by Jun Akiyama
I went to my first Aikido seminar about three or four weeks into my Aikido training. Since then, I've attended on average at least one seminar a month. Over the years, in attending seminars ranging from those held at my home dojo to week-long summer camps across the country where I knew absolutely nobody, I've picked up a few tips that have made my attending these seminars more enjoyable. I thought I'd share some of them here with everyone.
If you're hesitant to attend a seminar because you feel too inexperienced, go to one any way. No matter your rank or experience, you will undoubtedly learn. If you still feel unsure, go to a seminar and just watch! Although there's no substitute for actually participating, watching seminars and classes is another form of training (mitori geiko).
Before attending the seminar, make sure you label your equipment - your dogi, bokken, jo, hakama, and anything else that may get shuffled in the crowd. I can't count how many seminars I've attended during which people have had to search for their unlabeled possessions.
Bring a couple of sets of dogi to the seminar. If there are multiple sessions in one day, you'll be much more comfortable in later sessions if you have a fresh, dry set of dogi to wear. Your training partners may, perhaps, even appreciate it, too...
If you will be traveling by airplane and will be taking your weapons (bokken, jo, shinai, shoto, tanto) with you, avoid using the term "weapons" when you check in your bag; airport security has been known to detain people who have used that term. I usually call them "stick for martial arts." One of my former teachers refers to her weapons as "dancing sticks."
Even before you step on the mat, make sure you hydrate yourself and have something in your stomach. By the time you're thirsty, it's already too late to be getting a drink of water; drink plenty of liquids at least an hour before each session. Avoid eating "heavy" foods and stick to easily digestible entrees. * During a seminar, I have found it easy to revert back to my "usual" patterns of doing techniques, moving, and thinking on the mat rather than attempting what is being shown. When this happens, I make an effort to watch what the instructor is doing and try what they are demonstrating. The differences in approach are oftentimes more important than their similarities.
Seminars are often crowded - sometimes far more crowded than regular classes. Look around you as you train and practice safely. A "cardinal" rule in Aikido practice is to "throw to the outside" (i.e. towards the edge of the mat) rather than into the middle of the mat. If there are too many people, you may wish to just move your partner to the point of breaking balance.
Although it is tempting to work with folks with whom you are acquainted, training with new people whom you've never met is an important part of attending seminars. Feel their approach of interpreting what the teacher is demonstrating. Once again, you can learn from the differences.
Don't worry about absorbing everything. Picking up just one or two concepts from a seminar is often more enriching than trying to cram every single technique and nuance into your head.
If we are fortunate enough to be hosting a seminar at our dojo, please offer housing for people who will be attending. Having been one of those folks who has traveled to a totally "foreign" dojo, I will say that receiving a gift of being hosted by a local student or teacher is very precious. Perhaps, someday, you too will be in the situation of looking for a place to stay at a seminar...
Part of the fun of attending seminars is, indeed, what happens off the mat. Be friendly to those from out of town. Ask them about their home dojo. Invite them out to lunch. If you're the visiting guest, don't just hang out in the corner - get to know people. Sometimes, all it takes is saying, "Hi! What's your name?"
Perhaps, most importantly - have fun! Seminars can be seen as a celebration of a group of individuals all getting together for the purpose of learning Aikido. Everyone at the seminar is there to learn Aikido! If that's not a reason to celebrate, I don't know what is...