Once Upon A Time In Kefalonia

Looking back in time

It was on a Thursday morning, 1st September 2005, I was awoken at 3:30 am by the loud buzzing of my alarm. Dragging myself slowly out of the wonderful dream I was having, it dawned upon me that this was the day I and several members of the Zenshin Reading Aikido club were traveling to the Greek island of Kefalonia to visit our sensei, Mr. Tony Sargeant, for some intensive training and a little holiday. So, it was without further ado that I leaped out of bed (well, crawled actually!) to get ready for the arrival of the other four from our club.

At 4:20 am, John Garmston, Steve Nester and Helen Middleton arrived and amongst hushed whispers transferred the luggage from Steve’s car into my more spacious one. Before we could say “Blimey oh riley! Is it a bit early or what?” we were headed down the M4/M25 towards London’s Luton airport singing with great gusto ‘We’re all going on a summer holiday’.

Upon arriving at the airport car park, who should be in front of us? None other than Heather Fielding and Nick Amiss. Now we were six…

No problems were encountered checking in, other than John’s and my own luggage was a little over-weight: It’s the weight of two hakama and three gi suits that does it. Through passport control and in true Reading Zenshin style we headed straight for the bar. It did not take much coaxing for Nick and Heather to join us either (after all, they are honorary members of our club,
so some of our good bad habits are bound to rub off onto them ☺). A liquid breakfast of vitamin and iron-enriched Guinness, (what better way to begin a week’s uchi-deshi?) and we were raring to go. We did note how wonderful it felt at 6:30am to be having a sip while watching businessmen and ladies going about their work: delightful!!

Whilst consuming our sustenance, another two uchi-deshi came into our midst, Chris Clarke from Stevenage, and Dave Chapman from Watford; now we were eight. Two pints later and we were hailed to board our flight. While boarding, who should we espy sitting in row 26? None other than Sensei McGlone and Steph Turner to bring our number into double figures, ten.

After a non-eventful and smooth flight and about three hours, later the tyres skidded onto Kefalonia airport runway in a grey cloud of smoke, and we disembarked into 30 degrees of lunchtime sunshine (local time), to be met by a smiling Jane at baggage collection. Bags and weapons were safely collected.

Upon exiting the terminal building we were greeted by Karl De-Loyde and Lee Hudson Bennett from Geoff Cotton and David Law’s clubs respectively, who both arrived from Birmingham about an hour before us. Unfortunately, it had transpired that Karl’s weapons did not make it to Kefa. They had obviously decided to take the transglobal route to Kefalonia, courtesy of Birmingham airport baggage handlers. I never did find out if he got his weapons returned to him….. Now we were the dirty (or at least travel-worn) dozen full of adrenaline and itching to see Sensei Sargeant, his house, dojo, and pool (but not necessarily in that order).

Patrick (a local ex-pat student of Sensei) was good enough to be there with Jane to act as baggage wallah, and we loaded the bags into his 4 wheel drive.

John went with Patrick, Karl and 3 others went in the wee Fiat Panda ‘dojo mobile’, the rest of us piled into the rented minibus. 15 minutes later we were greeted by Sensei Sargeant at the gates of his house. We were introduced to the remaining uchi-deshi, Losha who had traveled from St. Petersburg. We were allocated our sleeping quarters all over the house, Karl and Lee slept off-site in some very nice apartments about 4km away.

After settling in and having a delicious lunch prepared by Jane, Sensei Paul, and Steph, it was decided we would go into Kefalonia’s main town, Argostoli to collect basic provisions (i.e. beer and wine). Following this, we went into the town square and sampled the local brew in a fine local hostelry. Then, back to the house and Sensei was good enough to let us all off without an evening class to allow us to relax after our trip. So, we got to know one another, had a dip in the pool, explored the house and grounds, and unpacked.

Come evening time we all sat in the BBQ area and quaffed some more beer and local hooch (white wine) while we got to know each other better. Not too late a night, 1:00am for the tail-enders.

Each day training began in earnest at 7:30am with a weapons class. Friday’s class was held on Sensei’s upper lawn. A nice time of the morning to train, the sun did not climb high enough to roast us until the lesson was nearly finished. Even so, at that time of the morning unless one was in the shade one could feel the heat of the sun. The tranquil surroundings were only broken by the occasional shotgun blast from nearby farmers culling rabbits.

An hour’s breakfast break followed by an hour or so tai jitsu in the dojo, then followed by yoga and meditation in the dojo. The meditation was so relaxing a couple of us managed to nod off to sleep and perform some excellent examples of sleepy and snory doris.

Everyday lunch was prepared by Jane and Sensei Paul, and an excellent job they did too varying the dishes served up every day. Occasionally, Sensei Sargeant would crack open a bottle of the local hooch and we would chat, sip, and while away the afternoon.

It was perfectly understandable why the local population take a siesta in the afternoons. Many of the Aikidoka took an afternoon nap to recharge their batteries, others made notes of the morning’s lessons, others sat around chatting, and still, others were enthused enough to practice their weapons technique on the lawn, or in the shady courtyard.

In fact, it was remarkably relaxing to be sitting in the shade by the pool, watching the superbly agile swifts drink water from the pool while on the wing, and listen to the subdued talk among the uchi-deshi’s. The click-clack of weapons and the occasional Kiai added to the background noise to create the perfect atmosphere. Within a couple of days, I think I can speak for us all that we had forgotten the stresses of living and working in the UK and were well and truly chilled out.

Every other day we took our weapons class on the beach, or in the car park at the beach. With the backdrop of the Ionian Sea, and the sound of the waves breaking on the beach it was perfect. Not easy for Sensei to talk above the sound of the sea, but well worth the experience of training outside and being surrounded by the beauty of nature.

