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Old 01-20-2005, 11:15 AM   #1
YinYaker
Location: Florida
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Need advice/new guy to area's dojo

Hello everyone;
I am new to the forums so this will be my first post on here. First of all I find this forum very useful with lots of helpful information.

I would like to express some concerns as to practicing Aikido as a newer student. I had practiced in a dojo in the Central New York area for awhile and found that dojo a magnificent place to practice. As jobs and circumstances changed, I moved and traveled some before settling down again. I have found it difficult finding another dojo like the one I left in Central NY as this dojo was more family oriented. You walked into this dojo and the Sensei would walk up to you and genuinely ask you how you were doing, even if he just saw you the night before… very personable. It seemed as though he inspired everyone in his class to do the same, as that's how everyone there was. This is a large dojo as he has about 50 students that belong and everything flows together nicely. Students from as far away as Rochester drive down to participate on weekly basis, that's how satisfying it was to practice there.

After I have moved away, I can't seem to find anything like it anywhere. Now I know I probably shouldn't be comparing dojos, but I can't seem to find the same satisfaction that I had in the one I left in Central NY. One dojo I visited in Washington DC claimed that they weren't affiliated with any other organization and the head instructor rarely made an appearance while some of the less experienced students took over. I was looking for something that represented a little more authenticity than that so I never attended. I visited yet another dojo in the Florida Keys and found the head guy who was teaching there was an over weight heavy smoker. He had some other guy take over who would ridicule some of the students if they didn't get something right. That didn't impress me very much.

I am now attending a dojo here in the Florida area where I have settled down and having some difficulty with feeling welcomed. When I first signed up I asked the Sensei there what affiliation he was with. He mentioned that he once recognized by the U.S. Aikido Federation but they had some sort of disagreement and is no longer associated with them. There's a women that teaches one of the classes at this dojo where I now attend and the last time I was there she was demonstrating some forms (kata like) with a jo. She moved briskly through this demonstration while some of the newer students just stood not knowing what to think. The more experienced students followed along but as I stood there, thought to my self, "what about the other students who haven't seen this before?" After a couple of times doing this she looked back and it seemed as though she forgot that she had some less experienced students in her class. She then slowed things down a bit so some of her other students could catch on. It almost seemed that she was bothered by having to slow things down so others could learn. It wasn't long into this demonstration that one of the students with less experience pointed out that she was doing some of the steps in the wrong sequences.

Other things I have noticed is that they don't break things down into smaller steps or groups to help out some of the beginners like nikkyo and basic moves such as this. The dojo in Central NY not only broke things down into simple steps but also had some training books to help better understand these techniques. I don't see any of this practice where I am attending now, instead they seem to just do a demonstration and expect you to go for it. I have not confronted the Sensei as of yet and I will which is why I haven't named specifics. I really don't think that this is something that should be brought to someone's attention if they have been teaching for a number of years.

I have come to the realization that the last dojo in Central NY is probably a very difficult act to follow and perhaps I have my expectations too high, but shouldn't there be some sort of basics set fourth to help better understand the fundamentals of this magnificent art?

I have also noticed that several people on this forum will state that they need help with this technique or that form. Isn't that what class is for? I'm not trying to sarcastic, just trying to get better perspective on the quality of instruction that goes on in some dojos. I know at times I feel that my techniques could be much better while in class, yet the Sensei observes in a nonchalant manner without advising differently.

For some reason I feel empty after practice as to when I practiced in Central NY I felt rejuvenated in a way that can't be described. I apologize for such a lengthy post but need to hear some experienced feed back as well as get some of this off my chest.

Thanks for the unbendable ear.
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Old 01-20-2005, 12:07 PM   #2
Janet Rosen
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Re: Need advice/new guy to area's dojo

Chuck, I don't know how many dojo are within driving distance for you, but it sounds like you might want to check the dojo finder here on aikiweb to see if you have missed any, then visit/watch as many as you can to try to find the "right fit" for you.
If you can't, your 3 options are accepting that you will train in a place less than optimal in order to train, find a really good instructor/school in a different art until you relocate, or relocate to where there is a dojo you like.

