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SCA fighter practice, 8 February

New fighter there, named Jeremy. Marine with martial-arts experience; really cool. I spent a lot of time watching and drilling; felt like I was learning a lot. Kerry told me that despite what I feel, I'm picking things up pretty quickly.

Aikido, 9 February

Almost left due to dizziness (not helped by the pizza I could smell from the gym snack bar). I'm glad I didn't, though, because I got to do my first ever sparring! Yay! And I now have a kohai, who does capoeira (and hasn't come back since).

Aikido, 11 February

My first Saturday class, and probably my last for a while since Saturdays will be advanced classes. Sean took some time out from class to film a video he'll be selling demonstrating weapons forms. Only eight or so of us; rather intense. New technique: gyakugamae ate; also a little bit of sumi otoshi.

Aikido, 14 February

Lighter-paced class than usual; lots of fun. More work on sumi otoshi.

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busy busy
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So at last night's aikido class, I was determined to avoid the crap I went through on Tuesday. I ate in the car on the way from work, so that I could have time to digest dinner before class, and I tried to drink enough water before class (though I wasn't entirely successful). I felt much better, and my endurance was closer to its normal level.

Then, right after warmups, the lower-ranked students did breakfall practice as usual. Wouldn't you know it, I pulled a stomach muscle. I did as well as I could with the pulled muscle, but it hurt to sit up, let alone kick up. Then Sean had me and another beginner drill forward rolls for a while (I am totally klutzy when it comes to landing). I did as much as I could, but had to bow out of rolls a little early due to my pulled muscle.

Water break, then more atemi-waza. After a little while, I discovered that my pulled muscle was acting up, so I managed to stagger around instead of taking falls as uke. This was very annoying for several reasons: I really need to work on my falls, I would like to feel the technique done on me as fully as possible, and I would like nage to have a chance to do the technique as fully as possible. Rats.

And God, but the techniques are hard to learn. I know I'm uncoordinated at gross motor skills when I'm not dancing or skiing, but this is ridiculous -- I feel as if I'm a total idiot. Part of this probably has to do with the fact that I'm used to picking up intellectual concepts very quickly, but my body is another matter. And it's a little embarrassing being almost the only one singled out by name for correction from Sean. I know he's not picking on me, and I'm here to learn, not to have my ego stroked. I also know that most of the other students, even beginners in aikido, have experience in capoeira, karate, or tae kwan do, which I don't. But it still kind of sucks. :)

However, even while making a total jackass of myself, I'm having a lot of fun. We train relatively hard, and the senpai are all very, very helpful to a klutz like me, so it seems like a good dojo environment. I'm just waiting for that day when it all comes together and I start being able to think in larger pieces (and stop trying the senpai's patience!). Of course, that will only happen if I keep doing what I'm doing. So that's what I'll do.

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annoyed annoyed
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Aikido, Tuesday 31 January

Tuesdays are difficult for me. I wake up early, leave the house by 7:45, and go to Manhattanville College to play three consecutive ballet classes (9:30-1:30) or so. Then I drive straight to my "day job", where I work for another four hours. I rarely have time for a real lunch, and on this particular day, I didn't have time for much in the way of dinner between work and aikido either. I also neglected to drink as much water as I should have before class.

As a result, I soon found that I was getting exhausted. Sensei caught me flagging during warmups, and during breakfall practice, I got so dizzy that I had to bow out for a few minutes. I made it through parts of the rest of the class on sheer willpower. We started learning the five atemi-waza (I gather these are particularly important in Tomiki aikido)...let's see...shōmen-ate, ushiro-ate, gyakumae-ate, gedan-ate, and...I don't know the name of the fifth. Oh well. I do gedan better than the others at this point.

One other thing: I was able to get through both the opening and closing meditations in seiza. Cool.

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sore sore
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Fight practice, 25 January

Cast: same as last time, plus Chris, an older, clearly experienced fighter.

I suppose I'll start with the armor situation. Jeff B. was again not there, and Kerry was feeling well enough to fight, so there was no spare armor. Jeff S. had knocked together a respectable partial suit out of plastic and twine, so he was able to fight. I spent most of practice watching and learning much from what I saw. Chris spent much of practice doing solo drills. Toward the end of practice, someone shoved a spare sword in my hand and had me try to land blows on Jeff. At this point Chris came over, and he and Jeff spent the rest of practice drilling me in the proper way to throw a blow. I felt like I was finally getting a clue by the end of the night. All told, it was an unusual but very useful session.

Aikido, 26 January

This was the first 2006 session of the Vassar College Aikido Club (which follows the school schedule). The instructor, Sean Flynn, is a professor of economics at Vassar, and I gather that he's reasonably well known in aikido circles.

I arrived at the college gym early and went to the designated room, but no one was there and I began to wonder if I was in the wrong place. Fortunately, Sean showed up about 10 minutes before class, followed by about 20 or 30 students.

