Contributed by Violina Rindova
Six of us loaded our stuff (with no small amount of ingenuity) into a small van and headed out from Paris to a small town in the South of France called Le Vigan. We were coming from the US to attend the first Summer Camp of held by the French association Aikido Harmonie to be taught by Ikeda Shihan. We were excited - we were headed to the South of France to attend nine days of classes with Ikeda Sensei. Our excitement grew as several hundred people from all over Europe - Belgium, France, Germany, Portugal, and Russia - to name a few, showed up on the mat the next day, Sunday August 22, ready to train. And I mean, ready!!!
Ikeda Shihan started the seminar by pointing out that there are many levels of aikido knowledge - comparable to the difference between a lay person listening to a piece of music performed and an expert musician listening to the same piece. "They are going to hear different things in the same performance" Sensei said, "and your goal should be to develop your expert aikido eyes and expert aikido practice." He then proceeded to lay the foundation for the "next level" of our training. Class after class - during class and in after-class training -- aikidoka from different countries were connecting, learning, and sharing with each other "the possibility," which is how Sensei described those invisible to us yet, but demonstrable (in his demonstrations) aspects of aikido.
In terms of demonstration, when Sensei moved three or four strong ukes holding firm grips on his arm at the same time -- "now breaking balance to the front, now breaking balance to the back . to the front . to the back" - he repeated the movements with ease -- I saw people shaking heads in disbelief, I saw eyes sparkle in amazement, but most importantly, I felt in the practice that followed how actively we all were working on "getting it." Tiny bits of new possibilities were opening up. In those moments, we would look at each other and would smile, because no common language was needed to understand and share what had happened: We had together taken a glimpse of the "possibility" of our aikido.
Ikeda Sensei was laying out a step-by-step practice path to move a partner using almost imperceptible internal work. He repeatedly showed how the invisible arose from the visible, how the same movements -- made more focused and more internal -- affected our partners in the same way they did when executed in large, visible swings. Sensei explained how this internal process enables even "small people" to have power against "big people." After one of the classes, a small French lady with 30 years of aikido experience said to me: "This is really important for me. All these years, I thought, well I am small and I can do only this much. Now I can try to make it different." A possibility had opened up.
Sensei talked about three unities - unity within oneself, the unity of the partner, and the connection between the two, which is the center-to-center connection. The first two depend on the focus and integration of each partner in the moment of contact. The center-to-center connection, Sensei explained, is the hardest - because you have to look for, and learn to find, the partner's center. What was amazing about my experience in Southern France was that while training with people I had never touched before, had no prior training experience with, and no common language - in every interaction, both my partner and I knew if a center-to-center connection had been made or not. Furthermore, we were able to make it often, repeatedly, and the training experience of both partners was much enhanced in the process.
That kind of sharing created really special learning. Everyone I talked to wanted to learn more. Students grouped around Ikeda Sensei after classes asking questions for another hour. Followed by more training. One of my favorite moments of "sharing" during the seminar was when a partner I was training with between classes said in Russian "Seichas volna poslat" ("Now sending the wave"). Hearing that sentence that I had heard so many times from Sensei, now in Russian, suddenly shifted my perspective on my training, or rather, our training. It made me think about how much more connected we actually are than we may realize when we are in our respective dojo corners of the universe.
Sensei also talked about the process of making progress. He pointed out that progress is often deterred when people reach a point - a door - that they do not know how to open. "There are many kinds of doors," Sensei reminded us, "and sometimes you turn and go back, because you could not open the door. But the door is there, and if you open it, you can walk through. And there will be another door.because aikido practice is infinite."
Sometimes we use the idea of the infinity of aikido practice to explain why we have made so little progress. I mean, if it is infinite, how can you measure progress? Ikeda Sensei offered another important teaching in this regard in Le Vigan: "The mind gives up first. It says 'I can't go any further,' not the body. The body can keep going. But the mind stops."
Thank you, Sensei, for taking a few 'stop signs' off our paths, for opening our eyes to the 'possibility', and for the amazing environment of learning and sharing.
 All quotes of Ikeda Shihan's teachings are my recollections and not verbatim recordings.