Lost And Found: A Serbian Road Trip

Louise Hunt

The morning began well; the Ren Shin Kan Gang were off on their travels once more. Senseis Gordon Jones and Philip Smith had been invited to teach jointly again on the annual Easter course hosted by the Serbian Aikikai (I had been lucky enough to attend their first joint Serbian course two years previously). The rest of the British contingent on this occasion included Paul Garratt, Rebecca Kelly, Sean Taylor, Mark Vanes, Lee Hubbard and Satu Vainika, Mark Machin and Neil Kennerley from UCL London. Sensei Mire Zloh, Fukushidoin from UCL, and a senior teacher in the Serbian Aikikai was already in Belgrade with his family, awaiting our arrival.

So, back to Friday morning, and all bodies and bags were all accounted for (Sensei Philip Smith had already flown out separately from Birmingham Airport; more of that later!) Luggage and ‘sticks’ (we never mention the w- word!) were duly checked in and we went off in pursuit of coffee, the Bureau de Change, breakfast and more – er - coffee!

After only a minor delay with the flight, we arrived that afternoon at Belgrade Airport –then a brief moment of panic, as we realized we had lost sensei Jones’s weapons bag somewhere in transit. Lost Luggage were helpful, and informed us that the bag was still in London (it could have been much worse – imagine being without a change of underwear or a toothbrush!)

The sincere, warm welcome from Sasa and his students made up for any lingering sense of unease, Then Sasa asked where Philip was. Problem. No Philip. The Serbians had been watching the arrivals carefully, but of Philip there was no sign.

Lost: one weapons bag, and now one Shidoin – Lost luggage were not going to be much help on this one! Philip turned out to be stuck in Zurich; a problem with the connecting flight would prevent him from joining us until tomorrow. History was starting to repeat itself, as the same thing had happened during the last Sensei Jones-Smith course in Serbia.

Still, the rest of us arrived at the ‘Pinki’ sports centre ready to train. Since it was my second visit, it was wonderful to see so many faces – old friends and new, particularly Novak, Ljiljana, Vladimir, Maria and many other good friends with whom I had trained last time. Sensei Jones taught in his usual dynamic and exciting style, focussing on various kokyunage-based movements.

After the class we went back to our hotel to get ready for the evening’s meal - only to hear that the indomitable Sensei Philip had embarked on a cross-border marathon, flying to Zagreb in Croatia, before driving the 300km to reach Belgrade! We were relieved and very glad when Philip finally appeared at the restaurant, cheerful and as lively as ever - none the worse for his long journey!

Saturday brought some exciting classes from the Senseis, both of them focussing on different aspects of contact and harmony between Uke and Tori. The Serbian students were very quick in picking up the threads of both Senseis’ ideas and made them work very effectively.

That evening we ate in the old Bohemian quarter of Zemun (which adjoins the newer area of Belgrade). The food was wonderful, the entertainment even better, with live traditional music. Mr Mark Vanes was persuaded to put his best foot forward by the band’s singer – both definite candidates for Strictly Come Dancing! The entire evening was fantastic, full of laughter and camaraderie – with such great hosts it was impossible not to have a brilliant time!

Gradings were held on the Sunday of the course; there were 22 candidates for Shodan and above! Needless to say, both candidates and ukemi were exhausted by the end, but it was great to see so much good, technical aikido. Congratulations to all those who took their tests, and especially to those who achieved the grades they wanted.

Looking back on the trip, I realize how lucky we are in Aikido to have such opportunities to make such strong and lasting friendships. We may not see fellow Aikidoka for several years, but that spark, based on shared experiences, laughter and training together can be so easily reignited, it is as though we are not separate. Perhaps this is part of the harmony that characterises Aikido. Anyway, I do count myself very fortunate to have made so many good friends over the years, at RSK, in Serbia and elsewhere. It is one of the things I value most in my practise.

Louise Hunt, 3rd Dan so Hombu,

UKA Fukushidoin ,2006