I guess I should probably introduce myself. My name's Kate. I started Chendokan Aikido back in April (http://chendokanaikido.com/ --the link to the main dojo in Miami) and I'll be going for my orange belt in February. The dojo's pretty much home to me (and one of the dojos in Miami is too--I went there for a seminar last month and they greeted me with open arms) but I'll be graduating high school in June and, as much as I'd love to go to school in Miami and continue my training with Doc [Doctor Chenique] and all of the other amazing people, it's not going to happen due to me not being able to drive (it's beyond my control, at least until this time next year possibly), so I'm looking into community colleges in big cities like Chicago.
Finding a new dojo is important for me. The dojo I attend now has helped me in so many ways. I actually somewhat like people now and I've met some of the most amazing people, all of whom I consider family. I've learned to push myself harder and gained a lot of confidence. I've done demos in front of crowds of people before and I enjoy it. For once, there's no fear of being laughed at due to my lack of physical abilities (which I'm working on; when I get lazy and don't go to the dojo it all goes to crap) and instead there's people laughing at me in a joking way and my main instructor who uses a lot of tough love while the other instructors are encouraging. I consider Grandmaster Leo like dad (and he considers me like a daughter) and his son like a brother while I have two other dojo brothers and I'm friends with instructors from the other arts (Atemi Ryu Jujitsu and Yang style Tai Chi). I wasn't big on family til I started there and, even now, I'd rather spend time with them than my extended family--if you met my actual family you'd understand.
If I liked this town I'd stay and keep studying here but I don't and you need a car to go anywhere here (the public transit isn't reliable and my dad is retiring then relocating with my mom in September).
I'm just now starting to really get into the weapon part of Aikido. I can do one of the katas with a Jo staff somewhat well on memory but I screw it up if I think about it as I do it (as it tends to happen in everything when it comes to this martial art). I'm spending Christmas money to order a Jo staff and bokken from my dojo and it'll help with not looking like a freak practicing out in the front yard as much, hopefully (I was working on my tenkans on the driveway once and some kid asked if I was doing yoga). I'm okay at randori but I could be a lot better. Technique-wise, it entirely depends; shomenuchi ikkyu omote and ura are two of my favorites though.
Does anyone study in Chicago in a family-friendly dojo? I don't care what style just as long as it's family-oriented and accessible by public transit. I do have family in the city but I've met them once when I was ten. I've tried a little to do my own research, although I haven't gotten very far, and I'll ask GM if he knows any good dojos in the area (he's done a lot of seminars in the US and a few in other countries) but I could use you guys' help too, if you can.
I'm okay with training with a bunch of guys too; there's only one high ranking female at my dojo (she's going for her blackbelt in March, although all of the senseis and GM said she should have gone for it a lot sooner) and she's my mentor but she's not at the dojo often (she's an ER nurse). The majority of females stay for a week or two then you never see them again and I'm not sure the only one of those new people I've seen that has stayed will be around much longer.
I apologize for rambling so much.