Hi Everyone!

This holiday season we recall with sadness the passing of Danielle’s mom in late January – and of her last Christmas with us a year ago. It also brings thoughts of joy for our many blessings, and prayers for peace throughout the world.

Continuing in cycles… Again our year was full of events involving Aikido, travel, family, and work.

The highlight Aikido-related events of the year were Michael’s promotion to the rank of 4th Dan, and our 10th Annual Big Sur Weapons Retreat.

In April, for Michael’s promotion, we were honored to have as the Examination Board: Frank Doran, 7th Dan (head of AANC Division 2), Tom Gambell, 6th Dan (East Bay Aikido) and Kayla Feder, 5th Dan (Aikido of Berkeley) along with Danielle Smith, 5th Dan (dojo-cho Aikido of Monterey), Dennis Evans, 5th Dan, and Julio Toribio, 5th Dan. The 'core' of his demonstration consisted of asking each of the 14 yudansha (black belts) present to come out for a brief, freestyle practice with one of the standard attacks (e.g. shomen-uchi, morote-dori, etc.). He also added a demonstration of jo-dori and tachi-dori. He opened the demonstration with the "Big Sur" jo kata (aikibojitsu), and closed it with a 3-partner jo practice that he developed for it.

The Weapons retreat was almost a month later (October) than we normally have it, but the weather was ideal. Our guest instructors were Ikkyu Conant (chief instructor/artistic director of the Watsonville Taiko), and Jimmy Eitoku (dojo-cho, Salinas Kendo Club). The Salinas Kendo Club is very highly regarded - having representation on the U.S. national team every year of competition since they were formed. Rita and Jordan, who are members of the Watsonville Taiko, also came down. The taiko class was great fun. We learned a short piece that involved pairs of drummers exchanging positions and hitting bachi (drum-sticks) during the transition. It was a blast. The kendo class was very interesting. Eitoku Sensei gave us a good background on the art as well as some demonstrations. Then, they let us practice striking at them.

In May, combining Aikido and travel, we rode the Harley up to Garberville for an Aikido workshop. It was long (700 miles), beautiful, and more than a little bit crazy! We had a great time. The road from Leggett to Fort Bragg was gorgeous. It was an uncommonly clear and warm day - bringing out the rich scents of the redwood forest. The wildflowers were especially awesome: foxglove, lupines, golden poppy, ceonothus (big as trees!), and flowers we don't even know the names of - in an array of colors and fragrances.

Wonderful. The photo (at left) was taken in Bodega Bay.

In August, once again Aikido and travel, Danielle, Colin, and I went on a 4-day backpacking trip to the Trinity Alps. We went with a group of 8 other people, led by Tom Read Sensei. It was awesome - both the hiking and the natural beauty of the area. It's a 6-mile hike into where we camped - with a 1500' climb; 1500' descent, and another 2000' climb. It took us more than 7 hours, spread over 2 days. Danielle was carrying a 33lb pack; Colin carried 47lb, and I carried 48lb, so it was quite a workout!

It was also Colin’s 22nd birthday. To see more pictures click here.

They really don't do it justice, though!
We each brought along our jo (wooden staff) which was very useful in its role as a walking staff.

Later, on the smooth granite boulders of Grizzly Lake (Tom calls it “God’s dojo”) we practiced the Aikibojitsu “Diamond” kata.

The image at left is of Thompson Peak, the highest peak in the Trinity Alps (almost 9000’); beautiful Grizzly Lake (elev. 7200’), clear, deep, and cold, and Grizzly Falls. To get to the side of the lake we wanted to be on required a rather scary crossing of the outlet stream only a few feet from the edge of the 300’ falls!

For contrast, two weeks later we took a ‘real’ vacation: a 7-day cruise to Alaska. Rita and Jordan joined us aboard Celebrity Cruise lines ship “Mercury”, sailing from Vancouver, BC to Seward, AK, with stops at Ketchikan, Juneau, Skagway, and Valdez. We can only echo what we have heard from so many who have been there - it is an awesome part of the world. To see more pictures click here.

We had a wonderful Thanksgiving gathering this year. Michael's mom invited his Dad and his wife, Nancy, to the event. A major breakthrough in the relationship that we all hope will last. Michael's brother Dan flew in from Texas, bringing his son, Ronald. Michael's youngest brother, John (who moved to Carmel Valley earlier this year), brought his new girlfriend Andrea. She's real sweet and very cute (her younger sister was Miss Columbia a few years back!).
Laura is slowly recovering from her breast cancer surgeries. Jeanne continues her roller-coaster battle with breast cancer. Michael's dad had another mastectomy a month ago and is doing well. Michael finally tested for the BRCA2 genetic mutation (which seems to run in his family) - the test results were negative. Whew! To see more pictures click here.

The "dotcom" crash finally hit Altura. In June, the company laid off about 30 employees (out of a staff of about 110). Those that remained were forced to take a 10% cut in pay. These 'temporary' measures succeeded in keeping us cash-flow positive and afloat until… The big news was the recent (November 9) $5million investment/partnership with Amazon.com. So, the good news is that we are still 'alive' and growing. In November, Colin joined the company as a Customer Service representative. And now his girlfriend, Lyra, is also working at Altura in Customer Service.