Seminar season is just about over for the year, though maybe there are one or two still lurking out there. Seminars are an opportunity to get out of the comfort zone of your regular dojo to learn knew something new about aikido, grab the wrists of people you may not get a chance to often and get exposure to often very high level teaching. It helps provide the diversity of experience that is so important to developing robust aikido, develop confidence and to experience different views of the art. Its not always an easy thing to walk into another dojo but well worth the effort. Here are some pointers and encouragement for going to seminars, or even just visiting an unfamiliar dojo.
Make contact ahead of time
Its a good idea to contact the seminar organisers ahead of time, its not only polite but you can find out about last minute changes and also helps them to run a better seminar by knowing how many are coming. If the seminar is outside of your usual school/ group you can find out if thats Ok and anything special you might need to be aware of e.g. hakama wearing, belts etc..
Take a training buddy
Its not always an easy thing to do to go to a seminar so take a training buddy along to help you break the ice on and off the mat. You can share experiences afterwards, cause while you'll both be doing the same thing you'll pick up different things
Social events are important
Accompanying the seminar is usually some social events - event if its just coffee at the local between classes, go to these if you have a chance its not only a way to connect with people but also to find out more and ask some burning questions
It doesn't matter of your black or white
Wether you are a senior or junior student you are still going to get a lot out of going to a seminar so don't wait till you think you are ready…you already are. If your in your own school wear your usual training uniform, if your training outside of your usual group maybe leave the Black dragon Gi with the big logo at home and go for something a little plainer. If you wear a coloured belt check thats OK - many schools wear white until they go black. If your holding a black belt check its Ok to wear in another school, but don't fall into the false humility trap and not ask. In many seminars white belts are ignored by the seniors so wearing a black one gets you more mat time with seniors and maybe even sensei. When working with others and lining up assume you are the junior of those in the host school
Empty your cup
Ask yourself why you are going to a seminar? Probably the correct answer is to learn something new. To learn something new its important to empty your cup first so there is room for the new knowledge to fit in. Do your best to adopt what is being talk - even if it means your using two left feet. Sometime seminars are replete with people teaching instead of doing what sensei is teaching.
Grey is the new black.
Try to be a chameleon in everything you see in the dojo, this is not the time for evaluating or comparing what is done with how you normally do it. Take note of everything from lining up, the warmups, the ukemi, the techniques and also the etiquette. Pitch in with the setup and packup - its appreciated. If training outside your school you might assume you are the most junior person in the room and copy all others.
Beware of the dog
After you have been to a few seminars (and visited a few dojo) you may notice this phenomena, sensei is always friendly and helpful, but the beta dog or senior student in the dojo/ seminar may want to check you out a bit more. Sometimes this means showing you that 'beta dog' is better than you, sometimes it means correcting you a lot. Just ride this out, once it passes you can all have fun together
Seminars are sometimes a time for learning and less amount doing (there is plenty of time for practice latter). Taking a notebook along tot down ideas after class if they are fresh ( or writing in class where permitted) is a good way to ensure you remember key points for later, sometimes years later. Having made a decision to take notes its difficult to know when to start and when to stop. I like to remove the filter and just take notes and worry about whats important latter because its hard to judge at the time sometimes.
Grabbing sensei's wrist
Hand to wrist is the real transmission of the art, verbal visual and through other people is all second hand. So if you get the chance to take ukemi for sensei do so. You can enhance this by having good ukemi skills and sitting ready to move if asked during demonstration time. During practice time take the opportunity to practice with sensei if the opportunity presents, work with seniors in the school, or go and ask a question (where appropriate) or just ask to receive the technique. Some of the inner aspects of aikido can be very difficult to see.
Ditch your mates at the door
Ok so its seminar time and your dojo mates have all come with you. Try not to stick together in a huddle just working with each other, you can do this any time back in your home dojo. Go forth and grab the wrists of any you haven't worked with before.
Work with seniors in the school
Who are the seniors in the school? These are usually the senior instructors and the people most likely to receive ukemi for sensei - these are probably the people most clued in to what sensei is teaching so take every opportunity to work with them that you get.
Be responsible for your own development
Right now make a conscious decision about your commitment to seminars and attending seminars. Think about the number to attend your school, with other schools or even consider seminars in other arts.
Attending seminars can be outside your comfort zone, eat into your recreational time and can be a bit of a drain on the hip pocket. All of these things may leave you turning down seminar opportunities at a sub conscious level so make the decision today to attend a certain number of seminars throughout each year. Committing now will help you develop long term learning habits and establish a good foundation of knowledge and experiences for the future. Do the seminars in your school, some outside your school and pick some that might be outside the art of aikido as well.
Make sure your ukemi is up to the standards of the school. Ukemi means are you comfortable taking the kind of falls in the school of the seminar (e.g. flip or breakfalls are the norm in some places). Are you able to provide the right energy as uke. For some its a strong grip throughout the technique, for others its providing a constant energy and centre to centre connection, others schools provide an attack and then are a rag doll for nage. Ultimately aikido is aikido but the training methods to get there vary.
Before and after class
Make sure you arrive early enough to fill out forms adn to help with the setup, Pitch in after class with the pack up, clean up. Its always appreciated.
Never, ever be late
Being late reflects badly on you, your dojo and Aikido Yuishinkai