The next day broke fine and I awoke to the sounds of banging pots and pans and A-D singing tunelessly. Hoping he’d made coffee, I crawled out of the tent to discover him making flap-jacks.
“Look, a flapjack ukemi,” he said, tossing one high in the air. I’m sure he didn’t intend for it to breakfall on the ground, although it seemed to please a nearby chipmunk.
“That one’s yours.”
I decided coffee would be enough for the moment.
Later, as I returned from washing the dishes, I was puzzled that Aiki was nowhere to be seen. Deciding to go for a walk, I soon found him in a nearby clearing: he was either doing shin kokyu or pretending to be a tree - it wasn’t quite clear to me.
My attempt to slip past un-noticed failed and he loped over to join me for a stroll in the woods. He was carrying his jo, and stopped periodically to do battle with Little John, or Musashi, or Darth Vader - at times it seemed like all three at once. That didn’t bother me, but it was a little hard on some of the trees. Thankfully I managed to successfully intervene when he was swinging close to a wasp’s nest.
We returned from our hike and decided to take the canoe out for a paddle on the nearby lake. That went pretty well, despite the fact that Aiki-Doh!-ka insisted on singing what he called samurai drinking songs, at least until he commenced doing tore fune undo.
Not a good idea in a canoe, and our paddle quickly turned into a swim…
So it went for the next few days until it was time to go home. As we packed up the car I noticed that the leaves were beginning to turn, signaling the close of summer and the camping season, and I looked forward to getting back to the dojo for some rest…
Summer is beginning to fade here in Ontario, and as I cast my mind back to the past summer, what jumps out for me is my camping trip with Aiki-Doh!-ka. Now, when I go camping, I like to get away from it all, have a bit of a break, strip life down to the basics; to me that would include not thinking too much about my kamae, or aikido in general.
Not so with A-D.
With Aiki, everything is everything, and to him everything is aikido. So I should have known I would have a few reminders of our mutual passion if I brought him along.
You have no idea.
First, it was the meditation and stretch before we got in the car for the long drive to the great outdoors. Not a bad idea. But we had to do it again upon our arrival. And then there was the whole thing about how to set up the tent to be sure that shomen faced north and that our weapons were lined up properly inside the the door (the air mattresses were the tatami) - I have know idea how he got my weapons in the car without me knowing.
After camp was set up, we cobbled together a quick meal, anxious to get a fire going and kick back for the evening. Nothing remarkable about dinner unless you count Aiki attempting to catch mosquitoes with his chopsticks. Finally we got things squared away and found ourselves settled around a roaring fire. We sang a few songs (including Sakura), roasted a few marshmallows (A-D tried roasting mochi; can’t say I’d recommend it), and eventually the fire burned down to a bed of glowing coals. Aiki-Doh!-ka couldn’t resist burying a stick in the embers to get the end all a-glow, and then, rather than write his name in the air, proceeded to do kihon dosa as if the burning brand was a bokken. That’s when I realized it looked a little bit too much like a bokken, and promptly checked the tent for mine. It was missing. I’ll get even…
To be continued…
I was enjoying class on Saturday - a little jyu waza - and noticed Aiki-Doh!-ka watching from the sidelines. He was resting a sore back and was training with his eyes only, although I did notice that he was attending to his cell phone from time to time.
I continued training, taking my turn in the jyu waza queue - or should that be kyu - but every time I was enjoying a rest period, I couldn’t help noticing that A-D was texting like crazy. Thinking it must have to do with his new girlfriend, I didn’t give it much thought and brought my focus back to the mat.
Later, as I walked to my car after class, I checked my cell phone for messages and saw that my inbox was full to bursting with text messages. My curiosity piqued, I began to scroll through and read, and was puzzled by the seemingly cryptic nature of the messages:
kp hnds up
u rll lik rino
gud 1, finly
And then it dawned on me: all that texting Aiki was doing was to forward his commentary to me! I began to compose a rant to text back to him, but in the end, I laughed as I sent him a smiley face and turned off my phone…
A-D loves to practice aikido in the park. Even though it turns his feet green and he swallows the occasional bug, it’s one of his favourite things to do. He whole-heartedly recommends the activity and offers a few tips that may maximize the experience for you:
If you see a lot of geese around, keep your shoes on and refrain from rolling.
Don’t practise jo solo #1 under a tree - especially if there is a resident wasps’ nest.
Frisbees make good shurikan.
Squirrels don’t mind if you are pretending to be a ninja - in fact they’ll usually play along.
Best technique for an even tan: happo giri.
Bring a friend!
See you in the park…
Aiki was in a kafuffle because he was tying his belt and didn’t know which way the ‘arrow’ was supposed to point.
“I’m not sure it matters, A-D - why are you so worked up about it,” I asked. I didn’t ask why he was wearing his aikido belt with jeans, a polo shirt and a blazer.
