimes just can't do them on one side, period).
The new dojo is lovely; the space and the people were very welcoming.
One things about seminars is, if the mat is crowded, nobody expects you to do much rolling
and especially since a major focus here was on issues of connecting and engaging center to take kuzushi, it was easy to do slower practice. A few times when I did take backfalls, a partner looked askance and I had to explain it is actually a lot easier for me to go down than to stagger in order to stay upright! Friday evening, about an hour and a half in, the weird thing that sometimes happens to the back of my bad knee happened (some tendon thingie) and I promptly bowed out and sat down for the rest of the evening. Saturday I made it through both two hour sessions with no problems. [/FONT]So I feel like my seminar self-jinxing may be over.
Besides training in aikido at my local dojo two or three times a week, for almost a year now I've been doing solo training nearly daily including the type of silk-reeling and "tree-hugging" groundpath exercises folks have been talking about here on aikiweb. I've been doing them with the very concrete focus of learning to literally "move my center" as a physical phenomenon rather than a metaphorical or metaphysical one. I've started integrating this body awareness into my regular aikido training, finding it brings a very different flavor and benefit to our ki exercises, and just taking the first baby steps in terms of trying to bring up these abilities with a partner attached.
So given what I've been reading and hearing about how Ikeda Sensei has been teaching, I was very excited to be in a roomful of people at least some of whom would be explicitly working on the same things I am, and receiving instruction from somebody who is explicitly teaching along these lines.
Oh, it was so cool. He would actually show how the movement of center could be grossly amplified so it was visible in his whole body, then bring it down smaller so just his center would be visibly moving (OOH! I thought, that's really close to how my body looks when I'm doing my ki exercises in front of the dojo mirror!), then bringing it down even smaller so there was no visible external movement....just an inability from his (at times quite uncooperative) ukes to maintain their structural integrity. His instructions and explanations were often couched in humor but were jargon-free and totally accessible.
My partners (each and every one of whom was very nice - it was a remarkably ego-free zone) included some of the usual "just doing the techniques I know, thank you" folks, some real newbies with wide eyes doing their darndest to "get it," some well-meaning folks too limp or too "nice" to actually reflect what I may have been doing (as in, I know darn well I didn't have THAT much effect on you...) - and yes, quite a number of people, from various backgrounds and ranks, who like me are on the path of actively working on learning this stuff and who could and did give solid somatic and sometimes verbal feedback on what they were feeling from me and were interested in receiving my feedback.
So I came away feeling that I am making very real progress on the path I have chosen and that it is safe for me to go to seminars.
On the drive home Saturday evening I got profoundly anxious and had to get off the freeway. I suspected low blood sugar, but found myself driving through the streets of a town in Sonoma County weeping uncontrollably for Gayle Fillman Sensei, or rather, really, for me, for losing a teacher at what is in many ways a critical time in my training. I know I will be reaching out to like-minded aikidoka but it would have been so nice to sit down and discuss this stuff over a cup of tea with her...