February 3rd, 2006


Dance and Aikido

So I went to the UWMBDA dance practice last night. There were only eight people there but they were a good bunch. Two had never dance before, two had only slight experience, two were experienced, and there was the instructor. Plus me of course. Most of the evening was spent practicing waltz, which I'm still butchering but getting a bit better, mostly thanks to Rhiannon. Eugene (the instructor), did teach me a neat move to do at the end of a twinkle, however. Side balances need work.

Towards the end of the evening he taught a little bit of samba. My feet don't like it but the lesson went better than the first time I tried to learn. Now I can usually do the basic and side basic. Ah the joys of experience and practice.

Now, on to aikido.

So I've been saying over and over again that I'm in love with my dojo but haven't said why. Let's go over it.

For starters, they're the gentlest style of aikido I've ever seen. While Jessa's Seidokan was focused on teaching and ki development, Philadelphia Aikido was focused on combat preparedness, and UW Whitewater was focused on a balance, Aikido of Madison seems to be focused on aesthetic. They put a lot of emphasis on form and technique. Their training style is very similar to what I've read about Systema (modern Russian martial art descended from Sambo crossed with tai chi and aikido as guided by modern biomechanics) where things are practiced slwoly to create the form and gradually speeded up through repetition. It's very low-intensity but builds up quickly. It's not an aerobic workout but is already doing wonderful things for my body. zariel7, you commented that I'd lost weight; this is why (along with healthier eating). I suspect the advanced classes are more combat oriented.

Then there are the teachers. The head senseis are Don Stone and Robin Cooper. When I first heard of him I thought Stone sounded familiar. It turns out it's because he was one of the co-editors of Aikido in America, one of the most prominent books on the ideals, theory, philosophy, history, and practice of aikido. They're both sixth dan black belts which makes htem the highest level instruction I've ever had, let alone for a sustained period of time, and have excellent sense of humor. Then there are the junior instructors, such as Ross, Kurt, and Cathy Senseis. Cathy is my favorite, a fifty year old woman who reminds me a bit of Jessa's mother. And dear God are her bokken forms gorgeous.

Now let's talk weapons. While I still don't know if I'll be able to do the Katori Shitno Ryu class, the dojo has aikido weapons classes twice a week, a basic class followed by an advanced class. I've been going to the basic classes and learning the bokken forms. Unlike Seidokan with its three bokken and three jo staff katas, ASU (Aikido Schools of Ueshiba) has twenty-two bokken forms, as well as jo and tanto (knife) forms. Moreover, they are always practiced as paired katas. The idea is not simply to learn how to wield a weapon or the correct form but to learn to control distance and timing. It's an extremely energizing experience. Currently I've learned bokken 2, 1, and am working on 3.

I'm going an average of four to five times a week for an hour to an hour and a half at a time depending on the day. Classes vary between four and twenty people, averaging about twelve, with usually six or seven of the people being third kyu and up.

All and all, it is a great place.