I owe my friend – and my teacher – a post, a testimonial, and a thanks. So I decided to do it as a blog post on there. I’m going to tell you a little of my journey so far.
It started, unfortunately, at work. They were starting up some free exercise classes and offered free trials one lunchtime. Little taster sessions. Me and two colleagues joined in a couple: one yoga which was ok but a bit boring as expected, then another which was quite cool. It wasn’t NIA I think it was chi-gung or something, but it was tai chi type moves to funky music : including a finale to “Hotel California”. My colleagues were sweaty and not impressed but I was more smitten.
When the actual classes started up a few weeks later, one scheduled was called ‘NIA. Body Conditioning’ which I thought was the same but on checking wasn’t quite (hence the chi-gong thought). I went to it, can’t remember if I was with anyone else, but there were a few of us there.
And so I met Anthony. Apparently of ‘shaping leaders’ as it turns out. He started with a great short intro talk about NIA and about retraining our body and our minds with movement. He said it incorporated 9 movement forms/martial arts but with the intention to be gentle and non-impact to the body unlike tough exercise classes. I remember he talked about breath and energy and three levels or planes of movement. It’s a bit hazy as this was now two years ago. It was dancing, it was tai chi, it was karate kicks, it was funky and it was funny. I remember all of us there had a lot of fun, we were all smiling. And it felt odd as it was a work lunchtime and it was the basement they had converted from having been the post room. At the end – and this was a theme for Anthony’s sessions – he asked us to think of a word that summarized how we felt or how the session was. Lots of people said fun or similar. Unfortunately I don’t remember my first word for that. I’ll have to ask Anthony.
Anyway, the point was : I was totally smitten. Now Anthony is great, like: but it was more about the music and the movement and the stretch and just the whole experience. I particularly remember a feeling of having just taken such deep breaths and really stretched my chest and shoulders which felt so good coming from working at a desk so much.
But Anthony was a good part of it too. I sound a bit romantic. But he is a gentle warm personality, friendly, soft spoken but you could tell he was a bit deep, and not in a bad way.
And so it started. I’ve been doing it not quite every week but almost – say 30 weeks in each year – since then. Although unfortunately they’ve stopped it at my work now due to such low numbers constantly (often just a regular two of us, a couple more coming on and off : never more than 6 of us) – so now I have to pay to do it up the road in a village hall with a bunch of mums and older ladies (!) – and now not with Anthony.
I’ve done it in Anthony’s brighton public classes too, which were fun because I knew the moves but the class was a bit longer, hotter as it was in a dance studio and was with around 15 women each time! So I’ve been used to a token bloke role, although obviously off-set with Anthony.
It’s introduced me to some great music, it’s given me back dance which with family life just dies totally. It helped my neck and shoulder stiffness and pain loads. I did feel regularly stretched and able to breath so well. It felt like a great stress reliever, and sometimes with hectic work days it was lovely to selfishly block out that hour each week and take the time for it.
We had some other teachers sometimes : when anthony was ill or away – which was ok but odd. Similar moves and experience but done in their own subtly different way. One was quite psychedelic which made it hard not to laugh rather than smile with fun. So anthony has always felt to have the original and authentic spirit which NIA seems to intend to do.
Anthony made me an offer. He said he wanted to offer me some coaching sessions. If I wanted to I could offer back a testomonial : which is this, just a year or so late! Sorry about the delay Anthony.
I didn’t know what to expect really, although I checked out Anthony’s website. It said he would use a combination of discussion, and some movement and visualisation to work on work or personal challenges and issues.
It seemed sensible and practical to have the first session at work, after a NIA class – although on the day I couldn’t do the actual NIA class, so just turned up after that slot. We started by a one on one chat for a while, although at first I talked through something of a brainstorm I’d done about possible topics! Some work items, some thoughts on family and home challenges. We ended up focusing on our family challenge of where to be : where we wanted to live and how we were balancing and playing with the ideas of having animals, being in a community, living in a roundhouse or yurt. But it was far from just practical. Anthony asked probing questions about how I and how we as couple or family felt about our current life and about things we wanted.
