Training Away From Home

When I tested for 1st Kyu a couple of years ago, I was presented with an interesting problem.  My friend, Mentor and uke, Sasun, that I selected to be my test partner, could not participate.  His back went out.  So rather than testing with him and benefiting from the familiarity I built up through the training period leading up to my test, my partners were my fellow students. Sensei would call them up and I would perform techniques from my test.  Tall, short, limber, stiffer, more adept at rolling or not.  I was ok with that, and I thought that I did well adapting to the different body types, levels and abilities.

Now, training for my shodan test, I have a different problem.  I am away from my home dojo and do not have the benefit of classes with my Sensei, Bob Noha, who is currently working with the other two shodan candidates as our school goes into test preparation mode for our upcoming exams in the spring.

So, I have been thinking about why this is a problem.  And I’ve also been thinking why it isn’t.  Sensei told a story about a buddy of his who had just started kendo.  Shortly after he started a very high ranking kendo master was conducting a seminar.  His friend signed up and thought that he would sneak into the location where the seminar was early to secretly observe the kendo master and see what he could learn and how this high ranking fellow prepared.  He wanted to know at the master’s level, what esoteric movements and intricate sword strikes he would use to prepare for his seminar.  Surprisingly, the kendo master did the basic strike, shomen uchi, over and over again.  It was the basis for all other strikes and all other movements.  The first strike you learn.  And he was there, over, and over and over.

Aikido is based on universal principles.  They are based on physics, energy and spirit.  These principles work wether I am at my home dojo, whether I am practicing at a seminar or where I’m currently training now in Cedar Rapids, Iowa.  There are technical aspects of my exam that I will certainly need to brush up on, but my main goal right now in solving the “problem” of being away from my home dojo is to move on the mat in accordance to the Aiki principles as taught by O Sensei.  Move from center, get off the line, turn, enter.  My arms and hands will follow and I will have faith in my training, Sensei, and training partners that this will carry me through.

Kata overload

From my cursory view of my twitter, facebook and Google+ friends there seems to be an interest of late in the 31 jo kata. I watched videos to learn the kata myself a few months ago but it wasn’t until a recent visit to Aikido of Cotati that it helped start to give me an understanding of the kata.  Saito Sensei developed a partner practice that goes along with the 31 jo kata that helps put the solo practice into perspective.  We worked the first 12 strikes last Saturday and it helped me tremendously.

So much, that I decided to brush off the 21 jo kata that I practiced before my 3rd Kyu test, and the 13 jo kata that I practice as a student of Bob Noha Sensei at my home dojo at Aikido of Petaluma.  what I found was… wow.  I’m confused.  Was this the 3rd strike in this form, or the 8th strike in this one or does the parry go here, or do I step forward in this one or the other.

So yes, it is confusing.  However, I don’t think that this is a bad thing.  Overwhelming to the point that I wanted to break my jo in two would be a bad thing, but being confused stimulates me and challenges me.  I think that taking on a new challenge helps gain knowledge and proficiency.  Seeing the similarity and differences between the 3 katas gains me a deeper appreciation for each, and for Aikido as a whole.

So over the next month I my goal is to not become confused, to start to understand the differences and applications of each kata, and to be able to perform each of them.  I am purposely staying away from phrases like “master this”, because true mastery comes after years and years, and even the highest ranking Aikidoka still practice fundamentals and still strive for perfection even with what we consider “simple” techniques.

I know that I posted this with the title “kata overload” but I think what this is more about for me is a series of goals.  I’m not really one for resolutions, and as ironic as it seems, I’m not calling out my “new years resolutions” right now, but I am thinking of a series of goals.  I’ve not really trained with any goals in mind, before but from a previous blog post I did outline some of the things I want to work on.  One of them, becoming more knowledgeable in my weapons work, will be aided by this practice.  So, as I step into the second day of 2012, I’m off to swing the jo around.