“I’ve got a date tonight and I want to be sure I’m authentic.”
Ah. Now I understood.
“Um…maybe you should just wear a regular belt instead of flaunting your ‘aikido-ness’. Let her get to know the real you…”
“Yeah, I guess you’re right. I can still tuck my bokken into a normal belt.”
I could see my work was cut out for me. As I was marshaling my thoughts, Aiki-Doh!-ka rolled up his belt and showed me that the inside loop looked like a yin-yang symbol.
“Or if you turn it this way, a Superman ‘S’…”
I’m happy that A-D can entertain himself so easily.
“Look Aiki, about this date, can I offer a little advice?”
He agreed to listen as long as I bought him a beer on the way downtown, where he was meeting his date. And so as gently as I could, sempei to kohai, I was able to share some ‘dos’ and ‘don’ts’ about dating in the context of being an aikido enthusiast:
Don’t wear any part of your uniform, even if it’s freshly laundered.
Don’t take yourbokken - or any weapon, for that matter.
Don’t demonstrate any techniques on her - she’s your date, not your uke.
Don’t bow and say “Osu” when you meet her, or anyone else, i.e. the maitre d’ at the restaurant.
Don’t pretend to trip so you can show off your ukemi. She’ll just think you’ve been drinking.
Don’t say “hajime!” when your food comes to the table.
Do Take a shower, wear deodorant and trim your nails.
Do show up on time, but don’t do push-ups if you’re late.
Do blend. If she takes your hand, go with it.
A-D listened carefully and seemed to take the advice to heart. After finishing his beer, he left on his quest for love, leaving me to ponder…hey, I wonder if that woman over there does aikido…
I dropped in on Aiki-Doh!-ka the other day and found him sitting on the stoop peeling apples. He was flanked by a bushel of Macs on one side and a big bowl of peeled fruit on the other; his feet were buried in apple-peel tailings. I grabbed a big red one, gave it a quick polish on my shirt, and crunched in.
“What’cha you doin’, makin’ apple sauce?”
“Maybe. I haven’t decided yet.”
“That’s a lot of prep-work to do without a purpose in mind.”
“Oh, I have a purpose.” The words came out slowly - he was obviously concentrating very hard on the work at hand.
“Care to enlighten me,” I asked between bites.
“Well, I’m practising taking the peel off in one continuous piece.”
“That’s nice Aiki. Will it make the applesauce taste better?”
“Maybe. I’ve been thinking about what Sensei says about continuous movement. You know, that technique has to flow steadily from beginning to end in one movement. I figure if I can do the same thing with peeling apples, it might help my aikido.”
Ah, Aiki-Doh!-ka, God love ‘im. To him everything is aikido and aikido is everything. I pulled out my pocketknife and reached for an apple…
I joined Aiki for an early breakfast, and was sorry to see that he a couple of facial bruises and a plaster on one ear.
“Aiki, what happened to you?!”
“I had a bokken boo-boo last night”
More than one, I was thinking, but I kept mum.
“Ouch! Tell me a bout it.”
“Well, I went to weapons class last night, and Sensei had us do this exercise where he had everyone make a circle and then put one person in the middle. Then the person in the middle goes around the circle and receives yokomenuchi from each person, one after the other. We were supposed to practice blending out the strike and pivoting away…”
“Sounds like fun! And you’re good at pivoting…”
“I got confused and pivoted the wrong way. It was like dodgeball with bokken. It felt like high school all over again…”
I could see that he felt discouraged and made a sympathetic face. Our food arrived and he brightened up a bit. But when he scooped up some eggs and raised them to his mouth, I could see that his hand was trembling, sending scrambled eggs in all directions…
“I can barely raise my arms and my hands are so stiff…,” he complained.
“Is that because of the multiple blows to the head, A-D?” I couldn’t help myself.
“No, you idiot! It’s because Sensei had us do as many shomen cuts as we could in one minute. Over and over!”
I reached over and began to feed him. It seemed the least I could do.
“That’s rough, Aiki. It takes a lot of commitment to be a martial artist - I’m proud of you.”
His glare diminished slightly as he chewed his food.
“So other than that, it was a good class?”
“Well…I liked the salsa dancing.”
“Sensei is making us practice Thai souvlaki -”
“You mean tai sabaki?”
Yeah, that’s what I said! Body maneuver, fancy footwork, you know?”
“I think Sensei must be a good dancer. He makes Antonio Banderas look like an old man…”
A-D was clearly feeling a better as he waxed on about salsa dancing, zigging vs. zagging, and his theory that it was possible to stop a charging rhino with a good ki-ai. I just kept nodding and smiling, and shovelling food into his mouth…
Aiki was three feet off the ground with excitement after class on Saturday in anticipation of hosting a samurai movie night that evening. We assured him that we were coming and showed up at the duly appointed time.