Janet Rosen
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Old 01-20-2005, 12:43 PM   #3
Lyle Laizure
 
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Re: Need advice/new guy to area's dojo

You are looking for the warmth of your previous dojo. It is understandable as it makes training so much more fun when it is more like a family. I'm curious how many practices did you attend at the various dojos you visited?

No matter the person's affiliation, whether or not they are over weight, a heavy smoker or if they tend to go fast shouldn't matter as long as quality is there. It is difficult to make a good assesment in a short time.

You are looking for a specific atmosphere and teaching style. When you are looking for something very specific it will be difficult to find.

Lyle Laizure
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Deru kugi wa uta reru
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Old 01-20-2005, 01:23 PM   #4
pezalinski
 
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Re: Need advice/new guy to area's dojo

Sounds like you'd have a better experience if you stayed with dojos in the USAF-Eastern Region, that being what you're most familiar with . Dojos under Yamada Shihan have a fairly consistent feel to them. There are 10 or so USAF or USAF-E dojos active in FLA. If you're any where near Fort Lauderdale or Boca Raton, lookup Peter Bernath, 6th Dan, at the http://www.floridaaikikai.com -- he sponsors a Winter Camp that is legendary .
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Old 01-20-2005, 06:39 PM   #5
Don_Modesto
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Re: Need advice/new guy to area's dojo

Quote:
Chuck Brokhoff wrote:
I had practiced in a dojo in the Central New York area for awhile and found that dojo a magnificent place to practice.
Emtpy your cup. You can't go home.
Quote:
...the head guy who was teaching there was an over weight heavy smoker.
This describes one or two SHIHAN, formerly UCHIDESHI to the founder...
Quote:
He had some other guy take over who would ridicule some of the students if they didn't get something right.
I agree with you here--that's ugly.
Quote:
....having some difficulty with feeling welcomed.
You're new, right? And you want to be an insider today? Did that happen at your first happy dojo or is that what you felt leaving, after time invested there?
Quote:
When I first signed up I asked the Sensei there what affiliation he was with. He mentioned that he once recognized by the U.S. Aikido Federation but they had some sort of disagreement and is no longer associated with them.
Maybe he didn't have a disagreement with the Federation, but it's local rep. This does not necessarily speak against him.
Quote:
She moved briskly through this demonstration while some of the newer students just stood not knowing what to think. The more experienced students followed along but as I stood there, thought to my self, "what about the other students who haven't seen this before?"
Sounds like a seminar. It's not the way I teach, but plenty of good teachers do. Business guru Peter Drucker criticizes US education admonishing that we ought to teach to the brightest thus motivating those below to catch up. Caveat emptor.
Quote:
Other things I have noticed is that they don't break things down into smaller steps or groups to help out some of the beginners like nikkyo and basic moves such as this.
The Jpn call this "stealing technique"; it means you have to pay more attention than you do with US teachng/spoon feeding.
Quote:
The dojo in Central NY not only broke things down into simple steps but also had some training books to help better understand these techniques.
...and they refered to these while teaching?!
Quote:
I have not confronted the Sensei as of yet
"Confronted"?

Are you hoping for a "confession"?
Quote:
I have come to the realization that the last dojo in Central NY is probably a very difficult act to follow and perhaps I have my expectations too high, but shouldn't there be some sort of basics set fourth to help better understand the fundamentals of this magnificent art?
Sounds like Iwama or Yoshinkan. Other schools take a looser approach.
Quote:
I have also noticed that several people on this forum will state that they need help with this technique or that form. Isn't that what class is for?
Perspective is nice. My teachers have been magnificent. But I still learn from others here. ...quite frequently, actually. (Thanks, guys/gals!)
Quote:
I'm not trying to sarcastic, just trying to get better perspective on the quality of instruction that goes on in some dojos. I know at times I feel that my techniques could be much better while in class, yet the Sensei observes in a nonchalant manner without advising differently.
There's often gross OVER-teaching in any class, and lots in aikido. It takes far longer for students to digest one point than most "teachers" give them. But they blather on anyway taking time from training and you get a lot of info, but little opportunity to incorporate.
Quote:
I feel empty after practice as to when I practiced in Central NY I felt rejuvenated...
Three personal pronouns in the first person singular. "I've found the enemy, and he is..."?

