1. Californian Aiki-Dreaming: Visiting Aikido dojos in the State of California, USA
Next to Japan, California and other parts of the USA have some of the most abundance of experienced Aikidoists in the world. It was no wonder a joyous adventure for me to pay a visit to a number of dojos lining the pacific coast in and around the San Francisco Bay Area.
I spent 3 weeks with a rented car admiring the Pacific coast along highway number 1 with the off-chance visit to some highly recommended dojos. Those dojos visited include: City Aikido in San Francisco (Robert Nadeau Shihan, 7th dan Aikikai and Jack Wada Sensei, 6th dan Aikikai), Mountain View dojo (Robert Nadeau Shihan, 7th dan Aikikai), Santa Barbara Kenkyukai (Lia Suzuki Sensei, 5th dan Aikikai), Aikido of Santa Cruz (Linda Holiday Sensei, 7th dan Aikikai), University of California Santa Cruz dojo (Yoshi Shibata Sensei), Petaluma Two Rocks Dojo (Richard Hecklar Sensei, 6th dan Aikikai). This was already an abundance of senseis and yet there is a lot more to be seen which calls for my return visit (for example Doran Sensei and Frager Sensei)! Despite not managing to have visited all dojos I maybe would have liked to, I nevertheless feel privelaged and honoured to have trained with so many high ranking teachers along the course of my Holiday (always good to pack with the suitcase with a spare gi, you never know when it might come in handy!). I only have deeper admiration for the quality of Aikido in California and the result of my short visits to the dojos around the area only entice me to want to come back and get some more. It was also by sheer chance and good fortune that the popular and respected teacher, Jan Nevelius, was in the area giving seminars.
2. Machines and Nadeau Shihan's Aikido
About 20 American miles south of San Francisco lies Mountain View, the home of Google and
the less famously known Computer History Museum. In this museum, the latest construction of the Babbage difference engine can be found (the worlds first conceptualised computing machine designed in the early 19th century by Sir Charles Babbage). The machinery was design so accurately that the people who built it in 2008 did not need to correct any of the designs that Babbage had made in the 19th century. The device was essentially designed to be a very clever adding machine (although mathematicians will understand it deeper as a tool for solving polynomial equations) which would provide results by rotating a shaft connected to a multitude of cogs that turn.
Back to the 21st century, in the city of San Francisco, in another domain on another level, of all the visits to various senseis that I made, the one that stood out and that I attend most often in the three weeks that I was there was Robert Nadeau shihan, 7th dan Aikikai, in City Aikido, San Francisco. City Aikido houses a group of friendly Aikidists who now and again like to go out for a beer with the shihan after the class. Nadeau Shihan presents his classes in the same way he drinks beer, in a non-pretentious and genuine manner.
Nadeau Shihan is one of the few non-Japanese who got close to and learned directly from O-Sensei. The essence for Nadeau Shihan is to uphold the teachings of O-Sensei by taking the ego out of the movement. Therefore it is no longer "I" that is doing the movement but the movement exists and is being and you are letting the movement "be" and do its job (this was the general jist of what I understood from Naeau Shihan's words and the feeling I got in trying to actualise this development). Nadeau shihan allowed the classes start abstractly in this way, giving our bodies the perception of being machines with simple mechanical functions such as "drilling" (turning), "basing" (stable grounding) and "hydrolic pumping" (lifting up and out from within the core or centre rather than lifting with the arms or shoulders). Emphasis is laid upon "presence", "centering", "feeling" with uke and Nadeau shihan presents and requests feedback from the students about analogies of the real world in which the tools we try to develop with O-Sensei's methods would apply. For example, Nadeau Sensei would ask "what does a person who is more grounded feel", "what is intersting about those that come from the planet of grounded people" and then a response would be formed from the contributions of the class particpants and eventually a conclusion would arise from Nadeau "a person who is more grounded is able to take on more projects, more challenges, is more confident, is more able to listen, etc". Nadeau shihan challenges his students in this way to conceptualise with him in defining what the movement is that is being done and so there is a feeling of a unified idea at that moment in the class formed by collaboration of input from all those present in the class. From Babbage to Nadeau, the machine theme is abundantly present in California which has made my trip even more valuable and worthwhile.
My thanks to Filip Miletic (who used to train at the Hagukumi dojo in The Hague before moving to the USA) for hosting me in Mountain View. It was nice to see him again.
3. Santa Barbara
Many thanks to Lia Suzuki sensei for meeting up with me before the class and talking about Aikido and the projects of the Kenkyukai Aikido organisation of Santa Barbara. Suzuki sensei is raising funds in order to allow the her dojo to develop with the community. It is an original and brave way of developing a dojo and requires not just the standard Aikido hours of teaching and organising that she puts in but also endless hours of getting funds and recruiting under-privelaged children with a means to build a positive relation with the community in the direction of a better future. We wish Suzuki sensei the very best for her endeavours and those of her group.
The Aikido class of Suzuki sensei was very physical but not impossible. It was clear from her movement that her teacher, Takeda shihan, was a very close student of the late Yamaguchi shihan. We sweated a lot but we also had fun and the chaps and chappesses (though I didn't see any chappesses except the sensei that evening) are friendly and good aikidoists to work with.
Thank you for sharing your time with me during my visit to your dojo.
4. Santa Cruz
The highlight of my Santa Cruz visit was the Jan Nevelius sensei seminar. I managed to catch two of his classes at Linda Holiday Sensei's dojo in Santa Cruz. Nevelius sensei presented his concepts of connection and in particular the invisible aspects of the movement which make "Musubi". Nevelius sensei's clear explanations allowed us to gain a more conscious grasp of what is already happening in the movement when one connects to their partner, allowing the movement to go on without interruption.
In addition to this training, I made it for two classes with Yoshi Shibata sensei (one morning
and one lunch time class) at the University of California Santa Cruz. The classes were of a much younger group (due to the location at the university) and yet I did see some serious enthusiam towards the learning of Aikido there. I admire Shibata sensei's patience and diligence in teaching these young people. The classes were enjoyable and I got some interesting insights into variations of pinning in commnly known techniques (such as shiho nage).
I wish to present my thanks to Yoshi sensei for allowing me to share some of my points of view about Aikido during his lesson time.
5. Two Rocks Aikido, Petaluma
The Two Rocks dojo in Petaluma reminds me of the Hagukumi dojo in The Hague. It is a very familial dojo with all walks of life passing through. A vast experience is combined with newcomers and the whole combination provides a nice flavour of Aikido training. Last year I already trained at this dojo under Richared Heckler sensei though I heard that this year Heckler sensei was recovering from surgery. We wish, therefore, to pass our wishes for a quick and healthy recovery to Heckler sensei. The training was nevertheless enjoyable and was conducted with the theme of sending healing energy to Heckler sensei and loved ones.
Since Thursday evening is usually the after-training social, I tried to tweek my agenda in order to catch the Thursday evening training, we ended up afterwards at Dempsy's diner in Petaluma for some beer and snacks and social ramblings. It was nice Save Nowto see Paul Rest again whom I wish to thank for accommodating me and spending time with me along the Salmon creek for a costal view and lunch by the river mouth. I wish to extend my thanks to the Lukof family who spontaneously and kindly accommodated me in Petaluma. In the photo, I am wearing orange but this is not a Dutch T-Shirt. The San Francisco Giants baseball team had adopted the same colour for their world series T-Shirts.
CABN Winter School (Yamashima Sensei, 7th dan Aikikai):
The CABN will be pleased to receive Yamashima Sensei again for the third time this year.
The seminar shall take places at various dojos in Holland between the 23rd and 27th of November.