So Anthony talked and walked me through a visualization : Sitting first, I felt like I was outside our ideal home. That it was behind me, that I was sat outside the door of something like a yurt structure. And that I was proud of it. Perhaps it was something we’d built. One other wall represented our current IE old life of brick and modern living. It felt boring and solid and depressing. Then I could visualise and pointed out to Anthony where I could imagine us having animals. Finally we walked across the room to where I imagined a community of others living similarly with a communual area and firepit. Anthony talked me through looking back over where we had started and how I felt about where we are (now), how the new (future) life felt, and the journey I could anticipate to get there.
It was refreshing to feel that it was so real. So much more than just talking about it. And all the time, Anthony asked pointed and insightful reflective questions back to me to probe my thoughts.
Six months later and we found ourselves in our summer canvas living mission. It was so much like my visualization from that day, with the two living areas – and a short walk over to the woodland campsite with a communal fire area in a spookily accurate relative position. Who knows how fate led us to that wood and that (wet muddy awful) position for our woodland home site. But amazing and great that I had a chance to imagine it before it happened and of course to inspire me to find it.
We had a second session which was by phone, and after again exploring a few areas we focused on a few work challenges with a colleague which I found particularly hard to work with. As before, Anthonys probing and reflective questions were great and teased out my thoughts and counter thoughts, like a welcome exploring worm wiggyling around my feelings.
I found the coaching to be a welcome deep exploration of some challenges I wanted to work through. Like having a long pub chat with a very close friend. But much more full and rich and deep than you can really get with someone who you know.
I am very thankful to Anthony for offering me this. It was a great experience and addition to this journey. It may well have been a key inspiration to us managing to get the summer adventure to happen : maybe we can even blame it for the awful specific site we camped in!
3. Jo Katta
The third stage in my apprenticeship with Anthony and in this journey was when he mentioned he had asked the health-class-organising company at my work if he could run a martial arts class. It would have to be in brighton as our NIA basement room didn’t have high enough ceilings (!)
I took about 6 classes, with some self-practice at home with a borrowed staff from anthony, and sometimes a broom handle! Anthony visited us once at the woodland campsite on a lovely warm summer day and we practiced it as a family in a lush green field. I also practised it in spain on the beach after a stressful day and week.
So what is it? Jo is the Japanese name for the 4ft wooden staff, and Katta is the movement form/practice/sequence. There are a couple apparently, but the one we were learning was a sequence of 32 moves with the staff, essentially as samurai motions. The ‘practice’ is part of ancient japanese teachings for mental focus, for body/mind training, and is just beautifully mesmurising. Again, I was smitten : still thinking that it was the core of the movements and the intention of it all, but with Anthony’s teaching style too I’m sure! I think I took to it quickly and anthony complimentary and seemingly agreeing: he was able to give me a good balance of attention and time for repetitive solo practice in classes as we often had beginners that needed to start back at step 1.
Anthony told us to have an intention, a purpose, a reason and a focus for the practice. It could be a playful practice so for example sometimes you repeat the moves with more anger and stress then again with a greater sense of peace and calm. I decided that my intent, my purpose, my meaning for JoKatta was ‘a sense of calm and peace in a noisy and stressful life’. This isn’t to make my family and homelife sound bad, but with a mix of health, work and family challenges I felt like I could get a mental focus and find some peace through it. I feel it worked. That day on the beach in Spain was really nice and amazing.
I have some continuity, not just with being able to pay to do a mid-week evening NIA class with mums. But on recommendation for an aikaido class with a friend who has gone through a considerable journey himself. I’ve only tried it once so far, but plan to go again. Not only because they know the 32 move JoKatta and demo’d it for me, but because it again feels like a good balance between physical movement and something deeper around breath, body and soul, human connection, mental focus, and a sense of peace and calm in a mixed up crazy life.
I describe these pieces as a part of the journey that I have started, and that I continue to be on. “I am pleased with my progress” and with what I have learnt so far. I feel deeply honored to have met Anthony, to have found such a friend in him, and to have had the privilege to be introduced to so many things and to be taught so much from him. He’s never said it, and maybe I’m not supposed to say things like this, but maybe he’s my sensei. Thank you Anthony.