Two Rock Aikido, Petaluma California – Richard Strozzi-Heckler Sensei

One of the first books I read about Aikido, many years ago was “Aikido and the New Warrior”. This was a series of essays on Aikido that included such titles as “Aikido on the Basketball Court”, “A Kind Word Turneth Away Wrath”, and “On Getting a Black Belt at Age Fifty Two” (at 1st kyu, this is something especially close to my heart as I am 48 this year). The book was edited by Richard Strozzi-Heckler.

Heckler Sensei is a student of Mitsugi Saotome Sensei, has co-founded Aikido of Tamalpias, and created a martial arts program for the United States Marines that was the prototype for what is now known as the MCMAP, the Marine Corps Martial Arts Program.

Two Rock Dojo is a dojo far away from the city, built on his ranch. The dojo overlooks the rolling hills of Petaluma country side. The interior is warmly lit and beautiful. We came in and proceeded to dress in the common dressing area. We were greeted warmly by everyone in class. We felt very welcomed with smiles and greetings.

I had never trained with Heckler Sensei and didn’t quite know what to expect. From his credentials and his experience under Saotome Sensei, I expected the class to be a harder style, covering a variety of different techniques. I was surprised at how beautiful Sensei Heckler’s expression of Aikido actually was, and how he showed a unique delicateness with his style of both teaching and demonstration of technique.

Sensei Heckler is a very soft spoken man who has a very calm and yet distinct command over his class. We worked techniques from katate dori and hiji dori, doing variations of Kokyu Ho and Kokyu Nage. Sensei Heckler talked about some of the same things that Nadeau Sensei talked about as well. Connecting, and appreciating the finality of the technique. In his demonstration, he did something very interesting. As his uke would come to attack, he would execute a movement, and uke would be off balanced, but not fall. He did this a couple times and then he said something like, “let’s work on ‘this’ being good enough.” The “this” I would assume was that gaining center and moving uke was good enough. Once there was “this”, then there was no need to throw uke. We already did our job gaining center.

The energy both of Sensei and the student body really made it pleasurable to train there. I felt very encouraged. When working with one of the black belts, I was having trouble with one of the techniques. He worked with me patiently and encouragingly so that I could overcome whatever issues. We ended up the last 20 minutes working with groups of 4 or 5 on some Kokyu Ho techniques from hiji dori grabs and then finally Kokyu Dosa. The person that worked with me said that he had trouble with his knees and asked if we could do the technique from standing. I was grateful for that and we finished off the class doing Kokyu Dosa from standing instead of in the seiza position.

Sensei Heckler guided us through several processes to end the class. We all opened our arms and were instructed to direct energy towards someone we felt needed it. Some people vocalized who they were sending energy to, some were silent. I thought of a friend who recently had some hard times and kept him in my thoughts. We then all layed down on our back and Sensei read us a beautiful poem, walked us through a guided meditation, asking us to inhale and exhale. With each exhalation he asked us to acknowledge our teachers, O Sensei, our partners, the earth and ourselves.

We finally bowed out and formed a circle. He extended his welcome to myself and Leah. We then thanked our partners we trained with and got dressed. As we got dressed, we received the same warmth and affection from all of the students as they said good bye and asked us to come and visit again.

Sensei Heckler has created a very beautiful, inviting and warm dojo. His expression of Aikido mirrors his own personality, that of calm and quiet authority. His movement is extremely fluid and gentle. I’m very grateful to have had the chance to train under him and with his students. Spending time at his dojo makes me realize my need for a spiritual practice with a group of people. This need is fulfilled where I train but it gives me a good reminder that Aikido is as spiritual as it is physical and that you cannot separate the two from the practice and still call it Aikido.

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