Shimamoto Shihan Seminar: A Belated Review

scan0104Thanks to the generosity of David Kolb Sensei of Bayside Budokai, a handful from Aikido Republic were lucky enough to attend the recent Shimamoto Shihan Seminar. I’m usually quick off the mark to write something by way of a review (if only for my own records), but this time… well, this time was different. Not because of Xmas or New Year – rather, the seminar, for me, was profound, and I wanted time to digest things, and to find the right words.

The initial conditions for the seminar were quite unique. There are few high ranking instructors in the world who can say they’ve actually trained with O’Sensei. There are fewer still who are also full-time Zen priests. Of these, there are even fewer who are willing to travel overseas to teach. Even fewer who then teach with great insight, good will, and flair. Shihan is remarkable in these regards. Couple these characteristics with a fantastic venue and a small group of participants from various styles, and we arrive at a recipe for something rare.

Before diving straight into Aikido technique, Shihan gave a short night-time lecture on Zazen (seated meditation). We all listened to the fundamental principles, and were given a chance to practice in the sitting position of our choice. Some chose seiza, others required chairs, but a number of us attempted half- or full-lotus. I found this to be a bit challenging at first, but after a while my legs numbed and the bottom 50% of my body lost consciousness, leaving only my spine to wonder what was going on 🙂 At one point, I found a period no greater than a few seconds where nothing happened in my head. However fleeting, this was an absolute gem for me; a glimpse of what might be possible with continued practice. So… the lecture eventually closed, people stretched their legs and went to their cars, anticipating the Aikido of following days.

My observation while seated in front of kamiza prior to Aikido practice: after the Zazen of the previous evening, I wanted to do things a bit better – to kneel and bow just a little bit better. When kneeling in front of kamiza, Shihan exhibited regal posture – profoundly earthed and centred. Moreover, he was patient before committing to the bow, taking his time to do it right. And Shihan took great care when bowing. Posture, patience, and care were to become the central themes of the weekend’s study.

Posture. Shihan put forward an excellent analogy: you should visualise yourself as a wonderful castle, protected by a wonderful moat. Shihan personified this analogy throughout the seminar. He seemed very upright, even during techniques that required a transition from standing to seiza. And his various uke could not reach the castle. They always had to attempt traversing the moat, which was like an infinitely spinning whirlpool of ki.

Patience. I never saw Shihan rush. Despite some spirited attacks from various uke, Shihan would take his time, completing a technique at his own comfortable pace. At one point I saw him perform an almost touchless sankyo, using merely a finger to control his uke. He maintained control for what seemed like minutes before finalising the technique, all in good time. At another point, I saw Shihan lead his partner to the tatami for an ikkyo pin. Many of us tend to rush this. But Shihan had absolute control of his uke for minutes before finishing. Again, this was achieved with only the slightest amount of contact. Shihan’s patience, I might add, was not limited to his performance as nage. He showed great amounts of patience (and humour) when correcting students. This was very much appreciated, especially by newbies like me.

Care. Shihan said that the nage-uke dynamic should involve no more force than a butterfly landing on a flower. This was music to my ears. I had heard something similar some time ago, and I was beginning to think that “minimum effort” Aikido was rare, if not an ever-strengthening myth. So, seeing Shihan absolutely embody this ethos brought a smile to my face. I saw Shihan guiding his uke to the tatami very gently, time after time. Irrespective of the zeal of uke, Shihan guided them downwards, very softly. I never saw Shihan use force. Not once.

It was indeed an honour and a privilege to attend the seminar. All such events, especially those featuring such esteemed teachers, serve to inspire us, challenge us, and hopefully make us want to be better people. Shihan said that Aikido is like a great treasure – we must practice diligently to keep it polished. In saying this, Shihan effectively unravelled a lot of the Aiki mystery. He taught us to maintain good posture, to be patient, to use care, and to practice earnestly.

What a wonderful gift.

