by Lorena Fortolis
About five years ago I took over an Aikido group in Mexico. The process of sharing what I've learned forced me to be more attentive to everything I do and obviously to never stop learning and try to improve.
Definitely, ( and I'm sure I'm not talking only for myself) for all the Aikido Tendoryu practitioners, the first step to achieve these goals is training in the Tendokan. So I decided to travel to Japan and stay a bit longer than the usual time we spend for a seminar.
The nature of my job gives me certain freedom and flexibility so I could make all the arrangements to spend around three months there.
dedicated the first few days to travel and see a little bit of the Japanese countryside. The spirit of Japan is implicit in the Budo practice so I tried with all my heart to have a less touristic approach during my trips. At the end, I can say it was a very balanced experience. But what I enjoyed the most was being able to spend a few days in a small town named Yori Naka, a place surrounded by vegetable crops, fruit trees, mountains and with inhabitants who were the kindest people I've ever met. I never lacked support, a greeting, or even a sweet. Nearby were some temples of the Shikoku pilgrims route, which is a walk around 88 temples throughout the island, and somehow I ended up visiting one of them. You can take two routes to get there. One is a very steep path through the mountains and the other one is the main road that goes along with the traffic. To be honest, I took the sidewalk thinking that it would be the shorter and maybe faster route, but it proved exactly to be the opposite; I think it was here where my learning process really started. After four hours walking, I realized that there were many kilometers more to go. I wanted to quit. I had to remind myself “if you give up here, it's going to be the same when you are in the tatami”. So I decided to keep going. Once in the temple, I prayed and asked for all the days ahead when I will be training. Most of the pilgrims that I met in that steep and rocky road were elderly ones. I felt great admiration for the strength and will of those people, and couldn't stop thinking about the spirit of the Japanese nation, so is in Aikido. Once in the temple, a gentleman came over and gave me a candle to light and a five yen coin which I used to thank for being there. I followed only two more temples of the peregrination.
When I arrived in Tokyo, I asked for permission to train in the Tendokan from 22nd of March to 28th of May. And imitating the spirit of the pilgrims I saw, I promised to myself not to miss any training session. Along the process I was made aware in different and really nice ways that they valued my efforts. This encouraged me to try harder, and not only by not skipping training days but use all my attention and intention during the training. Just like in the mountains, I felt inspired by the elderly along that steep path. The people in the Tendokan who train day after day throughout the year were an example to follow and they kept me going. I feel great admiration for all of them.
I visited the Tendokan for the first time in 2005, with all the support of Alfredo Corona, who started opening doors to bring the Tendoryu Aikido to Mexico. The same enthusiasm is still present and the intensity of a training there is unique. The best part of Aikido is that you never stop learning from it. There's always something new, there's always something to improve. In keiko you may experience moments when you feel like you need to forget everything and start again, but once you restart you can experience a difference and achieve a new connection.
Sincerely from my heart I can tell you that each and every one of these days was precious to me. The Tendokan is the best place in the world to learn Aikido. Shimizu Sensei is a great Budo teacher and the spirit of happiness and kindness is always present; yet you feel the rigor and formality of the practice.
I love my life in Mexico but saying good bye was heartbreaking.
And before finishing, just some words for the students of the Tendokan:
What do I value the most of these experience? Firstly the teachings and words of Shimizu Senseil. I'm convinced we are really fortunate to have a Budo Master like him. The lessons with Waka Sensei, Nagai Sensei and all the instructors were an enriching complement to the whole experience. And so was the support of all Tendokan classmates, I believe it’s a space that safeguards the real spirit of the Japanese nation I mentioned before. From the beginner to the most experienced one, all of the students were teachers for me during these days. They helped me to try hard, to improve, and even if I made mistakes they never make me feel that these cannot be corrected.
I'm obviously a bit frustrated because I couldn't speak and understand the Japanese language. I missed a lot but somehow everybody tried to make sure I could understand. I highly appreciate this gesture. I want to thank specially Birgit-san, I missed her a lot on the tatami.
I take a lot of homework with me to Mexico, from the beginners mind, learning to be awake and attentive. The kindness and courtesy to others, it is wonderful how a small gesture to other people can change everything. The sincerity while training, which probes difficult, as when you are careless your movements will turn mechanic. Keep working on the inner strength, connect with your classmates during the keiko with all your senses. And especially it remains clear to me that Aikido is not only form, it is “something else” and that “something else “the intangible and invisible that we need to keep working for, what makes us one with all.
You have a friend here in Mexico, a home and of course a dojo to train. You are all welcome. There's a saying in Mexico to express that, “mi casa es tu casa” (my house, is your house). I'm short of words to thank you for everything, for every teaching in the daily practice. All your attention, for the kindness and for your welcome to every practice in the dojo, for looking after me wondering if I was tired or if something hurt, the medicines, sweets, the few words in Japanese that I Iearnt from you, the memories, the good moments in the parties but especially in the keiko. You are very fortunate to be able to train in the Tendokan and I was really lucky to have the possibility to share these few months with you.
Thank you ever so much.