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

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
and
“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

Winter Retreat in Pictures

Aikido Republic Winter Retreat 2014A wonderful weekend away, a time to regroup, spend time with families, do some excellent training and cogitating for the future.

Many thanks to Sunter and Nicholls Sensei for guest instruction, the naughty chef for excellent fare and everyone for making the trip away. Sadly it was a time to formally farewell Eric and Alison as the prepae to move to new Zealand . We love you guys, come and visit us often!
A weekend in photos courtesy of Simon, Neil, Charlie and Dan. Please enjoy and let us know if you would like any taken down

 

https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.913393195341477.1073741833.157038900976914&type=3

Winter Retreat July 25-27 with Guests Sunter and Nicholls Sensei

Bell Misogi - Winter retreat 2011

Bell Misogi – Winter retreat 2011

winter-retreat-2012-kumijo

Kumijo Winter retreat 2012

winter-retreat-fire

Pre dinner fireside Winter retreat 2013

Hi Everyone,

An open invitation to our 4th Winter retreat. Winter retreat is just a few short weeks away. This year we will have both Andrew Sunter and Jim Nicholls Sensei as guest Instructors. This years retreat will examine the purpose behind Kata, weapons training and the meditation disciplines as well as on Sunday morning a led open discussion on Budo and community in the West

You are welcome to come for the full weekend of a day. Camping should be booked via the Biggriggen website. Bunkrooms through the dojo,  Costs are $15/bed/night which you can pay to me on arrival. The Saturday night dinner err.. feast is $25 which i’ll need before so the Naughty Chef  can do all the shopping.

 

Bill Gleason rocks Sydney

aikido-sydneyI was down in Sydney for the long weekend visiting family and friends. It was very nice time to catchup with a few sisters and the obligatory lounge room tanninzygake err… Rumble with nieces and nephews too. Whilst out for a stroll I spied a beautiful dojo set in the rural environs of Terry Hills. Imagine my surprise to find an aikido seminar underway and none other than Bill Gleason Sensei – who I visited 2 years ago in Boston, leading the instruction. At the half time oranges err… mandarin break I had the good fortune to catch up with what is possibly the broadest cross section of the Australian Aikido community gathered in a single place, well done to Balmain dojo and Seymour Sensei!.

Gleason Sensei, of the Yamaguchi lineage was putting the Aiki back into aikido in what was less about technique and more about the feeling. That is about building Aiki from within rather than through technique. It was for me the next step in following the internal strength movement in aikido circles ( see). Bill sensei speaks highly of Dan Hardens method and brings a translation of it to the aiki arts.

He combined effortlessly the traditional terminalogies like earth, fire and water as analogues for the familiar square trianle and circle. He spoke his own work of tate and yoko combined with spiraling where one must use ‘just eough power but as much as is required’. The vertical and horizontal aspects together with entry resonated strongly with an emerging picture with toppling seen in biomechanics and then some i.e. to freeze the base and topple through up and through. Its a dangerous assumption to make to though fitting everything to an existing paradigm – every the trap of the tyro

I was also reminded of some of the teaching of my former school such as a) Kotai, Jutai and Ryutai levels of practice and the importance and b)  insights that can come from the Kashima sword school, really liked the neutral /support points being exlored through the sword.

For an in-depth review this by way of the Aikido Sydney Facebook page from Bill Sensei’s seminar in Auckland

One night I also managed to catch up with some budo buddies too for dinner…it brought out the boof in all of us 🙂

budo-buddies

Sadly there wasn’t opportunity to get onto the mat this time, maybe next time

Best,

Dan

 

Farewell Aikido Yuishinkai

Aikido Yuishinkai farewellThursday night we had our dojos last Aikido Yuishinkai class. It was a nice time to examine and reminise our journey with the school and all that it had taught us, domo arigato gozai mashita!

Whilst our dojo is only comparatively new, we had the pleasure of hosting Will Reed last year to help us see under the hood a little of what makes Aikido Yuishinkai tick. Prior to these several, who had of us opened dojo and hosted several national and international seminars too.

The school’s syllabus is a fantastic progressive transition from static to movement to high level practice as one progresses in the art. The influences of  the internal practices of the Daito-Ryu and several weapons schools help bring alive the kata too. The schools doka of positive mind and ‘aikido without boundaries‘ have been inspirational.

Where to from here? We really like the founders Doka and enjoy a swim or two.

‘Every river has a name. However, these names disappear when they flow into the great ocean. Aikido has many styles, many names, but Aikido is Aikido. It is my vision and hope that, like the rivers, they flow together and unite as one.’

To our Aikido Yuishinkai friends near and far, its been a fun ride, sadly our journey lies elsewhere. We look forward to sharing the path and grabbing wrists again in the near future and the serendipity of visitors on doorsteps.

Ars longa, vita brevis, The art is long, and life is short.

Andrew Sunter Sensei and friends, image C. Withers

Andrew Sunter Sensei and friends, image C. Withers

Ars longa, vita brevis The art is long, and life is short.
Andrew Sunter Sensei’s guidelines for training
(Abridged and reproduced with permission)

We look forward to Sunter San’s visit to our annual Winter retreat for a special session on the nature of Budo.

