Having just attended this event I thought I might share my experiences with you. This was the 4th year this event was held and just goes to show time really does fly. Feels like only yesterday I was talking to Alan or contacting him by mail. As we all know Alan always finished his mail with God Bless which is so missed.
Following on from Belfast last year, Cork the year before and Limerick as the inaugural course, this years event was hosted by Kieran Barrett of Midleton Aikido. Kieran is also a long time student of Alan and had him give class many times in Midleton. The biggest difference this year is another great teacher and friend Henry Kono also passed away. Alan and Henry had been lifelong friends having met in Japan where they both studied with O’Sensei. So this year was like an end of an era in some ways. It is also a new beginning. The teachings of O’Sensei having passed directly to Alan and Henry, whom spent a lifetime spreading these teachings and the spirit which O’Sensei intended Aikido to be practised and lived, have now passed to all their students. It is indeed a legacy of huge proportions and one I personally feel we can rise to the task. There are students of both these great teachers all over the world so sharing this task will make it easier. Something I’m sure as time goes by we will communicate on and organize more events to spread the message and teaching left in trust to us all equally.
Weekend began on the Saturday morning, 9/04/2016, in glorious sunshine. Midleton is an easy place to navigate and we found the dojo easily enough. We were all greeted by many old friends and some new and were made to feel very welcome from the moment we arrived. The dojo space was light and airy with many windows letting in natural light. Before class began we caught up with friends from Cork, Belfast, Dublin and Limerick. It was the same relaxed friendly atmosphere that is always present at these events. It just goes to show the spirit both Alan and Henry instilled in all of us and this in turn is something we pass on to our own students.
Class began with Kieran Barrett taking the first session. He worked on irimi and really filling the space. Class was relaxed but with with the same message we have all heard many times from Alan about if it’s 50/50 make your 50 70 or 80! Kieran worked on this throughout the session and as people became warmed up the class became a little faster with some projections thrown in. He also worked on putting the uke straight into the mat, a theme which would continue through the weekend. A couple of ukes were unceremoniously dumped into the floor but all done with the minimum power on Kieran’s part and done with both uke/nage smiling. It was good to train with a lot of old friends and some new ones. Ukemi was at times challenging as the hall was long and narrow with many of us flying off the mats. Once we had adjusted to the space it was the just the odd few that went flying off. Thankfully the dojo has a nice wooden sprung floor. before we knew it two hours had passed.
As there was a break before next session a bunch of us headed down the town just to explore. Having never been to Midleton before it was a nice place where everything was within walking distance. We ventured to an open air market where food and refreshments were available. After spending a pleasant hour or more it was time to head back to the dojo for the second session.
I, Mike Mc Namara, Circle of Harmony Limerick – for it is I writing this post, was up to do the next session. Started with tae-no-henko followed by koyko as I do in every class. Followed this with some kihon wasa and once people were warmed up moved on to Embu Aikido. I felt that in a short session of 90 minutes we would have some fun with the vast array of techniques that make up the Aikido curriculum as opposed to Keikeo Aikido which people work on in their own dojos all the time. Session was fast and dynamic with very little instruction from me other than just to demo the technique. People enjoyed it, judging from the smiling sweaty faces, and the overriding theme was atemi, irimi and really blending. As I said to one beginner who was shy and made herself as small as she could. ” I’m 5 ft 8 in but when I am practicing as nage I’m 7 ft tall and a giant on the mats ”. All too quickly session ended and water break before next one was called for.
Next up was Fiona McCauley, Aikido in Dublin City, another long term student of Alan’s and Henry’s. In recent years she has worked more with Henry and had just recently returned from a visit to Canada where she practiced with him. Fiona began her session with connection and being on the edge for both uke and nage. This connection was neither dominant nor submissive and both uke and nage were both aware and in their center. Having trained with Henry many times and also with Fiona this is not easy to do and I can still hear Henry giving out to me for pushing or pulling. Fiona worked on the part of the uke more than the nage and keeping the connection all through the movement. She also worked on keeping your back straight and relaxed as a nage, again not that easy to do, through the movement all the while allowing the uke to take ukemi in a softer way. Even though softer it was in and down as opposed to out and in the end the uke was closer to nage so connection was kept between them with neither side moving apart. Finished with people closing their eyes and just relaxing in the moment.
