I think it may have been the summer intensive that was the catalyst for change this year. During my summer break from teaching music, a group of 5 Aikido of London members had the opportunity to participate in a week-long Aikido intensive, much needed after a year or so of various lockdowns and restrictions!
It was 4 hours of training per day- some of these hours included weapons and Iaido, but most of it was body arts. It was a tough week, no doubt! There were lots of little battles along the way; the migraine on day one, hitting the expected wall of fatigue and aches on the morning of day three, the raw suwari waza knees. There were mini victories too; working out that ukemi I could never get on my left side, stamina starting to go up, managing to grip on to Sensei’s wrist for just that little bit longer and feeling what it did to the interaction.
Between the 5 of us participating, there was a great variety of levels of experience- ranging from me with my measly 2 and a half years at the time, up to 25 or so years of experience. Despite the disparity in experience between participating members, the energy and quality of teaching was so high that I believe everybody got something out of it and it was an immensely enjoyable week. With it came the unavoidable truth that you learn and figure out so much more, if you train more and with the right kind of focus.
It was such a good summer of training in general, and right at the end when I was due to get back to full-time work, I had this epiphany one night. It was something like “I just want to do Aikido all the time”. I already think about it all the time! I felt so strongly to the point where I felt quite emotional, and I knew then that I had to do something about it.
I thought about what was realistic to make this closer to reality. I would still need an income so I couldn’t train full-time, as well as being unsure my body would cope with that at this point in life- being in my early 30s and aware that I’m by no means over the hill, but not a spring chicken either. I stayed active and healthy enough throughout my youth and 20s that I can cope with lengthy training sessions, but my body begs for recovery time in between. I decided to request a Zoom meeting with my teacher to discuss the possibility of adding hours on to the regular training schedule. Luckily Sensei was very accommodating and there were other members of the dojo who were willing and able to participate, so we worked out a training plan. A full training week for me could now potentially be 2 hours of training on Monday and Wednesday nights, 4 hours on Thursdays, 3.5 hours on Fridays and 2 hours on Saturdays. I really didn’t know whether it would be possible to organise, but it turned out it was.
Now the next hurdle was my work. With the intensive starting at 4.30pm on Thursdays and Fridays I could in theory go straight from work to the dojo, but I didn’t think that it would be conducive to the kind of productive and focused training I was chasing. In hindsight that was definitely the right decision to make. I was going to have to make lifestyle changes and financial sacrifices, as well as saying goodbye to some students and colleagues I had built great relationships with. I put in the request to my work to reduce my hours from 5 days down to 3. Again, I wasn’t sure it was going to be a possibility and I felt a little bad as I knew it could be difficult to arrange, but if you don’t ask, you don’t get and I thought I would just be sincere with my reasons for the request (which were not Aikido alone). Fortunately, my managers were extremely understanding, and granted the request. Apparently if you really want something, even if it seems unusual or difficult, it might just be easier to make happen than one might think. So, all was in place to kick off at the end of October.
The new training programme began and I was nervous and excited and with good reason- I knew what I was getting myself into. I don’t have a lot to compare to, but I have been to some great dojos and amazing seminars- but none with a higher work rate than a regular class at Aikido of London, and it is not called an intensive for nothing. The lessons are hard and Pocari Sweat and tangerines have become staples of my diet. Erdj, my friend and senpai assured me that it would get easier after about three weeks when the body starts to get used to it. So I was looking forward to the point where I could sleep without feeling every muscle in my body throughout the night and not wake up feeling like I’d been hit by a bus. Three weeks has come and gone now and I’m not still not there yet, so perhaps it may take me a little longer than that!
Having said that, I head to the dojo wondering how on earth I will manage to move today and somehow, although tired, my body picks itself up and manages to work things out. The most extreme example was probably the two weeks leading up to our Christmas seminar, where I felt pretty dreadful most days; I was too buzzed to sleep and I had also by that point been battling a stubborn cough for about 7 weeks (not Covid I hasten to add), but for some reason I would feel okay once I started training, almost as if Aikido was the only thing my body was able to do.
As well as being physically demanding, the great thing about these sessions is the level of detail and depth into which you can delve. It is so valuable to be able to identify something that needs work and simply having more time to work it out. Didn’t get it just now? I can try again in the next session or the one after that and keep trying until I start to get it. One lesson we had recently was all based on tai no henko and establishing quality contact- it was such a difficult lesson but incredibly rich.
It is the end of the year and we’ve come to the end of the first chunk of intensives and I’ve hit my own little landmark of 3 years of training. 3 years of adventures and challenges, new friends, fun, frustration and growth. Above all, the most important thing I can say is that I’m loving it. Despite all the potential setbacks in these uncertain times, things are moving onwards and upwards. The dojo is growing, new enthusiastic people of all ages are joining. I’m immensely grateful to everyone who has helped me on my journey so far; my fellow practitioners for their friendship, for jumping on board the intensive programme and constantly pushing one another in various ways, my work for being so accommodating, and Ismail Hasan sensei who as well as being a formidable martial artist, is also an extremely generous teacher. It’s safe to say we are all very lucky to be under his tutelage.
And now we have a couple of weeks of rest and recuperation before (subject to government mandated closures) we do it all over again in January! I’d better start stockpiling Pocari Sweat and tangerines.
by Cathy Humphris