Reflective practice in aikido

reflective-practise-aikidoIn the early days of aikido, when the cup is well and truly empty, it’s pretty easy to make progress just by turning up and soaking up information like a sponge. The learning pedagogy follows the learning pyramid down a few levels and by green belt you’re confident and by brown belt a little cocky. By shodan there is usually a confrontation with self as you probably don’t measure up to your own preconception of “black belt” awesomeness, and by the time you exit sandan there’s a faint sense of disquiet creeping into your soul as you have run out of things to do.

It is here that the other aspects of aikido take on a greater role. Rather than a perfunctory practice that seems culturally appropriate, such as mindfulness meditation and breathing or finding the stillness of yoningake, students might be asking, “Where to now?”.

learning styles aikidoIn a previous blog we looked at pedagogy and it is timely perhaps to revisit that. We can ask ourselves, “What are the mindfulness practices we see in other spheres of education?” whether in vocational training or preparation of athletes. There are significant areas of overlap with traditional study of aikido in honing skills and bringing a maturity to our learning. They also start to bring us to the lower levels of the learning pyramid.

Unfortunately, many students don’t progress beyond practising technique, which is really just the beginning levels of aikido. It is a weird journey and a long one to reach out for the extra planes of aikido. After 30 years of wondering I feel that Dan Sensei and Andrew Sensei are discovering new ground and looking forward to getting together for the Autumn workshop this weekend

words: Jim Nicholls
image: Dan James


Is too much weapons barely enough?


Weapons were banned from Aikikai Hombu by O-sensei and since that time the role of weapons in understanding the art of aikido has been much diminished. In addition, Kisshomaru Ueshiba and Koichi Tohei oversaw an increasing and ongoing de-emphasis of atemi in aikido. There are historic reasons for these choices which are completely understandable, but they do leave some modern aikido with a few gaps.

So what does weapons training offer the art of aikido? Here are a few thoughts:

  • The roots of aikido are in Daito Ryu. Open hand movements are based on the sword so you don’t need to learn a separate art (and a heap of new motor skills) for when you don’t have a sword. Training with weapons takes us back to the source and improves our aikido.
  • Weapons are a natural tool to extend our mind outside the body. Yes, we know Ki is infinite, but putting a solid lump of wood in your hands gives you direct experience of extending beyond your own body.
  • You can practise on your own. Most aikido arts are paired rather than solo. So unless you can get to a dojo seven times a week, you need to find a way to do more practice: so go scare your neighbours and swing a sword about.
  • Weapon taking (bokken, jo, tanto dori) can take your art to the next level. If your kata practise is losing its edge, putting a weapon in uke’s hand can bring it back to life. Lipstick up a tanto and see how well you can apply principles without getting lipstick all over your gi.
  • Weapon throwing (jo, bokken nage): kata don’t change because you’re armed. If you find yourself wanting to do something different because you have a weapon in your hand, here is a great opportunity to rediscover the kata. Jo nage is pretty mainstream but the lesser known bokken nage is a very powerful and practical tool.
  • Stress inoculation and physiological changes: one of the most important tools for ongoing improvement is to introduce variability and stress inoculation through inducing a manageable, increasing amount of stress. Weapons are great for this. Why not let uke attack any way they want with a knife?
  • Improved coordination, awareness and posture: it’s challenging to perform complex motor skills with a live weapon and not accidentally cut bits off yourself. It’s also interesting to observe how we (unnecessarily) change the way we move due to the distraction of having a weapon in our hands.

I am looking forward to the weapons part of atemi jutsu at our Autumn 2017 Workshop to bring some of these aspects to life and see how my kata stacks up!

words: Dan James,; Andrew Sunter,
image: Simon Russell,


Why aikido techniques don’t work

by Dan James


An example of kintsugi, the Japanese art of ceramic joinery that treats breakage and repair as a natural process to be celebrated rather than disguised. image:

Not just a provocative title, but an excellent starting point from which to develop a better understanding of the art of aikido, and how we might improve its effectiveness in our regular practice.

Rather than respond with some variation of “your aikido might not work, my aikido works just fine”, if we want to challenge this assertion, we need only look around the internet forums, or pop into a local MMA gym… you’re likely to be in for a rude surprise if you think you can pull off a sankyo the way you practise it in the dojo.

