Half way to the north pole felt like home
By Curtis Ross Roshinkan dojo
(Editor’s note; Chewelah Peak is located at 49 degrees North Latitude roughly half of the North Pole’s 90 degrees North Latitude.)
Over the weekend of August 11th through the 14th, something amazing happened. History was made as the Aikido World Alliance held it’s first ever camp in the Northwest. Aikidoka from across the nation convened on Chewelah Peak for four days of training that was steeped in pine trees, cooled by mountain breezes and sweetened by a rising full moon. That’s one tasty cup of tea!
This camp was different from any seminar I have experienced. From the moment you arrived at the Chewelah Peak Learning Center, to the time you left it in your rear-view mirror, everyone was together. We trained together, ate meals together, celebrated together and slept (separately) together. The facility provided meals for us which we all sat and enjoyed as a family would, with tables sharing jokes and stories with other tables. The dormitories on site provided beds and showers to rest and recharge for the next session, or if you liked (as I did), tent camping was available as an option as well. All that aside, how many seminars have you been to where the first thing you see when you walk through the door is a giant- and I mean GIANT- moose head welcoming you to the event? Or had the opportunity to walk outside the door and take a trail through the trees that have thimble berries and huckleberries growing all around? And yes, multiple brown bear sightings…..
The training I received was incredible. One session on those mats and the city was beat right out of me, and good riddance! Andrew Sato Sensei is one of my favorite instructors as he brings humor to his sessions while also freely giving of the knowledge he has gained over his years of training. His patience and understanding make it easy to speak up if you don’t understand the subtleties of a technique. Plus he really lays into the kids, which is fun to see the looks on their faces as he gives them an express ticket to mat-ville.
I learned from the other students there as well. The opportunity to train with people I didn’t know helped me to focus more on the most basic of body movements because, let’s face it, no one wants to look silly in front of a stranger. The opportunity to do weapons training outside in the morning sun was a new experience that I wish I could do more often. The sound of kiai’s in a forest was one I won’t soon forget. If I’m not mistaken I thought I could hear O Sensei’s laughter in the echoes- hopefully laughing with us, not at us. There was a nurturing nature to the entire event- from Sensei’s down to 7th kyu- we were all looking out for each other and there to help in any way we could. I made some new friends over the weekend and felt much closer to the ones I already had by the time it was finished.
Saturday night was something so special that if you weren’t there, I can’t describe accurately enough for you to understand. It’s a tradition for us at Roshinkan dojo to host the Saturday dinner. Michael Landry, brother of legendary James Landry Sensei, barbeques for us and the rest of the students make the side dishes. Michael has earned the title of “chef-sei” as his barbeque is as delicious as Sato Sensei’s yonkyo is painful. Those who have experienced both will understand.
The true definition of Aikido was laid bare after the dinner on Saturday. We celebrated James Landry Sensei’s 25th year of training with cake, hachimaki’s, a video of Sensei’s moments in time and people sharing personal experiences. It was touching to hear how my Sensei has affected so many and on such a powerful level and proved to me that Aikido isn’t about “doing in an opponent” or using force to accomplish anything. Aikido is about love, respect and caring for people and nature. I can’t and won’t try to describe that Saturday night beyond saying that it was moving and powerful. If you were there I’m sure you felt it too.
Sunday’s class was painful. Not just because it was “breakfall Sunday”, a tradition that didn’t need to be started some time ago (but was, so there you go), I think it was more of the feeling that we all knew it was almost over. Our time together was winding down and it was time to get back to the unreal world. The real world was the past time we had been together and grew together on that mountain top. All the hard work of preparing for the camp was paid off by the smiles and laughter of all who attended and the constant expressions of “wow, that was a really great weekend”! Personally, I learned a lot about moving, staying centered and taking care of my uke. I think I learned more about people and community and functioning as a small part of a bigger whole; about being part of a family.