Summer Camp 2005
Text by Mary C. Fuller (New England Aikikai)
The 2005 East Coast Summer Camp was held at Roger Williams University in Bristol, Rhode Island, from Saturday, July 30th, through Saturday, August 6th. The event was hosted by New England Aikikai (NEA) with the assistance of Yoshimitsu Yamada Shihan, and featured special guest instructors Yamada Sensei and Hayato Osawa Shihan of Aikikai Hombu Dojo.
Summer camp is always an endurance test: not only practicing more hours than you ever would in ordinary life, but also trying to stay ahead of laundry, get enough sleep, keep your body bandaged together, and balance the pleasures of hanging out late at night with those of being reasonably awake in morning class. There never seems to be enough time to read the books you brought, talk to everyone you want to talk to, or go to the beach, even though at Roger Williams the beach is just downhill. And moving into a college dormitory generally means doing without the comforts of home. This year, summer camp actually had a few comforts which my home, at least, doesn't have -- ocean views from the bedroom window, a juice bar next to the dojo, and a hot tub, not to mention air-conditioning in the gym and much of the housing. Training for hours a day in 90¡ heat led to some phenomenal conditioning in past years, but most of us probably didn't miss it too much. There were some other new features this year: at least some of the instructors wore microphones during classes, and Yamada Sensei also used the microphone during tests, when it is notoriously hard to hear. (A new student at NEA, Marlena Erdos, made this suggestion after the spring seminar; Dan Gauger of NEA provided the technology). Finally, this year Claude Berthiaume and his students from Aikido de la Montagne brought a beautiful and portable wooden kamiza to camp. The kamiza was the work of Lee Ross, who made it using hand tools, and it can even be disassembled to fit into a large box for easy transport!
I couldn't make it down to Bristol until Tuesday afternoon, and from all accounts missed some noteworthy practice. Camp began with David Farrell's class on Saturday. Things soon settled into a pattern: early morning class at 7, groggy breakfast, classes with Yamada Sensei and Osawa Sensei, lunch and power nap, classes, dinner, and more class. Around the constants of Yamada Sensei's and Osawa Sensei's classes were classes taught by an array of North American shihans and shidoin: Harvey Konigsberg, Claude Berthiaume, Peter Bernath, Donovan Waite, Andy Demko, Bob Zimmermann, David Farrell, David Halprin, Penny Bernath, and Barbara Britton. Pictures tell the story of practice better than I can, and you can be view a number of them in the "seminar photos" section of this issue.
Like the North American shihans, this year's guest instructor, Osawa Sensei, practiced as well as taught; he was a regular feature in Yamada Sensei's classes. Osawa Sensei had a strong relationship with the late Akira Tohei Sensei of Chicago, and so a number of Midwesterners made the trek to East Coast summer camp. (Some of us also headed out to Chicago for the first annual USAF yudansha seminar in May this year, a pleasant memory.) The Chicago contingent made a strong contribution on the dance floor as well as on the mat. One long-time practitioner from Chicago told a great story about being thrown by Osawa Sensei's father some 20 years ago, an experience that reshaped her understanding of aikido: first he pounded her into the mat, but the second throw felt like becoming a parachute filled up with air and then lightly floating back down to earth. Osawa SenseiÕs classes at this summer camp fascinated us. One senior instructor thanked him for demonstrating in his aikido a "cleanliness and precision that we all aspire to," and a student from Boston recalled his "cat-like grace, perfect posture, economy of motion, and focused serenity". Apart from occasional help with translation from Yoshie (MAC) and Cherry (NEA), Osawa Sensei was able to say everything needed using only eloquent, expressive gestures.
This year, my own experience of camp was not about learning new techniques so much as getting fresh insights into fundamentals, and feeling the difference between ways of doing the basics. In the same day, you could get the flavor of Yamada Sensei demonstrating shihonage as a downward cut aimed towards nage's front toe; Peter Bernath showing shihonage with a focus on taking away balance rather than locking uke's joints; and Osawa Sensei distinguishing the angles for shihonage when uke takes nage's wrist from the top, side, or bottom. Bob Zimmermann demonstrated what we thought was a great new technique, a powerful variation on ukiotoshi. Later on, we found out it was an old technique of Kanai Sensei's, which even long-time students from his dojo had never seen before. Even though for years, we've seen Bob videotaping Kanai Sensei, Yamada Sensei and other instructors at seminars, it was still an unexpected gift to have this new/old technique from the archives. For many of us, this was the first summer camp without Kanai Sensei. (Work preempted the New York anniversary camp for me last year). It was hard to predict what camp would be like now, but at least for me the sense of exhaustion mixed with energy, alertness, fascination, and joy was like coming home.
Part of that "coming home" feeling was getting to see other aikidoka from all over North America. People came from up and down the East Coast, 11 as well as from the West Coast, a long trip with several plane changes for most. Friends from neighbouring dojos in New England came as well. As always, there was a great mix of deep experience and new enthusiasm. Candidates for shodan practiced with seventh dan veterans, and instructors like Andy Demko, with 40 years of training, brought new students like Michelle, who has practiced for a year. A number of teenagers brought their energy to camp. While this yearÕs camp T-shirt was black with the NEA logo, Yuki Kanai also designed a T-shirt just for women. The design played off the baseball style T-shirt from a few years ago, but with a stylized iris in place of the logo on front. Irises were Kanai Sensei's favorite flower, and we often use them for arrangements on the kamiza at NEA. (Yuki and Jen Pavlick from Litchfield also helped TJ Hinrichs with the flower arrangements at camp).
When the time for testing came on Friday, Yamada Sensei shared the examiners' table with four North American shihans. Aikikai of Philadelphia and Dogwood Aikikai in Atlanta each had several students "graduating" to dan ranks. A strong contingent from Portland, Maine, and Portsmouth, New Hampshire, came to watch one member test for shodan, and afterward went out for lobster to celebrate. Jonathan Lipsky from the Vineyard celebrated his successful shodan test wearing the much-admired MarthaÕs Vineyard Aikido T-shirt. Aikido of Champlain Valley had one member, Neil, promoted to sandan, and also provided an impromptu (and impressive) performance of capoeira at the traditional end-of-week party. The cafeteria might not have been our first choice as a venue for the party, but Octavian Boca's music kept the party going despite the bright lights. And we were cheered by Yamada SenseiÕs declaration that it had been an especially successful camp.
The last thing that happened, bar packing, was taking apart the mats and putting them on the truck to go back to Cambridge. This was the end of a long process: taking up the mats and lowering them down the fire-escape at NEA, transportation and set-up at Roger Williams, and daily cleaning throughout the week. Back in the corner of the gym after Yamada Sensei's Saturday morning class, not only lower ranks but also senior instructors from near and far pitched in to help Vu Ha and Shakoda Neil load the mats onto the truck. It was a fitting end to a week of cooperation and aikido spirit.