After the great interest for the European 7th dan sensei’s interviews, this is the time to interview Andy Watson Sensei.
Enjoy the reading.
Let’s start with some background information. Can you tell us a bit about yourself? When and where were you born?
1971 in the UK in a town near London which prides itself on being next to the town that Ali G claims he grew up in.
When and how did you start, what grade are you (incl. other disciplines, in case) and how did you realize it was a full commitment to you?
I started doing Seiki Juku Karate when I was about 15 which I did for about 2 years. I then joined a Shotokai Karate Club in a village called George Green which was where I guess my real martial arts growth began as the sensei there, Michael Haggerty, really looked after me and encouraged my devotion to martial arts.
Around the same time I read a book covering a BBC documentary called “The Way Of The Warrior” which did an episode on Tenshin Shoden Katori Shinto Ryu. This book, and this chapter more than anything else, ignited my interest in traditional Japanese budo/bujutsu. I realised that learning the Japanese language was going to be necessary in order to go to Japan and do this kind of training so I started at an adult education centre. I took the chance to stay in Japan for 6 weeks on a foreign language homestay course in Kanazawa, Ishikawa Prefecture.
On my return to the UK I applied for a 2-year secondment working at Narita Airport, Chiba Prefecture. During that secondment I put out feelers to get connected with a budo dojo and I was able to make contact with an iaido teacher called Yoneya Sensei. His dojo was in Yokohama so as I was living in Owada, Chiba, he put me in contact with Fujita Bunzo Sensei (a descendant of Danzaki Tomoaki Sensei). Fujita Sensei invited me to one of the dojos that he assisted in in Chiba City Police Station. It was here that I became the student of Noguchi Hideo Sensei. During my first iaido lesson I discovered that they also did jodo there as well and having my interest in jodo sparked by the book “Moving Zen” by C.W. Nicol, I started jodo in my 2nd week at the dojo.
In total I spent 2 years living and training in Japan, spending about 10 hours each weekend going to the two dojo in Chiba for both iaido and jodo training. I was looked after by a variety of people whose kindness I will never forget. Towards the end of my secondment, Noguchi Sensei transferred the responsibility for me over to Ishido Shizufumi Sensei who was well known to do a lot of instruction in Europe. I called Ishido Sensei and he said that he would be glad to meet me. Noguchi Sensei took me to a 6th/7th dan examination at Edogawa Sports Centre where I met Ishido Sensei for the first time. At that same event I also met Oshita Masakazu Sensei for the first time and also Jean-Pierre Raick who was trying for his 7th dan.
Ishido Sensei advised me to go to the World Iaido Taikai in Kyoto 1997 as it would be a good opportunity to meet some British budoka. At that event (which was awesome as all attendees were allowed to do an embu in the Butokuden), I met my first BKA co-travellers including Alan Nash, Chris Buxton, Al Colebourn, Gavin Murray Threipland, Loi Lee, Jock Hopson and Mo (a purple-haired lady whose surname escapes me but she was very friendly). There were a lot of other BKA members there such as Vic Cook but I didn’t get a chance to talk to them during those very busy couple of days.
Ishido Sensei suggested that I connect with Loi Lee Sensei which I did but on my return to the UK in 1997 I discovered that there was a dojo much closer to my work and so I joined Seishinkan Dojo under Chris Mansfield (who was living in Japan at that time) but being taught by Tony Brocklebank, Alan Lee Nash and Hilary Hadley. Later on I co-started a dojo called Ryoshinkan and have been there ever since.
I am now kyoshi 7th dan in both iaido and jodo. It goes without saying that without the kindness, support and teaching of a long line of teachers, seniors and colleagues, I would not have achieved any grade and I am endlessly grateful.
As a small continuation of this story, on my return to the UK I met a very advanced teacher of Goju Ryu Karate called Ben Craft who recently achieved kyoshi 7th dan. Ben has always been a good friend and taught me a little bit of Goju Ryu by very physically indicating the dangers of sparring with a wide stance…it took me about 5 minutes to recover from that “indication”.
What was the Iaido dojo scenario when you started?
