Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Frank Doran Sensei

(Posting this late -- accidentally left it in "draft" state since I wrote it a couple of months ago.)

I was blessed to be able to attend all four days of the Frank Doran Sensei seminar at Aikido of Northern Virginia in Arlington, VA.  I'll be chewing on what I experienced for a long time.  For now though, here are a few comments.  I'll talk about what I took away overall, some things I remember technically (from my notes), and finally I'll share a little about how the seminar has affected me personally.  I don't know how organized this will be, so bear with me.

This is the third or fourth time I've trained with Doran Sensei.  The first was at the opening of one of the first California Aikido Association dojos.  I think it might have been in San Jose -- possibly San Franciso -- I don't remember.  All three primary CAA heads taught a session (Doran, Hendricks, Nadeau).  I remember that what stood out on that day was Hendricks Sensei's weapons, Nadeau Sensei's eccentricities, and Doran Sensei's teaching ability.   I attended Doran Sensei's seminar in Arlington a few years ago as well.  I think I trained with him one other time, at Nadeau Sensei's dojo.

This seminar reaffirmed my impression of Doran Sensei as a very accomplished teacher. He repeatedly stressed minute details.  He probably got hands-on with everyone in the dojo during his "rounds." He drilled "slow is good, slower is better."   He taught from the mundane to the metaphysical.  He consistently stressed control of the centerline, and made clear distinctions between the two essential ways to get out of harm's way (tenkan and irimi).  He led a gentle, consistent class that had me focusing, sweating, and feeling the burn, while showing a very warm sense of humor and keeping things very relaxed and friendly.

At Roanoke Budo Kai (which I'll call RBK or simply "the Kai" for short), we have spoken recently about the "bulls-eye."  Doran Sensei seemed to turn that around.  I don't know if he explicitly did this on Friday when the rest of the Kai attended or not (it all runs together), but definitely on Saturday he explicitly said we were going to "build a technique from the ground up."

He had a room of 60 people, most of them black belts, a dozen or so san-dan and up, practicing switching hanmi in place:  Right hanmi, feet together (very important), change in place to left hanmi.    Then, from kose-dori, he added a strong extension from the offered hand (at Uke's opposite shoulder -- as Tonya mentioned). Harder than it looks, as the angle is critical.  Then with the opposite hand, a sword-like tsuki to Uke's ribs.

First, I'm feeling physically great.  Yeah, my legs are a little sore -- big deal.   But emotionally, I'm drained.   I think the moments of clarity

The Eye

There have been times in my life when I've felt a real mastery of something.  This isn't one of them.

Consider sports.   When I played soccer as an undergraduate in college, I played sweeper.   I had the respect of all my opponents.  I played both ends of the field, yet never got out of position.  I was never a great offensive player individually, but racked up many "assists."  I was incomplete command of the defense, and formed the solid foundation to give our offense the freedom it needed to be creative. I played the game with a confidence that bordered on arrogance.   Were it not for an ill-timed injury, I would almost certainly have gone "pro" for at least a year or two.

Later, as a graduate student, I was heavily into Taekwon-do, spending 3-4 hours a day in the "combat room" at the gym.  I was quite good, progressed rapidly to a high rank, and won several tournaments in my short time during those two years.   When I entered a match, I felt invincible, and often was.

In my early twenties, I discovered ultimate frisbee.  I quickly developed exceptional skill as a "handler" (someone known to throw the disc extremely well).   I remember the day one of our veteran players told me that I had developed what he called "The Eye."   

The Eye is when you can see everything.  The whole field, every detail of your opponent, every opportunity. Time slows down.  You not only can make the play, but you have time to choose between several options at any given time.  You have time to do extra stuff like taunt your opponent, or add a little flair to the game.  You make miraculous plays look easy.

After 13 years at Aikido, I still don't have "The Eye."   My personal nemesis (well, there are many, actually) is Jiyu-Waza (or Randori).  No matter what I tell myself before we start, it always seems to leave me about 5-10 seconds later.   I figure I need to be able to maintain it for at least 15-30 seconds to be really in command.

I think my test date is 20 weeks away.  That's about 60 training sessions if I make them all, or about 120 hours.    I haven't got a chance.