A-D answered the door in full battle regalia (where does he get this stuff?!) and ushered us into the viewing room. After insisting that we bow in (TV ni rei and otagai ni rei), he had us continue to sit in seiza as he proceeded to distribute a lengthy handout. This consisted of study notes - apparently we were to do a comparative analysis of the two movies we were going to watch: The Seven Samurai and The Magnificent Seven - and talking points for a general discussion of Zen and bushido as they pertained to the cinematic history of the genre in general. For instance:
“Is it necessary to stand under a waterfall and meditate in order to be a good samurai, and if so, how often?”
We quietly slipped the notes under various sofa cushions and urged Aiki-Doh!-ka to get on with the show (and to bring a bottle opener)…
The movies were great - they were classics after all - and A-D didn’t seem to notice that we abandoned seiza about fifteen minutes into the first movie. He did, however, insist that we have an intermission in order to go outside for a session with our bokken, which made us very thirsty indeed. Fortunately, there was still a goodly supply of beer, and thankfully this seemed to make Aiki forget the discussion session planned for after the show.
In short, a good time was had by all, and we vowed to do it again soon. Any movie recommendations?
I love Saturday morning class - it’s a great way to shake off any stress that lingers from the work-week and set up the weekend for re-creation. And so Aiki’s invitation to lunch fell on a happy place.
“Hey, wanna go for some Thai souvlaki?”
“Excuse me? Thai souvlaki?”
“Yeah. Sensei was talking about it all through class. It made me hungry.”
I was perplexed. It’s true, sometimes sensei references food during class (See Cheeseburger Atemi), but I didn’t recall a reference to Thai souvlaki…unless…
“Aiki, do you mean tai sabaki?”
“Yeah! Thai souvlaki - must be some new kind of street meat…”
“Um, A-D, I think sensei was saying tai sabaki. It means ‘body movement’.”
“Oh, right. Well, it still made me hungry…”
We quickly showered and changed and hit the bricks, having decided to enjoy the fine weather by walking downtown. As we cut through the park, I noticed all the litter that had emerged now that the snow was gone and expressed my dismay to Aiki-Doh!-ka.
“You have to learn how to blend with it,” he said. “The best thing is to just pick it up.” He stooped and snatched up one of the ubiquitous plastic bags. “That way you don’t have to look at it and feel angry the next time you walk through the park.”
I remained silent as I struggled to digest his words.
“Not only that, but if the park is clean, people are less likely to discard their trash. There’s a ripple effect.”
Hmmm. I liked what he was saying…
“Also, if people see you doing it they might be inspired to do the same thing.” This as he rescued a pop can from the grass beside the path. He continued his treatise.
“But the best part is that it’s an opportunity to train…”
With that statement he launched himself into a front roll, grabbing some more trash on the way.
I could only stare in wonder.
“…practice deep stances…”
He mimed pinning a ‘trash uke‘ before plucking it from the ground and stuffing it into the plastic bag that he had scavenged. Well, I had to hand it to A-D, he made a strong case and I decided to join him. Soon we were rolling our way across the park like a couple of ninja retrieving weapons on a battlefield. Gotta hand it to Aiki, he sure knows how to make his own fun.
Then I saw the geese.
I looked more closely at the lawn we were rolling on, and realized it was covered in goose -
“Sure looks better, eh,” said A-D with a sweep of an arm that took in the tidy strip of park in our wake.
Instead of replying, I reached out and slowly turned him around. Yep. Those geese had been busy all over the park, and we’d been picking up more than litter. I didn’t have the heart to tell Aiki, so I proposed that we go to my place for lunch instead; I figured I could slip his jacket (and mine!) into the washer while we ate and he’d be none the wiser. He wavered, puzzled, until I told him I had just rememberd I had a Thai cookbook at home - maybe we could find a recipe for Thai souvlaki.
His face broke into a wide grin as I led him back across the park and past the geese…
Aiki and I were taking a breather, having decided to watch the next class instead of participating directly. Our fellow aikidoka were soon immersed in their shinsa, and it wasn’t long before the dojo rang with the sound of their ki-ai. After remarking that it sounded like a flock of geese had invaded, he made the following comment:
“But not everything you hear is a ki-ai.”
“Well sure A-D, some people are chatting about their technique…”
“That’s not what I mean; sometimes people say things in a loud voice, and it sounds like a ki-ai, but its not…”
He went on to elaborate, and the gist of it was this: while there are a lot of loud vocalizations during training, not all are ki-ai. The following is a partial list of non-ki-ai exclamations based on my recollection of his dissertation:
4. “Oh no!” (Or the variant “Oh-Oh!”, usually followed bt the comment, “That can’t be good for the tatami.”)
8. “Don’t touch me, you brute!”
Does this happen in your dojo?