As mentioned above I started in the Narita Shi Iaido Dojo. There were about twelve regular members and we were sometimes visited by Fujita Sensei. Training was very relaxed with the majority of the sessions allowing the students to concentrate on their own development through free practise. I always arrived an hour or more earlier to clean the dojo and get as much training time in as possible. Kawase Tsuyoshi Sensei was my senpai and would often teach me the next form before everyone else arrived so that I would have an outline understanding. Kawase Sensei was also my jodo grading partner and luckily he is about the same height as me so it made things much easier.
What is Iaido to you, its meaning, what does it offer you?
This is always a difficult question for most people I’m sure. Certainly the reason that I started iaido is not the same reason for why I continue. I think the only consistent reason, whether I was aware of that reason in the beginning or not, was the pleasure provided from learning and developing a skill in something. I enjoy training others but that is secondary to the feeling of discovering how to do something, how to do it better than before and how to then get others to have the same discovery.
In terms of what it offers me, this leads me to two images of martial arts. In the one image, there is a small dojo with a few members who are dedicated to learning from a master, learning the secrets of the school and keeping those secrets, revealing them only to those who become disciples of the school. In the other image is the massive community of co-travellers which the world of iaido creates, those people who become friends and provide an inspiration to continue striving to improve one’s iaido. This image requires an openness to budo, the organisation of large events where many people can endure the same hard training and develop memorable experiences. Of those two images, the second one is more rewarding for me.
Who is your sensei, what ryu, how did you get in contact with?
I am a direct student (Jikimon) of Ishido Sensei under whom we study Muso Shinden Ryu Iai, Muso Shinden Jushin Ryu Iai and Shindo Muso Ryu Jodo.
Can you tell us a bit about your relationship with your sensei? How did it start? How did it evolve?
So the history of this is explained before. I guess there was something of a bonding moment during the 1997 Kyoto Taikai when he saw that I was in his teaching group at the seminar after I had already met him in Tokyo. He said “Gokurosan!” and then asked me to translate for the shodan group. So I spent a couple of days translating for him (I think it was two, it was a long time ago). From that point on I have been translating for nearly all of his seminars in Europe (I missed a few here and there). I have to say that he is one of the easiest people to translate for; naturally I’m quite used to how Ishido Sensei speaks but he also gives due consideration for the translator; keeping sentences short, giving ample time for the translation and also maintaining a level of complexity that I could deal with. Usually when he would roll over a more complex bit of Japanese he would come back to it and explain what it meant. When I moved back to the UK and continued training in Seishinkan I would still try to go to Japan as often as I can, at one point spending a month going to the dojo every day. While I was at first connected to him via one of his monjin, he would often make reference to me as being one of his key connections in Europe. When I became an “independent agent” which was a slightly difficult time, he was careful to not stir up any bad feeling (by, for example, making me a new monjin) and he designated that I was to be his “deshi” (student or disciple) therefore keeping me somewhat cloaked and out of the main picture. After a rather difficult set of issues being resolved in Europe, Ishido Sensei slightly altered his overseas dojo infrastructure and designated me a Jikimon alongside his more senior students. The Jikimon structure is now Jock Hopson, Louis Vitalis, Victor Cook, Loi Ah Lee, Takao Momiyama, Dominique Losson and me.
I have to say that while I have a close relationship with Ishido Sensei, it is nothing like the many years of relationship building that Jock and Louis had with him. I cannot describe the sense of horror I felt when I heard that Sensei had been involved in a car accident a few years ago. I was scheduled to be in Japan only two or so weeks after his accident. When I arrived there, his son Ishido Kotaro Sensei took me to the hospital to see Sensei. It was a relief to see him conscious and able to get up and eat. I saw him now and again in Japan over the next few months and it was amazing to see how well he recovered. At one point, only 6 or so months after an accident that nearly killed him, he was rehabilitating himself by jogging around the dojo. I am certain that all of his years of budo training had given him the physical robustness and mental fortitude to overcome his injuries. This reminds me of a question that was asked to him years ago at one of the Koryu Seminars he was teaching at in Paris. The question was, why do you train in budo? The answer was a surprising one. He said that in the old days of the samurai, whenever one left their house there was always a good chance that one would be killed in a fight, such was the way of those times. To protect oneself from these dire circumstances one would practise martial arts. He said that these days, apart from road accidents, most people in most countries could feel safe that they could leave their houses without fear of being suddenly killed at the hands of another person. Therefore, budo served another purpose; if one keeps in mind how cheap life was in olden times compared to now, these days when something terrible happens one defers to their budo training, the simulated facing of death during training exercises, in order to not be overwhelmed by incidents (the words he used were gakkari shinai you ni). Coincidentally I believe that this purpose came to use during his recovery.