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Schnell Sensei visits the Republic

catherine schnell aikicentreLast night, owing to dojo renovations, we descended on the Mt Gravatt showgrounds, Eric with a ute full of mats, and in due course dojo members appeared and those from dojos across Brisbane kept coming out of the dark attracted by the bright lights of the showgrounds Pavillion (as our own dojo is being renovated with air conditioning, showers and a hot tub*). I’d say they appeared like insects to the lights, but we had those too, but using creative aiki, and selective lighting we were able to lead them out the shed by nightfall (the ants that is).

Sensei’s first session focused on personal protection and drawing on recent experiences of clients from Melbourne was able to lead us through the processes of awareness, assertiveness – though posture, control of distance voice – and finally physical escape. Drawing on the aiki skills she was able to relate them to personal protection which we all practiced.

Sensei’s second session focused on tanden development (aka core strength) and maintaing that under movement of uke, she related that through maintaining a connection to nage that doesn’t fight nor flee (two typical ukemi behaviours) but rather seeks to maintain a conversation. In this way sensei explained that this is our job in training, not to have winner nor loser but 2 persons working together to find ‘Aiki’. I especially appreciated sensei working one on one with a few of use in the group teaching environment and got to see ideas in action as a method to understand what aikido is able through working with a newer student, an experienced student from another art as well as someone thats been around the traps for a while (i.e. me). in each of these cases she talked through how uke might respond, why that might respond that way and the purpose of her style of response in uke.

In many senses the practice was challenging to our world view of ukemi but something of great importance to our art. Sensei, as a senior instructor (6th dan) in our organisation provided some terrific insights.

Its been great to share a dialogue over many years with Schnell sensei in Melbourne and Brisbane, and for my part been a rich interaction of ideas and insights into Aikido and being about to verbalise and inculcate in to the body. Its something to treasure all the more as we learn that in 2013 Maruyama Sensei won’t be able to visit Australia and that a collegiate approach may help foster continued progress in the art

* NOTE;: Actual renovations may differ from those described

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Jutta reflects on a home invasion

Dear Aikido Friends,
Sometime ago you may have heard of the home invasion of Edwin and Jutta and the ensuing altercation. It was well reported in the media initially and followed up here, there was also considerable discussion in the Aikido community. Both Edwin and Jutta are well known in Brisbane aikido circles having practiced for many years, Edwin was a professional scholar of the East who we enjoyed in our dojo for many years, Jutta today holds a senior rank in Aikido Yuishinkai and remains the vice president of my old aikido dojo at Griffith Aikido
I think its fair to say that Aikido dojo focus on the practice of physical techniques as well as striving for a more peaceful daily life. Many are attracted to Aikido for self defence reasons, though altercations are rare in the aikido community. So there is some curosity as well as lessons in any real life encounter from someone in the community. All situations are unique but there is much that can be reflected on.
I asked Jutta if she would mind reflecting on her experiences to share with the aikido and wider community. Despite receiving no injuries its had quite a toll on their otherwise quiet lives and a reminder that violent encounters rarely have a winner. Its an account from the heart and quite sobering

“So, one finds a stranger in ones home while watching Television.   Sometimes there are noises which just need investigation, but does one expect a stranger inside ones Home and Castle.

Being a martial arts student, one should be prepared to handle such situations, but in today’s life, this could also turn out to ones disadvantage, if the intruder is armed.

The intruder stormed into my husband  – (and into the knife) holding on to several bags.   I myself was just behind my husband when this person stormed past leaving a trail of blood.   This, of course, was only noticed after the event.

Racing after this person, trying to stop him somewhere, somehow, seemed to be the only option, but he knew where he could get out.  Unknown to us he had unlocked the back door with a large metal pin/instrument.    That is where he obviously came in and this is where he stormed out, jumping down the upstairs balcony and climbing the fence gate – groaning as he did so.

The first realization to what had happened was disbelief.    Doing the right thing I called 000 and mentioned that the person was injured.

