On Friday June 20, 2003, King-sensei introduced the art of aikido to a dozen 11 and 12-year-olds as part of the City of Longmont’s Summer of Adventure camp. The organizers planned a full day of instruction and the event was held at the Isaac Walton Clubhouse (the sun-filled location of last year’s Bi-annual Shugenkai Summer School). Several of King-sensei’s students also attended to assist with demonstrations and instruction.
Since it was a warm summer day, most of the campers arrived wearing tank tops and shorts. This allowed them the full experience of repetitive skin-to-mat contact. Attempting to get the girls to remove all of their earrings, necklaces, friendship bracelets and other assorted jewelry proved challenging as some of these items were claimed to be “permanent.” This all fit in with the spirit of adventure, however, as King-sensei relaxed some of the typical dojo etiquette “just for the day” so the campers could focus on the fun stuff.
The youths claimed no previous exposure to aikido but seemed excited to learn. King-sensei began by talking about how aikido is different from other martial arts, how we have partners not opponents, how we lead and don’t force, punch or kick, how we protect ourselves by learning ukemi, the art of falling. Ukemi practice proceeded in small groups, starting with sitting seiza and putting a shoulder on the mat and rolling over it and continuing on to basic forward rolls, standing forward rolls and backward rolls. It was surprising how quickly most of the campers caught on to aikido rolls, and it was even more surprising to see the determination of the ones who were struggling to overcome their fear and keep trying.
This paid off in the afternoon when King-sensei brought out the shinnai to challenge the youths with their newly acquired skills. A few slaps of the “alligator” on the mat brought some very interesting expressions to the faces waiting in line, but no one bolted for the door. Even the most timid tried to roll over the raised shinnai, under the vertically moving shinnai and over the sweeping shinnai – and only a couple of them got nipped by the alligator! Judging by the Ooh!s and Aah!s, the campers seemed to really enjoy this challenge.
Moving on to technique, King-sensei started with the katate tori tenkan movement, followed by katate tori kokyunage, ikkyo and zenpo nage techniques. When King-sensei was demonstrating, each time he took his ukes over the top, a small group of boys sitting together would exclaim “Suwweeeeet!” They practiced, boys with boys, girls with girls (one girl said she absolutely could not practice with a boy) and got the basics very quickly. King-sensei continued with katate kosa dori zenpo nage, kokyunage and nikkyo. By this time, just about every time King-sensei took his uke to the mat at all the boys were yelling “Suwwweeeet!” Then they got the most sweet treat of all – they each got to throw King-sensei to the mat!
After almost four and a half hours of aikido, even these adventurous youngsters were getting tired. King-sensei led them through a brief session of ki no kokyu ho and then took questions. A question about the “wooden sticks” on the rack at the shomen led to demonstrations of attackers with weapons, jo-bokken interaction, and multiple attackers, all of which of course brought additional exclamations from the Sweet Team.
Thanks to the City of Longmont for offering Shugenkai Colorado this opportunity, thanks to the intrepid youth who partook, and most of all, thanks to King-sensei for volunteering his time and bringing so much enthusiasm and energy to give the kids a most sweet adventure.