Anyway, that is probably the best way that I can describe how our relationship developed. He has known me since I was quite young (25) and 27 years later he still astounds me with his ability to adapt and change to the situation.
When was your first time in Japan, do you still train in Japan, how do they feel about a foreigner in their dojo and are there any memorable experiences you would like to share?
So as described above, I spent one month and then two weeks when I was about 21 years old on a homestay language programme in Kanazawa. I lived with a wonderful Japanese family, the Miyamori’s, whose mum cooked me wonderful dinners, packed lunches, breakfasts and was never put out if I came back home late (drunk). It was during this period that I discovered that I really wanted to live in Japan and put in all efforts to work there.
I still go to Japan and now, three years after COVID struck the world, I am going back for the first time this very week that I am responding to this article. The first dojo I was in, in Chiba, was filled with very pleasant people who nurtured anyone who came through their door. I can’t describe how much they adopted me as one of their own, this was really visible at weekend gasshuku (“training camps”) which were often held at one of the seaside resorts in Chiba. We trained hard, we ate and drank like Olympian gods. In Ishido Sensei’s dojo as well, which is a little more compact and personal compared to the dojos that were located in sports centres, everyone is extremely friendly though there is a subtle difference worth mentioning. In my first experience in the Chiba dojos, they were part of the prefectural renmei and while they were led by Noguchi Sensei, he would defer to other visiting sensei such as Fujita Sensei and Kishimoto Sensei. There was also a slightly more democratic feeling to the dojo and teaching duties were allocated to the senior members such as Higasa Sensei, Tomita Sensei and Ishii Sensei. In Shinbukan Ishido Dojo everyone knows who the one teacher is and no one assumes any teaching responsibility without very clear instruction to do so. During jodo training, some light person-to-person coaching is inevitable but no one except Sensei (or his son) delivers formal training. On Saturday’s the training is often led by Kiyota Sensei who is also one of the senior 8th dans in the dojo. I guess in this way, Ishido Sensei’s dojo is much closer to the traditional and historic configuration of a dojo where the dojo would be owned and possibly lived in by the head teacher. I think as Europeans it is worth remembering this point when we visit. Even as a 7th dan I wouldn’t dare assume that I should be teaching even a beginner unless Sensei explicitly asks me to.
Since Ueda Kayoko Sensei’s seminar and lecture on Reigi and Reisetsu is still fresh in my memory (I only returned from this seminar recently) I would like to describe a memorable Japanese experience though it isn’t specifically a budo one. Where I was working during my secondment, the agency running Narita Airport was at that time New Tokyo International Airport Authority (now called NAA – Narita Airport Authority). Because they were a sub-agency to the Department of Transport, most of the executive committee members were from the government which meant that they were the most elite of the elite, educated in the top universities in Japan and who had to climb very steep ladders where the slightest faux pas would mean an eternal sidelining in promotions. It was during a dinner at an international air transport conference that I was lucky to be sitting next to the Executive Director (second only to the president of the agency), Mr Nagai. I should point out that I was a 25-year old snotty-nosed nobody who was basically an engineer who had learned some Japanese in order to get this secondment. Never-the-less, he chatted to me about my time in Japan. At one point he had to go on to another engagement in the evening, he stood up from his chair, turned towards me, bowed low and politely said “Shitsurei shimasu” (please excuse my rudeness). I sat there dumbstruck with some dessert still in my mouth. It was this experience that made me realise that regardless of one’s high position in life and career that everyone deserves some respect. While I realise, as I’m sure many other people do, that this reigi is what Japanese people typically do, I feel Mr Nagai in particular made a point about it. He wasn’t just following his cultural norms because we had a very pleasant chat during dinner and he made a few jokes so he was definitely relaxed and not “on duty” as such. Years later, I learned a haiku from my good friend Matsuzaki Yasuhiro (the J-League referee) which, only a few months after learning it, was then repeated during a summer seminar by the delegation leader, Yamazaki Masahiro Sensei, and I was luckily able to translate it immediately:
Koube wo tareru
Inaho ka na
The more they ripen
The more they bow their heads
The ears of rice.
