The Bangor course was held in early August and was quite unusual with four top senseis' taking the course. About 14 members of the Aikikai attended various days with a hardy few braving the whole week.
The course was attended every day by more than 200 Aikidoka some from outside the UK. The sessions started at 9:15 and generally ran till 17:45 with breaks. The four Senseis were all different in the way of their Aikido and also coaching style.
Chiba Sensei: had an immediate presence and introduced concepts and techniques through clear and long demonstrations. Yamada Sensei was a better communicator in English but restricted himself to concentrating on maybe only 3 or 4 techniques/ideas in a session. Tamura Sensei was an elusive teacher whose classes were seamless. Shibita Sensei was a quiet technical teacher of few words.
Avoiding practising with Aikikai members was easy with so many people on the mat who were friendly and open. The way people practised changed during the week. The initial practises were intensive and intent. As the week went on there was more concentration on how techniques were done - people were thinking and hence the quality seemed to be higher and the pace a little less frenetic.
Well, what did I get out of the course - new thoughts/angles, new/different ways of performing techniques and unfortunately the largest mat burn I've ever had. It was pleasing to find that most people were studiously doing what Sensei's showedand there weren't many strength merchants about. Certainly I've come back with ideas/concepts that that I wish to try out and explore.
The interesting thing is most of the time basic attacks and defences were being studied and making us challenge existing concepts and feeling by variations on techniques - this is very useful because it makes you look very closely at what you are doing - something that you can stop doing when cosy in a static club environment.
Yes I enjoyed it and others did. So much so that a group are off to practise under Chiba Sensei towards the end of September in Durham.
A little while back I was asked why must we attend courses - the simplistic answer is if you want a grade after 6th Kyu then you need to go on our Aikikai courses as its a requirement of the syllabus. However there is a deeper reason one can become very comfortable in a club environment seeing and practising with the same people week after week - you automatically learn who are light and those that have no flow in them; those that follow well for certain techniques and those that don't. Its called getting into a rut or becoming incestuous. This is bad you have to learn to adapt for the moment not already knowing! otherwise you are not broadening your experience of proper practise.
In beginners this doesn't happen for a goodly time.
After all they are having to cope with getting use to basic Aikido - the posture, the ukemis, learning basic techniques; learning names; learning different basic attacks. Probably after about a year they begin to feel at home and to start consolidate - if they know 100 techniques and don't have to think about ukemi then they may think they have arrived. The danger is switching off; is watching but not seeing; doing but not feeling and understanding. But then tangible mileposts start spreading out and become less frequent.
Other dangers are turning into a mirror of your own Sensei warts and all!?
You must realise that your Aikido is your Aikido; not a mirror of someone else - after all we are all built differently - what we must take are the principles and the feelings. The more we experience Aikido and its many thousands and thousands of variations of techniques with many new people - the more our mind will open and the more we will assimilate the essence of Aikido in the search for harmony / spirit within martial movements.
So what does a course do it gives scope for you to - we meet more people - make new friends; broadens your Aikido outlook; creates awareness of standards; gives experience of a variety of teaching; enhance generating Ki as you cannot run all day on strength; and improves your fitness.
In other words a course should freshen you Aikido experience, validate what you have learnt or show you new routes, through to exposing you to variations and different feelings within attacks with a wide range of partners.
Andrew Baird Published 2001