Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Aikido Decatur's First Adult Class, March 3, 2009

Today the first adult students appeared at the dojo, one on his first day, and the other a white belt visiting from Florida. After two months of being just a rented room for stretching in, the dojo got in gear with an adult class following the regular kids class back-to-back.

So, what do you do with a visitor and a first timer? I checked in with them to see whether they wanted to stretch, and they did, so we stretched for about 10 minutes.

Then, instead of delving into some complex technique, we led off with simple ma-ai practice, threatening to attack kata-dori while nage maintained distance by stepping backwards. Once we reached the edge of the world (the edge of the mat), we reversed uke/nage and went back the other way. With this simple exercise we began to feel the connection between beings and started to open to the energy coming in from our partner.

Then, we added an actual kata-dori attack. Nage then deepened the connection by securing uke's hand to the shoulder being attacked, then turned inside, extending uke's arm, and leading uke into a long forward lunge and turn that inevitably turned into a backward sit-fall. Very gentle, good for first timers and for strangers from afar. Nothing dangerous or joint intensive.

After exploring this shape for about 20 minutes, getting our feet and hands working in some semblance of coordination, we took a break for a moment.

"How and who are you when you do this technique? What are you working on right now?" I asked.

The first-timer had a classic quote: "How do you do this without thinking about it?" I had mentioned to him earlier that he could move his body more and spend less time standing and scratching his head.

"Exactly right!" I replied. "If you train with that question in your mind at all times, you will progress far and very fast in this art." He looked at me a little quizzically when he realized that that was all I was going to say in that moment, and then a smile came across his face.

The white belt then asked, "are you grabbing their hand and trying to pull them, or are you just turning?" Not knowing what to say to him, I invited him to attack me. I connected with him, led him just beyond his comfort range, and turned, resulting in him falling softly in front of me. "I'm not sure I know what to say," I told him, "but does that answer your question?"

"Hai, sensei," he said excitedly.

We then spent a few minutes doing the old Richard Moon practice of training with an 'imaginary uke', an invisible partner. Making the shapes by yourself makes it abundantly clear that it is NOT uke's fault that a technique is difficult or that you are falling off balance in the middle of it!

"Take a moment to feel what it's like to be completely awesome at this technique, and at training in general," I told them. "How would you be, how would you move, how would you look if you were the best in the world at this technique? What is different for you?"

The usual replies came forth "I'm breathing more consciously, I'm moving with a rhythm, I'm not thinking about it so much, I can feel my feet on the floor more, I feel heavier." All the regular signs that nage is opening and allowing more, getting their head, their thinking selves out of the way.

I went on, "so, let's take advantage of O Sensei's great gift to all of us, and let us take these great physical and spiritual insights back into the world of moving, functioning technique, where the s*** hits the fan!"

We trained for another 10 minutes. Halfway through this last segment I reminded them, "Let's not forget all the wonderful changes we manifested in our being a few minutes ago. As the energy and the movement and the speed increase here a little bit, let us continue to open and allow, to focus on who we are less than on how we can manage to throw our uke." I could see lights going on in their eyes as we continued training.

And with that, class was over.

I had a wonderful time, and, by report, so did my two students.

In teaching today I glimpsed once again the power and the possibility of all that I have received from my teachers (Robert Nadeau, Richard Moon, Nick Scoggin, and many more) over the years. Over and over through teaching, I discover the layers upon layers of this art and I realize how little I have scratched its surface.

I look forward to the next class when an adult student might appear!

I was that white belt visiting from Florida... though I'll be testing for my green belt soon, here in my home dojo. I just wanted to comment and say that Joel Sensei's class was great for me, and my Aikido journey is all the more richer for it. Though I'm only a beginner, the concepts Sensei imparted during this class have stayed with me and I look forward to training with Joel Sensei again, as my travels will bring me back to Decatur this Fall. Thanks, Sensei! - Chris Nolin, Aikido of Volusia, Volusia County, Florida -
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