This haiku means that as one develops and grows, one should become more and more humble. I think among a nation where people are employed to bow at you when you leave a department store while buying nothing, the true expression of reigi is when one can be extremely respectful in a situation where one doesn’t need to.
How do you think kendo, iaido and jodo and their relation influenced your overall budo development?
While I really like and appreciate kendo and what it can add to iaido and jodo training, I have, after all, only trained for about 4 months in it. The influences between iaido and jodo have been substantial. I would have to say that to answer this question is an article in itself but to summarise, the appreciation of ma and ma-ai (timing and distance) are difficult to understand without some kind of paired training, whether that is through paired kata/kihon or through the jigeiko (free training) as occurs in kendo. If someone only trains in solo iaido kata then, without careful experimentation in paired execution of the kata, I would have to say that they would never appreciate distance and timing adequately to properly understand the iaido kata themselves.
What is the main difference between Japanese teaching and Western teaching?
I would say that the iaido training is quite similar in our dojo to the way Ishido Sensei teaches in his dojo; most of the time students are left alone to work on stuff and the teachers offer help when they see someone needs it or if someone asks for it. As some people know, I have tried to distil some of the more interesting training methods that Ishido Sensei teaches into this system called C&C (Control and Calibration – I never write an article without mentioning this!). Jodo is also fairly similar except that due to space restrictions we have to decide on what we are going to work on and allow as much partner rotation as possible. The key difference I think, and I’m ashamed to say, is that we don’t do very much tandoku dosa or soutai dosa currently in the dojo. This is mostly to do with the amount of available time and space. Maybe this will change in the future but we always seem to have either some gradings to work up towards or are trying to assimilate some koryu.
Personally I don’t see a huge amount of difference between the teaching I have received from Japanese sensei and what I provide for others. I try to ensure that at any seminars I am teaching at, people get ample time to actually practise and I try not to talk too much. I was very impressed by the smart way that Louis Vitalis Sensei teaches Jodo, he only adds one or two points at a time and then he gets everyone to do about 20 mins of solid training before adding another point.
When did you start thinking about teaching and when did you actually start teaching? Is there any preference of yours about, toward a specific class, their unique requirements (kids, competitors, grown ups, …) and the teaching you are delivering?
In Seishinkan, after I returned from Japan, there was only a small group of us and all at a pretty similar grade. When beginners turned up we all took it in turns to teach and as some of us were occasionally going to Japan, we would come back and share as much knowledge as we could with the others. It was a very informal type of teaching but I think it made the dojo a very comfortable place. So I was therefore teaching from about nidan and upwards. To be honest, for my generation this wasn’t rare in the UK, many people started dojos around shodan and travelled around a lot to get information from seminars or from a local high grade.
Regarding preference towards specific classes, there are many people in the UK and Europe who suffer from physical limitations either from age or injury. I am very keen that they don’t try to present iaido or jodo in the same style as their younger peers, such as trying to be fast or powerful. As far as I am concerned, the objective of people who are battling these physical limitations should be to be able to clearly show correct and precise technique so that others can learn from them by watching them. It is important in this case to provide a lot of good positive feedback when the person is showing good technique as often they might feel like their technique isn’t “working” or they might be feeling some pain. As I am writing this I have just come back from a 2 week training period in Japan, during that time one of the more senior members of Shinbukan Ishido Dojo came to train one evening; I noticed that there were significant mistakes in what he was doing but I also noted he generally didn’t have much control over his general movements anyway. Ishido Sensei informed me that he was riddled with muscle and joint problems all over his body and so he allowed him to train and enjoy himself and didn’t worry about correcting him. Let me be clear, Sensei wasn’t ignoring him, he was very carefully monitoring to ensure that this member was enjoying training with whatever he could do.
Regarding training competitors, I am reminded of an interview with Haruna Matsuo Sensei by Kim Taylor where he stated that he treated general practice and shiai the same. At the time of reading that, many of us (including myself) were bewildered as we were young taikai enthusiasts and perceived a real difference in the performance during taikai and, say, during an examination. At this point now though, I see more and more truth to what Haruna Sensei wrote. Perhaps the question should be asked as, not “Is there a difference?” but “Should there be a difference?”. Naturally, there are some aspects of showmanship and tactics that can be learned to enhance one’s chances of winning a taikai but the main focus of the practice shouldn’t be on these.