Don J. Modesto
St. Petersburg, Florida
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Old 01-20-2005, 08:16 PM   #6
giriasis
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Re: Need advice/new guy to area's dojo

There is some very excellent aikido down here in South Florida. I'm not sure who you are talking about or where you are (you mentioned Key West? So you are in South Florida somewhere), but if you are a little further North than Key West there are two very good USAF dojos in the Miami area -- Miami Aikikai and Gold Coast Aikikai. (There are a couple of others down there but I'm not familiar with them.) They both focus on hard training and people from those two dojos have some very strong aikido. Eliot Rifkin is the main sensei at Miami Aikikai and won't admit to being head instructor in deference to Nelson Andujar. I've noticed that the folks in Gold Coast Aikikai are very close knit and the Sensei, Weewow Dumlow, has very strong and centered technique. In Ft. Lauderdale you have Florida Aikikai, my dojo and Iwama-style Aikido of South Florida with Stephanie Yap. In West Palm Beach, there is Palm Beach Aikikai under Richard Wagner. The folks at Palm Beach Aikikai are pretty close knit, too. In Boca Raton there is Josh Drachman with the ASU. Josh used to teach at our dojo, but decided to start his own school. His aikido is great, and I believe he trains rather closely with Saotome Sensei.

At Florida Aikikai, we have two beginners and two basics classes. The basics are at higher pace than the beginners but not as intense as the regular mixed classes where you'll find more yudansha. However, all senior students are expected to go at the pace of the junior and to help them out -- especially in the basics classes. In the mixed classes, sensei does often demonstrate and then sit back and watch. He seems to really only step in if we are having a real problem otherwise he will let you work things out. If everyone is having a problem and we are demonstrating "group-cluelessness" then he will stop the class and explain in more detail.

If you are in Key West driving to Miami will be tough as it's about a three hour drive, but please try to come up for seminars. Palm Beach Aikikai is hosting Yamada Sensei in February and Gold Coast Aikikai will have one tenatively in May. We'll probably have another one (we just had Claude Berthiaume Sensei) in August/ September some time.

Also, I want to say that switching dojos can be difficult as you are entering another "culture". Consider yourself in "dojo culture" shock and keep an open mind. I switched dojos because of a move after starting aikido for six months, and I found it a little hard to adapt as I went from a very small to a rather large dojo and from a "soke-aikijutsu" style to a "traditional" Aikikai school. I found that starting over and just training anew was my best bet. Now, I'm in pretty close with the sensei and folks in the dojo.

Last edited by giriasis : 01-20-2005 at 08:22 PM.

Anne Marie Giri
Women in Aikido: a place where us gals can come together and chat about aikido.
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Old 01-21-2005, 05:25 AM   #7
YinYaker
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Re: Need advice/new guy to area's dojo

Thank you everyone for the advice as it does help hearing that switching dojos is not easy, especially after being at one that for awhile where the people are like family. Dojo culture shock…I have to remember that. When I went overseas while in the military I had some of that culture shock going on so I can relate to that.

I'm actually further North in Florida but don't want to say exactly where or who because that would be putting this dojo and myself on the spot and in a way I feel that perhaps I'm not giving the dojo or myself enough of a chance to work things out. I certainly don't want to get into a tattling mode, for right now I'm just looking for some advice and the advice I am receiving so far is great.

I am surprised however, that this dojo hasn't expressed more of a training structure for the newer people as well as the senior students. They just throw everyone into the mix with a "have at it" sort of attitude. There is probably no more than 10 students at the most during practice. I'm not really questioning the Sensei's Aikido credentials, just his teaching methods and abilities.

I have pre-paid for a month so during this time I will see if things show some structure or not. If not than I will have to re-evaluate my priorities. Moving is out of the question also as I am trying to settle in for the long haul in life with starting a business new to the area which has taken off well.
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Old 01-21-2005, 05:27 AM   #8
ian
 
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Re: Need advice/new guy to area's dojo

You will never find a dojo like your original dojo. Learn what you can from these people, unless you feel you can learn more elsewhere. Also, the main instructors can't (and shouldn't) always target the training to beginners - you should maybe look to less senior grades for specific help with techniques if you can't follow them.

