By Paul Rest
Two Rock Aikido celebrated its 20th Anniversary on August 19th. A day-long training was held with a workshop by Frank Doran Shihan (Two Rock Aikido's Division Head).
The dojo is located on a sixteen acre ranch in a rural farming area outside Petaluma, California. Richard Strozzi-Heckler and his family found the ranch on Middle Two Rock Road and fell in love with it. Writing about his first years on the land in "Holding the Center" (Frog, Ltd. Berkeley, CA), Strozzi-Heckler Sensei clearly shows his affection for the property: "So for the first two years I walked the land every day. Following the fenceline for a week or two, I'd then crisscross the open fields for a month; during the second winter I mostly climbed the hill, sweating under my jacket while the rain soaked my face."
One of the structures on the property, probably a combination barn with stalls, was converted into a dojo at the end of his first year. The classes were small in the beginning. A student mentioned once that the early classes sometimes had "only three or four students." Over the years, the structure underwent a number of remodeling projects by dojo members, some centered on "work days" and others done by professional contractors in the dojo community. The dojo's original materials were used as much as possible, following green building guidelines. During one of the early projects, it was discovered that the nails in the sub-floor were hand-made and probably over a hundred years old. Landscaping and a beautiful garden and fountain areas were also added. On warm summer afternoons, these are ideal for relaxing and conversing under umbrellas that dot the patio. There are benches located immediate to the area around the dojo for talking that requires a more intimate environment.
When Two Rock Aikido began classes, Strozzi-Heckler Sensei was still dividing his time between Tamalpais Aikido, the dojo he founded with Wendy Palmer Sensei and George Leonard Sensei and Two Rock Aikido, teaching at both dojos. By 1997 Strozzi-Heckler Sensei was devoting his teaching time exclusively to Two Rock Aikido. There are now classes on Monday through Thursday evenings and children's classes. He recently noted that there have been thirty-nine dan rankings over the past twenty years.
The dojo is also where Strozzi Institute is located, a school of embodied leadership that works with individuals and corporations from around the world. SI classes usually end in the late afternoon just as regular scheduled Aikido classes begin, providing an opportunity for students to mix. Over the years. many SI students have become regular Aikido students, joining the evening trainings. Dojo members have also taken courses through Strozzi Institute.
Two Rock Aikido and Strozzi Institute have sponsored many guests and fostered a wide variety of important programs. Mitsugi Saotome Shihan and Hiroshi Ikeda Shihan have been frequent guests. And an Uchi Deshi position is offered at the dojo. In addition, Sergeant Major Coffee, before his retirement the highest ranking non-commissioned officer in the Marine Corps, who has a dan ranking in Aikido and a number of other martial arts, has taught Aikido classes and been of the guest of Strozzi Institute. The Dojo has also sponsored Aikido in the Middle East through the Training Across Borders project. Aikido has been introduced into a local high school through one of the Two Rock students. Another student created an Aikido program for children with disabilities. Many members of the dojo community have had articles published about their experiences of Aikido. Last but not least, Strozzi-Heckler Sensei has authored six books about his insights into leadership, somatics, martial arts as well as numerous essays.
The bright and sunny day of the anniversary celebration brought together students from many dojos throughout the Bay Area. Doran Sensei's workshop emphasized the simplicity and effectiveness of a short move off the line. As usual, his clear and precise instruction gave all at the workshop plenty of material to work on. What appeared as an effortless move by Doran Sensei brought sighs and groans as those on the mat worked at mastering this technique. Fortunately, his patience prevailed as he carefully guided us through the ins and outs of what he was demonstrating
At the end of the workshops, beautiful sculptures of O Sensei done by local artist Jim Strand were presented to Doran Sensei and Strozzi-Heckler Sensei in recognition of their leadership and many years of service to Aikido. All present including guests from the community then adjourned to enjoy a buffet and grill in the outside patio areas.
As the Two Rock Aikido grows and looks forward to its next decade, there is a continued realization that our practice includes not just our local community but one that extends to all life on the planet.
Paul Rest, nidan, is a student of Richard Strozzi-Heckler at Two Rock Aikido. He has published numerous articles about Aikido. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.