I don’t have an enormous amount of experience in coaching kids but on the basis that most kids doing budo will be, by definition, close to being beginners, I treat them in a similar way; that is to say, lots of positive feedback, adequate time to assimilate challenging techniques, not overloading with detail and reviewing their progress regularly.
As for my own preference for teaching, I have previously mentioned Control and Calibration, this is my main focus for teaching. It is rather slow to develop as a program as it takes a lot of experience to identify which aspects of a kata require a C&C approach and as such I have only been able to “complete” a C&C approach for Seitei iai and a bit on MSR Chuden so far. My general approach though is the same for coaching others as it is for self-coaching: too much information is pointless; focus on a small number of things (one or two at max); slow things down if progress is inconsistent; lots of training is required but train mindfully, not blindly.
You have been a competitor for many years. In your opinion, what role should Taikai’s play into one’s practice / development? What role did it play for you?
This is difficult to answer so I will try and respond in summary. For me, doing taikai exposed me to the greatest displays of budo from the most enthusiastic participants that were available to me. I learned a huge amount from seniors, juniors and cohorts. All of these people are on the same road as me, many of them are at different locations on that journey but I get to see a little bit of the best of their journeys. I pushed myself harder in order to compete against my best rivals (and good friends) such as Michael Simonini and Claudio Zanoni to name but a few. I cannot imagine where I would be now without that experience. Taikai presents a way of enthusing yourself to train harder and focus on fine details, if your mind is in the right place though, what it gives back dwarves what you put in. I now watch and judge others participating in the European Iaido Championships and I am glad that Koryu kata are a part of that as it allows people some degree of free expression. I don’t often watch with criticality, I watch with admiration because I remember how hard it can be to do well-trained movements under the pressure of a taikai.
I have occasionally argued with people who are against the notion of shiai in budo and their argument is that all these aspects of hard training can be experienced just through sincere and dedicated training. There is a certain truth to this argument though I feel that it is somewhat based on the notion that having another artefact to enthuse oneself is a bad thing. If I submit myself to that counter-argument against shiai then my remaining argument is one based on aesthetics: in a shiai you see an inner fight going on concerning choice, nerves and gamesmanship that you don’t see in general training.
You make new friends, you meet old friends, you share moments to train, and sweat and experience things together. And then, perhaps most important of all, there is the Sayonara Party…and making sure that there is nothing valuable in your pockets…
Has Iaido changed through the years and how?
Not as much as one might think. The tiny changes to the technical content of seitei iai is nothing compared to the enormous mass of stuff that you still have to do regardless of those changes, this is why these changes don’t really bother me providing they are logical ones.
One thing that has changed around the training aspects of iaido is the availability of digital video technology. I used to have my embu recorded for later review using a VHS video camera which was the size of a shoebox; nowadays better recordings can be made with a mobile phone. There isn’t really an excuse to not record your own kata and review it yourself.
How is your typical Iaido lesson?
These days we spend the first 30 mins or so practising Tachi Uchi No Kurai together and then we have about 45 mins of free training. Someone will look after the beginners if required and we will sometimes allow people to do an embu at the end if they are preparing for an examination. That’s about it! Then we have about 75 mins of Jodo.
Do you think non Japanese Iaidoka can truly understand the culture and “philosophy” behind Iaido?
Yes, and I’m not sure why anyone would think otherwise. Only last week I met a few young iaidoka who were 6 or so years into their journey. I talked with one of them about iaido history and culture and it was clear that he had not had the chance to study a lot of this. It’s only a matter of time, experience and availability of information. Last week one of my students pointed at a katana made with an edge on the concave side and said that this was probably influenced by Rurouni Kenshin – I didn’t even know this was a thing! When I spoke to my colleagues at Narita Airport about iaido, they thought it either meant aikido or catching a sword with a clapping of the hands; ask anyone on a Japanese high street what jodo is and they will say that it is either a Buddhist sect or that it is a sport where you throw people.
There are certainly some Japanese teachers who we will never reach in terms of their experience and knowledge, especially those who were raised in budo families (i.e. taught by their parents) such as Ishido Sensei and Morita Sensei. These people were immersed in a budo culture from when they were born but then they would unlikely be surpassed by Japanese people who aren’t immersed in that culture from birth and then arrive into the budo world later in life.
