Thursday, August 22, 2013

Suginami SF

So, as part of my 10-day family vacation to San Francisco, I woke up early to take the J-Church from our apartment in Noe Valley to my old dojo, Suginami Aikikai.   Got there, after a little detour, before the Clarice (the current uchideshi) had opened the place for 7:30 am class, so I got some coffee and came back. Jimmy Sensei recognized me immediately and greeted me with a big hug, an immediate inquiry about Linda (my wife), and an apology for the fact that the plant we'd left him with hadn't survived.  Not a bad memory, I'd say -- it's been 11-12 years, after all.

I dressed out and trained.  There were six of us, total.  Two of which I knew.

We started class with loose warmups, complete with one of those kinds of conversations I remember so well.  Jimmy was in rare form -- expounding, with a twinkle in his eye, upon his rich knowledge of the "deep south" (in my honor, of course), based on a book he'd recently read called "Better off Without Them," a book about what the US would have been, had the south seceded.   I figured he might have been making it up, but no, it's a real book.  He also drifted into a conversation about creationism and darwinism, which in turn drifted into his "theory" that we really evolved form bears, not monkeys -- a theme which reappeared throughout class -- especially because I, personally, look more like a bear than a monkey (a good thing, I suppose).

Jimmy Sensei was not big on mat-talk. He often told people (including me) to "shut up and train" (in Japanese -- which I don't remember).  He said "if you're going to talk on the mat, talk about something besides Aikido."   He was walking that walk, as it were.

If you met Jimmy Sensei on the street, you wouldn't notice him.  He's small (maybe 5'4" ?) and slight of build.  He used to color his hair differently every month, but he seems to have grown out of that.  His arms are covered with tattoos, but a) so what? it's San Francisco, and b) he doesn't show them off.   You wouldn't know he was a 6th degree black belt with training in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu and Judo.  You also wouldn't know he used to be the lead singer (maybe still is?) of El Destroyo, a band that toured with the Violent Femmes.

OK.  Back to Aikido.

After warmups and jokes, we did Tai No Henko -- Omote and Ura.  See my blog entry about Omote and Ura, because this is a good example of the difference in terminology and how it's applied.  Perhaps I'll demonstrate at the Kai some day.

The bulk of class, however, focused on one of the students' upcoming 5th Kyu test.   Weapons, in particular.  We did five awasio movements, done as paired practices (Ikkyo through Gokyu).  These came back to me, but only in the roughest sense.  Then we did Ikkyo and Nikkyo Jo-Waza forms (omote and ura, again), which came back to me, but only barely.

I got to work with Ace (real name "Edsio") for weapons, which was a real treat. (Tradition at this dojo, BTW, is that, for weapons practice, you stick with the same partner the whole time).  I was privileged to see Ace's San-Dan test many years ago.  Ace is easily in his 60's.  He has always trained very slowly and VERY gently.  But his Randori was spectacular.  He moved like the wind and got a standing ovation from everyone including Kato Sensei (Jimmy's teacher, who was visiting from Japan).

What did I take with me?  Less about Aikido technique, and more about Aikido community.  Jimmy ended class with a short speech, thanking me for returning, and saying that, while it's his job on the mat to see to it that we're doing it "right" (whatever that is -- his words) and taking it seriously, that, in the end, the technique itself is often somewhat arbitrary.  We settle on something because it works at the time, and because we need to settle on SOMEthing so that we can train together.  And THAT, is what it's all about -- training together.

Here are some other fun links to give you a feel for the dojo.

Kato Sensei, Jimmy's teacher, still visits fro Japan twice a year.

Here's some interesting stuff that Jimmy wasn't doing when I was there.  The Jiu Jitsu, Judo, and boxing stuff is new.

Some Jo Kata -- this is a form that Jimmy Learned from Kato Sensei, who learned it from O'Sensei

...and this one just for fun (not Aikido in the traditional sense)

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

I left, my heart...

... in San Francisco...

OK, yes.   I've always trained at really awesome dojos with really awesome people.  The folks at Roanoke Budo Kai have been good to me despite all my foibles.  Before that, the gang at Asheville Aikikai did the same.   But I must admit that some part of my heart will always be with Suginami Aikikai in San Francisco. 