We got started a few minutes late, did some warmups, and then I had fun for the next couple of hours making a total jackass of myself trying to muddle through the techniques, interspersed with occasional moments of clarity when things actually worked. The class was quite fast-paced, and I often found myself just grasping a technique when it was time to move on to the next one. We did some footwork drills, basic breakfalls (ouch) and tanto work, and introductory shomen'ate and kotegaeshi (cool!), then two ikkyus demonstrated the junanahon kata. At this point, Sean had the new students sit out for jiyu waza, so we got to watch an incredible variety of techniques.

I went home extremely excited, then woke up the next day so sore that it actually hurt to laugh for a couple of days (stomach muscles, dontchaknow). Great class!

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energetic energetic
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I live in the Shire of Frosted Hills (Dutchess County, NY). Almost no one in the group fights, so there's no local fight practice. I have to go an hour away to Kingston, in the Shire of Nordenhal, to fight. The marshal there (Heðinn inn rauði, otherwise known as Kerry) is fairly new to the SCA, but must have taken very well to fighting -- he's been on the Queen's Guard during at least one reign, and I find him to be very capable and an excellent teacher.

Practice started late last night, partly due to the fact that it was also Nordenhal's monthly business meeting, and partly due to the fact that we didn't immediately achieve critical mass -- for the first hour or so, it was just Kerry (too sick to fight), me (actually, I arrived about 30 minutes late), and Jeff S., who had not fought in at least 10 years. Neither Jeff nor I have our own armor yet, and Jeff B., who usually brings an extra suit, wasn't there.

Ivan (an experienced fighter) and his friend Scott (another beginner) arrived later, and now we had enough people and enough armor to begin practice. Ivan had brought armor for Scott, and since Kerry wasn't fighting, Jeff and I took turns in his gear. It quickly became apparent that Jeff had forgotten very little of what he had known 10 years ago, and Scott is learning very fast, so that left me as the rank beginner.

Kerry had me suit up and try to strike a good blow against Ivan. Ivan is a patient, knowledgeable fighter who gives the impression of having shown many beginners the ropes. He started by not defending himself at all beyond standing at guard, while I tried to find an opening in his guard (and get past my remaining inhibitions about striking people, which I thought I had already shed). I quickly realized that I needed more strength to land a good blow, at which point Ivan and Kerry attempted to show me how to throw a good blow by using hip rotation to build speed. I understand the concept intellectually, but I find the coordination very odd for some reason. I probably looked like a total idiot as I flailed and rotated, trying to land a blow on Ivan while he would occasionally strike me to show where I had left myself open.

Now, I should mention something interesting at this point. All three experienced fighters were left-handed, with Scott and me as the two righties. That meant that there was only one shield available for left-hand use, and it was excruciatingly heavy. My left arm and wrist tired quickly from the shield, and my right wrist cramped equally quickly, so I had to stop sooner than I wanted to. A close examination of my gear revealed why: I was wearing a half-gauntlet handed down from collwen (who fought heavy weapons briefly, but now fences instead) which had a projection on the edge. This projection was jamming in the basket hilt of the borrowed sword and forcing my wrist into a strange angle.

Jeff had another go, and this time elected to try fighting Florentine (two swords), which he'd never done, against Ivan's greatsword. (At which I remarked to Scott, "We don't need no stinkin' shields!".) Interesting to watch. I really want to try Florentine when I'm good enough -- and greatsword too, for that matter. Jeff tired out and Ivan quit for the evening, so I put on Kerry's armor again (now with Kerry's gauntlet that didn't jam in the sword hilt).

With Scott and me -- the only two righties -- in armor, then, we had an interesting problem: there was only one left-hand shield available between the two of us. Kerry solved the problem by suggesting a single-sword bout (no shield). I'm glad he did: it was a useful drill for judging distance and awareness of openings, and I felt a little more confident as my college fencing experience came rushing back to help me. In the middle of the bout, we took a brief break (about a minute or so), then resumed. When we did, I soon discovered something interesting. Although no part of my body felt at all tired, my legs stopped responding to my brain's instructions to move. They felt like they were in fine shape; they just weren't doing anything when ordered.

I took that lethargy as a signal to stop. At this point Jeff had another go, this time in Ivan's armor. Jeff is quite a bit smaller than Ivan, so Ivan commented that it was like "watching a boy wearing Daddy's clothes". It was fun and interesting to watch him and Scott try things out.

All in all, a fun and rewarding evening. I'm sure I made a complete ass of myself several times, and I'm sure I'll do so many more times before everything clicks. That's what learning is about, no?

(By the way, I did start aching a bit on the drive home, and, despite the shower I took before bed, have been fairly stiff all day today. Maybe I should have called this journal "Lupus Dolorosus"...)

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excited excited
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This blog will be dedicated to documenting my twin journeys into martial arts. Last night, I went to my second SCA fighter practice ever (the first was over a year ago, and my schedule didn't permit regular training at that point). In two weeks, if everything goes according to plan, I will start training in Tomiki aikido. These are both things I've wanted to do for several years, and in fact at one time I was holding off on one so I could start the other at the same time. I finally decided that was a silly thing to do, but in the end, my schedule opened up such that I was able to start both at the same time after all (is there a lesson here?). I expect that the cross-fertilization between the two styles will sometimes be useful, sometimes confusing, but always fascinating and (hopefully) enlightening.

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hopeful hopeful
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