Ruminations on a weekend northeast
2009 Maine Foliage Seminar, Shobu Aikido Maine
with sensei T. Alpert, K. Lee, J. Santos, A. Small
Contributed by Sherman Lau
©Sherman Lau 2009
The flyer for the aptly named 2009 Maine Foliage Seminar offered a weekend of keiko led by four senior women instructors from ASU dojos along the Atlantic coast. Having trained with each at various seminars and in class, I sat in my plane seat with the distinct feeling that the three days would be active and exhausting, and quite probably exhilarating. Though the flight from New York promised to be short, I had never been to Portland and was antsy to land, see a new town and be introduced to an unfamiliar mat. The plane conspired in its parts to taunt me; my seat belt bound me fast and the stingy starboard-side window offered me slender glimpses of the trees sporting their variegated leaves that I imagined to be approaching their seasonal best.
But time passed unexpectedly. A few deep breaths and a gentle bump-and-scratch later, I found the gate nearing and the cozy airport bidding its welcome. And with a shiver and shake, the Maine weather, crisp and alive, greeted me firmly, as I was enveloped by an expectation that the instruction and training would be a clean match. I was not disappointed.
The quartet was hosted over Columbus Day weekend by Aikido of Maine, a bright and airy dojo located near the East End. Husband and wife dojo cho Gary and Ania Small were hosts for the lively affair, and their boys Bodhi and Kai provided much warmth and entertainment.
Tracy Alpert, a recent transplant from Boulder, Colorado and a current senior instructor at New York City's Bond Street Dojo, led off the Friday evening session. She introduced the collective theme for the fearsome foursome (my terminology) as the exploration of aikido for the smaller sized practitioner. We worked on generating movement from the legs, maintaining the hips tucked underneath and keeping clear hanmi along the center line.
For the second hour, Julie Poitras Santos, a returning Maine native (with a Boston, Boulder and Barcelona lineage) and event co-host, offered us tall vertical lines and commanding posture. Her practice generated tight slender axes, like an aikido singularity, an anchored center amidst a whirlwind of uke.
As the evening soon drew to a close, a car load of dedicated dojomates from New York stumbled in; delayed by (literally) exploding cars, they were too late to join the mat activities, but were otherwise safe and sound. A content crowd of dojo members and visitors stretched and chatted, before heading off to home or to a quiet group dinner and retiring for the night. All four of the women instructors were scheduled to teach on Saturday and we all wanted a bit of pre-game rest and to be at our best.
The next day brought a full roster and a lunch break in between. Tracy and Julie reminded us what we were shown the night before and expanded on these themes. Ania incorporated broad, sweeping motion into her technique. She taught us to occupy space, make it our own, generate movement to define our sphere and maintain our center. Kamenna Lee of the Aikido Shobukan Dojo in D.C., who had only arrived in the late night hours just the day before, showed that the travel did nothing to impair her clarity of intention. Inspired by Saotome Sensei at the Instructors Seminar the prior weekend, Kamenna emphasized a sharp and compelling irimi, and used bokken takeaways to accentuate the point.
By the end of the day, we were ready for a party and the Smalls again were happy to oblige. Wood burning stove, mushroom soup, grilled salmon and party balloons – who could ask for more. Some of us lucky visitors just rolled right into a guest room and slept the night through to our heart's content.
The final day brought with it a slight freeze, tough for the less hardy of us, accustomed to more temperate climes and long pants in the winter. To remove the chill from our feet and keep us warm, Ania and Kamenna kept our bodies moving. Ushiro waza, "just one more minute ...." Two hours later, I lay spent, supine and drenched.
As I stretched out my weary limbs, I was saddened that the weekend was over. The seminar offered not only our four instructors, but joyful training with a hearty set of dojo members and out-of-town guests. Amid the gleaming reflections of those bright Maine days, I imagined that avatars of Saotome Sensei, Endo Sensei and Ikeda Sensei, and of Gleason Sensei and Choate Sensei graced our mat that day.
Weeks later on a flight home from San Francisco, tapping letters on my blackberry, remiss in my assignment, I hear a sweet smiling voice inquiring, "Do you remember me?" Yes, Kai, I most certainly do.