Then all hell broke loose.   Before we knew it, approximately 15 police arrived including crime Inspectors, forensic, helicopter with infrared lights, sniffer dogs.  The streets were cordoned off and we were question non-stop (separately) for hours.   Then taken to the police station and again were questions separately by another inspector.  At this stage I felt nauseate and extremely tense.

My nerves were at breaking point.  I tried very much to do some deep breathing, trying to calm myself which was not easy with all the going on and the sight of the blood on carpets and floors plus several items which were dropped in the rush by the intruder.

It was 2.30am when we were taken home by the police.   At 4am we felt the great need of sleep.

At 6am the phone rang and the reporters (7 of them) were outside the door.   And this continued all day.  Every TV station, phone interviews etc.  It was a big surprise to us, that the police had actually informed the media of the event.   But this had its reason to alert the public to be on the look-out.  All the friends and family (some we had not heard from or seen for many years) rang or emailed.   The phone did not stop for two days and this, rather than making one feel better,  caused more stress, as one had to repeat the story again and again, and was faced with the same sudden sensations of dread.

The shock and the harassment by the media made one want to hide.  I did not want to go out at all.  All I wanted was to make sure that everything, including us, were still safe.  Edwin’s attitude, when moving down the hallway to investigate the noise, was extremely calm and composed.

The police was very thoughtful and kind, but had no results to report, in finding the intruder, which caused a great unease, as the thought of retaliation was foremost on my mind.

Knowing there was a master key in my bag, we needed to change all the locks.  Before I knew it, our granddaughter emailed from Taiwan, that she had read that we had changed the locks.  No one had told this to the media or anyone else.  So, the media must have been on the watch and observed the locksmith van.

The carpets needed cleaning and all my cards, which one needs for ones daily life nowadays, needed to be replaced.   This was a real hassle as everyone would know who had been through a similar situation.  Hours were spent on the phone with interludes of music.  “Your call is important to us-please hold”.

The days after the event, I felt very angry with myself.  Asking myself, why did I not do this or that to apprehend the person.   Having been trained in martial arts one always envisages situations where the spontaneous reaction should set in.   The fact that everything happened in a narrow corridor in the dark and with tremendous speed,  may be one excuse.  Would I have reacted differently had I seen the person properly in a more spacious surrounding?

It is only due to Edwin’s training in aikido which made it possible to resist the intruder when he charged into him, as he is extremely unsteady on his feet nowadays.   It is the ki extension which kept him upright and which he used while holding the knife.

I must admit that for several weeks I was unable to approach any dark room inside the house or walk along the corridor unless I saw a light at the end of it.   I was amazed myself to what extend the whole business shattered ones nerves.    I lay awake listening very acutely to every little noise and only slept after taking ½ sleeping tablet, which I am glad to say, I stopped now, knowing the intruder  has been apprehended and put behind bars.    The sad thing is, that there was such an exposure of the house, address, phone number, names etc. that one only hopes, that it keeps other persons with similar ideas away rather than invite them to have a go at the our place also.

Now we have turned the home into “Ford Knox” and are unable to enjoy wide open doors, as we used to during the warm summer days.

Why has the whole story gone so viral, my brother in Germany asked, as these things happen on a daily basis (break-ins).     I can’t answer this correctly.  Is it the age/ the martial training/ the fact that the intruder  got stabbed?    I myself certainly can do without such fame.

Things have settled down now.    We like to live as normal as possible.  Most our neighbors  have added more security to their place in the last few weeks.    It certainly is very sad, that one has to live like this, in constant fear that it may happen again.

I always felt that the ki extension which I trained in over many years has helped me to cope with lots of things in life, has given me confidence and hopefully make me react quicker and more productive in any future skirmishes.”

Jutta Dowdy

22nd November, 2012

It seems like
 – In the moment actions and scenaris hard hard to predict, and while the community may play 20-20 hindsight, our friends are OK at the end of the day
– Keeping calm and centred is important and not in a fluffy bunny way, its a physical thing too
– That after the incident its quite complex and almost as stressfull
 – The after experience is consistent(albeit it in a less severe way) with  documented experiences of PTSD (insert link) and the writings of other professionsals show that the trauma is ongoing.
 