The idea that simply being born into a Japanese family and being raised in Japan would naturally instil a budo philosophy is, I’m afraid, a fanciful one in this day and age.
…but I should not leave this question without stating something that might surprise some readers: the popular notions of bushido, honour and loyalty are very much modern constructs. So when we use the words “culture” and “philosophy” concerning how those appeared in the life of the samurai, we would be wrong to think that all of them followed some law that resembles our modern interpretation of “bushido”. Indeed the author who popularised bushido (Inazō Nitobe) was heavily influenced by Western novelizations of knights such as the Arthurian legends (also almost complete fiction). So if your idea of the samurai is that of following a code of chivalry (actually the art of horsemanship so really somewhat accurate) then you are being duped into believing Olde English Tales…
That’s not to say that in modern days we shouldn’t follow virtuous ideals if we do budo but their origins are slightly more parallel rather than converging on a common point. One of my favourite historical budo characters is Yamaoka Tesshu who was a philanthropist through and through, even driving himself into poverty by donating shodo works back to the poor. This approach to budo I think is much more relevant to culture and philosophy today in comparison with lessons from feudal times.
What do you think about the future of European Iaido?
Since the end of lockdown, I have seen a massive influx of very skilled iaidoka pass both 6th dan and 7th dan; a large proportion of them have been prominent competitors in the European Championships so I know that they have the ability to do iaido well and also maintain their level of training. This is a strong foundation for the future. We have seen an expansion of prominent ryuha in the championships as well where Shinkage Ryu and Tamiya Ryu students are winning lots of the competitions instead of a time when Muso Shinden Ryu and Muso Jikiden Eishin Ryu were the most significant koryu.
I think it is a bright future though I also think it is necessary to remember the origins and roots of iaido in Europe and what was considered important then should be carried into the future. Of significance is the connection with Japanese teachers, not just at an official level of the EKF maintaining relations with the ZNKR but also with the direct teachers that we have in Japan. We have to remember that Seitei iaido isn’t everything even if it does comprise the majority of the content in gradings and taikai; the koryu, the real culture and the history of iai is an incredibly important part of the budo and if we obsess around gradings and taikai then we will very quickly lose something which cannot be replaced. Even knowing the history of iaido in Europe is an important artefact, it tells us how and why things changed so that we can make things better in future.
What would you suggest to young and beginner Iaidoka?
Trust your teachers’ experience when you don’t get fed as much new information as you would like. My original teacher, Noguchi Sensei, made me practise only the first three jodo kata in the first 6 months of my training in the lead up to my ikkyu exam. This was when I was hungry to learn more so that I could return to the UK with the maximum knowledge. I was training around 10-15 hours per week and studying from books as well and I was young and much fitter than I am now. When it came to the grading, my partner (Kawase Sensei) and I were told that we did a better grading than the nidan class.
I’m not suggesting that as a basis of all grading preparation but it really highlighted to me the need to embed a level of competence and reliability before any grading. You should be able to go out there and not think too much about what you are doing (because nerves may stop you from doing that anyway) and still be able to deal with problems that arise during the exam.
What is a budo teaching you particularly like transmitting?
This is an easy one to answer and is set within the principles of C&C – practice kata slowly! Everything else we learn to do in life starts with the notion of repeating a task slowly and methodically (the exception being juggling which can only be practised slowly on the moon). It seems that only in budo do people try to pressurise themselves by doing kata quickly and with a sense of combat before we are technically competent. Speed and power come about naturally from slow repetition and a focus on technical correctness; this equation should never be reversed.
Are there any funny Iaido anecdotes of your life you like to remember?
I have done so many stupid things in life, one would think that I would have a large repertoire of anecdotes to refer back to but unfortunately they often aren’t things that I would be proud of sharing with a wide audience. I think back in fondness of such episodes as when Jock Hopson Sensei and Momiyama Sensei did topless belly dancing at the Sayonara Party in Sweden years back that really showed that even with years of serious dedication to budo, we are all human underneath and while we should take our art seriously, we should never take ourselves too seriously.
Ok, just one about me, I stood by the swimming pool at last year’s EIC sayonara party where people were being thrown in. I then felt Michał Szczepański’s hands checking if my mobile phone and wallet were in my pocket and then a second later I realised what this meant. I was then unceremoniously pushed into the pool with the others. Just thinking about that moment of inevitable submission to gravity makes me smile.