So to be clear, aikido absolutely does work, but aikido techniques as typically practised in the dojo absolutely don’t work in real-life application.

The trouble is that techniques are presented (in most dojos at least) as if they are scenario-based, appropriate responses to specific stimuli (such as a particular attack). But this is a complete misunderstanding of the purpose of waza (technique; art; skill).

The techniques of aikido are kata (model; form): that is, a standard series of movements chained together for the purpose of principle-based learning and transmission of an art. We learn kata from day one, but the hiden (secret teachings) are in how we interpret or apply them (the bunkai).

If you pop along to a sword school or karate dojo it’s a lot more obvious: you’ll likely see their kata being practised as a long series of 30-odd movements. No one in these dojos imagines that in a combat situation they might perform a 30-step kata and have success, instead they might spontaneously apply one or two movements from a kata in a real-life confrontation.

So how do we get it so wrong in so many aikido dojos? Perhaps because the kata are so much shorter, it’s possible to mistake them for some kind of preparation for actual combat. And because most of us in aikido are into peace, love and mung beans, we might not look deep enough to discover that any action that relies on reacting to what someone else does is ineffective in real-life violence.

People learn through story telling and therefore kata (especially short kata) are often interpreted as a problem with a corresponding series of movements to solve it. This approach helps tap into imagination and thus is a very effective way to transmit and preserve the principles of an art through the generations. In this way the kata of aikido are a kind of container or jar for the art itself and it’s our job to fill that jar with meaning.

O-Sensei, the founder of aikido (or some might say Daito Ryu Aiki Jujitsu rebadged for a post-war, right-wing peace movement), said that the way of aiki is formless and spontaneous. From this viewpoint, kata are simply examples strung together to help us study principles. But if we want to manifest aiki we need to move beyond this.

So what’s in an aikido kata? Can we pick it apart to enhance our understanding? There are a number of phases including: initial contact, opportunities for striking, the meeting and joining of ki, and resolution through throws and pins.

In the contact phase we practise from a diverse catalogue of striking and holding attacks that come from different heights, directions and angles. At the point of contact we apply balance breaking (kuzushi) which needs to be maintained throughout the kata. As we move through the kata we are constantly aware of body positioning (tai sabaki) exploring where we can safely be in relation to uke (omote, ura, shikaku). We learn how to move around our partner safely using irimi and tenkan. There are opportunities for strikes (atemi jutsu), joint entanglements (and breaks — although Aikido™ finds this a little distasteful). The end of the kata explores a feast of projections and pins to keep us entertained for years.

The ability to apply what we learn from kata — using the principles in the real world — means picking apart the kata to find each of these elements. This is very different from thinking “Oh, attack x is coming, I need to react with technique y… Damn! Uke didn’t attack correctly… Bad uke!”.

Most of us are very familiar with the flowing nature and beauty of kata practise in the dojo. When we combine this with rigorous enquiry into the component elements and phases, we can transform the container of kata into something quite amazing.

Another great tool for exploring kata is atemi. O-Sensei is famously quoted as saying aikido is 90% atemi (although he is also quoted as saying 70%). And there’s very good reason for this. It’s not that we want to go around hitting people, we probably wouldn’t have chosen aikido if we did! It’s that atemi is a terrific tool for understanding our aikido kata. Atemi not only makes our flowing, dojo aikido better but also gives us a way to apply the principles we learn in kata in a devastatingly effective way when necessary.

A few years ago, through the experiences shared by fellow argonaut Andrew Sunter, I was introduced to Target Focus Training (TFT), a modern combative art that has evolved from investigating the best way to train special forces in the US. It’s not my cup of tea, but it very simply and effectively puts into perspective the role of atemi jutsu in aikido. Andrew continues to study TFT and integrate the principles of atemi jutsu into Great Ocean Aikido.

Practising atemi jutsu is an excellent way to ensure we:

  • identify the segmental points in the kata
  • align our bodies correctly
  • break balance effectively
  • identify opportunities for joint manipulation that arise spontaneously
  • develop correct timing
  • remove hesitation and therefore develop better flow.