Aikido has more to do with Gathering and less to do with Throwing away

“Aikido has more to do with Gathering and less to do with Throwing away”

That was a facebook update quote from Chicko Sensei, from the Fudoshin dojo in Noosa a few months back. Over the years we have had occasion to practice at sensei’s dojo and he was kind enough to visit us as well, he are some written up

See Takeda Satoshi Seminar report 2010 and Chicko Sensei visits the Republic

 

More recently good friend of the dojo Craig Boyd, “Big Rock” sensei caught up with good friend of the dojo Chicko Sensei for practice. He was kind enough to pass on these impressions

Aikido @ Noosa- Road trip

Sensei Thom Hansen and myself went to train with Sensei Chico Xerri at his Noosa dojo  on Saturday – If any seniors student has considered doing this and hasn’t been as yet, then I guess ,  if it makes you feel better I’m happy to tell you it was just OK ………. and you best stop reading now.

 

This was my second visit to train with Sensei Chico at his Dojo, The class ( like my first) was extremely enlightening and he and his students always make you feel most welcome and are always ready to help you grasp the lesson being taught rather than just getting bogged down in the technical aspects of the technique, and for good reason. Sensei runs  his lessons at a frantic pace so no time to have worry about anything except what he was teaching, and there was so much there,  so the lessons he was imparting are just starting to come into focus now 2 days later..

  1. Yokomen- lesson 1 enter blend  and cut the hand ( nicely demoed with a bokken) – no collision just a new option for blending, he wasn’t to hung up on what technique you do from this, he showed about 4, he was imparting a philosophy of ” do what feels right at the time” with this entry
  2. Yokomen- lesson 2- enter deeply , stepping deeply and past the attack to avoid the strike , and move to an in close position past Uke’s centre line, then put uke back on your line and execute techniques- a good way to develop this was to do sankyo on the non attacking hand- there was a great technique I will be demonstrating to a few either fortunate or unfortunate people from this position it ends with a leg lock!- this position also lead into a “no technique” technique of pure Irimi – awesome stuff!
  3.  Ryotemochi– we explored a now reoccurring theme of every art I train or have dabbled in, of getting Uke off line by you just moving your centre and breaking their balance, from there a throw was easily executed once you cut their centre or project through it- Sensei managed to make this look easy and moved probably no more than and inch or 2 – sadly I had to move the width of a Tatami to be able to get the lead and the feeling anywhere near to make it effective.

 

 I’m sure there was way more to it than that, and now I’m wondering was lesson 1 just explanation for lesson 2????  But it was a fast paced class that had a lot of training and a lot of aikido lessons, so if Sensei Thom Hanson wants to remind me of the ones I missed or forgot please let me know. I will defiantly be heading up to Noosa on a Saturday morning again though, to train.

 

Cheers

 

Craig Boyd

An Aikido Conversation in Melbourne

Aikido in Melbourne at Aiki-Centre

This past week I found myself in Melbourne for work and had opportunity to catch up with budo buddy Catherine Schnell Sensei at the Aiki-Centre, whom i met quite a few years ago during a Budo tour of Melbourne (See trip report Budo Bums Aikido in Melbourne here). During the course of that nights regular practice we shared some ‘conversation’ about Aikido. Schnell Sensei has long been a fan of describing the Uke-Nage interaction as ‘a conversation’ rather than winner/loser etc.. Its something that harks back to when Ariga sensei taught in Brisbane some years ago at the Aikikai, but I think her breadth on the topic goes wider, owing to her background in several other schools of Aikido. Schnell sensei opened the class, including warmups with some core strength components and we dialogued back and forth a few times, hosting a workshop rather than class, with everyone participating in the exercises. I think i let down a few training partners when i was paired up by asking questions of sensei rather than practicing 😦
For me it was a chance to learn sensei’s world view as well as experiment with body positioning for Kuzushi and using insights from the ‘toppling vector’ to guide how to throw Uke, – leading to the pre-formal conclusion that you must go up first to throw Uke down (See Aiki Physics II – Biomechanics of Throwing). This led to how does Uke respond? and in this context Schnell Sensei suggests the role of our core (Tanden) is in the correct and striving of an orientation and alignment that allows Uke to recover their centre and thus ‘continue the conversation’.

