Wednesday, May 4, 2011

[Karate] Aikido Seminar #2

Technically, I don't know what number Aikido seminar this was for me - I'm positive I went to at least four of them back in the early 1990s because I can remember training with Sugano Sensei (Sugano Shihan at the time of his very sad passing last year) twice, Yamada Shihan at least once, and a big guy with a mustache whose name I've forgotten. I suspect there were as many as two other seminars I attended and have simply forgotten, but those four I remember for sure.

To digress further, I think I've mentioned before that I'm baffled when I try to remember how long I spent training in Aikido. It seems like it was around a year, which would be consistent with having attended that number of seminars. Yet I only tested a single time - for 5th Kyu - and that test is usually administered after about 60 days of training, which would be around 6-7 months. Even assuming I was a terrible student (which would hurt my pride deeply, but wouldn't actually surprise me), I should have been ready to test around then, since I often went to class quite a bit more often than twice per week. So how freaking long DID I train for?? I just don't recall.

Well, it doesn't really matter. What does matter is that I was able to attend Collins Smith Sensei's seminar last November, and then on Saturday I attended Irvin Faust Sensei's seminar as well. And if that weren't enough, I've also taken two actual Aikido classes in the last few weeks as well.

Saturday's seminar was really unique. Well, it was for me, anyway.  I don't know - maybe Faust Sensei teaches like this all the time. You see, in Aikido you typically take turns with your partner, each of you performing a technique four times as the Nage, then receiving those same four techniques as the Uke. The Uke's job is to be a reasonably compliant partner, providing just enough resistance for the technique to be properly executed. The Nage's job is to do the technique without injuring the Uke or throwing them where another Uke is about to fall. Only one technique is generally performed at a time.

Faust Sensei mixed this up, though. For the first hour, we performed variations on a series of techniques. The Nage would begin with Nikyo, then move on to Sankyo, followed by Kotegaeshi, and ending with Shihonage. Actually, it didn't always end with Shihonage - after a while we added an Iriminage throw as the final technique. So that's four - or five! - techniques all done together, one after the next, alternating hands. The Uke's job was just to reach toward the Nage as fast as they could after each technique so the Nage could perform the next one in the series.

It was actually a really great way to practice these fundamental Aikido techniques, it was just unlike anything I'd ever seen done before outside of Rondori (where multiple attackers act as Uke to a single Nage, taking turns attacking with whatever attack they desire while the Nage adapts and selects a suitable response).

Faust Sensei was throwing all kinds of stuff at us that I'd never seen or just didn't remember. I admit, I was confused and frustrated - not so much at my inability to execute the techniques (I give myself a pass since I'm way beyond rusty), but at my sheer bafflement when I tried to comprehend them. I would watch him do the technique and come away utterly confused. Sometimes I'd even practice it for a while and still be utterly confused. It was a very humbling experience, and I'm not a big fan of being humbled and frustrated. When that happens, my gut instinct is to give up. I felt those rumblings stirring within me on Saturday. "This is too hard. I don't get it. I should go sit and watch instead of bumbling around here looking - and feeling - like a fool." It was REALLY tempting to just give up. I'm awesome at giving up. I wonder sometimes if I'm part French (Je plaisante!). I didn't, though. I stuck it out. I stayed with it. After a while, Faust Sensei changed the format and then things did get somewhat easier.

You see, for at least the fourth and final hour, he had us in lines, with a single Nage and everyone else taking turns as Uke. It was a constant barrage of attacks - each Nage got to perform the technique around ten times in rapid succession. I still frequently found that after those ten times, I was no closer to mastering the technique or even being sure I was doing it kind of correctly. Being the guy up there facing that whole line of Aikidoka was fairly intimidating, but it was actually better than being one-on-one. Plus you got to rest while standing in line, which was really welcome after several hours of near-continuous Aikido.

That was another big plus for me - in the past, I've left seminars and even classes feeling completely drained and ready to collapse. Then I've gone home, stiffened up, and literally spent the next four or five days barely able to walk, hobbling around grunting and occasionally crying out in pain. I remember when Collins Smith Sensei's seminar was done, I collapsed flat-out on the mat and just lay there for a while. Several people even came over to see if I was okay.

This seminar, however, I completely lost track of time. I literally misplaced an entire hour, so that when the seminar was finished and we were lined up, kneeling in seiza for Faust Sensei to say goodbye, I was sure we still had another whole session still to go. And I was looking forward to it! I was ready for more, and a bit disappointed to find that there wasn't any. I remember that feeling. It's the feeling I USED to get back in the old days, when I was a young, fit, enthusiastic college kid instead of an old, flabby, worn out man. It's the feeling I'd get when I'd attend a seminar with Sugano or Yamada Shihan back in 1991 at the OLD Erie Boulevard dojo. Maybe I was channeling my Ki or just catching a second wind, but it felt damn good. I'm looking forward to more.

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