Last September, a group of aikidoists from all over the Milwaukee area got together in the park for an afternoon of informal weapons training. It was great fun, and we all lamented that no one had come up with it earlier in the year, before the Wisconsin weather began to drop hints of the coming winter. As it was, we had to be satisfied with one such event last year.
This year, I took it upon myself to make sure there were more of these. I had a brand new list of aikido Facebook friends I'd met at recent seminars, and I started talking to all of them last month about setting up three or four of these events for the coming summer. We had the first of them the first weekend in June. What follows is a list of observations from the event; I don't have a story here that comes to a single point.
Training outdoors requires greater attention to footwork.
Every step out in the grass must be a real, deliberate step. Even kata I knew very well were fumbling messes when I wasn't paying attention to my feet. Every little foot movement, even the move colloquially known as a "slide", demanded that my foot be deliberately and entirely lifted off the ground. It was quite different from the dojo, where an aikidoist can get away with "skating"on the mat (some clubs even prefer it).
Weapons training levels the playing field.
Get a group of people from a bunch of different aikido clubs together and the hardest thing to get them to do as a group will be weapons work. The Saito, Tohei, and Saotome lineages (for example) all teach essentially the same kotegaeshi but have vastly different weapons curricula. What this means at a gathering like the one in the park is that everything, no matter how basic, must be taught to the group as if to brand-new beginners, even if the group includes some black belts who have been training for decades.
I'm getting better, but I'm still not good enough.
Aikido's movements are largely based on kenjutsu, which means, in theory, that weapons training ought to be using mostly the same muscles as taijutsu (unarmed training). This in turn means that if I'm doing it right, my arms, shoulders, and back shouldn't be hurting too much afterward. At the end of two hours with the jo and then the bokken, my abs were sore rather than my arms or my back. I took this for a good sign: finally, I supposed, I had managed to use weapons from my center rather than my arms and back. When I woke up the next morning, though, my previously injured wrist
were very angry with me.
Outdoor training means being stared at.
We have managed to find a pretty secluded place for our gatherings, but a public park is still a public park. More than once, a motorist who was just coming by to park or turn around slowed way down to watch the spectacle of more than a dozen grown men and women apparently playing with sticks and wooden swords. One of them had her window rolled down and went by so slowly that my training partner and I could read her lips as she wondered aloud, "What the fuck?"
All in all, aikido in the park is an interesting and educational experience, and there are much worse reasons to get a bunch of friends together. There's another one coming up late in July. Come join us if you're in the Milwaukee area.