The development of the core is n emerging intrest of mine, as the biomechanics of throwing (the base, the topple vector etc..) suggest that this vital aspect of the power train from the ground out to the limbs is a vital component. Of course its nothing new, the martial sages and Kami have been saying this forever, but its somewhat new to me and in a different constructshowing some legMany thanks to sensei and members of the dojo for such a warm welcome, again, and for contributing to such a healthy practice and learning environment.
That night I caught up with Maruyama Sensei and had some burning questions from the Byron Seminar answered as well as some bigger picture stuff shrouded in the midsts of time. Next morning we saw Maruyama sensei and Kondo San off on their way to Wagga (Yikes they nearly boarded a plane for Kickatinalong), before heading off to Geelong for the real reason for my trip with a busy 3 days including a workshop, bootcamp and conference on sports and technology – unfortunately there wasn’t a chance to show the Hon. Kate Lundy, Minister for Sport my modest progress on Nikkyo…maybe next time 😉

Thanks also to Asunta Sensei for some nice insights too with some Kenkyukai? inspired movements. Schnell Sensei is up in Brisbane for the Shimamoto Shihan Seminar in December so I’m hoping she can teach a little on Core development at the Republic

Here are some Photos from the nights practice from the dojo camera (not sure who to credit).

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Actioning ACT

I like to read, and I read from a wide spectrum of sources. Over the past 12 months I have been reading a lot about ACT: Acceptance and Commitment Therapy. The basis of ACT is that we find it challenging to find harmony and happiness in our lives when we constrict the space around our problems. The remedy, and it sounds almost counterintuitive, is that we give our problems more space, not less. Sounds odd when you first hear it, but it’s remarkably obvious when you think about it a little. To use a flippant analogy, would you prefer to be sharing a confined space with a very angry bull, or would you prefer the ring to be kilometres in diameter?

Our Aikido training benefits immensely from good use of physical space. Our training partner, uke, presents a “problem” for us if we let her/him break ma-ai (safe distance). Conversely, if uke is beyond ma-ai, then we’re more or less safe. But training would be a weird experience indeed if we spent every class just standing 3 or 4 metres from our training partner. At some point on the mat, we have to deal with broken ma-ai and the (potentially) very angry bull. What then, in the absence of safe distance? Does ACT’s central premise no longer apply?

From my limited understanding, the ACT model as applied to Aiki can be thought of as prophylactic in terms of space, and antidote in terms of mind. We seek to create space between ourselves and those who would do us physical harm by putting distance between us – this is largely a preventative measure. But once safe distance is broken, we must not concentrate wholly on re-establishing it – this might not be possible, and we have to therefore deal with the physical confrontation that has entered our sphere. This is where the mind comes into play. This is where we sometimes experience a limiting mind rush: “Aaaaargh, what was the technique again?”, “Oh no, I’m going to look bad doing this!”, “This person scares the heck out of me!”, “Mummy!!” etc. These are symptoms of a temporary lack of space in one’s mind. What to do, then? Apply the antidote, or at least practice doing so. Many years ago I was taught a neat trick, and it’s precisely about creating mental space. Instead of letting the panic get hold, think zealously to yourself, “Aha! Now I have a chance to practice!!” Sound simplistic? Good. It is. And it works. Perhaps not 100% of the time, but it has a much higher success rate than the constricted panic way of doing technique. I find when I apply this antidote, the confrontation pervading my mind dissipates considerably, and I can concentrate better on the task at hand.

