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Everyone asks me, "What did you learn at World Camp?" I wish I had a simple answer, some tidy epiphany that I could tie in a bow and hand to someone. My experience, and probably everyone else's there, was much more personal.

We trained with the top instructors in our style of aikido. There were students from USA, Australia, Hawaii (practically its own country in aikido terms), Singapore, the UK, Eastern Russia, and Western Russia. The Eastern Russians only had to travel about 2 hours to get to Japan. The Russians were by far the largest subgroup. They were about 1/3 to 1/2 of the participants and they didn't really speak English (or Japanese). Some of them had been doing aikido for less than a year!

They didn't interact with us much, except after-hours when we were drinking beer and they brought out the vodka! In fact, they warmed up quite a bit while the vodka was flowing. I had a nice chat with some men who would pour a drink in my glass and watch as I downed it all at once, as it is supposed to be done.

The classes were very basic. We are all about a few basic principles that are really quite simple, but actually difficult in practice. It was humbling to be shut down by some huge guy but rewarding to figure out how to move him. Aikido, to me is about interaction, connection, an exchange of energy. We learn to lead rather than to push or pull. As a self-defense on the street, we can be a little philosophical. I do believe it can be effective when necessary.

The Taigi Competition is not about self-defense. Taigi are a sequence of attacks and defenses performed in a set amount of time. My partner and I rehearsed for weeks, if not months. I was the attacker, the one who takes all the falls and rolls. It was very physically demanding. I was so sore after a week that I was taking all sorts of pain-relievers, mixing them recklessly. We had many classes where we would get up and perform in front of the main instructor and he would offer corrections. I was actually relieved not to be the defender, because I don't like feeling responsible for everything and being put under the microscope. Not that my part wasn't crucial to the whole rhythm and timing of the performance.

Finally, the day of the competition arrived. I could barely get out of bed, but my partner wanted to practice one last time. I downed some coffee and more pills. Skipping breakfast, we had the huge dojo to ourselves. I am glad we did this, since I found out that I actually could manage it physically. Once the competition started we were paraded in (literally). They clapped in time to marching music as all of the groups filed in. Then we waited and waited and waited.

The International group probably had about 50 pairs competing. They brought in even more Japanese competitors that day. They had to win a preliminary competition in May in order to come. All we had to do was show up! So we waited our turn to perform. I had huge butterflies in my stomach and I felt like my insides were turning to liquid. I hoped I would be able to stand, fall, and get up again. I was terrified I would stumble or trip, for some reason, even though I didn't have a history of that really at all.

Patrick came to watch the competition! He is the one who used to train aikido here, but moved to Japan to study and now teaches English. It was so great to see him and know he was in the audience. Of course we had our friends at World Camp, but he was our homie from Kansas!

We finally got to perform. We were entered in all five categories. The compulsory taigi, a selected taigi, a weapons take-away taigi, and the sword and staff forms.

I felt like we really did our best, maybe even better than our best. After all that instruction we improved tremendously over the week we were there. Not to mention that we were, in one Chief Instructor's words, "Light years ahead" of where we were 4 years ago. The scores we received were respectable, but not enough to win anything. In fact, it was almost all Japanese competitors who swept the categories.

Many were disappointed with their scores. The judging is mostly subjective, as it is. At least I know we did everything that was in our power to do. The judging is totally beyond our control. We got great feedback from our friends who watched us. Our execution was smooth and we were really "together."

I wondered repeatedly why we put ourselves through this. It is a process. I loved training with my partner to get there, sharing the experience and the bond that no one else will truly understand. The whole idea of giving myself a challenge, a reason to step up training, is part of it, as well. The lesson we are supposed to learn, I think, is about maintaining mind and body coordination over an extended period of time and under extreme circumstances.

I have to note the weirdness of participating in a competition when we are anything but competitive in this particular martial art. They tell us it is not about who wins a medal, yet they still award medals.

Will I be up for it again in 4 years? I will have to see how my body holds up. I didn't think 4 years ago that I would have been able to do it today. You just never know...
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We decided to visit a Shinto Shrine near Harajuku Station since no one was out Cos Playing.

the shrine

Please enter the shrine here: )

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pamelonian

October 2013

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