Women’s Aikido Camp: “An Experience of Intensity, Joy, and Sisterhood”

By Rosa Mitchell, North County Aikikai

Why did I go to Women’s Aikido Camp? To be honest, I went mostly for the location. I looked at the pictures of the Immaculate Heart of Mary Retreat Center, and thought a few days in Santa Fe, New Mexico would be a well-deserved “escapadita” (little escape), as we say in my family. Also, as a newbie, the idea of going to Summer Camp had just been too intimidating and I thought that Women’s Camp, with its smaller size, could serve as an introduction of sorts: a way to jump in, but maybe not too deeply.

We arrived at the retreat center with only a few minutes to spare before the first class. I scrambled to get my gi on and rushed back to the gym. As all the women began to line up, we were instructed by Varjan Sensei to do so in order of rank. This required us to talk to one another to find our place. There was no need for this shy girl to talk to anyone. As a 5th kyu, I just needed to go to the back at the end of the line, easy! When we all settled down, I looked down the rows at all the women in hakama, and the enormity of the situation settled on me and brought me to tears. The sound of all the female voices as we said our onegai shimasu in unison filled the gym and filled me with an unexpected joy.

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photo by Karen Hamilton

In trying to describe why it was so different to train with only women, it is easy to jump to stereotypes, all of which are completely inadequate to describe what I saw and experienced. All these weeks later and I still haven’t been able to put my finger on what the difference was exactly, but I can say that I loved every minute. I can tell you that the encounters on the mat were intense and sincere, but also filled with love and so much joy.

Yes, the classes were amazing, but I haven’t been to a seminar yet where that wasn’t true. So, what was different? Maybe it was just the opportunity to see what I can become. It may have been just being in a room full of bad ass women and feeling that if I work hard, I can be like them. Maybe it was being told by a very open and powerful woman, that this little shy girl can become open and powerful. It probably had something to do with Graham Sensei telling the kyu ranks that it was time to inhabit the front row and know that we deserve to be there. It may also have been that while a mat full of men can sometimes feel intimidating, a mat full of women felt welcoming and empowering. I’m still not sure what it was exactly, but for me it was magical. I can tell you I found something in my Aikido practice that I didn’t know was missing, and I can tell you that I will be at the next Women’s Aikido Camp.

In the world of surfing, we seem to get a particular joy out of telling people that they missed it. We don’t share our secret spots lest they get too crowded. But this I will shout from the rooftops. Ladies, if you missed it, or if you hesitated for any reason; the next one is not to be missed! Go for the location, go for the local spas, go to get away for a few days, whatever your reason is, just go!

To my male training partners, I can’t say I missed you, but I will say that I thought of you often. I kept thinking that I would like you to experience this too. I know what you are thinking: “Summer Camp… not Women’s Camp.” But what I wish is that you could experience “Women’s Aikido Camp” so you could experience the intensity, the joy, and the sisterhood with me. Guys, while I can’t arrange an invitation for you, I can promise you that I will do my best to train with the intensity and the loving spirit that I felt in Santa Fe.

 

Womens Aikido Camp Experience

By Lynne Morrison Florida Aikikai

“Inspiration” comes up for me when I remember the 2017 Women’s Camp. The inspiration, the “breath” of Aikido I experienced in my practice with all of you. I took a wrist and felt the gentle wind in the trees. I took a wrist and felt the wild rushing of a mountain waterfall. I took a wrist and felt the raw deep earth. I took a wrist and heard the sweet song of birds.  I took a wrist and felt the fierce struggle of a new bloom. Aikido living in so many forms within generations of women practitioners. Each woman, grateful for their individual teachers, and mentors. Each woman making Aikido her own.

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An Aikido Experience of Friendship

Attendees of the Friendship Seminar
Attendees of the Friendship Seminar

Aikido Institute of San Francisco Friendship Seminar 2016
By Leo Baca Aikido Institue of San Francisco

The seminar spanned two warm days in San Francisco but students remained focused and training was vigorous.  Students and instructors were as diverse as the city itself – children and adults,  beginners and Yudansha, local and from afar.  

Training focused on movement, distance and space with instructors paying particular attention to the opening.  Diagana Sensei,  McSpadden Sensei and  Schenk Sensei all share a common lineage and it was evident in their instruction.  At times it felt as if you were being taught not by a single instructor, but by a team of instructors with each Sensei building off of the teachings of the other, and Nomura Shihan’s ever watchful eye ensuring that no details went unnoticed.  Emphasis was placed on the opening movement.  Once the opening was correct and the Uke unbalanced, we moved to the entry, taking the Uke’s center, controlling space and so on.  Students were reminded to recognize and utilize space, to move with the entire body and not waste movement.  Our small mat space was utilized to its fullest, yet did not seem crowded.  All three Sensei circulated and weaved through the dojo and trained with all Aikidoka.