I am looking forward to learning more as we catch up at our Autumn workshop in Alstonville using Jim’s engaging style of learning to accelerate understanding. I hope to see friends there from near and far.

Aikido and Pedagogy: Thoughts for the Autumn Workshop

cropped-shionage.jpgIf you’re like most of us learning aikido, you are diligently practising the aikido kata (some call them techniques) and hoping that you will make some sort of modest progress. Your dutiful teacher, also on this ladder of hopeful progression, is doing the same thing and passing on what he or she has learned to you. The trouble is, this is not a good recipe for successful learning. It’s simply what we’ve been handed as the way to do it in aikido, and it’s pretty much the only way we get to learn.

And the longer we spend training aikido the greater the probability we will progress from one teacher to another, whether it’s in the same dojo or school or possibly in a new dojo or new school (because circumstances change, that’s life). And a bit of “old teacher bad — new teacher good” syndrome can creep in, where we discard or even denigrate what we have learned previously in favour of the new and exciting (but Einstein never felt the need to say that Newton had it all wrong, he simply presented a progression of understanding). This is quite human, but it ignores the process of learning, that there can be multiple models or descriptions of the same phenomena in varying degrees of detail and sophistication that can coexist without contradiction.

When we look at the greats in aikido history we can see that they did not make progress by blindly following a single teacher within a single discipline. Sure they progressed within a system but most went outside for a while at least to get what they needed. They were part of the system but not bound by the system.

Educators talk a lot about pedagogy when discussing how best to teach or learn. But pedagogy literally means “to lead a child”, because most of our beliefs and understanding of learning are based on how we learned as children and how we in turn teach children. (Some of you might be thinking that it is good to cultivate beginner’s mind and childlike wonder and that is true to a point, but not the whole story.)

Far better, I would suggest, to pursue andragogy (methods and principles used in adult education). Andragogy is predicated on self-directed, autonomous learners and teachers who are facilitators of learning. This is the antithesis of what is often presented as the “traditional” model for learning martial arts.

Pedagogy tends to focus on explicit instruction of specific skills within a defined framework. While this promotes rapid skill acquisition within the framework, the skills can deteriorate rapidly under conditions of diversity or stress (for example, their application in the real world).

Andragogy tends to focus on other learning modalities like peer-to-peer learning, implicit learning and practising the performance of acquired skills. While we can see these modalities in the “traditional” model they are often restricted in scope. What we almost never see in “traditional” learning is the use of questioning and experimentation. Yes, you might ask the master a question, but a koan, platitude or deflection is often the response. What-if questions are definitely frowned upon — especially if the teacher doesn’t know the answer. Questioning — What are we trying to achieve? What are the learning outcomes? Can we learn, or teach, this better, or faster? — is critical to the process.

So what can we do, if we want to take charge of our own learning? One approach is to keep asking questions and be quietly chastised. It’s a hard road. Another is to accept the hierarchical system as excellent for delivery of content but start to look at modalities that engage the other systems of learning. This is not an easy path either!

I’ve been delighted to work over many years with Jim Nicholls, who has been a senior student in three systems of aikido. His quiet manner belies the magnitude of his contributions to these organisations where he acted not as a top-down leader but toiled away in the trenches, regardless of his seniority, quietly taking us and his students to the next level. I suspect this is the outcome of his research into consciousness over many years and decades as a vocational leader and teacher in adult education around the country. Based in the Northern Rivers since the early 1990s he is part of the zeitgeist of the region. He gets that real outcomes come from a community-based practice of learning and that the role of facilitator supports learning  in an effective manner. I am delighted to be a participant in his upcoming  Autumn workshop, March 19th at Alstonville Aikido, to deliver a little content and be a part (rather than apart) of the digestion, enrichment and questioning it will bring as we seek to find out a little more about the fascinating art of Aiki.

Advanced aikido workshop

advanced-aikido-workshopGreat Ocean Aikido Community
Autumn 2017 Workshop
Sunday 19 March, 11 am to 4pm

Alstonville Leisure and Entertainment Centre

Alstonville is around half an hour from Byron Bay in the beautiful Northern Rivers district of NSW (see map below).