I am always amazed to see Aikido masters demonstrate techniques; I never tire of it.  You can see by the wonderful expression on their faces that panic is not a state they entertain very often, if at all. I see the techniques working out for them time and time again. But that’s not what repeatedly grabs my attention. It’s the sense of grace, and calm, and happiness, and acceptance that powers their infectious smiles. I cannot say for sure that they’re thinking “Aha! A chance to train” every time they demonstrate, but I can safely bet there’s no negative inner dialogue dominating their minds. They have created sufficient inner space to deal with whatever uke throws at them.

Space… Something to think about before bowing on to the mat. And off again.

Opening an aikido dojo: Working the numbers in Brisbane and beyond

aikido brisbane , working the numbersOur dojos been running a few years now (d!oh forgot the birthday), so part memory lane, part curiosity here’s a look at possibilities and how we are going so far .

There are more than 20 aikido dojos in Brisbane. Its quite a large number (I’ve only gotten around to maybe 1/2 of them), but then the population of greater Brisbane area is 2.0 million or so (actually its a bit more but for my maths later on I’m going to work with a round number). In my teacher, Maruyama Sensei’s philosophy of ‘Aikido without Boundaries’ I’ve kept a reasonably upto date list of them on www.aikidorepublic.com/aikido-brisbane. If by chance yours isn’t listed or has incorrect details I’m happy to update. A ‘backlink’ is nice too, though most don’t – their either not allowed, not interested or you know its still a bit feudal out there. Over the years new dojo spring up all the time and the life expectancy is pretty short for the first year or so, but then dojo tend to run for a long time after that.

So out of 2,000,000 people who might visit a dojo?

Colleague and Budo buddy at Griffith Uni Pope (Winzer, Pope et. al, 2006) have found that there is a participation rate of 2% for Australian adults and 5% of kids in the martial arts over a few years of Australian Bureau of Statistics (how long for is anyones guess though). This takes us to around 25, 000 adults across Brisbane (have omited the childrens classes for the moment). Spread across the various arts (see www.aikidorepublic.com/brisbane-martial-arts) we find a lot more martial arts schools in Brisbane. The big name arts at the moment there is mixed martial arts (MMA) for the young, fit and sweaty and the martial arts for health like Tai Chi, Chi Kung popular with the older people. The olympic sports Judo and Taekwondo benefit from the Olympic halo effect and are probably the mainstay arts for school kids (you can teach big classes and if done as solo kata practice its pretty safe too). There is the diversity of the Japanese, Chinese, Indonesian and Brazilian arts, western arts (boxing and fencing…they are olympic sport too). Yellow pages tells me there are over 300 dojo and given that only 1/2 the aikido dojo are in the yellow pages (the book is a bit antiquated after all with most now using google to find stuff) we can guess that there are actually 600 dojo in Brisbane area. So all up I reckon that leaves aikido with …. 3% (20 out of 600 dojo) of the total people doing martial arts so thats maybe 750 people doing or could be doing Aikido in Brisbane. Split this up into 20 dojo and you have 38 people each. Sure some dojo are bigger and some smaller than others, also 38 can be cut a few ways. With an anecdotal 1/2 – 1/3 of members on the mat at any time its about 10-20 on the mat. Looking at it another way on an annual cycle 38 is about 3 new people walking into the dojo a month, both of these sound about right.

So where do or could the ’38’ come from?

From surveys conducted at 2 dojos I used to operate (one 15km from city centre and one in the CBD), the figures show that around 1/2 of the students will come from the immediate surrounding area and the other from along major transport corridors. See help-i-need-aikido-students for survey results. It figures then to find your 38 (or more) people available, its important to know your catchment and be near some major transport infrastructure. Anecdotally, regional / country towns seem to do better (maybe there is less competition for peoples time?)

Once people come to a dojo how long will they stay?

