Contributed by Alexei Vasiliev (Moscow, Russia)*
Kevin Choate Sensei arrived in Moscow on Tuesday May 30, 2000, with four of his students. They were invited by our aikido group "Moscow Kannagara Dojo" and our teacher Oleg Glushko. The plan for the visit included getting acquainted, five classes by Kevin Choate Sensei, and sightseeing in Moscow.
The classes started the next day. The first impression was somehow strange. Instead of techniques like ikkyo, nikkyo, shihonage, etc., Kevin Sensei suggested practicing some hardly noticeable, subtle and relaxed movements of arm and body against wrist grips. The strangest thing was that it worked when he did it. I don't think that many of us understood much at this first class. Actually, I thought that these exercises were a sort of warming up before starting techniques. So, when the class was over, some of us felt puzzled.
In class the next day, we realized that these exercises were to become the central part of the seminar. It was difficult to believe that they were not just tricks. People from our group worked in turn with Kevin Sensei with strong intention to resist his "hypnosis", but all in vain. His explanations couldn't fit this article, but here is one of them, as I remember it: "In aikido, we do not fight against the partner. We fight against ourselves. Now [at the moment I was holding his wrist] my right leg is fighting against my left leg... You see, it works! [I was kneeling on tatami]". We worked, and we tried to understand, and it helped. One often hears at aikido training "Relax yourself!", but the problem is how to do it. I suppose that at Kevin Sensei's classes we made a few steps toward the answer.
The classes devoted to bokken and jo techniques were closer to our expectations than the tachi-waza classes. Nevertheless, they were not less interesting. Kevin Sensei and his students taught us a number of forms for two partners. Now, when the seminar is over, we continue to study them eagerly.
In five days, we had nine classes. The informal part of the visit was not less intensive. It started right after arrival, when the guests were taken to Oleg's apartment. A late dinner was followed by a night drive to the Moscow river, where some of our guests took a little swim. The program was full of events and attractions. It included walks around the historical parts of Moscow, Arbat street, Red Square, Gorky Park, climbing up the TV tower 500 meters high (recently the tower burned out), visiting our group's traditional sauna after one of the classes. Three times we tried to get into the Kremlin. Unfortunately, it was closed, because Bill Clinton was inside at the time. One night we spent about two hours in a bar on a tram driving across the city. The luckiest of our guests was allowed to drive the tram for a while. Besides this tram bar, there were lots of bars, cafes, Russian-style restaurants, an Uzbek-style restaurant, a music night club, etc. The program also included studying Russian traditions like drinking beer with vodka or vodka with salted cucumbers. Normally, the day finished at 4 a.m. At 10 or 11 a.m. the classes started, and our guests were brave and strong enough to give the classes OK. Being asked: "How could you survive it?" one of our dear guests replied with a gasp: "I thought I couldn't".
Actually, the program of the visit was quite spontaneous, not to say it didn't exist at all. All decisions were made right on the spot. Everybody was so open and ready for communication, and the spirits were so high, that it looked the best way to do things. The time in these five days was extremely dense, and nearly every minute something happened - at classes and between them. It was a real aikido feast - funny, friendly, and cheerful.
At the final party on Sunday, Kevin said something like this: "In aikido, togetherness is important. We should learn from each other. One can't study aikido all alone." Here in Moscow, we hope that we'll have another opportunity to study together with our new American friends.
After the party, all the American team left to Kiev. President Bill followed them the next day.
*Alexei Vasiliev is a student at Moscow Aikido Kannagara Dojo, http://shinryu.newmail.ru/ His review is reprinted by kind permission of "Helios", newsletter of Chicago Aikikai.