Advanced Aikido Program

11 am: Welcome and introduction; Jim Nicholls

  • Welcome to our mat and aiki-body warm-ups
  • 2-kyu grading: all attendees invited to participate
  • Introduction to Great Ocean Aikido and advanced aikido program

11.45 am to 1 pm: Ground power; Danny James

  • The physics and biomechanics of unbalancing and throwing
  • The science built into traditional aikido practise
  • Measure your “ki” precisely

1.15 to 2.30 pm: Atemijutsu; Andrew Sunter

  • A tool to explore some of the hidden teachings of aikido
  • Cutting through myths about weapon taking
  • Making aiki work reliably

2:30 pm: General discussion and questions; Jim Nicholls

  • What does all this mean?
  • How does it affect how we practise?
  • How does it advance aikido?

4 pm: Centre closes


Fee: $40: Pay by 12 March and state name to: BSB: 062 514  A/C: 1003 4795

$20: Concession with ID:

$50 on the day


Hosted by Alstonville Aikido ( Webpage,  Facebook Alstonville Aikido )

Jim Nicholls Sensei
Jim has over 30 years experience in several aikido styles. As a trainer and facilitator, Jim brings together the Great Ocean Aikido Community in a way that allows students to perform and develop to their potential in a school structure free of hierarchy.

Danny James Sensei
Dan is a sports scientist and professorial level researcher who brings these disciplines to bear on aiki-physics. He will have an instrument available to test balance and demonstrate off-balance (or toppling) techniques.

Andrew Sunter Sensei
Andrew is an aikido phenomenon known to many for his rigorous ongoing exploration of martial arts. His theme is drawn from O-Sensei’s statements that aikido is 70% atemi.

Photo: Neil Kendall

Great Ocean Spring Workshop wrapup



Aikido in Sydney grading candidates and examination panel. Photo R. Banfield

Last weekends Great Ocean Aikido Spring camp in Sydney was my first time on the mat in quite a while and memorable… for all the right reasons.


Saturday kicked off with a full program exploring the gamut of what we know of as Aiki. Sunter senseis exploration of the of atemi in the art of aikido through the vignette of TFT (Target Focused training) was an enjoyable revisitation of this method that we enjoyed some experience up in Brisbane a few years back (see reviews here and here). Whilst on the surface the exploration of the tool of violence might seem to be at odds with Aikido practice the training method really closes the gap  through teaching and practicing 100% focus with no thought of oneself, dodging or blocking has so much in parallel with that power of the mind and extension (did I say ‘Ki’… well almost), finally to understand the tool of violence is to best to be able to choose not to use it.
Of course no good deed goes unpunished and I was invited to share a little more on the biomechanics of Aikido I have been working on(here is last times look at toppling). My aim was to give nage the experience of being O’Sensei, achieved through removing all of Uke’s power and thus avoiding the trap of having to be powerful to do powerful aikido. Thankfully the thought experiment developed with ( Sunter and Nicholls Sensei) was also manifest on the mat where new comer to longtime practitioner were able to throw Uke with ease, pass the Ki test of unbendable arm (because there was no longer any Ki test to give), resist having nikkyo being applied to them and where uke were unable to strike….phew!!! Next up was to demonstrate this in simplified kata for which I chose to present as Nami-waza,  as the technique itself resembles that of a wave (Nami being Japanese for wave) and then the class were invited to find or show this in existing kata or one of their own creation.
We spent some time in the afternoon with  more training and experienced a more rounded aikibody experience with Sunter sensei’s spinal mobility exercises used to round out O’Sensei’s Rights of Spring.
After lunch we spend some time reminiscing on what was ‘AikidoTM’ of today vs Aiki-Do, the way of studying the art of ‘Aiki’. For us it boils down to the practice of Aikido through:
  • The lineages we have experienced,
  • The vignettee of atemi-jutsu to keep the combat feel (yet without the distraction of fighting and wrestling)
  • The very great influences of the sciences in particular physiology, biomechanics and psychology in our practice.

After a late night discussing all these things, all to soon it was Sunday and time for the yudansha gradings.