Almost any dojo will tell you that over half the people that phones or email don’t turn up, half of these coming the first night never come back etc…. Tracking retention figures over a 10yr period (with a lot of people though the front door) shows that 5 new people a month will give you about 40 members in a dojo (See growing-a-dojo for the sums and retention % through the Kyu grade ranks…what can i say do much time on my hands and a brain that likes maths). Retention can be tweaked through various means e.g. beginners courses tailored classes for intermediate levels, which comes down to the focus and purpose of the dojo. However the final figures to Shodan (about 1 in 450) doesn’t seem to change with these strategies. A serious student (which Shodan represents) is something that has to come from within and keeping students longer in the Kyu ranks won’t necessarily change this. Some of highest retention seems to come from the inconvenient places or times, where despite low dojo numbers people seem to stick around, I suspect its something to do with it acting as a filter for the casual minded..

So on the whole it seems our own dojo is not doing to badly for a 60’s scout hall, wafer thin mats, though they are down permanently and somewhat compensated by a springy floor (by age rather than design). Class that start at 8pm which I thought was a serious shortcoming, being so far from ‘prime time’, but ‘touch wood’ so far it works and its not the numbers that matter but the people. Its seems to be a dojo of busy lives drawn together to practice ‘Aiki’ without the ‘bloat’ and some of them going through extraordinary sacrifices with the work/life/kids, the cross town commute for quite a few so we can spend a few hours together in practice.

Looking forward

So thats the numbers taken care of what else is there? Yamada sensei says “In my opinion, the time of spreading aikido to the world is finished; now we have to focus on quality.”  Aikido is in an interesting place at the moment, with the passing of the art to another generation, a colored reputation in the martial arts community (not all of it good), its a broard church.. . so who gets to define quality?

Reference: Leveraging the Factors Affecting Participation in the Martial Arts, Winzar, Hume Francis; Pope, Nigel Kenneth; Kim, Ki Wan; Forrest, Edward, 2006, AUSTRALIAN AND NEW ZEALAND MARKETING ACADEMY

Three Pillars of Aikido Yuishinkai

Aikido Yuishinkai

Aikido Yuishinkai, 3 pilliars of

Three Pillars of Aikido Yuishinkai

A few months ago we learnt that Michael Williams Sensei was stepping down in many of the roles within Aikido Yuishinkai, though he remains our international chief instructor. In Australia, Williams Sensei has always been there at the front leading our aikido practice, and so the news was quite a shock, though on reflection perhaps not totally unexpected. Aikido isn’t just his day job, its his life’s work and hobby, retirement at some stage for at least the former roles was inevitable. Reading Sensei’s biography of achievements reveals just what is possible for someone of talent, with a trail blazing attitude, together with dedication and determination to see it through.

After bringing Ki Aikido to Australia in little over 20 years he created a large organisation down the east coast of Australia. In the early 2000’s, as Maruyama Sensei’s ‘younger brother’ he then went on to build Aikido Yuishinkai both nationally as well as an international organisation of over a hundred dojo. He developed video and printed resources, together with a light weight structure for those tired of ‘power based’ aikido organisations and who were attracted to Maruyama Sensei’s aikido.

To this organisation he brought a culture of informality, based on building relationships, and established, largely by example, what I think are three pillars of Aikido Yuishinkai : Unity through diversity, Excellence through continued learning and Seeking the source through lineage to the founder and the roots of aikido before him.

1. Unity through diversity

Aikido Yuishinkai is a broad church, whilst many have come from a background in Ki Society yet others have come from other places in the Aiki world including former independents and those from more stablished aikido organisations. All have been attracted to the light yoke of Aikido Yuishinkai which seeks not to force change but encourage it, as we follow the principles of the school through Maruyama Sensei’s aikido. Our syllabbus is a mix of very precise basics – dissappearing at 1st Kyu to free form movements and the 5 levels (Kotai through Kontai) to guide the path. Williams Sensei has also been active in the wider Budo community personally and later drawing in influences into our organisations, publically these have including arts such as Judo (the Ota’s in the 90’s), Karate (Stan Schmidt) and others which have helped inform our art and embrace the wider vision. More recently we saw the aikido friendship seminar in Japan in 2010, where he was presented with his 10th dan.

