Nowadays, when all dojos had to stop their training activities because of Convid-19, many of us felt left out. How to continue? How not to lose the connection with our students? These are the questions that everyone has had to ask themselves during these challenging times
by RENATO FILIPPIN
Many teachers and senior students have started showing up on Facebook with personal activities, each drawing on their strengths. Whether the material proposed was Aikitaiso or Bukiwaza, everyone’s purpose was clear: try to inspire people to train on their own.
Personally what I am feeling most is the lack of my training companions. I miss their smile, their surprised faces, their difficulty in performing a movement for the first time. In a nutshell, I feel the absence of our dojo community, seeing each other, seeing that they are still there, ready to start again. I feel that the students are full of desire, but also of anxiety about not being able to learn anything from their teacher anymore.
With this idea, I asked myself what possibilities were presented to me to give students the opportunity to learn something. The resulting list included Breathing Exercises, Streching-Aikitaiso, Kata with the Jo, Kumitachi with the Bokken, Bases of Bukiwaza, etc. But how can we join to practice together, given the period in which we find ourselves? The only possibility was to organize an Online Meeting, in which everyone could participate with a Computer and a Cam. I then asked myself how much minimum space would be needed, and I said to myself that 2 × 2 meters should have been sufficient.
I didn’t wait long, the idea was already burning in my head. So I asked myself: what do you need at technical level in terms of hardware and software to put everything into action? Two years ago St. Gallen Aikikai had developed its “Online Academy”, so the dojo was already ready with a videocamera and 1Gbit broadband internet. Therefore we had everything we needed to do a Bukiwaza workout online. In addition, our dojo is a private and non-public facility, and we can take advantage of it at our leisure: it seemed easily feasible and I moved to stage it.
First I started by informing the students of my own dojos in St. Gallen (Switzerland), Überlingen, Singen (Germany) and Moscow. “Come on, let’s try! Let’s do a first workout together”, I told them. Responses have all been positive, with comments such as: “Nice, finally we meet again”, “I want to get moving”, etc.
I started developing a training plan. The difficulty was represented by the fact that, as it is normal in every dojo, the student’s level in Bukiwaza’s work is very uneven. Some have just started, others have missed training, others have forgotten the Kata sequences, and so on. So I decided to start teaching Sansho1 – Part One of Chiba Sensei, a kata that I have been proposing for decades in my dojos. However, there are periods of weeks or sometimes months before the Kata is repeated, consequently many forget it: the present, therefore, was a perfect opportunity to review it, given the current limits mentioned above.
20 students participated in the first online training. In the following days, after having received their feedback, I had the idea of connecting with the masters of Birankai, who certainly memorized the Kata even better than I did. They could have given me some help in proposing it to my students, and also a refreshing of the details of the execution would not have hurt me.
Thus was born the idea of organizing the first International Online Seminar! I got in touch with Davinder Bath, who is the Chief Instructor of London Aikikai, even though he has been in Japan for two years and has been training at the Hombu Dojo. Davinder Bath, having been a student of Chiba sensei for over 26 years and having followed his teacher in many seminars, seemed to me the most suitable person to present the Kata Sansho1. I explained the idea to him and he agreed to present this online seminar together.
Subsequently, for two weeks we met several times online to discuss how to set up the seminar, who to invite, etc. and we finally decided to go online on April 15, 2020. “How many countries will participate?” Davinder asked me. My group would include students from Switzerland, Germany, China and Russia. Davinder added connections from Poland, Israel, India and England. I also contacted old students and friends from Mexico, Holland and Guatemala. Also counting Japan, we were talking about eleven countries and three continents! The project had taken on an unstoppable dynamic.
The only concern was that something would go wrong at technical level and frustrate all our efforts, but our enthusiasm to do this seminar was greater. That in this difficult period Aikido could bring together practitioners from three continents, eleven countries and about 50 people online made grow an unimaginable joy inside of me.
And so in the end we did it. The seminar was a complete success. Of course, the possibilities were limited for various reasons, for example many participants had never practiced the kata before and there were several different student levels, but despite these difficulties, the participants had fun and the learning effect was greater than initially hypothesized. The most important thing, however, was to see how suddenly borders no longer existed, as there were no language barriers, everyone simply took part and practiced Aikido.
In two years, in 2022, I intend to celebrate my 60th anniversary in Aikido. I hope to see many of these participants on the mats and to enjoy together Aikido, which always proves to be alive, Covid-19 or less …
I thank everyone for their eager participation. Sincere thanks go to Davinder Bath for his detailed teaching of the Sansho1 kata.
Copyright Renato Filippin ©2020
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