Notes from Camp

At my first USAF Summer Camp, I have a singular experience. Instructors create a groundwork of training, and elicit spiritual development on a collective level. As fellow practitioners, we initiate each other with hard skill but exude tenderness. I bring back both learning and a bond of presence to my home dojo. Here I share impressions of the merciful correction I received.

Every day is an in-depth exploration of a basic technique. Without stopping, each instructor begins with a rote movement and unwinds its mental cords, examining them, and tying them together in a novel way. This is refreshing and expansive to me, as I strive to maintain an athletic pace and rebuild my functional basis. The assortment and volume of classes each day give me remarkable possibilities, if I can only keep up! Utmost exertion with complete surrender to development of the art is an exhilarating feeling.

My background emphasizes ukemi and weapons proficiency, but I benefit by focusing on fundamentals, on reasons for body positioning and how to move with finality in a small amount of space. I know well that movement originates from weapon form, yet to see it permeate every mechanism and have it reinforced on a daily level is eye-opening.

Execution and reception of each movement is a demonstraton in spiritual growth. With each arc of an iriminage or kotegaeshi, openings close and with forceful tenchinage uke demonstrates how to meet one’s end. However, real progress is hand-to-hand: in a safe structure, we sharpen each other by mutually striking, taking layers of rigidity from our partner. We sweat together, polish each other, and heal one another’s hearts.

A diverse and well-trained community informs and corrects me. At dinner and in the hallway, I find fellows to scrutinize discrepancies in technique and consider fine points of attack and response.   Many women are quite strict about solid form and stance. To resist those who are bigger and stronger, I better know what I’m doing. There is also a strong Senior Citizen cohort with decades of experience to reconstruct my concept of Aikido. I also feel the joy of an intense weapons interaction where my partner strikes boldly as a gentleman and I reply with ladylike composure.

The teachers are examples of dignity. Awe-inspiring and controlled, they stride across the mat and command attention with every movement. They choose ukes who broaden my view of who qualifies as a human; I feel my heart expanding with each new demonstration. The teachers give of themselves so liberally yet amazingly still draw breath at the end of class, although it is obvious they are enjoying themselves.

On the mat, our movement as an organic whole is almost transcendent. As a flock of sparrows with a single leader, we launch into motion at a single bow from our instructor; turning in a circular path of technique—traveling, changing, returning and resting in seiza, with hearts singing that we are alive. The 6:30 a.m. class for me is like attending a heartfelt worship service. It feels as if we are passing through another world.

I am within a tapestry of support, I feel well taken care of by a healthy community. My roommate, a sandan, allows me space to “do my own thing” but supports me well when accomplishing tasks I can’t do myself, such as understanding weapons education structure, or a Monday night trip to the laundromat! A teacher also challenges the way I absorb attacks and elevates my sincerity of correction in daily life, making me stronger and more fluent in the art. I see familiar instructors and fellow martial artists, gathered for the purpose of personal development with spiritual fruition. It seems like a family reunion!

Though the resort is accommodating, I miss my home dojo. I am absorbed in the collective spirit, but I feel drawn to my beginning. I depart with intent and a response to enrich our practice, and a threshed heart to help us rediscover our place in a great multitude of seekers. Aikido educates me to integrate the value of each human as we contribute to existence. I feel encircled by timeless methods and renewed by kind discipline, and hope to bear these gifts into the world.

by Natalie Konrad, Old City Aikido


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