This finished the first enjoyable day and a lot of tired bodies were off to find food and refreshments after a long day of training. Have to give a special mention here to Miriam White from Midleton Aikido who organized a session in her family pub, Canty’s who do a good pint of Guinness- always the mark of a good pub, with music to entertain those who ventured out. Meetings were had and friendships were strengthened over a few sociable drinks.
Sunday morning began with Colin Turner, Belfast Aikido Circle, taking the mat and after a warm up he began with Shomen Uchi Irimi Nage. After people had done this for some time Colin stopped and spoke of Newtons Laws of Physics. Force, nage, acting on an object, uke, and changing the direction of the object. He then showed just blending and not changing the uke’s line and sending uke straight into the mat. Have done this before with Colin and the urge to change uke can be overwhelming. We worked on this for sometime and people got the hang of it. Colin also spoke, and it’s sometime since I have heard it said, of how Alan said the quickest way was down and let the planet hit the uke! A more formidable weapon doesn’t exist and this drew smiles and laughter from the group. Colin spent the rest of the session working on extension and feeling where the uke was and where he wasn’t. Once found space was filled and uke sent on his way. Which more often than not was into the mat as opposed to a nice safe place where uke took ukemi and returned to his/her feet to launch another attack.
This session finished all too soon as well. As it was Ireland whether outside was torrential rain so no one really ventured outside and we just chatted in the dojo waiting for next session.
Niall O’Leary, UCC Aikido, took the next session. He began with a very simple irimi nage movement, simple when Niall did it, but all too often people began to engage and change the uke too much. This was over complicating the movement and Niall showed again. This session too followed along the same themes as before of filling the space and entering. Niall would have not known what went before on the Saturday and was just following the Aikido he had learnt from Alan, as were we all. Have practiced with Niall many times over the years and for a tall man he covers the mat and moves really well. His ukemi is very soft and again for a tall man he can become really small when taking it. Also having just arrived that morning he was full of energy and was buzzing around the mat taking ukemi for lots of people.
Next on the mat was Brian Ó Donnchadha, Nenagh, who started off working on ukemi. More accurately being an active uke. Following the nage not just because you are supposed to but to actually keep the attack going. Brian demoed from Shomen Uchi Shio Nage where he was able to strike at nage in parts. Brian then turned it over to class and instantly some people began to block and compete, the exact opposite of what he had explained. On a side note there hung in Saito Sensei’s dojo a sign saying do not block your partner which came directly from O’Sensei. Something Alan and Henry spoke of many times but on this occasion a little was lost in translation. Brian stopped class clarified and then we went on. We worked on ukemi from various attacks being active all the way and keeping the connection going.
With that the weekend came to a close. Though tired and worn out and a few with stiff backs and sore knees we thoroughly enjoyed the weekend. On a plus side we had Colin and Kim Farrelly snap away over the two days and many great photos were taken. Kim is a professional photographer and has a good eye for a pic so many online through FaceBook at the Aiki no Michi page. We all came away from the weekend with the same sense of similarity in all our Aikido. Even thought we are in different places and dojos the one connecting thread is Alan and Henry. Those of us who took sessions even though different the similarities were greater than the differences. This is the whole point of these sessions where we can come together in an open and joyous space where we can all practice in harmony. If this is the legacy our two friends left us it is indeed alive and well and will continue on as both Alan and Henry expected it would. Looking forward to next years event and catching up with people whenever I can.
Thank you for your time and hope you enjoyed weekend if there or reading a brief account of it.
Yours in Aiki