Contributed by Dan Rubin, August 30, 2003
As always, the event was a Boulder Aikikai production, and was held at the Colorado Mountain College campus (altitude 6800 feet) near Aspen from Sunday, July 27, to the following Sunday, August 3. This year, 240 aikidoka from all across the United States and eleven countries abroad enjoyed more than six hours of aikido daily, starting with the 6:30 a.m. wake-up class and continuing, indoors and outdoors, through the day. Foreign countries represented at this year's Camp included Canada, France, Germany, Japan, Martinique, Mexico, Netherlands, Philippines, Switzerland, Ukraine and United Kingdom.
As every year, the instruction was fabulous. Annual instructors Mitsugi Saotome Shihan, Frank Doran Shihan and Hiroshi Ikeda Shihan were joined by guest instructor Christian Tissier Shihan. Saotome Sensei is head of Aikido Schools of Ueshiba (ASU), Doran Sensei is head of Aikido West in Redwood City, CA, and Ikeda Sensei is the head of Boulder Aikikai in Boulder, CO. Tissier Sensei heads the Federation Francaise d'Aikido, Aiki-Budo et Assimilees (FFAAA), a French organization with several thousand students.
All of these teachers have devoted their lives to aikido. Saotome Sensei was uchi-deshi to O Sensei from 1955 until O Sensei's death in 1969. He was a senior instructor at Aikikai Hombu Dojo when he decided in 1975 to come to the United States. He believed (and continues to believe) in O Sensei's goal to spread the knowledge and understanding of aikido to all the world's peoples. The United States, he thought, with its multicultural society, would be a good place to further that goal. Saotome Sensei is the author of Principles of Aikido and Aikido and the Harmony of Nature.
Doran Sensei was a Marine Corps hand-to-hand combat instructor in 1959 when he was introduced to aikido. Later, after eight years as a police officer in California, he found himself comparing the negative problems he dealt with at work with the positive environment at aikido class. He decided that it would be best for his growth as a human being to leave the job security of law enforcement work and begin a career as a teacher of aikido. In addition to teaching at his dojo, Aikido West, and at seminars across the U. S., he has taught aikido at Stanford University since 1972. Doran Sensei sees aikido as a way of life that seeks to polish the self through a rigorous physical training and spiritual discipline.
Tissier Sensei began studying aikido when he was 11 years old. He was already a student of judo. In 1969, when he was 18 years old, he went to Japan to study at Hombu Dojo, and stayed until 1976. His first class there was taught by Saotome Sensei. Now, in France, he heads his large organization and is the author of Aikido Fondomental and Aikido Initiation. To Tissier Sensei, aikido (and any martial art) is a system for living harmoniously with one's environment and with other people. He sees the techniques we practice as a means toward that end.
Ikeda Sensei began his aikido studies at Kokugakuin University in Tokyo, in 1968. Ten years later he joined his teacher, Saotome Sensei, in Florida. He moved to Boulder in 1980. Ikeda Sensei teaches almost every weekend at seminars throughout the U. S. and other countries. He teaches during the week at Boulder Aikikai and operates Bu Jin Design, a premier martial arts mail-order supply company. The hallmark of Ikeda Sensei's aikido is the subtle body movements that he uses to connect with uke and take uke's balance at first touch.
During their Summer Camp classes, each of the instructors emphasized certain themes. Saotome Sensei opened the first class with an observation he has made many times, that there are really no styles in aikido. O Sensei, he said, did not teach styles, he just taught principles. Therefore, we should concentrate on the universal message of aikido instead of on the differences between various schools.
Saotome Sensei acknowledged that many students of other martial arts criticize aikido's large movements and throws and use of space, and contend that aikido is ineffective in close quarters. Therefore, he spent much of the week demonstrating and teaching aikido techniques performed when nage stays in one spot, using subtle yet powerful "body spirals" and "loving" atemi. He taught standard aikido techniques, but adapted them to the small space. As always, Saotome Sensei's relaxed manner on the mat and seeming lack of footwork made his powerful throws seem magical.
Doran Sensei, in his characteristic style, taught many techniques without speaking. His crisp, clear movements did not require verbal explanation. As he often does, Doran Sensei stressed the exact words O Sensei used to describe some of the techniques, and demonstrated that nage's empty-hand movements are often identical to the movements nage would make were he or she holding a bokken. Doran Sensei complemented Saotome Sensei's theme of no styles by urging the students to concentrate, not on the differences in the techniques of the four shihan, but on the movements that they all do. "Those movements represent the principles of aikido," he said.
Of course, Doran Sensei did not come to camp without his famous sense of humor. In one class, he and two fellow sword-wielding "samurai" faced two hundred enemy warriors but, sadly, demonstrating unfortunate inattention to proper body movement, Doran Sensei haplessly cut down his own fellow samurai before the enemy were even within range of their blades. It was a vivid lesson for the laughing students.
Tissier Sensei stressed the relationship between nage and uke. He insisted that uke make honest attacks, and he dealt with them directly and simply. He pointed out that should uke block nage's technique, nage should change his or her position relative to uke and continue the technique from there. In fact, nage should never stay on the same line as uke is attacking; nage should block/deflect, then move to a new angle to apply the technique.
