I know what you’re thinking moving across country alone to a city I didn’t know or going to Japan without knowing any Japanese (except Aikido Japanese) should prepare anyone to go to a simple Aikido seminar, but you’d be wrong. Getting on the plane Wednesday morning to head to Chicago for Kangeiko was nerve wracking. I was worried I wouldn’t make my flight, worried I would mess up on my ukemi when Sensei called me up to demonstrate, worried I wouldn’t be able to find my way in a place I had never been before… let’s just say I was nervous.
Kangeiko 2012 marked my first “alone trip” to a seminar. Landry Sensei and I had talked about me going alone as a good way to express my serious intention to test for shodan later this year and also as the next step in my development as an Aikido student. In theory this sounded great but, standing outside Midway Airport eight hours after I boarded my plane, this sounded stupid. The skyline was foreign, the city looked huge and everyone was honking (there were people directing traffic outside the airport!). I wanted my Sensei or a dojo mate standing next to me, what was I thinking coming alone.
Landing Wednesday gave me 24 hours on the ground in Chicago before Kangeiko began and I suggest this tactic to anyone travelling for a seminar. I got to visit Navy Pier, eat Garrett’s Popcorn and ride CTA (public transit) all before heading to the dojo on Thursday. Chicago for those of you wondering was cleaner than I expected, beautiful with a sense of history not found in Spokane and full of people talking on phones/texting on phones/playing corporate scavenger hunts with their phones/hey tagging with phones (whatever that was) and generally being focused on their personal technology devices. In other words the scenery was beautiful and there was excellent people watching.
As always Sato Sensei and DeGraff Sensei made sure I was well cared for (arranging a ride from the airport even if it was Midway grumble grumble) and welcoming me with smiles, hugs and jokes when I arrived to the dojo on Thursday. The training was, of course, excellent. We worked mostly in groups which gave me a lot of opportunity to ask for help when I needed, introduce myself to people I didn’t know (which was almost everyone) and ask absolutely everyone to come to Northwest Summer Camp (the first weekend of August in case you didn’t know) but still made me break a sweat and focus on taking good ukemi and performing technique just as Sensei had shown it.
I’ll be honest I was most worried about all the breaks between training on Friday and Saturday, wondering what I would do with my time. I’m an avid reader usually reading a book or two a week and had armed myself with my defense-mechanism before leaving Spokane. I’m proud to report I read 20 pages the entire four days. Everyone wanted to hang out. We shared stories about Price Sensei’s police work, Dom’s beautiful bronze dog, Wolverine’s research into self-defense classes and aggression levels – in short we shared ourselves with each other. We went to the Golden Angel, the Potbelly, the Starbucks; we went just about anywhere in walking distance, and we went together. No one was left out (my secret fear), everyone was valued and had something to share from their experiences in life and Aikido.
The training was diverse. There were entries I had never seen before into techniques I knew well and familiar entries into techniques done a new way. We did interesting weapons work defending against two attackers (armed and unarmed) that heightened our awareness and really brought out the skills needed for randori. We did slow technique using them to stretch one another and I saw partners working together on sore muscles and aching joints to get the most out of this time. It was wonderful.
I travelled to Kangeiko alone to build relationships with people through Aikido on and off the mat without my support system to fall back on and accomplished my goal. I travelled to Kangeiko alone to show my dedication to training in the art that binds us together and strengthens these relationships. I woke up Saturday with sore muscles from laughing and woke up Sunday sad to go to the last session. I asked Sensei for an afternoon training session but he said he had an appointment with St. Mattress (I didn’t see that church when I googled it in Chicago but Sensei wouldn’t lie). So I travelled alone and it was scary but I found out I could make it through all 18 hours of Aikido without being able to ask my sensei for help and was reassured with the kindness and companionship of my fellow aikidoka and delicious cupcakes from Molly’s. So I suggest you travel alone and go to a seminar. You’ll discover a lot about yourself and your Aikido abilities and learn a lot about other people you wouldn’t learn with a group of your dojo mates or your sensei to fall back on.
I also suggest you come to Northwest Summer Camp (the first weekend of August in case you didn’t know), you can come alone – I’ll hang out with you.