We were fortunate to have presiding on the Aikido in Sydney’s grading panel Andrew Sunter(head Instructor for Sydney, Jim Nicholas, Gordon Griffiths (a level 4 NCAS coach and Koshinryu Jujutsu Australia y7th dan from the AJF) with myself bringing up the rear.
Mel was first up and can I say what a transformation has taken place since I last saw her a few years back. She mastered and controlled the line between uke and nage before taking ‘aiki’ and finishing each technique for a very strong Shodan. Mike was next and with the calm focus of a tiger behind the shoji screen he was always in control for Sandan. The final candidate was Bob running off the back of 2 evenings family celebrations and taking ukemi for the previous 2 gradings gave a masterful demonstration of ‘show us what you have got when you have nothing left to give’ also for a strong Sandan. I don’t think I have ever seen such capable gradings as these three, they are an exemplar of what sustained training and dedication can yield, a credit to Sunter Sensei’s instruction,  the collegiate learning of the dojo and the benefits of focus on traditional aiki arts that is informed by  science and combatives to produce very strong aikidoka.
best wishes,

Is Aikido passing to the West?

Williams Sensei awarded his 10th dan by Maruyama Sensei, Japan 2010

Williams Sensei awarded his 10th dan by Maruyama Sensei, Japan 2010

With this year’s Aiki Kai Kagami Biraki announcement of promotions, I noticed a healthy sprinkle of aikido pals from near and far. The number of “foreigners” being promoted seems to increase each year. It might be just that I am getting older but I wondered whether this might be a trend.  I thought I’d take a look at the numbers of gaijin appearing on the list historically. Thanks to the magic of the internet, I gathered the promotions lists since 2010 and counted up the number of names in romaji vs those in kanji and plotted these up as a percentage of the total. While there are a few problems with this methodology, it’s an interesting first cut and shows some quite clear trends, particularly as the sample size grows. (8-dan is a pretty small sample so it’s a bit tenuous there, but 5,6,7 dans are pretty robust I think.)

The figure shows the percentage of total dan grades awarded to gaijin through Aiki Kai hombu dojo over time. I plotted only 5-dan and higher for two reasons: firstly because I ran out of fingers and toes; and secondly at these levels what’s issued from hombu is a reasonable aggregate of those issued by this organisation globally. Throughout the time period you can see a trend of more awards going to the west over time.
Dan grades trends in Aikido

Dan grades trends in Aikido

It’s seems reasonably clear the hump of foreigners is working its way up the dan ranks in the mainline Aikido organisation, having passed unity (50%) quite some time ago in the lower listed ranks.

Another possible indicator, when I look around my own backyard, is the increasing number of independent organisations not affiliated to Japan, I suspect this is approaching unity as well.

Of those affiliated to Japan, some have now passed in a significant way to the West. As an example I’m thinking of my own former organisation whose chief instructor Michael Williams was based in Australia. (More recently there is his establishment of a new independent organisation  Aikido Goshinkai, further grist for the mill too!)

 A further indicator might be the growing speculation about whether hierarchical feudal organisations are the way forward, and I defer to my betters with this excellent piece from US commentator George Ledyard, together with a rambling commentary (see on the death of the traditional organisation)
Caveat: Of course the trends aren’t a “real” statistical treatment (n=3 for 8-dan in 2016 for example) but it’s a start and fairly robust for the more junior ranks. I couldn’t find any earlier data than 2010, so a shout-out there to aikido land if you have some promotion lists from earlier that would be a useful inclusion.

One year on…

Festival of the boof: Great Ocean Aikido Community founders

Great Ocean Aikido Community

What a year! Somehow a year has passed since the founding of the Great Ocean Aikido Community and quite a year it’s been, and on many levels.

