Aikido is always a journey. The greatest Sensei will say that he is still learning and exploring. People who don't study have no idea. They think a black belt is a sign of mastery of an art.
an acknowledgement that one has learned a specific set of building
blocks and shown a level of dedication to training over a number of
years. It is a waypoint on the journey. An important one in some ways.
It signifies that you have been accepted by your organization as a serious student.
Lee Sensei reached that waypoint at Gasshuku 2017. This weekend our dojo celebrated her promotion with a gathering and a meal that ended with the presentation of her belt.
On Monday the journey continues.
We returned to the dojo from the annual summer camp in June. All the buildup and preparation for testing is over for a while. It’s vacation time and even the regulars are taking weeks off to travel. Classes are small and often consist of an instructor and two or three yudansha.
Shihan has capitalized on this opportunity. It can start with a non-traditional attack, sometimes a series of yokomen-uchi , shomen-uchi, and mune-tsuki attacks that can only be greeted with parries and blending movements.
Start with empty hand. Hook punches, straight punches, kicks. Get the pattern of attacks and responses you will be working with engrained in nage and uke.
Move to the bokken. Perhaps now it is yokomen-uchis and thrusts.
And then onto the knife. Multiple attacks with a training blade, trying to study not just what the attacker’s next move is, but the move after that, seeking a disarm and an Aikido technique at the finish.
Even the training blade changes the energy of a class. Nage’s focus is the blade. Uke’s focus is the blade. The world outside is forgotten. The universe shrinks down to you and your partner. Over and over, taking turns, it is the blade.
There is no air conditioning. The fans blur any noise from outside.
Shihan watches, stops the practice, makes corrections, demonstrates again, and you resume.
“Parry it this way.”
“Here’s that disarm, lay the flat of the blade on your forearm and strip it.”
“Turn and open your hips, take their balance and control the weapon, then throw.”
It is the summer of the blade.
Study how water flows in a valley stream, smoothly and freely between the rocks. Also learn from holy books and wise people. Everything - even mountains, rivers, plants and trees - should be your teacher.
"Nature is also our dojo. The intricate variations of the seasons, the beauty of the flowers in the field are our teachers, and they lead us to the highest consciousness of Aiki."
-- Morihei Ueshiba, Founder of Aikido