by Bob Withers.
So, I just got an email from Danny James Sensei asking me if I would mind writing a blog post about our recent seminar and dan grading weekend in Sydney. Even something about my Aikido ‘journey’ might be OK? Apparently I hinted at something that caught his interest … if only I could figure out what it was.
Oh well I guess I’ll do my best to review the weekend and see what crops up.
Andrew Sunter Sensei (who you may know) runs the dojo in Sydney where I train alongside a small but dedicated group. Several of us had successfully avoided the subject of grading for far too long, but Sensei was on to us. In his wisdom he decided to organise ‘an event’, thinking that this would make our gradings even more exciting and memorable than they would normally be.
His idea was to ask Danny James Sensei to teach on day one, and then do the five dan gradings on day two. Danny is a sports scientist and he has applied his scientific approach to his study of Aiki – a certain aspect of this (toppling) was the main subject of his Sydney seminar.
There was an excellent turnout. David Bardos Sensei bought several of his students from the Wagga Wagga dojo, Mark Campbell Sensei and Brett (grading San Dan) from Grafton arrived plus a bunch of roughnecks from the Liverpool dojo taught by Tony Neal Sensei filled the place up. A special guest appearance from Jim Nicholls Sensei was a wonderful surprise, and it was a that point we realised that there were now six highly regarded Sensei’s in the dojo, and that they would be watching the dan gradings with a critical eye. Oh good.
Day one – Seminar: Prior to opening the seminar Andrew Sensei casually accused Danny Sensei of having a reputation for not believing in Ki … this of course was countered with “It’s not that I don’t believe in Ki it just that I am starting to be able to understand some of the concepts through bio mechanics and how the body works”. That set the scene for the seminar. I would never attempt to relate everything Danny taught, but I believe that after that first day of teaching there was enough information to keep our dojo occupied for at least a year. It was an insightful and inspiring day, and it had me plotting a trip to Brisbane to get more insights from Danny.
Day two – Dan grading: First let me explain that the grading’s would be judged by a panel of our peers who decide if they are happy with our standards. They must agree (or otherwise) on a pass rather than the usual recommendation by your teacher with a guaranteed pass. This was done partly as a requirement of the Australian Jujitsu Federation (AJF), which certifies some of our senior grades as teachers but also to terrify us and test our powers of self-control.
It now became clear that the panel comprised all six afore mentioned senior teachers, sitting in a row, looking knowingly at each other and whispering various instructions on the best attack to test our required techniques.
There was quite a crowd of onlookers; various family and friends had arrived to view us going through our paces. Some of my family (making up at least 50% of the crowd) only now seeing just what I have been up to for many years for the first time.
As it turned out, everyone that graded: Mayumi Takahashi – Shodan, Bob Withers –Nidan, Michael Van Der Donk – Nidan, Martin John – San Dan and Brett X – San Dan did a great job and passed. Waiting for the panel to review all the gradings reminded me of the meeting of the cardinals before the election of a new Pope …
On reflection, I realised just how far I had come since starting Aikido with Andrew. I have always been a pretty nervy guy, prone to over-thinking things and being very self-conscious. I think it is fair to say that Aikido training has changed my life and given me many tools to help me deal with an at times stressful world. Going through that grading would have been something I would never have thought possible when I started, and I feel a deep gratitude towards my teacher everyone that I have trained with.
Ah, that must be the ‘journey’ Danny was referring to.
ED: For all the blow by blow images and movies and a terrific seminar cake recipe checkout the Aikido in Sydney Facebook group