I want to point out a few things about this picture, to give you an idea of the quality of the people I train with.
- All the way on the left, that's Michael. We call him "Dragon." We used to call him "bearded Mike," but, well there are three bearded Mikes in the dojo (I'm one of them). Dragon is an ex-marine, an accomplished power lifter, and a counselor. He's one of the most physically gifted Aikidoka I've every worked with. Tell him something once, he makes a correction, and it seems to stick. Dragon already at a skill level far beyond his rank, and is gonna be a monster some day. Dragon also has the distinct honor of teaching me a very valuable lesson in humility when I tried to reverse his Sankyo one day. My wrist has only recently recovered.
- With his hand on Dragon's shoulder, hiding in the back, that's David. He's an accomplished Taekwondo instructor in his other life, and I learn a lot from him about practical applications and strikes.
- Next to David, hand on my shoulder, is Torrey. Torrey was visiting from Atlanta, where he trains at another unaffiliated dojo that hails originally from Nihon Goshin lineage, now more in a Takahara tradition. Torrey trained with us on Monday, and then again this Saturday. He wore a white belt to class out of respect, but it quickly became obvious that this was a ruse. Torrey is training for Shodan, and I look forward to him visiting again after he makes rank. I've never seen anyone more relaxed in a Jiyu-Waza. His inside blends are powerful. and I learned a great variation on Irimi-nage today. Come back any time, Torrey.
- AK is standing behind me in the picture (Brielle Sensei). You can't see it, but he's wearing a hakama, and is the third most senior active member of the dojo, after Gaston Sensei and our new Shidoin, Eric Goodbar Sensei. AK has been in training for Nidan for a number of months. AK has been a regular on Saturdays, with the exception of when they conflicted with Va Tech games. He's always got a smile on his face, is always open to new ideas, and, for a guy who's physically strong enough to not need Aikido to defend himself, is actually one of the most mobile, fluid practitioners on our mat. Thanks for your help over the years, AK, and I wish you well on your Nidan journey.
- Next to AK, in the back, is Jack. Jack is one of the most diligent students at the Kai, and always goes the extra mile to put down or take down mats, lead mat cleaning, comes to extra practices, whatever. We joke about Jack "the rock," and "Jersey Aikido." But Jack has come a LONG way in finding more fluidity in his movements, and not resorting to his Jersey attitude and his other martial arts background (Karate? Taekwondo?). The best thing about Jack may be the bits of wisdom that he lays on us at some point in most classes. Once, to encourage students to breathe while the did Ukemi, I asked for a poem that we could recite while we rolled. You'll have to ask Jack what he came up with.
- In front of Jack, just to my left, is Dr. Tom. He wears a provisional black belt (a white belt with a black stripe down the center). He doesn't test for rank, but he's been doing Aikido for a loooonnng time. He's also an accomplished Judoka, and is prone to sweeping your leg if you let him. I don't know exactly how old Tom is, but I hope I'm moving as well when I'm his current age as he is now. Tom also happens to be an ER surgeon, so if we ever have an injury during class, we're in good hands. And how old are we now, Doc?
- Finally, on the far right of the picture, that's Robert. Robert is also a doctor. Robert trains with such passion! We often have to get him to dial it down a notch, his safety and that of everyone else. Robert thinks about Aikido a lot, off the mat -- something I can relate to. Robert also brought me a bottle of wine as a parting gift today -- how very nice. Thanks, Robert.