Monday, April 7

Aikido Boot Camp

Twice a year there is a weekend of aikido training -one in spring and in the fall. It’s a chance to catch up on the latest in techniques, meet old friends and generally have a good time. Not for me. I don’t sleep well away from home, I’m not a morning person and the long days of training are hard on this out of shape old broad. On top of it since I worry about screwing up on the mat, I’m unsociable company off the mat. I tend to keep to myself out of fear of embarrassment.

I like the Portland dojo, it’s big and airy with lots of room for the fifty people attending. The mats are soft and forgiving when thrown on them and along with a foam pad, easy to sleep on. Behind the dojo is another building where meals are served. We always eat well and this time is no exception.

Surveying the gathering crowd before the first class, I notice we are all a little older, a little grayer, a little heavier. The same group of instructors in their hakamas cluster around like a herd of penguins as they greet each other. A group of younger hard core students sit together on the mat as they warm up, eager to get started.

The senior instructor Tabata Sensei is an intense, serious man. He’s a bit testy when someone doesn’t get it right away. Well it’s easy for him, he’s been doing this since he was an embryo. As he grills a pair demonstrating a particular waza ( technique)-poorly it seems- me and a friend exchange “Better them than us” glances. I get the treatment later as I grab for a jo someone pokes at me -grabbing is a no-no.

“Don’t grab the jo.” he says as he shows me the proper way to do it.

“I’m not, I’m trying to grab their wrists.” and instantly cringe at my wrong response.

“Don’t grab their wrists either!” he scolds. It must be very trying for adepts to deal with us simpletons. A dozen try's later I finally figure it out.

In the evening we have a kiatsuho class; a very good idea after a day of physical activity. Kiatsuho is a form of healing where you put your hands on a person and send ki to an injured area, restoring their energy and improving circulation. Kind of like cosmic jumper cables. It’s very relaxing too. I know I’m doing it right when I start to fall asleep while working on someone.

When the visiting Canadians go off for beer later, who knew they were such party animals, I sit in the quiet of the dojo nursing my own. I’m dead tired, aching and mentally wiped out by the day’s training. Every year I swear I’m not doing it again and every year I drag myself here for a weekend of intensity I’d otherwise avoid. It’s like the Peace Corps slogan, it’s the hardest work you’ll ever love.

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