Though I have lived in Texas most of my life, I have never been to Houston. It is the size of a small country with the traffic of L.A. The weather felt like an armpit or perhaps someone's gym socks. After wading through 2 hours of Houston Friday rush hour traffic, I made it to the event mostly on time.
There were some names in the field there. Nick Lowry of the Kaze Uta Budo Kai, my friend and teacher had flown in. The infamous blogger and aikido man Patrick Parker of the Mokuren Dojo and Blog had shown up, trying to scoop me on the good stories. Karla Martin of the American Tomiki Aikido Association was also in attendance. Then there was some Clint Eastwood looking Judo guy who I had never heard of, but wore one of them funny looking candy cane belts.
Yoji Kondo is a small kind man. He talked in a thick accent and tended to ramble on about Nobel peace prizes, alcohol in Australia, rocket science stories and about the historical context of techniques! He was very entertaining to listen to. His technique was small, short, sharp and effective. It was nothing fancy or pretty to look at but, I was his uke several times and despite being twice his size he handled me OK. While his technique was not the spirit I am trying to craft my Aikido into, I thoroughly enjoyed his preferences and perspectives all the same.
About an hour into the seminar I partnered up with Patrick Parker. The instruction was not very clear, so we decided to play and do some randori. I think for both of us randori is our default system of play. I have been a fan of Patrick Parker's blog for a few years now and was looking forward to getting some mat time in. I was not sure how good he was going to be, but I will be damned he countered me into a sweet Ikkyo/oshi taioshi within a few moves. I snared him in a few sweet kote hineri techniques. I gave up a few ushiro ates to him as he drug me down from behind. I scooped his leg and sent him vertical. His next waza he responded with a foot sweep that sent me crashing. Dragging myself up off the mat I took my time and scored a few sweeps myself. He scored some of the best sumi otoshi motions I have felt in a long time. We played smooth, technical and consistent. He has my stamp of approval as a great player with a soft touch. Getting to play the game with this man was one of my big three highlights of the weekend. Read his blog!
I need a T-shirt "I threw Patrick Parker and all I got was Sumi Otoshi-ed"
I also got to randori with the Clint Eastwood looking guy. By Clint Eastwood looking, I mean old and tough. He looked well into his 60s with a white buzz cut, but still larger and more muscular than myself. The second I touched him I knew I was outclassed. His name is Bob Rea. He was very nice to me, breaking my balance and half foot sweeping me playfully about 40 times. He is amazing. Immediately I knew I had found a new person to start playing with. He has the mojo.
We got to watch Bob Rea play with Nick Ushin Lowry. These guys are two high level Judo players. They played nice and technical. Within two steps Bob lifted up Nick in the most beautiful foot sweep I have ever seen. True to character Nick was grinning ear to ear, knowing he got taken clean and sweet. It was appropriate that NASA was a few miles up the road, because in two more steps Bob lifted up Nick again in a textbook sweep, more beautiful than the first that sent him into orbit. Nick's Judo is awesome, so this Bob fellow is someone I plan on meeting again and stealing all his secrets.
Seminar highlight #2 - meeting Bob Rea.
After the Saturday training and meal Patrick Parker, Nick Ushin Lowry and myself went to Pat's hotel for some beverages. Pat and I put down some drinks and the three of us talked deep into the night. Nick was true to form, acting of the agent of wisdom that he is. The lessons and insights that came from the conversation between the three of us was one of those art changing moments in my personal history. I look forward to seeing how my art unfolds from here on. Again one of the true highlights of a seminar weekend is a moment like this.
Lowry Sensei and I shared several meals, discussing politics, rambling on about philosophy and sharing concerns for loved ones. Moments with teachers like this make the art worth studying, as there is so much to be learned over a stack of pancakes and a giant biscuit.