Last edited by ian : 01-21-2005 at 05:30 AM.

---understanding aikido is understanding the training method---
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Old 01-22-2005, 06:10 AM   #9
YinYaker
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Re: Need advice/new guy to area's dojo

Quote:
Ian Dodkins wrote:
Also, the main instructors can't (and shouldn't) always target the training to beginners - you should maybe look to less senior grades for specific help with techniques if you can't follow them.

I'm trying to understand exactly what is meant by the above statement…

I do understand that the main instructors can't always target the training to the beginners, but who's responsibility is it to see that there is some sort of structure built to help the beginners better understand the basics of Aikido? It almost sounds like you're saying that if the basics of Aikido aren't demonstrated within a class than it's up to the students to research these basics on their own which sounds silly.

A potential student walks up to a building and sees a sign that advertises Aikido. He understands that this is a class, as in some sort of school, as in teaching…teacher. Instead of being taught the basics he is shown where the matt is and is expected to "follow the leader" without any breakdown of the techniques. He gets confused as he watches the senior students move swiftly through the dojo. OK…now it's time to practice what we just witnessed but instead the newer student moves as if he had two left feet. The main instructors, as well as the newer student's partner continue with class without corrections. About 3 minutes later the student hears two loud claps. It's time to sit already? He hasn't even gotten a feel for the last moves and now it's time to move on to a whole different set of moves.

And I ask again…where is the teaching in this? What is an instructor if he or she doesn't instruct? What is the meaning of Sensei if he or she doesn't teach? Why would anyone call these classes if we cannot learn from the very one who calls himself teacher?
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Old 01-22-2005, 07:03 AM   #10
Peter Goldsbury
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Re: Need advice/new guy to area's dojo

Hello,

I think you need to understand that aikido is in origin a Japanese martial art and is sometimes taught in a Japanese way, even in the US. This is especially the case if the instructors are/were originally Japanese.

The sentiments of your third paragraph ("A potential student walks up to a building...") might be valid in the US, but are not valid here in Japan, where there is a long tradition of personal struggle involved in gaining new psycho-physical skills.

Because aikido is still fundamentally Japanese, I think you need to look again at your "mental map" of teaching & learning. Otherwise do something else, where the physical input required and and the outcome expected are much clearer to a westerner.

Best regards,

P A Goldsbury
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Old 01-22-2005, 01:40 PM   #11
giriasis
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Re: Need advice/new guy to area's dojo

I think Peter might be right, this might just be the way of teaching in this particular dojo. There are schools out there that prefer no talking/ very limited talking during class.

Does this dojo just "not talk" during class? Is there an opportunity for you to reach out to a more senior student before or after class so that you can learn the basics of that dojo or find our how things operate there. I think if you take a humble approach like "I'm really confused as to the etiquette/ teaching style/ or technique," then I'm sure you'll find someone more than willing to help you.

Also, I want to add that Grady Lane (Brevard Aikikai) in Melbourne, Florida is really awesome and very open to beginners/ newcomers as well. His school is small so you will get a lot of attention. The folks of Melbourne Aikikai are very welcoming as well.

P.S. feel free to send me a private message if you want to talk more specifically.

Anne Marie Giri
Women in Aikido: a place where us gals can come together and chat about aikido.
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Old 01-23-2005, 11:20 AM   #12
YinYaker
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Re: Need advice/new guy to area's dojo

Again, thanks everyone for the advice. I got back from class today and felt a lot better about the practice. Being the new kid to the area I now feel that I haven't given this dojo a chance and the more I go, the more I am starting to feel more comfortable with this place. I should probably take my own advice and just give myself a chance to become more familiar with the dojo and their way of practice. Culture shock…that's it in a nutshell.
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Old 02-14-2005, 01:52 PM   #13
Cheez
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Re: Need advice/new guy to area's dojo

How funny, I recently started Aikido again, and I had the same exact experience at my new dojo as the original poster describes. After reading this and going back to class, I noticed that it was a different experience. The advanced students that trained with me eagerly showed me all the techniques in a step-by-step fashion, and were very patient with me as I screwed them all up!

