Contributed by Eva Gaskin, Nashville
It was a gorgeous April day on the shores of Percy Priest Lake outside of Nashville, Tennessee, perfect for the Aikido seminar with Hiroshi Ikeda Sensei hosted by Tom McIntire Sensei and Mary McIntire Sensei and Nashville Aikikai. It was early enough in the spring that it was not too hot and muggy yet. We could see the sun reflected off of the waves of the lake through the window behind the kamidama.
A really nice group of aikidoka gathered from all over the Southeast, from Birmingham, Alabama to Charlotte, North Carolina, and from as far away as Los Angeles, California and even Russia (by way of Birmingham). Students reunited with old friends and training partners and met new ones. I had recently moved to Nashville from the West Coast and had joined the dojo, and I had a great time meeting and training with new people.
My passion for learning Aikido is always recharged after attending an Aikido seminar. Sometimes (actually, pretty often, I must admit), during my regular daily training sessions I will notice myself doing a technique out of rote habit, the same flawed version of iriminage, simply repeating what I already know, with my mind and spirit not fully awake and present. When I train at a seminar, my awareness is heightened, and I think that is true for a lot of people. It is a real pleasure to be in a room filled with training partners who are in this awake, curious state of mind. People were really trying to learn what Ikeda Sensei was demonstrating.
Ikeda Sensei's movements were so subtle as he effortlessly took his uke's center, it was almost like watching a magic trick. The uke would grip Ikeda Sensei's arm as tightly as they could and a moment later, the only clear, visible indication that Ikeda Sensei had taken control of uke's center would be a smile that would spread across uke's face as they realized that they were no longer in control of their center and that they were going down. But each time Ikeda Sensei demonstrated a technique, he would break it down into learnable steps using colorful, sometimes funny metaphors and mental imagery.
As uke used all of her strength grip his wrist, Ikeda Sensei wagged his hips in an exaggerated motion, like a dog wagging his tail, causing a wave of laughter through the dojo. Then, he did the same movement again, but this time he did it in so small a motion that we could see no movement on the outside of his body as he oscillated his uke off his center. "Be a happy dog inside," Ikeda Sensei told us, meaning he wanted us to wiggle our centers inside while maintaining connection with our partner's center to upset their inner balance and take control of their center. What a great thing to aspire to be! Imagine how invincible we would all be if we could really learn how to be "happy dogs inside" all the time.
I am looking forward to next year when Nashville Aikikai hosts another seminar with Ikeda Sensei. In the meantime, I will continue to practice and to develop my inner "happy dog."