Friday, October 10, 2008

October 9, 2008 - Heathrow Airport - London

It's been a grand time in the UK and Eastern Europe this past week. First - Brighton, England on October 2-3 - very calm fall weather - beautiful city, lots of energy - vibrant people and sights. Like Santa Cruz (the people are) multiplied by factor of 10- far out clothes, shops, coffee houses, etc. I took the "coach" there from Heathrow and visited friend and aikidoka Mark Walsh. We spent hours & hours walking around and linked up with Peter Hamill of Roffey Park Institute and a few other folks for dinner on Friday. One of them being John Whitmore who was introduced through a connection with my friend and associate Lisa Ludwigsen . Actually it's "Sir" John Whitmore ... he's a knight, and author of Coaching for Performance. His book bio acclaims: "Sir John Whitmore began his career as a professional racing driver, driving for the highly successful Ford team at Le Mans and won both the British and European Saloon Car championships in the 1960s."

Friday after dinner was spent two hours of training at the dojo where Mark trains in Brighton. First hour was kashima, which I've seen but not practiced before. Three visiting senseis - all Brits - who study in France under Jaff Raji and were visiting and one of them led the hour kashima before open hand aikido ... my good luck. I'm also wanting to learn the "soft" high fall - and one gave me a few minutes of time after class on that - enough for a sense, but lots of instruction & practice is needed. I'll (hopefully) get a bit more tomorrow night on the "soft" highs here in Krakow - but no guarantee on that and you'll understand as you read on. Falling softly has been something I've wanted to know for over 10 years ... and as it any embodied practice will help me "fall softly" in all areas of life - a talent needed during turbulent times.

Arrived in Krakow Saturday, and Sunday drove to Krosno where led a Samurai Game workshop for BN Office Systems (Monday & today) hosted by Aiki-Management - organized by my associates Pawel (pronounce "pah-vel") Olesiak and Pawel Bernas (who run A-M and are senseis in Krokow). It was three hours of narrow curvy roads through what could have passed for a mix between southern Oregon and the hills/valleys around Gettysburg on first a clear then turned cloudy leaf changing fall day -- very green grasses and pastures, a cow or and crops in many people's yards - owner-built very sturdy homes, but the farther we got towards the Ukraine border the more there were family built wood homes - some log other plank - about 100 to 200 years old still comfortably lived in. It's extremely beautiful country.

On the drive to Krosno we're comparing notes about what they require on shodan exams and what's on ours . When I explained the tanto kata that Richard Strozzi-Heckler teaches - Pawel Olesiak got very curious because he had never heard of it. I explained that it's a "Richard thing" and probably makes sense it's relatively unknown. We're driving these countryside back roads (two cars wide - cars passing and headed straight on to cars coming our way) we're talking and moving thru it. At breakfast on Monday he says, "You have to teach Wednesday's aikido class at our dojo in Krakow so everyone can get whole hour on this kata. You have to do this!" (imagine a forceful Polish accent and you'll get the picture) I start to object, and Olesiak says, "No ... you have to do this." Bernas (pronounced burnah-sh) just sat silently (which is his usual MO) and grinned and shook his head "yes, yes, yes". Thursday morning at breakfast before we completed the program for BN Office Solutions Olesiak says, "We're telling you - word's already on website and email already sent so more students will come tomorrow night's class. So you got to do this thing."

Soooooooo my thoughts were ... "Tomorrow's going to be an interesting day" - visit a famous salt mine outside of Krakow in the morning, teach aikido, rush to train station to catch an all-night train Krakow to Warsaw in time for 6:30 am flight to UK & arrive Gatwick, grab another bus for hour and half ride to Heathrow, fly to LAX, hop a plane to SFO ... and on back home an all day Thursday excursion.

And that's almost what happened ... but things different when then happen than when planned. As a good tourist I agreed to visit the mine but with the prejudiced thought "salt mine?" I was wrong - it was incredible - a must for anyone who visits the Krakow area, the Wieliczk Salt Mine - see and the photo taken hundreds of feet underground of the church carved inside a cavern. Seven hundred years old, and 1000 feet underground now no longer in operation as a mine, but one of UNESCO most favored places of interest in the world. I took lots of pictures of this most historical and interesting place - beyond description. A reminder to me of how easy it is to prejudge things ... and how unaware we are when limited to our own history contained by our borders.

Wednesday night began with an hour of "basics" at the Krakow dojo ... with about 40 others I was a student. Then I immediately led the advanced class with 17ish or so. It went great. The "Pawel's" couldn't have been happier with the knife kata.

Was supposed to transit Krakow to Warsaw by train to catch my plane, but last minute changes were underway because as Olesiak said, "Polish trains - you can't depend on them. If you're even thirty minutes late it'll be bad." So they hired a guy to drive ensuring me timely journey from Krakow to Warsaw.

Timely it was ... more like something from James Bond. Spiriting away from the dojo at 10pm to a dimly lit parking lot across town in Krakow. Jumping from one car to another - handshakes all around with "dobrydania" (good bye). The driver, a guy named Peter (friend of theirs who they described as "professional driver" spoke only Polish) raced me out of the city. What was supposed to be a 5 hour drive was accomplished in 3 and 1/2 hours. Several near misses on the drive with two being extremely wild. It was better than a movie!

Life's never what you expect it to be - and it can be a blast. It's all in the attitude.

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