Tell me, what is happiness?

more photos from tensoriana.

This past weekend at our Dojo in Berne we had the great pleasure to have a seminar given by Jenny Flower Sensei from the Athens Aikikai Dojo. While on Friday evening and the whole of Saturday I trained like everybody else, on Sunday I also took a few pictures during the technique demonstrations in body art. Although we worked with both the jo (wooden staff) and the bokken (wood sword), during this seminar I took no photos of those demonstrations.

But, what was it like?

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In one word, fantastic. I did not count how many we were on the tatami, however our tatami was full and yet there was space for a few more. For me this seminar was a special gift. I have been in training led by Jenny on several different occasions (Uzès, Labaroche, Strasbourg) and have had the opportunity of having her choose me as uke on the tatami or of being corrected by her.  Each and every time her teaching has been right on the spot, that is, at a level where I could absorb. While on the previous occasions there were around hundred people on the tatami, this time we must have been less than 30 for a period of over 10 hours of training, and this meant that Jenny had the opportunity to work with each and every one of us on an individual basis. This weekend I had this opportunity several times.

For me an Aikido seminar or special training – the kind of intensive training that we often refer to as a stage – being in Switzerland we often borrow heavily from the French vocabulary and that does carry over to English on occasions – is always an opportunity to work on whatever issue I am dealing with in my life at that very moment. It is perhaps no coincidence that this time I had and have a half-ways written blog post dealing with pain. Pain is an issue right now in my life while going through the process of deep psycho-analysis. Pain was something that I had to deal with during this seminar.

At one point Jenny Sensei took to teaching me a specific technique with the bokken as I was not absorbing my opponent’s defense (or counterattack) properly. I stiffened up and fully got the impact of her bokken transmitted to me trough my bokken’s tsuba so that I later got a rather large haematoma on my left hand. While the haematoma is a very minor injury and with the help a bit of arnica oil or cream it gets reabsorbed within a couple of days, the pain is sharp and the affected area is then rather tender and sensitive. Now, sometimes there just is no learning without a bit of pain. It is like a child learning to walk, the child falls many times before it actually masters bipedal locomotion; some of those falls are painful, others are not, some cause injuries, some not. This is learning, you try and try again until you succeed. I, for my part, learn best trough my body, and this could be one explanation, if one is necessary, for my perseverance when it comes to practicing Aikido. Aikido is a martial art, but to me Aikido is about my life, I am interested in learning, and I am interested in living my life to the fullest.

After that first painful strike Jenny Sensei looked at me in the eye, to me her teaching dedication was clear and apparent. You may even call it kindness what I saw in her eyes, she was there to give me something, the pain was a result of my own reaction and it was up to me to deal with it. By the look on her I knew that she well knew how I was feeling, but she felt right there with me in my pain and in our commitment to get to the essence of that technique. This is the process of transmission, and it is the way one learns such techniques. It is just not the body, the spirit and the mind are also rather involved in the process of transmission.

Jenny Sensei continued working with me until I started to develop the proper way to absorb the counter-strike without anticipating it, that is, relaxing my arms only at the very instant of her strike, not before, not when first seeing her bokken coming in my direction, just then when her bokken hit mine thus being able to deflect her energy without hurting myself.

Later I was practicing body art with my own Sensei and it was a technique that involves controlling the attacking hand. When she grabbed my left hand I said something, and then it was my Sensei that had another gift for me. If the pain was too much I should not be practicing, and if it hurts, then just bear it. She said this with a smile, and with even to my surprise, as she does not ever speak during practice. It was an exception that Sensei talked to me while executing a technique. There was something that I needed to learn about my own relationship to pain and discomfort. Words as usual never quite do justice to such processes, still to me it was clear that while I can often beat myself over the head and do avoid pain at all possible costs, sometimes this very avoidance is in the way of learning, and in the way of me obtaining my goals and my freedom.

While I have through my body learned one very important lesson about pain, I need want to keep on practicing. I also noticed that still later when practicing with another aikidoka, once more I complained about my painful left hand and escaped his powerful grip during sankyo without getting off the mat. There are some habits there that I need want to dispose of and to better examine my limits, or else I’de better examine my commitment to that which I call freedom. I need to be able to deal with a bit more discomfort. Really. Not that I am always a sissy, it is just that in some parts of my life I am a sissy, especially when dealing with psychological pain.

I had truly a fantastic weekend. It had been a long long while ever since I had seen this kind of smile on my face. Thanks Joel for grabbing my camera.

It was not the only one with a big happy smile when the training was over on Sunday at lunch time, Ivo’s expression says it all.

Thank you all.