Tissier Sensei made special note throughout the week of the importance of controlling uke's elbow. By correctly controlling the elbow, nage controls uke's center. He repeatedly took uke's balance and pinned uke with one hand, at uke's elbow. Tissier Sensei taught that even when training with the sword, the student should be learning not just techniques, but how to control his or her opponent's body.
Ikeda Sensei stressed moving from the hips, horizontally, up and down, and in spirals. He demonstrated initiating one's techniques with a twisting motion of nage's body that creates power. Ikeda Sensei used his entire body, starting from his feet, to develop spirals that put energy in his movements. With this energy and effortless power, it is easy for nage to take uke's balance and keep it throughout the length of the technique.
All four shihan also taught weapons classes in a huge tent set up on the lawn, with such a great view of Mount Sopris that it seemed that one could reach out and touch the mountaintop.
More classes were held this year than ever before. Indoor classes in the large CMC gymnasium were held on wall-to-wall tatami, and "focus" classes were offered in a smaller venue. Outdoor classes were held under the tent and on the lawn, offering a backdrop of inspiring mountain scenery. The main classes of the four shihan were supplemented with classes taught by senior aikido students. Kevin Choate (Chicago Aikikai) taught two outdoor empty-hand classes. Early morning classes were led by Yuki Hara (Chicago Aikikai), Duane "Pee Wee" Jones (Sarasota Aikikai), Wendy Whited (Inaka Dojo, Beecher, IL) and Cynthia Hayashi (Aikido West).
Focus classes featured the following: kaeshiwaza, taught by Rick Santos (Boulder Aikikai); Conscious Embodiment, by Wendy Palmer (Aikido of Tamalpais, Mill Valley, CA); iriminage, Tracy Alpert (Boulder Aikikai); centering, Mark Reeder (Boulder Aikikai); tantodori, Kimberly Richardson (Two Cranes Aikido, Seattle); batto, Jim Alvarez (Shin Rei Dojo, Livermore, CA); ushirodori, Julie Santos (Boulder Aikikai); and police tactics, George Ledyard (Aikido Eastside, Bellevue, WA).
Wednesday was a break day, when the shihans did not teach any classes. Those who wanted to train attended morning and afternoon classes led by Raso Hultgren (Aikido of Missoula, MT) and Tres Hofmeister (Boulder Aikikai), respectively. Others spent the day taking part in the many recreational activities in the area, such as river rafting, bicycling, hiking and caving
Throughout the week, a variety of extracurricular activities kept students involved and awake. There were daily raffle drawings for aikido videos, donated by Aikido Today Magazine, and other donated martial arts supplies and services. The "Aiki Store" opened its doors, where several visiting dojo sold T-shirts and other wares, and Bu Jin Design and Aikido Journal offered a full line of merchandise. And the new, and wildly popular "Aiki Café", complete with umbrella and lawn chairs, served latte, cappuccino and espresso drinks (often prepared by Ikeda Sensei himself) in the early mornings and mid-afternoon.
The evenings brought more opportunities for getting together. Monday and Saturday evenings found a large contingent, including the shihan, soaking their tired bodies in the famous hot springs pool at nearby Glenwood Springs.
In a Tuesday evening ukemi workshop, five instructors from four countries were invited to share their style and knowledge of ukemi. Leading the class were Gina Croisan (Aikido Federation of Martinique), Fernando Roman (Mexico Aikido), Wilco Vriesman (Aikikai Amsterdam), Raso Hultgren (Aikido of Missoula, USA) and Kimberly Richardson (Two Cranes Aikido, USA).
On Wednesday night, local musician John Burns and company generously donated their time and talent to present a karaoke party/performance.
Thursday, Stanley Pranin, editor of Aikido Journal Online and the Japanese language Aiki News magazine, treated students to a fascinating recount of aikido history. Mr. Pranin began with a discussion of the post-war history of aikido and then entertained questions from the audience. He also engaged Tissier Sensei in a discussion of the history of aikido in France. Tissier Sensei remarked that when he first stepped onto the mat at Hombu Dojo in 1969, he never dreamed that someday he would be teaching alongside Saotome Sensei.
On Friday evening, of course, came the big party, held for the third year at the historic Hotel Colorado in Glenwood Springs. After a delicious buffet dinner, which reflected the "island" party theme, the professional DJ struck up the music and aikidoka, who by all rights should have been too tired, proceeded to dance the night away.
On Saturday morning, all 240 students came together in the main dojo for a final inspiring class featuring the four shihan. Teaching back-to-back for thirty minutes each, Saotome Sensei, Doran Sensei, Tissier Sensei and Ikeda Sensei presented their final insights for students to take back to their respective home dojo. Class concluded with everyone forming a huge circle in the dojo, where the instructors were presented with gifts, and thanks and acknowledgements were given all around.
Some students departed on Saturday, while others left at the final checkout on Sunday morning. There were heartfelt good-byes to friends old and new, and promises to stay in touch, and to see each other again at the next Aikido Summer Camp in the Rockies.