Last week, for the first time in over 10 years, I was able to attend Aikido Kokikai’s Summer Camp, held in the beautiful campus of Villanova University.
For those unfamiliar with Kokikai Camps, a small explanation: roughly three times a year, Sensei holds a national training opportunity, in which Kokikai practitioners from all over are invited to meet, train, and get inspired. While any of these events are great opportunities not only to see Sensei, but also to connect with other members of Kokikai, Summer Camp has always stood out. This is because, unlike the other camps, Summer Camp is a full four days long, with hours of training packed into each day. Also, most of us stay on-campus in dorms, and eat our meals at a campus cafeteria. The result is that you get to spend a lot of time with everyone both on and off the mat, and you leave for home feeling physically tired but mentally and emotionally charged up to share what you’ve learned with the folks at your local dojo.
It would be an arduous task to try to encapsulate all of Summer Camp into a single blog post; so I won’t try. But I still would like to share a few of my impressions of camp:
First, I was overwhelmed at the diversity and friendliness of all the students on the mat. There were young folks, older folks, folks that had been training for years and folks that had been training for only a few months. All of us worked together to understand Kokikai technique and Kokikai principles. Sensei has often said that the goal of our training is first to find out best possible state, the second goal then is to prove that state through technique. With all these people on the mat, opportunities abounded to seek, discover, and test a variety of thoughts and perceptions. I can honestly say that I learned from every single person with whom I trained, and I hope that I might have reciprocated at least once or twice. Also, there was a tremendous amount of openness and honesty on the mat, and a noticeable lack of ego or pride. One person in particular, known for his ukemi skills, asked me if it was all right that he was resisting my technique. (We were trying something new, and I was only successful about half the time.) I responded: “Of course I don’t mind! How else do we ensure we’re training correctly?” He grinned, and we both continued training, trying our hardest to make the other person respond correctly, and feeling great when, every now and then, one of us really caught the right idea and caught the other’s posture and balance. This exchange stuck with me because I appreciated the fact that he wanted to be sure I knew he was not resisting out of a sense of ego, but out of a desire to ensure we both improved.
Second, I was amazed at how gentle techniques were. If someone were ever to ask me to sum up Kokikai technique in as few words as possible, I’d probably say “Gentle Effectiveness.” Despite the rigorousness of our training schedule, despite the heat, and despite the fact that there were a lot of people on the mat, not a single person got injured. Sensei was very, very happy about this: he continually pointed out that it was important that we take care of each other and ensure we train with minimum risk of injury. I have rarely experienced such a balance between effective martial arts studies and gentleness. One would normally think the two concepts are mutually exclusive. More and more, I’m finding that the opposite is true; the more gentle you treat your opponent, the more effective the technique. Note that by gentle I do not mean “soft.” I mean that the focus is on finding a path that removes the uke’s power with minimum risk of injury. It’s remarkable, really, how many situations exist in which such paths are available.
Third, and most important, is Sensei himself was inspirational. One of the things that really strikes me about Sensei is that he’s very much a human being. He is not perfect, and he seems to recognize that fact. Of course, that doesn’t mean he’s not the guy in charge, and thus demands and deserves a high level of respect and tolerance. But he constantly recognizes that he himself is still growing, still learning, still studying. One illustration of this came when I erroneously referred to Sensei as “Sensei Maruyama.” He was quick to point out to me that he was to be called “Sensei.” One reason for this is simple: there is only one Sensei, and he’s it. The rest of us may use the term when referring to each other or within our respective dojos, but when he’s around, he’s Sensei. When you think about it, however, how many other terms exist for martial arts masters? There’s O-Sensei, of course, “Great Teacher.” There’s kyoshi, renshi, hanshi, shihan… the Japanese language is rich and complex. Sensei could adopt any title he’d like, and it would be well-deserved. But he chooses to remain with “Sensei.” I think that says a lot.
I’m sure that I’ll write more about Summer Camp in the coming months. But this was a good start. It was an amazing experience–I plan to never miss another Summer Camp if at all possible from here on out!