Our stay in Russia began with some confusion, our ride was not on time. In fact we had to wait so long, at the one room airport that we had to bribe the local military to permit us to stay in the vacant airport. They get funny about pacing strangers past 1:00 am. It was the best use ever for our three US quarters. It made the four guards happy and gave us a story and a warm place to wait.
Our 1st stop was at a grocery store for some essential, traditional, popular provisions for our early morning visit, vodka. Who would have thought that hot chili (spicy) vodka with cold dill pickles would be so good. One great benefit of staying with a local family was the local cooking. Mom came by to cook for her son, daughter in law and 1 month old nocturnal grandson. I now love Borsch, Russian bread and potatoes. Vodka and beer are available at every grocery store, convenience store, bus stop and pedestrian underpass. As popular as it seems we saw only one drunk, in Moscow.
The Russian students were very enthusiastic, respectful and appreciative of Kokikai power and Dennis sensei's instruction. Correct posture and balance, was never a priority in their previous practice. They valued wrestling and muscle over correct technique. After just one week of classes they were standing and throwing strong, a testament to the instruction and the basic foundation (principles) of Kokikai.
Every class had droves of curious onlookers, making us feel like celebrities. There was a line after class waiting for photos and autographs.
We made friends at every café, store, university, hotel and bus stop. Dennis sensei actually recruited a new student from a café after class one night by asking for a photo with them. It was a critical Russian phrase to learn and use. Most waitresses, shop keepers, fellow diners and even grumpy security guards were happy to pose with the Americans.
The small city/state of Veronezh, 300 miles south of Moscow, was fantastic, so full of local life. The lack of tourists made us feel at home, although it did reduce the number of restaurants and post cards. Wait for Moscow for gift shops, casinos and Fridays. Everyone looked as though they were dressed for church, clean, neat and proud. They all have "Russian Feet" to safely traverse the ice covered sidewalks.
The Russian Kokikai community was warm and giving. We enjoyed serious practice, cafes after class each night, a sauna party, a walk on a frozen lake (ice 3 meters thick) and tours of two of their factories. They are more than just students, they are now classmates and friends. I will miss them. I encourage all of you to meet them, you will also miss them.
Go if you can, pack a camera as the historic city is beautiful, but pack lightly. Moscow charges generously for overweight bags on departure.
In summary, I had a fantastic time. Russia, the students, the local culture and the adventures exceeded every expectation. I hope to go again, but I encourage everyone to take the voyage, to see the world and to support Kokikai in Russia.