Now that the new year has arrived, I’ve been meaning to take a few moments and reflect about the past year. I admit that I’ve been putting it off a little–not because there isn’t much to write about; instead, there’s been so much that has happened I find myself wondering where to begin. Well, I could debate where and how to start forever; so, without further adieu, I’m going to just plunge in and discuss what comes to mind when I think about the past year.
Perhaps the most important thing that happened this year was that we were all, as a dojo, truly fortunate to deepen our relationship with Sensei. Twice this past year he visited the Northwest; the first time in June as a personal visit, again in November as part of the first International Convention in Seattle (more on that later). I know that I can personally say that Sensei’s visits were truly inspirational–not just because his own technique and presence is so remarkable, but because he truly showed how important it was that we, his students, have the best chance to capture the strategies and techniques of our art. I am relatively confident that the rest of the dojo felt the same way–from folks who have barely started their training to those who have studied for several years now. And to think that Sensei is visiting again next week! Truly, this a golden time for Kokikai in the Northwest.
I can’t talk about Sensei without also talking about the International Convention in Seattle that took place in November. All the planning and preparations that we started way back in June (!) really paid off. The event was a huge success in every sense of the word–from the record number of participants, to the tremendous positive feeling that was generated by everyone during the weekend event. I made so many friends that I have lost count–but I feel particularly honored to have gotten to know Joe and Honda, two of Sensei’s students from Japan. A few things that I will always remember: the immensely crowded mat; the fact that, despite the crowd, there were absolutely no injuries other than the occasional mat burn; the presence of Sensei as he watched everyone practice the techniques he showed. My goal for next time: to be sure that I can spend more time on the mat! I freely admit that I felt pulled in a few million directions, so perhaps next time I can reduce that to a few thousand. And I can’t write about the training without writing about the party that Saturday! What a great time. I enjoyed seeing how everyone pretty much took over the entire main floor of the hotel. I can honestly say that there isn’t a single experience from that event that I don’t look back upon fondly, but I must again mention the tremendous help of people like my wife, my senior students, and even the family members of the dojo who were so eager to help make the event a success. The next one will not come soon enough!
Talking about the convention makes me think about the progress so many students have made. First, of course, we had three students test for shodan–the first group of shodan candidates who have tested from our dojo. That was an emotional and inspiring moment. I don’t think people quite realize the work that some of these students have put in over the years. I could easily take their efforts for granted or as my “due” as their teacher, but I don’t. They train for themselves; I just try to facilitate their efforts. But their actions were not the only ones that should be recognized: we had a few students test for different levels of brown belt, and they did very well. (I look forward to seeing their own shodan tests in the next year or two!) I also must mention just how much progress all the new people have made. In fact…
I have to add a separate topic that talks about all the new people who have joined the dojo in the past year. Roughly a year ago, we were a small dojo with about 15 students. Now, we are over 50 strong, and continue to grow at a record pace. Our kids program is thriving, and I am so especially pleased to see them progress and enjoy their training. The teen and adult classes have proven themselves to not just be a group of people taking a class, but a community of people who really want to understand Kokikai Aikido and how it can apply to their own lives. I cannot understate how inspiring it is for me to see someone step onto the mat for the first time, or to see them test for their first belt. Those are moments that take great courage–something that can be easy to forget when you have been training for a while.
Writing about the new year also makes it inevitable to put forth a couple of new year’s resolutions. My own is simple: train! This year, I plan to spend more time improving my overall level of physical fitness and deepening my understanding of Kokikai Aikido. This task would have been difficult to do a year or so ago; now, however, we have many students who are becoming excellent and articulate ukes, so I can really experiment with how techniques work. Already, in the past few weeks, I can feel the difference in my movements. And, to be honest, I’m chuckling to myself, because it seems that one of the main challenges when you are the chief instructor is ensuring you have time for both your own training and assisting others in their training. No doubt next year’s resolution might tip me back in the other direction, but this is what training is all about–finding balance.
A belated happy new year to all!