Schenk Sensei displaying a solid suwariwaza foundation
Schenk Sensei displaying a solid suwariwaza foundation

The Seminar’s theme of friendship was appropriate as participants gathered from San Francisco, Sacramento, Seattle, Brooklyn and Singapore.  It serves as a reminder of why seminars are important.  Seminars bring people together to train and create or strengthen bonds.  When the day is done, we share a common respect and part ways knowing we will see each other again.

New Seminar; New experiences
by Iris, Grass Valley Aikikai, 11 years old

Uke: Iris of Grass Valley Aikikai. Nage: Scott McSpadden Sensei. Watching waza: Liam from Grass Valley Aikikai.
Uke: Iris of Grass Valley Aikikai. Nage: Scott McSpadden Sensei.
Watching waza: Liam from Grass Valley Aikikai.

When I left for this seminar, I had never been to San Francisco. I had never been to a seminar not hosted by my dojo, and I had never been to a body arts seminar. I was so excited; in fact, I was absolutely thrilled to be going. I was nervous about the new space and new people, but everyone was so kind and helpful that I immediately felt comfortable. I feel I learned many new things, and new ways to do techniques and new ways to view Aikido as a whole. I left with new openness to learning. I remember when we first spotted the Golden Gate Bridge rising through the mist, with the island prison of Alcatraz in front. It looked like something from a postcard or a fairytale. Afterwards we went for sushi and discussed what we had learned. The entire experience is one I will remember for a long time.

Friendship Seminar Experience
By Laim McCarthy, Grass Valley Aikikai

Liam at his home dojo
Liam at his home dojo

My name is Liam McCarthy, I am a 15 year-old student at Grass Valley Aikikai, and an attendee of the seminar hosted on September 17th, at Aikido Institute of San Francisco.
I thoroughly enjoyed this seminar. Everyone I trained with was friendly, patient, and knowledgeable. It was my third seminar, and only my second outside of my dojo. Although the space at first seemed small, the mat had plenty of space for all in attendance. The advice, tips, and help I got were extremely useful, especially when the technique was being demonstrated slightly differently than my dojo’s style. One thing I specifically liked a lot was the form in which one Nage was performing the technique and the other students in that group attacked as Ukes in a line. Although it put pressure on the Nage, as the line moved quickly, it allowed them to try many times over with all different heights, ages, and body types.
As for each of the three Sensei who taught classes, I thought all three were pleasant and patient, and I enjoyed each of their styles. Schenk Sensei demonstrated everything carefully and accurately, and explained all the techniques he taught very thoroughly. I enjoyed his class and my time spent trying to soak in every detail of what he demonstrated. I thought the same of Scott McSpadden Sensei; he seemed very focused, yet good-natured, and had no problem patiently showing things to you if you felt overwhelmed or misunderstood something. Lastly, Diagana Sensei taught his class, the third and final class of the day. I noticed a very strong presence and focus in his practice, and thought he was a great teacher. He was easy going, and spared time for any student who was confused (as did all the Sensei teaching a class).
Aside from the three Sensei who taught their own classes, the students of this dojo were extremely well-mannered and knowledgeable. Nobody seemed frustrated when I didn’t get something right; they had no problem with me taking all the time I needed to fix anything I was having trouble with; and they showed a great deal of patience with me whenever I had trouble. I tried my best to keep up with everyone with my ukemi, and each partner I had went as fast or as slow as they thought I could handle or needed. All in all, this was a fantastic experience for a seminar, and I really enjoyed myself.

Seminar Experience
by Wyatt, Grass Valley Aikikai, 10 years old

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Before we got there, I was nervous. But once we got there, my strength returned. It was fun learning all the different training styles of all the different dojos! I learned many new techniques too, like ryokatadori shihonage. My favorite part of the experience was learning the different teaching styles of the different Sensei.

Aikido with Old Friends
By Vince Chan Aikido Institue of San Francisco

Pleasure is defined as a feeling of happy satisfaction and enjoyment. Aikido is pleasurable as it involves centering the mind and body in the most intense way possible, with love, in the company of friends and other Aikidoka, striving to better not just ourselves, but the communities where we live by practicing the teachings of Aikido in our daily lives. It is always a pleasure to train with the trio of Schenk Sensei, Diagana Sensei and McSpadden Sensei as they all bring a joyful awareness to their otherwise sharp Aikido. Together, these three epitomize the freedom to play with techniques through the connection between partners. Words fail to frame the experience.