I also noticed that the first day of class for me was taught by an advanced student who probably wasn't the greatest teacher. the next session was taught by one of the two main teachers, and was vastly different.

Chuck, I'd like to know how well you've adapted to your class since you've posted this message. I once trained in Yoshinkai style, which was far more verbal and class-participation-oriented, and I felt a bit of shock in this class, much like what you've described. How do you feel now?
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Old 02-15-2005, 07:09 AM   #14
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Re: Need advice/new guy to area's dojo

It's slowly starting to come around. I am still having difficulty with the fact that the main instructor demonstrates a technique and only gives the students about 2 minutes to practice that move. After the two minutes he sometimes will demonstrate a move that doesn't necessarily relate to the previous move making it difficult to see exactly how or where one move relates to the other. He seems to watch the clock as if he only has so much time to allow for that technique and if you don't comprehend within that time frame than it's too late. He seems to be in a hurry for whatever reason. Actually I think I'm enjoying the more junior instructor as she seems to relate better to the basics and then moves on to the more advanced techniques throughout the class.

Recently I had gone to another dojo in my area which is under construction, so they are letting me practice there for free until they get this dojo up and running. I can't wait to see this dojo once it's finished. It's huge, well ventilated, full locker rooms, showers and everything. I have only attended once so far and like the way they held class. They seemed to be more focused on the quality of their instructions and not so worried about the time spent on each technique. Within the past week I have not attended either dojo because I have been sick. The dojo that I have just recently found and only attended one time called to see where I have been and if everything was OK. I thought that was nice of them to do that. The dojo that I originally signed up for I have been going to for a month now. As I have been sick for about a week now, no one from that dojo has even called. The dojo in Upstate NY was always personable. They just seemed to really care about you. It was always, "how's your family - how's the job going - how's your health - how's life treating you?". Along with the excellent training with very seasoned martial artists from all around that area, they were very respectful and genuinely concerned about their students. A pretty big act to follow in my opinion. So when I got a call after not showing up to the one dojo I had only attended once, but hadn't received a call from the dojo that I had been going to for a month now after missing a week, that meant something to me. If anything, it's nice to have more than one dojo in the area to choose from.
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Old 02-15-2005, 07:40 AM   #15
Bronson
 
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Re: Need advice/new guy to area's dojo

Sounds like you may have found a place (the second one) that has what you are looking for...I say go with it

As an aside I rarely, if ever, inquire after students who have been absent, even long time students. It's something I got from my tai chi instructor (not saying it's right or wrong just that it is). People come and go for many reasons. If they want me to know they'll be gone, they'll tell me. If they want me to know why they'll be gone, they'll tell me. Either way my main concern is for the people who show up. I would say that it's not the dojo's responsibility to call you to find out where you've been, it's the students responsibility to call the dojo and inform whoever's in charge that they'll be absent.

Just my thoughts,

Bronson

"A pacifist is not really a pacifist if he is unable to make a choice between violence and non-violence. A true pacifist is able to kill or maim in the blink of an eye, but at the moment of impending destruction of the enemy he chooses non-violence."
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Old 02-15-2005, 08:53 AM   #16
syraikidoka
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Re: Need advice/new guy to area's dojo

It sounds like your new dojo is a little bit like your home dojo. Glad you found it, and I hope its everything you need. Good luck.
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Old 02-15-2005, 10:11 AM   #17
YinYaker
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Re: Need advice/new guy to area's dojo

No, I don't really expect for a dojo to call if you're absent for any length of time. I know some people don't really care for it, but for me, it's a nice touch.
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Old 02-15-2005, 01:57 PM   #18
giriasis
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Re: Need advice/new guy to area's dojo

Quote:
Chuck Brokhoff wrote:
No, I don't really expect for a dojo to call if you're absent for any length of time. I know some people don't really care for it, but for me, it's a nice touch.
Chuck, it sounds like things are going better for you. It's good hear that. Where's this new dojo going? I might come visit if I'm back in Melbourne.

(PM me if you don't want to publish their names publicly)

Anne Marie Giri
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