Prior to formation, we followed a traditional path for many years through our individual dojos, augmented by our own wider Budo and professional networks in education and sports sciences. It was a terrific time. Cultural shift with the resignation of Williams Sensei and change to a more Koryu model saw rapid change and we spoke sincerely of what the art meant to us (“Ars longa, vita brevis”) and of what we felt was unacceptable. Eventually this lead to the founding of Great Ocean Aikido.
We chose to honour and acknowledge our past, something quite different to the general practice of pretending it never existed (“Who is Koichi Tohei?”) as we moved forward.  It very easy to slip into this traditional mindset of “old-teacher-bad, new-teacher-amazing”.
We sought to build a community rather than establish a traditional hierarchy. We decided to adopt a syllabus as a means of communication and interaction between ourselves, yet leave the grading authority within each individual dojo. We found the AJF a terrific organisation to facilitate teaching competencies and working to national standards.
Has our practise changed? Yes and no.
  • Jim introduced a sense of community and how to interact in the workshop he led at last year’s winter retreat (“Winter Retreat in Pictures”).
  • We have welcomed influences from the internal strength movement with many of us attending one or more of Gleason Sensei’s seminars to augment our knowledge of sports science and biomechanics (“Jin-ning around with the segmental topple”), together with Nash’s pilgrimage to the Harden seminars.
  • We are also looking more closely at atemi waza through Target Focus Training.
At a personal level, during last year’s World Harmony Day (and anti-bullying day) I felt challenged to write to my colleagues in a frank and honest way. I felt it was my obligation to my sempai to express my concerns as well as my responsibility to care for my kohai, some of whom were suffering quite badly. Was I threatened and vilified? Yes! Did I lose some friendships? Yes! Did my health suffer? Yes! Would I do it a again? In a heart beat!
The freedoms of Great Ocean Aikido Community are very real but came at a great cost to us. I’d like to think our choices also gave power to others to walk away from situations they didn’t like. For those with different views it also gave the power to move forward with confidence on their own path. Vive la différence!
Two quotes resonate with me now as they did back then:
“Nearly all men can stand adversity, but if you want to test a man’s character, give him power.” Abraham Lincoln
“He who allows oppression shares the crime.” Erasmus
My gratitude to brothers Andrew, John and Jim, and appreciation to Aran and Mike as custodians of the Aikido Republic dojo: seekers of the art, one and all.
Dan James, Founder Member

Review: Gleason Gasshuku


Gleason Sensei Gasshuku, Brisbane 12–14 June 2015

After attending the Sydney event in 2014, it was great to have Bill Gleason in Brisbane to continue the challenge of a whole new paradigm of aikido (or so it feels): Gleason Sensei insists it is the aikido that O-Sensei intended all along.

He certainly brings strong credibility through his initial 10 years training in Japan, fluency in the language and a deep understanding of the history and culture.

It’s hard to convey the seminar experience in words: feeling the movements and the demonstrations of the instructor and other participants first hand is obviously what it’s all about. So here are some random points which are provided with a strong dose of encouragement to seek out the source through Gleason himself, his many video demonstrations or through the Great Ocean Aikido dojos which are trying to work within this paradigm.

Over the weekend it was easy to feel quite flooded with input and frustrated with not “getting it”. However, passing on some ideas to the Alstonville crew it was really pleasing to see how receptive they were and how much they could feel that “aiki” was actually happening.

Where to start? Perhaps with the Sydney 2014 take-aways which were reinforced again:

  • Expand in six directions.
  • If we are pushing through the point of contact then aiki will not happen.
  • Internal power comes from the earth and is expressed through moving the hara (which is the whole belly) and then led through the elbows.
  • We are engaged and moving at the moment of contact.
  • Aiki is about circles and spirals which are expressed through turning of the femur and humerus and engagement of the shoulders.
  • Techniques emerge from applying these principles and cannot be planned.

And then Brisbane 2015 had some refinements of these points:

