I found two dojos in Chiang Mai and vowed to practice. My knee was not 100%, but it had been a while since I last trained in a dojo.
Chiang Mai University Aikido Club
My personal challenge on this trip has been to do what see and not what I know. Sensei after sensei has pointed out this flaw. In order to advance in my training I have to learn with eyes and make my body do what I have seen and not what I remembered from a previous instructor. As a slow learner, I find this task exceeding difficult. Too often I revert back to the technique I know, and not the nuanced details being shown. This class was a perfect class for me to practice what I saw.
Sensei Blacknell develosped a Jyo Saburi. It was like nothing I had ever seen. There was no familiar movement in it. Based on the unending circle concept in Aikido, the jyo was in constant movement in circles and spirals. The jyo rotated around my hands, neck, back and was passed from one hand to the other all in circular motions or figure eights. It was very different from the pragmatic parry, attack, parry, counterattack with which I was familiar. Continual unending movement with the jyo was the focus.
Ren Shin Kan Dojo
I was hesitant to visit the Ren Shin Kan Dojo (Facebook Here) as it was so far from the city center. I remember Sensei Parks telling me that sometimes the dojos are “in out of the way places”, but they are most often worth the trip. I commissioned a Grab scooter to drive me there. This involved some Big Aikido as the scooter driver spent half the time weaving through traffic and the other half of the time in the lane of oncoming traffic. I kept telling myself: Blend. Go with the flow. (And if all else fails, it’s an opportunity to practice high speed forward ukeme)
I arrived just in time to change and line up.
The techniques were familiar. The class mixed young students and adults with four visiting Akidoa from other parts of the world – France, the UK, and the USA. There were four senseis on the mat: Sombat Sensei, Teerarat Sensei, Blacknell Sensei, and Sensei Jerome who was visiting from France. Needless to say I got a very good work out. There was a lot of joy and exploration of techniques on the mat. I trained with everyone. They made me feel like part of the dojo.
Sensei Blacknell took the time on the various techniques to link the open hand movement to jyo movements. These connections were frequently made in my home dojo and it was nice to continue to see them.
During an Ikyo technique he made a compelling reason for not grabbing the wrist. Many time students do this. “However if you do this, notice that you then become the uke and the attacker becomes the nage, and the roles are reversed.” This was a clever bit of insight that gave me pause to think. Control is in the movement, blending, off balancing and not in the grabbing.
Even though training was hard in the tropical heat and humidity, I thoughtfully enjoyed myself.
Like Sensei Park prophesied, the trip was well worth it. The hospitality and generosity shown by Ren Shin Kan were unparalleled. I sincerely hope to return here one day.