Training near the Inner Harbour

In June, 2006, I headed out for the United States to attend a professional conference in Baltimore, Maryland. I hadn't been to Baltimore in years, but remembered (correctly, it turns out) that, in addition to the beautiful Inner Harbour area and the expansive convention hall, there's also quite a rough quarter near the city centre.

Before travelling to the conference, I decided to seek out an aikido venue in which to train whilst there. Finding a venue turned out to be an adventure in and of itself, for it appears that aikido in the long shadow of Tomiki-sensei in the United States is somewhat cantoned up. This goes back to my earlier comments about the confusion between terms like "Tomiki aikido" and "Shodokan aikido". I'm not going to follow that line of discussion here, but simply point out that it led me to a variety of disjoint answers to the question, "where can I train?"

In the end, and after several quite helpful e-mail exchanges with people from JAA/USA and other organisations, I found a Tomiki Aikido club at the University of Baltimore's Athletic Club. With e-mailed instructions from Jaime Williamson in hand, on Monday, 26 April, I set forth to find the University's athletic club and its aikidoka. The University's club practises aikido according to the principles set forth by Aikido America International, which is apparently a parallel to JAA/USA that aligns itself more with Waseda University's aikido practises than with those of Shodokan hombu.

I was travelling around Baltimore by hire car, since it is nearly impossible to navigate around any American city using solely public transit. I was fortunate enough to have been given a car with satellite navigation. All I needed to do was to plug in "1420 N. Charles Street" and it whisked me away to the University campus. Alas, the directions were so straightforward that I arrived just over an hour early! I had to find a place to pass some time, so I drove around aimlessly looking for a coffee shop.

And, wow, did I find one! All I saw was a sign saying something about coffeehouse, so I stopped in to Red Emma's Bookstore & Coffeehouse, an anarchist/communist bookstore situated not far from the University campus. It was hilarious walking in and then realizing that I was probably walking in to one of the more radical bookstores in that part of the country. So, I enjoyed it by having a nice latte, browsing the truly unique collection of books, and departing. It did occur to me that maybe the police were photographing those who went in and out of the place... But I digress.

At the appointed hour of 6:30 PM, I arrived at the club and found Jaime with no problems. After changing into my dogi, I met the other people with whom I would be practising that evening. It was a wonderful group. Remembering that I was, at the time, a freshly-minted 8th kyuu (the lowest kyuu grade in the Shodokan system), I was working on extremely elementary things. My goal for this trip was to practise zempo kaiten ukeme ("forward rolling breakfalls") from a standing position. It turns out that I had a real fear of doing rolling breakfalls, and it took quite some time (far beyond this one trip to Baltimore) to get over that fear. However, the good patience and help of the club members went far in helping me get there.

What were my impressions of this Tomiki aikido system? The taiso and the exercises were, in my opinion, quite different than what I had experienced at our Shodokan club. However, it is clear that there is a common source of, and a common heritage between, the two strains of aikido. No matter how you look at it, the aikido that Professor Tomiki developed is very elegant, and its stewards have done a good job in developing it.

1 comment:

uchi deshi said...

Where did you go? I would like to hear more from you.