  • Always have the daling point of the hand facing the uke and the hand open and flat on top. Somehow this creates a six directions feeling in itself.
  • “Pulling silk” was mentioned last time and I got a better feel for it this time – the feeling of lightly pulling threads from the hara out in all directions. A great exercise was to have someone hold your wrist when “zipped up” and then to pull silk. Some aikido magic happens.
  • When developing the six directions as an exercise “stack it” from the chin down to the earth rather than upwards and then you will be grounded in your power.
  • Always rotate around the point of contact so the contact stays where it is and there is no feeling of additional pressure.
  • Keep the legs bent for bowing and unbowing. Too many practitioners have straight (locked) legs. This was further explained through the standing femur turning exercise where one fist extends down through the kua and the other extends outwards. Gleason recommended ongoing solo practice of this exercise (preferably with a mirror) to make sure both the pelvis and head remain straight.
  • This led to more explanation (I think than last time) about opening and closing the kua in the groin and armpit areas as a way of internally turning the upper thigh and upper arm bones.
  • Another more elaborated aspect was the ming men point in the lower back. We were encouraged to think of this point as the beginning of the arms i.e. all arm extension comes from there. One really nice exercise was to lead someone very gently while resting on their two upper arms simply by flexing the ming men point.
  • Also a lot more talk of yin and yang in how we were moving. Gleason Sensei says ki is really “intent” and intent creates yin and yang in our body. This can be expressed as some spirals are outward and these are pushing other spirals inward (and vice versa) — so if the lower left kua is opening out and turning the femur which then moves the foot, this spiral continues around behind the body and moves the arm as the shoulder rotates and the upper right kua closes. These words hardly express the body concept but they are worth trying to articulate to show the subtlety and complexity of the movements. While we practised a lot of this slowly there was no doubt that Sensei could demonstrate any of it very fast and effectively. Ukes were often on the ground as if hit by a brief light whirlwind!
  • We were reminded that nowhere in the martial arts does any master suggest we should blend with our partner. We have our own internal blending and do what we want — the uke merely follows (and hopefully falls) from what happens around them.

I hope I have conveyed that this was a very comprehensive and enlightening weekend however none of it is about the words but simply about practice — and for some of us — more and more practice!

Big thanks to Steve Seymour, the Kim Walkers and Mike Nash for all their efforts facilitating the visit.

Bill Gleason will not be in Australia next year because of his busy schedule. The nearest opportunity will be Hawaii and already several players are saving to go.

Jim Nicholls

Photo credit: Kim Walker, Aikido and Internal Power Group

Great Ocean washes into Brisbane

Great Ocean Aikido Sunter Bright Nicholls Nash

The Anzac Day centenary saw an afternoon of gradings at Aikido Republic as well as the opportunity to have a brief workshop with Sunter Sensei (Aikido in Sydney) on the research and development that he and James Sensei have been conducting over the last couple of years.

A few phrases are now becoming familiar at these workshops:

It’s all about posture:  No matter how often it is said I still find myself unconsciously dropping my head or shoulder and requiring external feedback to correct that (or some other) unconscious habit. When one has the correction and repeats the movement in the better frame then the improvement to technique is obvious.

Hold with curiosity:  It is more than just holding with commitment and more like holding so that the partner feels the hold through to their centre and therefore must work from their centre to create a response. That response is neither challenged nor simply followed (except by agreement between the partners) but curiosity implies the feeling of the nage taking the centre of the uke by moving their own centre into a set of extended spirals.

Do less:  When trying out these old/new approaches uke often finds him/herself on the mat and nage often feels they haven’t done enough. There is often mutual laughter – especially in a Sunter workshop! A contradictory thing is happening – nage feels that not enough technique has been applied but uke is surprised by the incredible lightness which leads them to the floor. So the tendency is to want more application. Sunter san will come past and say do less – or as one of my own students keeps telling himself: stop thinking!

Each repetition must be an improvement: Our responsibility as uke is to help nage improve through full engagement and curiosity in the process. This should not be through lots of spoken feedback but through many repetitions with uke providing just the right amount of intensity and pace for nage. The sensei has given the instruction and the task is to see what the training pair can make of it. Don’t worry, soon enough the roles will be reversed and this mutuality is what you will be looking for to continue your own improvement.

Oh, we have some aiki happening:  Aikido is not the demonstration of technique and certainly not demonstration of superiority. It is the moment when uke fell down without knowing why and nage feels they didn’t do enough. There will be mutual laughter!

Aikido Republic grading

Our main purpose in Brisbane was to observe Susan Tweddell’s successful shodan grading. It was pleasing to see Susan embodying several of these aspects in her demonstration. It was equally pleasing to see Susan’s many colleagues and supporters there to witness the culmination of years of effort. Well done Susan.

In the same session Michael Hitchcock and Meaghan Douglas performed very well at 4th Kyu and 2nd Kyu levels respectively.

Thanks to the Aikido Republic team for putting on a very good event.

Jim Nicholls, Alstonville Aikido