Hi Everyone!
2003 was a most challenging year for us, filled with tremendous highs and lows. That we are finishing our "year-end" letter in August '04 certainly is a reflection of that! So, believe it or not, this is a highly abridged version of our year!!

(click to see larger image)
Last January 6th (2003), most of the Smith family gathered in Las Vegas to celebrate Dad's 80th birthday and Jeanne's 38th birthday (they have the same birthday). In spite of how sick Jeanne had been, she flew down with her 2 children, Charles and Chelsea. Her spirits were good and she was present for most of the activities. Six weeks later, on the evening of February 17, our dear sister Jeanne passed away. She was at her home; her children were with her. We were also at her bedside, as was Mom, Laura, and John. Jeanne was such a warrior: for the sake of her children, she bravely fought against the deterioration and pain brought on by cancer, surviving nearly 4 ½ years, even though some doctors had given her only 3 months to live. She was, and will always be, an inspiration to all of us. Jeanne is third from the right in the second row.
Aikido. It was another very busy, very fun year with our Aikido seminars. The most significant is an event yet to happen. In March, the California Aikido Association (CAA) invited Moriteru Ueshiba, grandson of the founder of Aikido and current Doshu (head of the art) to teach a weekend seminar here in California in March of 2004.
Danielle, as President of the CAA, and I have been very involved in the planning and preparations: designing the event logo, website, postcards, mailing lists, flyers, registration forms, etc. We've also been handling all the registrations. We're expecting 600+ people to attend. Following the seminar, Doshu and his wife will spend a few days vacationing here on the Monterey Peninsula. Maybe we can get Doshu to stop by our dojo long enough to get a couple of photos!
As for the Aikido seminars we actually did attend this year' In March we drove up to Arcata where Danielle was the guest instructor for the Winter Gasshuku at Northcoast Aikido. On the return trip to Monterey, Danielle got a phone call from her sister who lives in Tampa, Florida telling her that she was going to be married in October. So it didn't take long for me to use that as an excuse to make a Panama Canal cruise (Vancouver, BC to Tampa). More about that later!
This year was my 16th year attending the Mt. Baldy retreat. So, for a change of pace, instead of renting a car and driving as we usually do, we decided to make a bit of an adventure out of the trip and rode the Harley! And the plan was to avoid the major freeways as much as possible. We left on Friday morning at 7am. Around 5pm, 430 miles later, we arrived at Mt. Baldy - a real butt-buster! However, the scenery for most of the trip was awesome. We drove on back highways through parts of California that I'd never seen. Lockwood Valley Road was spectacular! No traffic, perfect weather, and the wildflowers were out in such profusion that I remember remarking to Danielle (through our helmet intercom) that it was like having an aroma-therapy treatment. For the trip home, we did take an extra day. Again taking back roads we meandered through the mountains and valleys of Southern California, finally stopping for the evening in the town of Ojai (where Krishnamurti lived for many years). The next day, again avoiding the major freeways, we worked our way along the coastal mountains to Santa Barbara, then turned north. We stopped in Solvang for lunch - surprisingly Danielle had never been to Solvang. From there we drove through wine country until we reached Santa Maria; then took Highway 1 to San Luis Obispo. It was a beautiful, clear, warm, calm day so we decided to take Highway 1 up the coast to Monterey. After getting past an initial knot of slow moving cars, we sailed unimpeded for 90 miles: for almost 2 hours we "owned" one of the most spectacular roads in the world. It was an experience we will always remember.
The annual Aikido Summer Camp was in Menlo Park this year (after 20+ years at Dominican College in San Rafael). Lots of adjusting to do for many of us 'old-timers'. Unfortunately for us we had an unusual (for Menlo Park) heat wave that week, with temperatures over 100F! It completely overwhelmed the ventilation capacity in the gymnasium where we trained. For our 'fun' outing, Danielle and I rode Cal-Train up to San Francisco and watched a night game between the San Francisco Giants and the "hated" Los Angeles Dodgers. The train stations were only a few blocks distance from either end of our journey, so that was quite convenient. Garlic Fries, Grilled Bratwurst, Beer, and the Giants won the game!
In July I participated in another Aikibojitsu Wilderness Training with Tom Read Sensei. This year we returned to Caribou Lakes in the Trinity Alps (Northern California). It is a long and fairly difficult backpack journey in. and Danielle's ankle and knee were still not strong enough, so I went alone. This year was even more difficult as there were many fallen trees across the trail. We had to go over, under, or around them - not easy with a 50+ pound backpack. Still, this difficult access is also what keeps this remote location so wonderful and pristine.
In a season of changes, our 12th Annual Weapons Retreat, which had previously been held at Pico Blanco camp in Big Sur, was instead held at Douglas Ranch in Carmel Valley. Though I miss the natural forest setting of the Ventana Wilderness, the facilities at Douglas Ranch were a pleaseant upgrade.
Instead of sleeping in tents, we had cabins and beds. There is a beautiful lodge with 3 fireplaces and a professional kitchen. The staff prepared the meals and did the cleanup, which also made the camp experience a lot easier and more enjoyable. Plus, there's a big swimming pool. I taught a jo kata that I named "Tatsumaki" (Spinning Dragon). I created the kata while staying up in Sonora helping Mom take care of Jeanne's children.
In August, our teacher Frank Doran, 7th Dan, Shihan, asked me to be one of the co-instructors at the semi-annual CAA "Friendship" training at Aikido West dojo in Redwood City! To be given such an opportunity is a rare and special honor. In the morning I presented a class based on spirals, including a fun demonstration of the properties of Moebius strips. In the afternoon I presented a short staff form that I developed, called the "Hummingbird" kata. The photograph shows us demonstrating the partner practice derived from the movements within the kata.
Also in August, Hiroshi Ikeda, 7th Dan, Shihan, with his wife Ginger and their son Yosei, came to Monterey to stay with us for a few days vacation. The Monterey Peninsula put on a show of its very best weather while they were here. Even though Danielle and I have lived here for many years it's always fun to share the highlights of this beautiful place with our visitors. We drove down to Big Sur; visited the Monterey Bay Aquarium, and hiked around the Point Lobos area. On the last day of their visit we rode bicycles through Pebble Beach on the famous 17 Mile Drive. Ikeda Shihan was kind enough to do a class at the dojo - in the picture that's me he's just thrown.
In November, Aikido of Monterey celebrated its 30th Anniversary. It also marked Danielle's 30th year of training in Aikido. As part of our celebration, we undertook an extensive interior remodeling of the dojo to expand the mat area. Planning began in March, first with a multi-faceted fund-raising effort, which ultimately raised $20,000 to help pay for the renovations. We had hoped for the actual construction to be completed by September, but as it is with construction projects, we were working right up until the night before our grand-reopening, 30th anniversary, November 7 workshop with Doran Sensei. In Western culture, pearls are the traditional gift for the 30th anniversary. Also, according to Eastern tradition, pearls are closely associated with dragons. So we had a Dragon dance (chasing the "flaming" pearl - a common theme in Oriental art) as part of our festivities.