Archive for June, 2012

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White Belt (Aikido/Judo/Karate, etc. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Before my recent sabbatical, I was told the next grading would probably be in July. On returning to the club, I found the date was set and despite my recent absence, I was being invited to grade as 6th Kyu. This is the lowest rung on the Aikido ladder, or more appropriately the first step on the Aikido road.

The list of techniques required for demonstration at this level is fairly short. However, they all need to be done in Ura and Omote forms and of course left and right handed. In addition we are expected to execute Omote variants of the same technique as the uke is regaining is posture following the Ura version.

Over the last couple of sessions, I and a few others have been given some extra coaching on the basics. Usually the class is a mix of grades all attempting the same techniques – ranging from basic to quite advanced. The good news is that some things are coming together and my understanding of the basics is significantly better than it was.

The club I belong to is quite traditional and does not award coloured belts until Shodan (1st degree black-belt), but I will still feel a great deal of achievement if I pass. It’s been remarked  that the 6th kyu grading is designed as an easy introduction to the art – not sure if that makes me feel better or worse!

Its also been said that the 6th kyu techniques form the foundation of practice at higher levels – this is a recurring comment at the dojo and from other bloggers.  The recent coaching sessions have been very useful in correcting faults in technique at all levels.

Despite my current weaknesses with some techniques (notably Tenchinage and Sumi Otoshi), I am quite looking forward to the grading as a benchmark (one way or the other) of my current ability. I recall having difficulties with the Judo forms of Sumi Otoshi too. As with all assessments you do for the first time, it’s difficult to judge the pass criteria or how your memory and body will react on the day.

Image representing YouTube as depicted in Crun...

I have also found that there are some fairly vast departures in Aikido technique in books and on the web – notably YouTube videos, causing significant confusion. I have been trying to distil the advice and coaching into some universal axioms I can apply.


Carry on Abroad! – Photo Credit: Wikipedia

Due to a mix of work commitments and a 2 week family holiday to Spain’s Balearic Island of Ibiza,  this is my first post in a while. I wondered if I should take some gadgets on holiday to keep my tyres on the information superhighway (does anyone use that term any-more?) and decided against it. I did make sure the MP3 player was loaded with tunes and I had a stock of books. Likewise one of the Aikido Sensei suggested finding a few sessions while away and, I did research it but there were none close to my work or holiday destinations.

Certainly, I planned to do some SCUBA diving on my vacation. I have an instructor rating with the British Sub Aqua Club and dived to depths regarded as a safe maximum for open-circuit, compressed air divers. I’ve been narc’d both positively and negatively feeling euphoria and panic. However, it has been about 2 years since I last did a serious dive and I felt a mixture of apprehension, calm and excitement about it. Usually I would have carried out a couple of prep-dives in UK by mid-march, including an equipment shakedown in the pool. I had dived with the same centre many times over the last 6 years and was at home with the kit, staff, boat and most of their dive sites which vary from wrecks and caves to picturesque rocky reefs.Usually I do about 4 dives over 2 days on a 2 week vacation.

I selected a dive trip to an island near Formenterra, La Espardell. There is a dive site that is “muy interestante” that I have dived before known as La Plataforma. It was a fish farm that collapsed in a storm and resembles and oil rig. Lots of columns concrete sheets make a good home for Baracuda. The site is not marked at the surface, but has a submerged buoy at about 6 metres. The sea-bed is at about 30-35m depending on the season. The Mediterranean tidal like the seas around the UK, so its fairly easy diving – no slack water windows!

On the morning of my dive, I had an early breakfast, packed my kit and waited for the pick-up. While waiting I turned on my dive computer to be greeted with an error code. I managed to borrow one at the dive centre, got changed and headed for the boat. During the ride out I got acquainted with my buddy for the day – a swimming pool installer from Leicester. As usual, the boat was filled with a mix of nationalities – Spanish, French, German, Dutch and American father/son pair. We were the only Brits.

On arrival at the site, one of the guides took a line to the submerged buoy, anchoring the bow of the dive boat. We carried out our buddy check and were ready to go. The Dive Marshal gave us the nod and we hit he water with a backwards roll. I could hear one of the dive guides talking the American father and son pair through their buddy check as I asked one of the surface cover guys to pass my camera that I had left in one of the fresh water buckets.

Due to some clearing problems I took a little longer to reach depth than I would have liked. From then on, the dive was a good one, but with less Barracuda than my last visit. The columns and concrete panels were spectacular. I suffered a slight reverse block on the way up, carried out a safety stop at 6m and swam to the spine ladder at the aft of the boat. I have to admit, I felt a bit cold towards the end of the dive. Once on board, it only took a few minutes before we were off to the second site – a reef called “Llado sur”.

Following safe diving practice, the second dive was a maximum depth  of 20m. I suffered the same embarrassing clearing problem  as the previous dive and ended up making a slow descent. My buddy and I decided that we would stay in the 10-15m range as we both felt cold on the last dive. Again, the dive itself was great. Quite a bit to see and we all did the swim-through the split in the centre of the pinnacle.

No reverse block this time, but it took a few minutes for my ears to settle. Back in the boat, be de-kitted and headed back to shore. After getting the kit sorted, showering and chatting to the centre owners, I ate some lunch on the beach and headed back to the hotel. The next day I ended up with a full blown case of the sniffles and had to cancel the dive trip I had booked.

Diving is only part of the fun I have abroad. I spent every day in the pool, sea or on the beach with the wife and kids. We all had a great time as usual. I took the kids on a few walks while the wife cached up on her reading. We found a few geocaches, had a trip to island capital (Eivissa), climbing to the top of Dalt Villa  and went to the funfair. The evening entertainment in the hotel was good and the kids loved the junior disco.

We hired a pedal boat from the beach one day and went out into the bay. I did a bit of swimming, and wished I had brought my snorkelling kit.  There was a great selection of marine life all within 10m of the surface. The fish obviously felt safe out in the bay, away from the tourists fishing from the rocks around the edge. I carried out a few snorkel dives, taking videos with the underwater camera and finding some cuttlebones too. I found the snorkelling very satisfying in lieu of “proper” diving.

So all-in-all, the vacation was well-earned, much enjoyed and all too soon over. Back in the UK, I switched on the work mobile and the calls and texts came rolling in. After the first day back, by holiday was but a hazy memory!

I’ll update the post with some photos soon.