Friday, July 28, 2006

So I'm taking a break from the Uchi Deshi thing in NY as most of you know and I've been spending the last several weeks in small-town-America, I've been advised to keep my exact location confidential lest I should aquire a stalker... or at least someone that wants to ask too many questions and happens to be one of those people who stands too close. At any rate I've been going a bit stir crazy with the lack of training. I've been exercising in other various ways so that I won't be a lump of jelly when I get back. It is a proven point that once you are a deshi for an extended period of time and your metabolism gets set to a ridiculously high level and you take more than a month off you begin to show symptoms of becoming a fat slob...I'm trying not to let that happen. In any event, I tracked down some of the local dojos before I left NY.

One of these dojos is part of the Ki Society... just a weeeeee bit different from the way I am used to training in NY. Aikikai aikido tends to be a little more forceful and dare I say full contact. While we're not standing across from eachother punching I can say that I've had my fair share of bloody lips and noses...and torn fingernails, and black eyes...hmm. Ki Society on the other hand prefer not to umm touch each other so much. I'm not saying that in a bad way but they don't tend to apply atemi (strikes) or throw with the force that other types of aikido use. One of my fellow deshi said he'd give me one class before I got kicked out of the dojo for being too rough, I mildly disagreed. I'd like to think that I'd have the wherewithal to adapt and use the appropriate amount of force for each individual partner but I'm not sure if I'd stick around for another class if that was the case. The other dojo is a small group run out of a yoga and meditation center. This group practices Iwama style that is a style much more in accordance with what I'm used to. Originating in Iwama Japan (surprise) with the late Morihiro Saito as the head of this particular sect. Saito Sensei was a master with the bokken (wooden sword) and the jo (wooden short staff) and so Iwama aikido has a strong emphasis on weapons (another surprise) as well as incorporating crescendoingly staccato iiieeeEEEPP as they attack and throw.
So last night I decided to go and see how the Iwama group was. Once I arrived it brought the class to a whopping and uneven group of five. A bit of a change from the average of 25 to 30 I'm used to in NY. After I got past the initial awkwardness of the difference of etiquette and class got underway it wasn't as scary as I thought. Of course there was also the difference in basic style and movement but that's not terribly difficult to overcome. And there was at least one other person there who was interested in training with a bit of vigor. The main Sensei for the dojo wasn't there last night so I may go back on Sunday afternoon to see how his classes are. While the class last night was good I can't help but notice the incredible emphasis on technical precision and teaching clearity that I've come to expect from the teaching staff at the New York Aikikai. I'm glad to have this time to rest and recoup but I am looking forward to returning to NY to resume my training!

And before I forget I'm about to get a parking ticket so I've got to run!

Monday, July 17, 2006

I'm starting to notice that only after a few weeks away from training the callouses on my feet are starting to soften up. One might think that this isn't such a big deal and that they will start to rebuild themselves as soon as I return. A few months after I arrived at the dojo I began to appreciate the importance of the callous. On the surface (no pun intended) it's quite obvious that callouses are good simply to keep the feet tough, true indeed. But upon further introspection into the deeper nature of the callous in relation to martial arts training I was able to determine exactly why I appreciate the callous sooo much.
In some of my earliest blogs I wrote about my feet cracking, splitting and concequently bleeding. An annoyingly painful situation made worse only by the realization that it wouldn't go away because I was training so much. All of the more experienced deshi told me to just grimace and stick it out and that my body would get used to it. Of course this is their general response to any painful or uncomfortable ailment, a blanket statemet that is the equivalent to a doctor suggesting Advil for a slipped disc.
So back to the prodding question of WHY the callous is so important. The callouses on my big toe, heel and ball of the foot makes those spots hard which in turn allows them to slide on the mat just a bit. I've started to really depend on this slide for lots of little things which are going to be particularly hard to put into words but the single most important thing is the slide. If the feet can slide then they can't stick. Soft, ie. sticky, feet... well... stick to the mat. You might think that sticking to the mat is a good thing and it is in the sense of gaining traction. But if the toes stick then the equally soft skin between and underneath the toes tears and cracks. The callouses allow just enough slide between mat and foot so that the skin isn't stretched to the point of failure. Once the callouses on my feet reached a certain level the cracking stopped. That's not to say that you can't ignore the callouses once they've gotten there. You need to take care of the callous. Appreciate the callous, love the callous. Callouses themselves can get too dry and leathery leading to cracking so remember to moisturize every now and again.
If you are interested in training on a full time basis or just on a higher level you need to build up the callouses on your feet. Try going barefoot for a bit and stick to sandals or flip-flops. Wearing shoes and socks tended to keep my feet soft and prevent the growth of callouses and I suspect has been the main reason for the break-down of the ones I've got. If your feet have started to crack already or if they do then there are a few things to do so that you can continue training. First off for a quick fix make sure that the cracks/tears are clean and the bleeding has stopped, then dump a fair amount of superglue in the crack. Stings like hell but it definitely works, don't bother with the liquid bandaid stuff, it stings just as much and doesn't to the job. Use Neosporin and bandaids at night when you're sleeping and your toes aren't moving around so much, again don't bother trying this during the day.
This is just my two cents for getting your feet ready for what's to come if you're interested in this level of martial arts training. Appetizing I know but this stuff will come in handy! Enjoy!

Saturday, July 15, 2006

So besides my own personal increase in training the entire attitude around the dojo has intensified. The four shihans affiliated with New York AIkikai have been teaching on a more regular basis. Both Yamada Sensei and Sugano Sensei have quite busy schedules when it comes to traveling to seminars all over the world. This is probably the busiest times of the year for the shihans but leading up to this summer they were both in NYC for about two months. Every day for the last two months we've had the rare pleasure of at least two classes a day with one of the shihans.

