Friday, 14 October 2011

2011 Thanksgiving in NYC

Thanksgiving in Canada occurs on the first Monday of October, giving thanks for a strong harvest, and happens to coincide with Columbus Day in the United States. Canadians normally spend this long weekend gathering with family, taking their last trips to the cottage before winter, and gorging on all sorts of meat, veges, and desserts.  
With days-off at a premium for us, we decided to spend the weekend in New York City: Visiting Hanna's sister and to do some Iaido training at the local dojos:
  • The Ken Zen Institute, in lower Manhattan, is a narrow building with an elegant interior that belies a dark and plain exterior. With a beautifully laid hardwood floor and a couple of mirrors on one end, and a large, decorated shrine on the other; the space really captures the essence of an authentic Japanese dojo. Iaido is taught twice a week by Pam Parker Sensei (Renshi 6 Dan) with whom the three of us had many enlightening conversations on Iaido and Budo teachings in general. Her dedication as a student and teacher have inspired us to share the same attitude wherever we go.
  • Shidogakuin is located in midtown, just south of Grand Central Station. Iaido is taught once a week by Shozo Kato Sensei (Kyoshi 7 Dan Iaido, Kyoshi 8 Dan Kendo) with assistance from Debi Farmer Sensei (5 Dan). The 5th floor Karate dojo, in which Shidogakuin shares a space, can comfortably fit 12-15 students and sports a full-height, wall-length mirror. 
After a late arrival at La Guardia airport on Friday night, we took a 30 minute taxi ride to Cortlandt Street. The hotel gave us a closeup view of the construction of the Freedom Tower, lead building of the new World Trade Center complex, and the subway was right at our doorstep, both figuratively and literally. 
We spent the next morning walking through Chinatown before heading up to the East Village to meet up with Hanna's sister, Aya. We rendezvoused at the Starbucks on Astor Pl., then went for lunch at Otto Pizzeria, opened by Mario Batali. Unfortunately, our hopes of meeting the former Iron Chef were met with disappointment. 
Mark this -unaccomplished-

We made our way downtown again to attend the 4pm class at Ken Zen. Entering the front door and through a small foyer, one could see the dojo stretching deep into the building. The change rooms were located down a flight of stairs and had a common area with a couch and small refrigerator. Our arrival was met with smiles of many familiar faces from previous trips to NYC/Newark and more recently, at the AUSKF Summer Iaido Seminar.

The class schedule for the 10 of us went something like this:
  1. Warm-up
  2. Seitei - class divided in a 4 x 4 box facing each other with Parker- and Bressler-Sensei in the center. After a couple of forms, each box would rotate so you had a different person in front of you.
  3. Omori Ryu - same as above.
  4. Eishin Ryu - With Michael, Hanna, and I lined up on one side, and S. Sekreta, T. Fukui, and G. Hall along the other wall, we would take turns running through each form.
  5. Embu - Three groups of 3 of us chose any five kata. Hanna was matched with Parker Sensei and S. Sekreta, while Michael and I demoed with T. Fukui. 
Demonstrations are always a nice way of ending a visit to a foreign dojo. You get a pressure situation to stress your abilities and at the same time, you get to see the foreign club's Iaido style. I also got some good corrections including, keeping my back heel down in Ushiro, and relaxing the right hand through furikaburi.
After class, we all walked to a nearby French restaurant for dinner and talked about food, house renovations, and woodchucks. (yes, very random, heh). Overall, it was a wonderful experience to be able to catch up and train together again.
Ken Zen Institute, NYC

On Sunday, our hope was to have ramen for lunch. Each trip down to NYC, we'd find ourselves at Ippudo or some other noodle house slurping up the good stuff. Alas! Both Hide-Chan and Totto aren't open until after 5pm on Sundays. Instead, we decided to look up one of the places T. Fukui had mentioned to us the night before, Sarabeth's, for quiche, frittata, and pancakes. 
Class at Shidogakuin normally starts at 3pm, but as we arrived a bit early, we noticed that practice had already started for Sekreta-, and Farmer-Sensei. It looked like Kato- and Parker-Sensei were helping them prepare for their 6 Dan grading. 
The regular class started a few minutes later with the 13 of us:
  1. Warm-up, suburi lead by Farmer
  2. Seitei - Mae & Ushiro multiple times
  3. Seitei - Ukenagashi + take turns, senior side (Church, Parker, Farmer, Sekreta, Shin), then junior side with advice from the seniors
  4. Free practice -> Demo for three of us with advice
Personal corrections include - My tsuki being off-line, so try pulling shoulder in less and point center of body towards the target. My saya was also over-turning on sayabiki, and on Ukenagashi, my left foot was off-line, and could be seen when I had to adjust when kneeling during noto. 
Prior to leaving, we were notified that next year's GNEUSKF Seminar and Grading, of which we have been attending the past two years, would be in February. We'd been lucky with the lack of snow and relatively mild temperatures, and I hope it continues. 
We met Parker- and Bressler-Sensei later that night for dinner at Rockmeisha Izakaya, and had our best meal since arriving in Manhattan. We had some great discussions on learning and teaching Iaido, as well as experiences with training away from a home dojo for almost 2.5 hours before saying our thanks and goodbyes. To end the night, we met up with Aya again to have dessert at Chikalicious 
Our last day in NYC started with brunch at Chelsea Market, a place not unlike the St. Lawrence Market in Toronto. Aya took us to a restaurant known for their dairy products, and we savoured each bite. I think I gained at least 5 pounds this trip. On our way to stop by Aya's work, we passed by morimoto, a restaurant by an original Iron Chef. Unfortunately, it was not open, and our hopes of meeting another Food Network regular were once again met with disappointment.
Mark this -unaccomplished-
morimoto, NYC

We said goodbye to Aya, and continued our trip around town with a walk on the High Line, a railroad turned garden along the west coast of Manhattan. From there, we headed up around Central Park to try out the desserts at Lady M. We were just finishing up when Hanna recognized a customer that had just walked in. Turns out it was Zac Young, a top 4 finalist on the first season of Top Chef: Just Desserts
Mark this -Accomplished-
with Zac Young at Lady M, NYC

What a great way to end a great trip. Visiting family? Success! Visiting Iaido friends? Success! Great training! Great conversations! AND met a Food Network celebrity! ^_^ Definitely a trip to remember.

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