by Michael Nash
When you first set eyes on Hawaii you feel a sense of welcome, the embrace is in the land and the people. Time slows; the spirit of Aloha overtakes you, better to let it take hold. If you have a need for rapid response times and carefully planned agenda’s you will be endlessly frustrated in Hawaii. Drinking age is 21, gambling is banned, the only place you can find a nightclub is Waikiki, no bike helmets required you can have plastic chairs in the back of the pick up truck and sit in them driving around taking in the views.
Our first stop was the North Shore area of the Oahu virtually no stores, no pubs, small population, main area of interest, the ocean. No signs or directions to the famous Pipeline or Sunset Beach, you need to ask a local if you are there or near the iconic locations once you get close. The main town is Hale’iwa you can get here on “Da Bus” or hitchhike, it is a true, time has stopped in the 70’s, type of place, a little tourist orientated but not in your face as it can be in other Pacific destinations, definitely no hard sell.
So after a case of Pacifico is purchased from Foodland along with dinner components, we retire to our beachfront bungalow and kick back and watch a sunset over the ocean, something we got very used to and will miss.
We moved back to Waikiki, after a few days as this is my base camp for the first Dan Harden seminar. Waikiki is a place you must experience at least once, it is like Surfers Paradise on steroids but it feels safe and there are nice spots just off the tourist strip. Beware the traffic though.
The Saturday and Sunday seminars were to be held on the Windward side of the island, that is to say the Eastern side of Oahu or about 35 minute drive from Waikiki. I had no car and public transport was not an option, so some minor panic started to set in I had travelled thousands of miles to get here but those last few kilometres were out of my control. Chris Li the most gracious of hosts from Aikido Sangenkai had told me all along a ride would not be a problem. However, I needed to get set on Island time and trust Aloha, I eventually did, and all my perceived issues rolled away like a wave back into the ocean.
Dan had called a pre- seminar meeting for the Friday at 6pm down at Ala Moana Park Area 51, area 51 is actually a no go zone from what I could work out but not for the IP participants. This is Chris’s crews home away from home dojo, a massive tree lined park with ocean views, you can’t complain when you are oceanfront and training.
So, what happened from the time I made the trek down to area 51 and when we finished and I got back about 12 pm to the hotel is still a blur. No, not what you are thinking, not one skerrick of alcohol passed my lips, we trained until approx 10.30pm, (that is what Dan calls a pre- seminar meeting !). Then had a bite to eat at a Vietnamese restaurant, Dan still retelling stories and explaining aspects of his concepts all through dinner.
I had meet the majority of the other participants who were there for the weekend seminar that evening, some old hands some newbie’s like me, they seemed like old friends by the time we reached the restaurant, I had a lift organised with Josh from Ohio a much more seasoned DH student than me and my head was spinning. Chris and others took me under their wing as they have all experienced the whirlwind that is Dan Harden.
Saturday and Sunday went so fast, notes, laughs, wonder, no hierarchy, no holds barred. It was literally a barrage of information. This IP stuff is not for everyone and its application to Aikido in my opinion is integral, and it would seem has been lost to some extent in what we might call modern Aikido. When IP is matched with Aiki we have a devastating combination, it is soft yet impossible to resist. While Dan demonstrated and workshopped, the link back to O’Sensie’s real teachings kept revealing themselves, I had heard a lot of it before but somehow it was making some sense this time.
What is Dan Harden like, the man I had travelled so far to spend time with.?
Well, like me you go through the years of MA training, does not really matter what style or code you are currently studying. You make it up through the ranks, you train hard, you get glimpses from time to time, you hold a wrist from time to time that says “oh! this is what it must feel like”. You go seminars, you get the flavour of the month be it technique or a concept that launches you into a new lease of life and direction. Sometimes you get disillusioned and change styles. Always on this journey up the mountain you are constantly striving and over many years if you are lucky you get an inkling of what Aiki truly is.
As others say if you are lucky you never get to the end destination. Many things are held back until you are worthy, many are never revealed, sometimes on purpose sometimes because of poor communications.
What if you meet someone who is at the top of that mountain has a beachside condo perched up there, and welcomes you in and shows you things you thought were not really achievable, and also explains there is a way to reach them. All the time there is nil rank envy, nil ego, but 100 % intent.
So your world is now upside down, instead of working your way through to some level of proficiency, you are now shown it first up. This makes it no more daunting as you are in for a lifetime of studying how to not suck at it. By now I am sounding like a born again something or other, maybe so, but once you have felt a person that has the equivalent of two six inch spiralling stainless steel cables for arms attached to a two tonne block of concrete as a body, that concrete block by the way, can also relocate in space way faster than you can think, you have no choice but to take notice.
People who can produce kuzushi on contact, at every contact, using true aiki are rare, he can achieve this.
My point is that we are talking top down learning not bottom up. For some it is too confronting and easier to dismiss. While many other martial arts were represented over the seminars for me Aikido is the one that stands to gain the most from this integration if you believe aiki is what you are striving for in the end.
Notwithstanding the strikes and counter measures Dan is capable of are breathtakingly martial. It is like witnessing the volcanoes on the Big Island or the Twelve Apostles on the great ocean road, until you get the scale of it mentally digested you cannot really describe it in words alone.
So next stop the Big Island of Hawaii. This is a completely different trip in itself we are staying waterfront again in Kona only this time the landscape is decidedly rocky, lava rock to be exact.
In Kona it feels like it is going to rain all the time but the haze, called locally vog is not cloud rather gases pushed into the air by the volcano’s Maunaloa and Kilauea that dominate the landscape. Again magical sunsets this time tinted red through purple due to the vog.
People on this island are even more laid back than Oahu and equally accommodating. Bill and Sharon were the hosts for the seminar and we trained at a little dojo outside Kona. This dojo is the home of another Hawaiian icon in the martial arts Sensei Meyer Goo, sensei is in his 90’s and had just had a hip replacement. He was friend, student and masseuse to Tohie Sensei, he has trained many well known martial artists and he also has taken ukemi from O’Sensie.
The trip to Hawaii would have been worth it just to hear some of his recollections and wisdom. Validation of the work being done by Dan came when Sensei Meyer Goo, told all of us that what he felt from Dan was similar to what he had felt from O’Sensie.
He was insistent that he (Dan) was to keep telling people about it (aiki and how to manifest it ) no matter what obstacles were put in his way. Sensei Goo is old school and a real warrior in the true sense, he also saw active duty during the second world war.
A few of the Oahu crew backed up like Mert. My faithful new sidekick Heraldo and his mum Maria ( they live in the town called Volcano) were my drivers this time. Without them I would have been lost I hope to repay this one day when they come down under. The seminar was more of the same relentless information, some skewed for the MMA types there, as well as judo and jujitsu. The crazy thing is that this aiki, spiralling, IP stuff translates to ALL martial arts. Similar to how techniques seem to blend into each other eventually in Aikido. It becomes obvious from observation with Dan working with other MA styles the current thread is the same. When he is spiralling toward you he could be doing any form you can name, he may lack perfect technique in any particular style but the end result is not in question.
I have plenty to download with those who are interested in our dojo, as I say it is not necessarily for everyone and the issue remains that it is so difficult to pick up what Dan is putting down in such a short interaction. But we start at the basics and eventually we start to feel it and work from there.
If you ever get the chance to go to Hawaii do it…… if you ever get a chance to interact with Dan Harden …… jump….. so to get both on a trip it is the ultimate…. just pack a beginner’s mind !
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