I lived in San Francisco for about 5 years (roughly 1996-2001), and I'll be going there later this week with my family to visit some long-time friends and get a taste of the City again. It's been almost 12 years since we moved away, and we haven't visited since.  Which means it's been 12 years since I trained at my first dojo, as well -- the same one Tonya visited a number of months ago.

So, I guess I have no choice (Tonya!) but to go train with my brethren on the old mat again.  A lot has changed since then, and I'm finding that I'm very nervous about the prospect.  At the time I trained about 13 hours a week.  Now, I only manage that in a month.

Will anyone recognize me (kinda almost hope they don't)?   I am, after all, 12 years (and about 12 pounds) older.   Will anyone recognize my Aikido?   Will Sensei watch me and shake his head in disappointment?   Will I even represent my current Aikidoka -- and my current Sensei -- well?

All of this is, of course, silly baggage that I'm pretty sure I can leave in the dressing room before I step onto the mat.  But it sure feels like a lot of weight right now.

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Omote, Ura, and me

Last Thursday, thanks to Tonya (Whitt Sensei), I had a revelation regarding Kosetori Ikkyo, Ura. That's Ikkyo from a cross-hand grab out of ai-hanmi (which is when both Uke and Nage have the same foot forward -- both left, or both right -- what we called "closed stance").

First of all, I will point out that "Omote" and "Ura" have several interpretations in the Aikido world.  You can google them as well as I can.  In the interest of "full disclosure," in fact, I'll admit that I think the way we teach Omote and Ura at the Roanoke Budo Kai is not my favorite.  I'll explain.

In my past (admittedly limited) experience, but backed up by most of what I find on the internet, Omote usually means something like "to Uke's front side," or "to the front of Uke's center line."   Ura usually means "behind Uke," or "to the rear of Uke's center line."   Sometimes they even just mean "the standard technique" and "the alternate version."    

For us at the Kai, Omote and Ura mean something slightly different, and very specific:  Omote means "forward (relative to Nage's original position)," and Ura means "backward (relative to Nage's original position)."   

Once more, with feeling...    At the Kai, Omote and Ura are statically defined cardinal directions, relative to the original position of Uke and Nage.  In my past experience, they were dynamically defined descriptions of a relationship between Uke and Nage throughout the technique.   

As with most things in life, both viewpoints have merit.   In this case it's a little like "east and west" versus "left and right." If you're trying to find the restaurant, directions that say "head south on Interstate 81" can be more useful that "turn left on Interstate 81." Of course, if you're on Hershberger Road, "turn right onto Williamson Road" is probably more useful than "turn southeast."  

Treating Omote and Ura as cardinal directions in our dojo seems to add an element of precision to the training.  If you know exactly which direction you're supposed to end up moving, you can work toward that goal with purpose.  Precision is one of the hallmarks of our training at the Kai.  Also, I think a lot of our techniques are quite linear compared to other styles, and I think the cardinal directions definitions suit that style well.  

On the other hand, I think treating Omote and Ura as relative directions puts the focus on the relationship between Uke and Nage, which I think is the key no matter what "style" you're training in.  And therein lies the root of my little revelation on Thursday.

Tonya pointed out the "simple" fact that, during Kosetori Ikkyo Ura, after you've taken Uke's balance, it's not about "pulling" Uke around to the Ura direction or somehow "reversing Uke's momentum" (as I pictured it) -- it's about changing YOUR direction -- as NAGE.  Once I grokked that, what Uke was doing (in my control, of course), was almost irrelevant.   Oh yeah -- this is Aikido.  Duh.

So, for me, this was yet another case of an "Aha!" moment that I apparently wasn't ready to hear the other 10,000 times I'd heard that particular teaching.  Changing my direction (as Nage) from one wall to the opposite wall made our definition of "Ura" quite obvious, and, in my case, psychologically painless.   I believe I've finally come to terms with the cardinal directions.

Sensei, Domo Arigato Gosaimasu.   :-)