Sunday: If Sugano Sensei is feeling up to teaching on the weekends then he will usually teach the two classes in the morning as well as a half hour weapons class. If Sugano Sensei isn't teaching on Sunday then Donovan Waite Sensei will take the classes and he will teach an hour long weapons class. For those of you who are not familiar with Donovan Sensei, his classes are especially martial and usually end up being more technically advanced than most. As a side note he had been using me almost exlusively for ukemi during his class demonstration, while this is quite an honor and great practice for ukemi it is also one HELL of a workout and it also means that I don't get a chance to rest during class. Sugano Sensei on the other hand is much less concerned wtih the technical specifics he wants to see you MOVE. Just keep moving no matter what! This in turn makes his classes EXTREMELY aerobic. You may not be utterly whaling on your partner but you certainly spend the entire hour running, falling, getting up and running again... needless to say it wears you out! As far as the weapons go Donovan again focuses on alot of the jo kata (9 step, 13 step, and 31) and bokken kata while Sugano likes to look more at paired weapons practice focusing on ma ai (spacing) and reacting to your partner rather than running through a set of prearranged movements.

Monday: The majority of the day goes by like all of the rest with the usual line-up of amazing teachers but then at the end of the day either Donovan or Sugano take the last two classes, one hell of a way to end the day.

Tuesday: The Big Day! Tuesday is the day with six classes. If we're lucky Jane Ozeki will come in to teach the morning class but it is rare. Jane is a sixth degree black belt and has one of the most viscious sankyos I've ever felt and she seems to have taken a liking to using me for that technique... yippy. Noon is when it starts to get really fun... Sugano Sensei usually teaches the noon class and then he'll teach a second noon class at 1:15 sometimes incorporating weapons. If Sugano Sensei isn't in town then Mike McNally will teach the noon class and Harvey Konigsburg Sensei will come down from his dojo in Woodstock for the hour long randori class. Again VERY aerobic, no sitting down and no stopping for the entire hour. There is a short break between the end of the 2nd noon class at 2:15 and the begining of the evening three classes at 4:15. Yamada Sensei teaches the 4:15. His usual class schedule is to pick just a few techniques and stick to them... for a while. Usually only four maybe five techniques per class. a good 15 minutes for each which can wear you out! Harvey Konigsburg again teaches the 5:30. Harvey's classes are like mental tongue twisters and usually have at least half the class wondering how to recreate that incredible force while looking as relaxed as Obi-Wan Kenobi sipping tea. The day is rounded off by Luke, one of the head deshi that has impeccable technique that resembles Donovan Sensei. Again Luke uses only other deshi for demo which means that I don't get a rest. Once that day is out of the way it's all coasting for the rest of the week... kinda.

Wednesday: Sugano Sensei starts us off at 6:45am at one heck of a fast pase and this usually sets the mood for the day, at least for me it does. Yamada Sensei teaches the noon class and carries that fast pased mood. Ruth takes the 4:15 followed by Yamada Sensei again at 5:30 and Toshi at 6:45.

Thursday: This morning is Yamada Sensei at 6:45. Noon is ususally either Luke or Luis. Thursday afternoon is kinda free form depending on how much Sugano Sensei decides to teach but sometimes he'll take both 4:15 and 5:30, and the day is usually ended with Luis taking the 6:45

Friday: Nothing out of the ordinary here, everything is taught by our normal grouping of great teachers but if Yamada Sensei is in town he will teach some of the final classes of the day. Again these are totally at the whim of Sensei. If he's not down for teaching that afternoon then Doug Firestone comes down from Whiteplains NY to teach the final two classes of the day. Doug is a sixth dan and was Head Deshi at the dojo quite a while ago but runs his own dojo up in Whiteplains.

Saturday: Saturday is usually Ruth for the first class and the Mike Abrams, seventh dan and President of the United States Aikido Federation. Again Yamada Sensei will usually take the first (or second depending on what he wants to do) class and leave the rest for us to figure out.

Having this much exposure to some of the greates names and techniques in aikido has been an amazing learning experience to put it lightly. I feel privileged and incredibly lucky to have been given this opportunity and I can only hope that some day I'll be able to put this knowledge to good use.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

First and foremost I must apologize to anyone and everyone who happens to read my chicken scratch I call a blog. My training regiment has increased noticeably since the last time I wrote and it has made it that much more difficult to find time to write. Over the last year I've gotten so used to the feeling of utter and complete exhaustion on a daily basis. Now that my body is FINALLY acclimatizing to this kind schedule the five to six classes a day have been getting, dare I say, easier. For any normal person this would be a godsend. Unfortunately enough for me I am afflicted with a rare form of mental stupidity that I have yet to find a name for. This particular affliction has caused me to involuntarily increase the intensity of my training so that the lovely feeling of wobbly kneed exhaustion can be sustained...yay. This in turn has caused me to require as much food as I can possibly consume within a day and as much sleep as I can find in any time period of fifteen minutes or greater. Hense my lack of blog entries over the recent weeks. But that's basically a long winded way of saying that I'm lazy. Much has happened and I have much to write about so allow me to gather my thoughts and see if I can lump them together in a coherent way so that I can convey them to those that read this page... if there are still people who read this page...

I have weaseled a summer break out of the head Deshi at the dojo so I am currently taking a month and a half off to give my body a rest before I head back for another year of training, so I should have some time to give everyone a recap of what has happened. I know I've said it before but this time I mean it... more is coming so stay tuned!