Diagana Sensei
Diagana Sensei

Like rough ashlar*, continuously being improved by practice and work, we can attain the smoothness of perfect geometry in our aikido by having a child’s mind: to absorb as much as we can from our teachers and Sempai. When I watch and listen to McSpadden Sensei, Diagana Sensei and Schenk Sensei, I can feel their happiness in their art. They all want to practice with love for each person on the mat, happy but sharp. With a child’s mind, they enter each encounter willing to learn but astutely aware of each movement. I was very happy to be a part of this seminar for the experience of seeing and feeling the openness of each technique presented by these teachers.

*finely dressed stone block work

Reflection on Aikido of Albuquerque’s Regional Seminar

By Hugh Fritz Aikido of Albuquerque

The seminar in Albuquerque, New Mexico, at the beginning of October, 2016 was the second seminar that I have attended. I am still new to the practice of Aikido, and deciding to attend classes was a test of nerves. I do not have the physical characteristics of a professional fighter, and am not the kind of person anyone would assume has an interest in Martial Arts. A major reason I have been willing to regularly train at the Aikido of Albuquerque dojo, is the welcoming atmosphere for students who are new to Aikido specifically, or fighting styles in general. This same concept carried over to the fall seminar, which made the event enjoyable.

Jyo Training
Jyo Training

Discovering the Junior Kenshusei programs at the Aikido of Albuquerque dojo provided me with a boost of confidence. Observing a broad range of ages and sizes among the students and attendees of seminars enforced the feeling further. I’ve heard that techniques that can be used against any opponent, but I never really believed it until I witnessed teens in high school or younger children performing ikkyo on an adult twice their size or larger. It is a hard truth that age slows everyone down, but people at seminars old enough to be my grandparents seem to be entirely capable of taking ukemi just as well as the younger attendants.
While the variety of people at the seminars was inspiring, I also found that it brought a sense of urgency. I’m aware that I won’t be able to keep up with someone who has been training for years, but at the same time practicing techniques with advanced students brought the desire to try to prove that I was making progress. Also, the days passed quickly and assigned techniques changed rapidly. Knowing that people at the seminar had traveled from out of town, and likely from out of state, created the urge to make the trip worth their while. The feeling caused me to move too quickly during training, which also made me sloppy. As the days went on the people seemed to realize that I was moving too fast for my own good and made it clear that they were willing to go slow when working with me. In addition to the attendant’s willingness to take their time training, the Sensei took a few moments intermittently throughout the day to review the basic concepts that were being emphasized to keep everyone on track throughout the seminar weekend.
Immersed in Tachi waza Te-waza during the fun.
Immersed in Tachi waza Te-waza during the fun.

Overall it was the welcoming environment that made the seminar enjoyable. The feeling in the dojo was not exactly relaxed; there was definitely a sense of seriousness and commitment to the training and conditioning and everyone was pushed physically. However, there was also the sense of respect and understanding for individuals without an intense background or years of experience. That balance resulted in a supportive learning environment and an overall worthwhile experience. If that same concept continues to other locations then I am entirely willing to attend another seminar.

Why seminars matter

Check out the great video above put together by the Birankai Scholarship Committee. Real Birankai students talk about the benefits of seminars as a part of training and development in the art. It’s eight minutes long but full of action footage!

All of us in Birankai Aikido are working to fund seminars to raise our level of Aikido, Iaido and Zazen training through the T.K. & Mitsuko Chiba Endowment Fund. Our national goal is to raise $400,000 in four years and we are already funding seminars through the endowment.

Donate today through the endowment page on the Birankai.org website or visit the T.K. & Mitsuko Chiba Endowment Fund Facebook page.

Thanks for your generosity and let’s keep Birankai Aikido strong!

L. Klein

East Coast Regional rocks

100_0602Birankai members gathered at Bucks County Aikido this weekend for a regional seminar that brought together teachers and students from across the Northeast and as far away as Michigan, Illinois, Florida and Washington. More than 76 people practiced and took part in testing and a truly epic potluck party.

Darrell Bluhm Shihan of Siskiyou Aikikai explored the concept of positive movement by nage in techniques to take the center.

George Lyons Shihan of Bucks County Aikido urged us to “trust the principles” of Aikido and put ourselves at risk as nage to draw a committed attack.

Visit BiranOnline on YouTube to see more videos by Bluhm Sensei, George Lyons Sensei, Patti Lyons Sensei and Robert Savoca Sensei of Brooklyn Aikikai.

Often invoked were memories of Mark Murashige Sensei and Jack Arnold Sensei, treasured Birankai teachers who both passed away in recent weeks. Their legacy of selfless teaching and joy in practice was alive on the mat in Bucks County this weekend.