In a previous article I talked about my wanderings in San Diego (California) and described my time in Chiba Sensei's dojo. Always looking for new experiences, I decided to use the little free time I had within my tight conference schedule to train at the San Diego Aikikai. Indeed I could have given in to the relaxation, the sandy beaches and the sun of the Californian coast but instead I decided to take the "Trolley" (tramway that crosses the city from north to south) and put on my keikogi (which due to the infernal heat and the tough training, was starting to look rather miserable) once more. This time, my choice settled on the Jiai Aikido dojo, affiliated to Mitsugi Saotome Sensei's organisation, the Aikido Schools of Ueshiba.
The city of San Diego was described in my guide book as the eighth American city but its architecture and the area it covers somewhat diminishes this impression of being in a metropolis. Balboa Park and its huge, world renowned zoo are located literally at the heart of the city. It must also be said that for an American city, public transports run quite smoothly and it is therefore easy to get around even when you don't know the place.
It is late in the afternoon and I am travelling towards the north of the city. The climate is ideal in this season because the days are hot yet the nights are cool enough to ensure a comfortable sleep. The ever present air-conditioning is one thing I do find difficult to adapt to; it is usually set a few degrees to low for my liking and it does no good to the slight cold I have been dragging since my arrival in the US.
A common aspect of all the dojos I have had the occasion to visit since my arrival is the high quality of the equipments. I don't expect these training places to receive as a generous funding from the government as their French counterparts but each time, the practice space is large and the mats are of a god quality. This is obviously very different to the dojos I have trained in England or Ireland. Another striking aspect is the morphology of the American people but of course, the wealth of the country and the "work out" culture of the west coast can explain this easily, particularly since we are in California. Californians take great care of their bodies and don't hesitate to show it at any opportunity. Of course, this is not to my dislike as far as the feminine part of the population is concerned. What a change from Dublin...
Upon my arrival at the dojo, the first thing I notice as opposed to Chiba Sensei's dojo is the difference of atmosphere. I do not know if the fact that it is not supervised by a Japanese teacher is the explanation but I feel at home straight away. Kazuo Chiba Sensei's ruthless reputation probably did not help for my first approach of the San Diego Aikikai though... The head teacher, Jeff Sodeman greats me warmly and proposes me to take part to the class immediately. In fact, I really think that this apparent relaxation is a key element to understanding Mitsugi Saotome Sensei's style. Once more the heat is making me breathless but I am slowly starting to get used to it.
The main focus of the class is upon angles and unbalance of the partner with the use of extremely precise educational routines performed from grabs at the wrist or the shoulders. The application naturally follows with a series of kokyunage and tenchinage techniques. Because of all the work done on the positioning, the movements are rather short and to the point. The role of the arms is minimal because each time, the precise point of balance remains targeted and hit. It reminds me of a very sharp udekimenage practiced on the elbow as it should but in a very vertical direction while lowering the centre and keeping arms close the body.
Another noticeable fact is that Sensei takes me quite often as uke to demonstrate the techniques. Being uke allows me to get even more out of the few hours training thanks to Jeff and his open mindedness. As often when I travel, I get commentaries on my aerial "French style" ukemi; that is, as my 86 kilos allow... I explain to them that it is usually a good thing to do abroad when meeting people less mindful of your physical integrity than the fine people of the Jiai Aikido.
Once again, the classes seem way too short and I take the last opportunity to gather some of the deshi who are still chatting on the mat for a group photo. After the class, Jeff talks to me about a very exceptional event that he will be organising in January. For the second time, the Aikido Bridge Seminar will take place at the Jiai Aikido with an extremely appealing technical college composed of Hiroshi Ikeda, Christian Tissier, Frank Doran and Morihiko Murashige from the San Diego Aikikai. This event really reflects the openness I experienced when I visited the dojo and I would really encourage anybody travelling to San Diego to pay a visit to the Jiai Aikido or perhaps even attend the seminar in January.
To go further:
Trip to San Diego part 1: Trip to San Diego Part 1: The San Diego Aikikai
The website of the Jiai Aikido
(Original blog post may be found here