2. Excellence through learning

Whether in the Ki Society or Aikido Yuishinkai, Williams sensei has been travelling to Japan, Hawaii, UK to seek out teachers as well as bringing out many teachers to Australia from Japan, Hawaii (the birth place of Aikido in the West) so that we might learn from many sources and gain an appreciation of the wider context of Aikido. These included something of the true swordsman and samurai of old, direct students of the founder as well as seminars focused on just particular aspects of our art, such as on the development of Ukemi, and teachers from other arts as well. All were designed to stretch our understanding of the art and the boundaries of what we considered to be our art and to help us maintain beginners mind. Its exciting to see this continue in Aikido Yuishinkai, with windows into the very foundations of aikido such as the Daito Ryu, Shinkage Ryu sword school and the healing arts of Soutai

3. Lineage to the founder

As Aikido moves into its 3rd generation, many of us, through Sensei’s efforts have had the opportunity to learn directly from several students of O’Sensei, the founder of Aikido. These include the trips to Japan he organised, together with the steady stream of seminars he hosted. More recently the opportunity to follow Maruyama Sensei in such a direct way is a stunning achievement, firmly grounding our art in the past yet looking to the future as he takes Aikido Yuishinkai forward.

On a personal note its been a joy to have Williams Sensei as mentor and sensei throughout my aikido journey thus far, (despite the rocky beginnings of a wayward physicist with funny views on ‘Ki’ ) sensei has delivered an authentic art and stood by me as I learnt, as well as in times of trouble when many others ran the other way or just shrugged their shoulders in indifference. The three pillars are, I think, a fantastic legacy and compass for the future.

Moving forward, sadly, I remember well the fracturing of the previous organisation, as at times dojo vied dojo for opportunities, with some lost to independence and others choosing to go in other directions. I hope as the aikido in this country continues to develop that ideas like the three pillars are incalcated in our respective dojo and seniors this time around can help us to help each other to continue to develop our aikido, learn from each other and seek the source of Aiki both within and without our respective traditions.

While this is just a personal observation and idea, three pillars of Aikido Yuishinkai resonates strongly as a learned legacy from Williams Sensei as we look to the future.

1. Unity through diversity,

2. Excellence through continued learning

3. Seeking the source

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I got my Black Belt, now what?

aikido brisbaneBeing awarded a black belt in any martial art is often seen as a mark of proficiency. A black belt in some schools can take over ten years to achieve. Black belts today can be something of a commodity handed out in less than a year in some of the most commercial of dojo, in aikido dojo though black belt marks not an expert but a serious beginner. While there is still a kind of one upmanship between dojos to have the toughest black belts by grading a little more slowly,  yet other schools award a black belt a bit quicker than most in an effort to compete in a crowded black belt market place.

Fortunately aikido is still largely free from handing our black belts just for turning up. Even so many people leave the art of aikido just before reaching Shodan (black belt) or just after reaching black belt for these reasons. Gaining black belt is confronting as the realisation of just how far short of expertise one is when reaching black belt is tough to deal with. For others reaching black belt reaches a goal oriented target and after black belt continuing just looks a bit too damn hard. After black belt there are little in the way of awards, its a minimum of 2yrs to second dan and you don’t even get any strips for your efforts :(. By Shodan you have probably been taught most of the syllabus and there is little that is ‘new’ in each class, instead the black belt must take on responsibility for their own learning more and more. Increasingly the motivation and decision to learn must come from self, rather than others. To take up this challenge isn’t easy! Some an idea or interpretation of aikido and use it to reenergise the form, go get some fresh eyes and explore through a seminar in the same or another school, go to another art and look for the insights the other art can give aiki, and that aiki gives on that art.

Traditionally Shodan manes ‘first step’ and you are now ready to be a student. As a we progresses through the art and the dan grades its important to remember the belts become less about self and more about a growing responsibility to the school that has awarded them. This may mean opening a dojo, teaching the art, serving the school in other ways such as hosting seminars, producing books, dvd’s and writing about the art, but above all a commitment to regular practice.