Another advantage of training at the beach was that our favorite restaurant was spitting distance from our training area. So, at the end of the training, we adjourned to the restaurant for a hearty breakfast before driving back to the dojo.

In the evenings we had two classes. The first began at 6:00 pm and was taught by Sensei Paul McGlone for 75 minutes, followed by a 15-minute hydration break. The last class of the day was taught by one of the attending Dan grades. In chronological order starting on Friday night, these were: Heather Fielding (amendments to the 31 count kumi jo as relayed by Sensei Pat Hendricks), John Garmston (links between tai jitsu and Buki Waza), Stephanie Turner (links between tai jitsu and Buki Waza), Doug Edwards (improving uke technique/kose dori Kote gaieshi), and finishing with Karl de Lloyd (Irimi Nage) on Tuesday night.

All classes taught by Dan grades made a refreshing change. It was interesting to see the different teaching styles and to learn what the lower Dan grades had to portray from their own humble perspectives. I am sure we can all say that we came away from each of these classes with a little something to lock away for future reference.

The very last 2 hours of training on our last night (Wednesday) were extremely intense, energetic, frenetic, and an absolute blast. The Senseis allowed us to go express ourselves without holding back, using the techniques taught during the week and evening. All the hakama were grouped together at one end of the dojo, with the other students split into two further groups. Needless to say, it was fantastic fun not to worry too much about form and just to let your energy loose.

Some were privileged to be sensei’s uke for demonstration purposes. Did I say privileged?! Some of us could hardly stand after taking so many ukemi in rapid succession, but then I would note those were similar to me, being the older Aikidoka on the mat. Not like Steve N, Chris or Dave who must have had a few Duracell’s shoved into orifices we could not see, they just kept
coming back for more!

After training, three of Sensei’s local students were awarded kyu grade certificates; Milton, Christou received 4th kyu, Elias 6th kyu. Congratulations to each of them. It was a pleasure to train with them; they were very welcoming and would have done anything to make our stay more comfortable and enjoyable.

For dinner in the evenings, we alternated between ‘doing our own thing’ and eating out a local restaurant. When we ate at home, it was generally a BBQ. One evening we ordered in pizzas from the local pizza restaurant.

In truth, I think we preferred the no-hassle approach of not having to prepare our own food, and given the option, we elected to eat out. Also, the food in the local restaurants was plentiful, delicious, and inexpensive. The only disadvantage was the traveling involved and the need to drive. So, on behalf of all us uchideshi that did not drive, thanks go to Sensei, Jane, John, Karl,
Helen and Lee for at one time or another driving the mini-bus or dojo mobile.

Our very last evening, Losha said how much he enjoyed not only the training but also how much he had enjoyed making new friends in England. We were all presented with Russian calendars or CD’s a little souvenir. Sensei Paul spoke for us all when he gave Jane and Sensei a heartfelt thank you for putting up with us all, and allowing us to share their house.

After our meal outside we would invariably be back at the house by 11:00 pm and most of us would gather around the BBQ/pool area for après training drinkies. Generally, these did not finish until 1:00 am earliest, and on our last night, the die-hards did not retire to bed until 4:00 am.

Therefore, you can imagine over the course of the week the combination of intensive training, drinking and lack of a proper night’s sleep, our bodies were crying out to be allowed to rest. Of course, staying up late and not gaining enough sleep is not compulsory and is, therefore, self-inflicted. But, if one is not there one cannot enjoy; the stories of the old times from Sensei Tony and Sensei Paul, card tricks from Sensei Paul, Ella the dojo dog’s record laps as she raced around the pool, paws skidding on the tiles as she threw a wobbly half-hour belting around like the devil was after her; jokes, laughter, and general warm camaraderie.

Sadly, all good things must come to an end. On Thursday 8 September we were gathered in the front courtyard of Sensei’s house bidding our emotional farewells to Jane, Losha. Karl and Lee had left earlier in the day to catch their flight to Birmingham.

Losha’s flight back to St. Petersburg from Athens, so he had to catch a ferry from Kefalonia to the mainland followed by an 8-hour bus journey, then transport to Athens airport (not something I would have relished after a week’s training).

Our flight departed on time. I made my apologies to the passengers sitting next to me, asking them to give me a shove if I snored, and was fast asleep barely 15 minutes into the flight, to awake 40 minutes before landing: marvelous!!!

We bid our farewells to Sensei Paul, Stephanie, Chris, and Dave at the airport collected our vehicles from the off-site car parks, and then stopped at the first pub we encountered for a refresher before our drives home. So, one could say the week finished as it began: Reading Zenshin club with Heather and Nick drinking beer!!!!!!

To summarize: if any of you Aikidoka novices, experienced kyu grades or Dan grades wish to devote a week from your annual leave entitlement to visiting Sensei Sargeant at his Kefalonia home, you could do a lot worse. Sensei and Jane are most welcoming and are the finest of hosts and will do almost anything to accommodate your stay there.

The training is first class and intensive. Techniques (tai jitsu and Buki Waza) are taken apart by Sensei, reconstructed step by step, and explained right from first principles and in the smallest detail. This is the beauty of being an uchi-deshi, for one does not receive this style and depth of instruction in a normal dojo.

Added to the experience of the Aikido are the wonderful surroundings, camaraderie and sheer fun and enjoyment.

Many of us booked within 2 weeks of arriving back in the UK to visit again year after year.

Whoever you are and wherever you train, train with sincerity and enjoy.

Yours in Aiki,
Doug Edwards