 

1.Aikido is a principle-based art, not a technique-based art.

2. Everything has advantages and disadvantages

Everything has advantages and disadvantages: every person, every culture, every art, every situation and every moment. It is unreasonable to expect perfection. The only “one true way” is the tortuous path I navigate for myself through accidents, wrong turns and poor decisions, emulating the people I admire, trying to live up to my chosen ideals, and striving toward the best possible outcome for all. It is important to remember to include myself in “all”.

3. There is nothing new under the sun

There is nothing new under the sun. I do not believe this means that one group is right and the other group is wrong. Nor do I believe there are only two narrow options to choose between. We do not all live in the same house in the same street. Circumstances change and we have to deal with them as best we can. This is true for all people in all countries in all cultures and in all arts. If the “traditional”, “authentic”, “Japanese” way is to follow one teacher unquestioningly, how do new arts arise? How can there be more than one sword school? How can there be different branches and lineages within one school? This does not mean that any yudansha would be well-advised if they were to start their own independent style. Musashi Kensei said we must do a million cuts before venturing from home…

4. Boundaries without Aikido

Over time I have learned just how little I know, and I have been convinced of the value of diversity of opinion and approach, and the value of peer-review. I wish that I could train every week with my teacher, but that is not possible. Without that regular guidance, I rely on the feedback of trusted seniors, peers and juniors to guide me on my progress in the application of the principles.

5. It’s up to you

There was a time when Maruyama Sensei responded, “It’s up to you”, to all manner of questions, from the trivial to the profound. I don’t think it ever meant, “Anything you decide is OK with me.” To me it means, “You have to take responsibility for your own decisions, your own actions, your own training.” It is not up to Sensei whether or not I learn and develop as a result of his instruction. It is up to me.

6. Train joyously

It’s often said that O-Sensei exhorted us to “train joyously”. Sometimes, in training, the effortless application of a principle elicits a shout of laughter and astonishment from uke (and sometimes even from nage). For me, this suggests there is a possibility that some actual aiki might be in the offing. I will pursue this relentlessly.
7. Everything rests on the tip of motivation

A Buddhist aphorism states, “Everything rests on the tip of motivation”. I cannot know whether what I decide is for the best or not, but doing my best to ensure correct motivation makes the consequences a whole lot easier to live with.

8. The roles of uke and nage

Maruyama Sensei has taught us that our practise is kata-based and that uke’s role is to assist nage to improve their performance at every repetition. When uke does not support the learning process, I believe not only that this is a waste of time, but also that both participants are actively getting worse. They would have been better at aikido if they had stayed home.

9. The roles of teacher and student

A recent post admonished us all to read up on our responsibilities as students. What jumped out at me was not what it had to say about the responsibilities of the student, but those of the teacher. In some cultures, people believe that as they rise in rank they have more and more authority over others, that increasingly they can do what they please, that the rules apply to others and not to them, and that lesser mortals have the responsibility to suck it up.
In functional cultures, people take on more and more responsibility for others as they rise in rank, and their authority comes from the respect and trust of the people junior to them.
In Buddhist thought, a teacher is a “spiritual friend”: not someone to hang out with, but someone you can trust always to tell you the truth, and always to guide you in your own best interests, whether you recognise them or not.

10. Ars longa, vita brevis The art is long, and life is short.

O-sensei famously said, “This old man must still train and train.” I must not waste a minute. There is no time for ego. No time for competition. No time for talkie-nage.

 

Have we missed anything?..please add to the comments section below

 

4th Annual Winter Retreat, July 25-27th 2014

winter-retreat-fire winter-retreat-aikidoBrisbane Aikido Republic

Winter Retreat, July 25-27th 2014

Rathdowney  

Winter retreat is here again (its our 4th). This year again we head to the scenic rim, just 1 1/2 hrs from Brisbane where we have found a delightful country hall in a rural setting of 100 acres reserve with bunk rooms and ample space for those wanting to sleep under canvas (BYO or we have some too). Fear not, all the creature comforts of hot showers, hall and  kitchen are available for our use. And the fabulous Naughty Chef will again be tickling our tastebuds for the Saturday night meal! Snuggle in the hall or round a campfire at night!  Special guest Andrew Sunter Sensei

Target Focused Training in Sydney – The pointy end of the Stick

live-training-visual-headline-1I just heard from budo buddy  Mike Allen that there will be a TFT seminar in Sydney. TFT is making the news internationally at the moment. See https://www.targetfocustraining.com/katie-couric-show-how-to-survive-the-unthinkable/

You can find out more about the seminar here at the end of March. Don’t be put off by the US style marketing and $$$ (if you read to the end its quite reasonable)

 

Below is a review of when we had the boys up from Sydney a few years back.

“In 2008 I had the privilege of attending one of Mike’s seminars at Andrew Sunters Sydney dojo and to host him in Brisbane for a weekend seminar later. Mike has been training martial arts for not-quite 30 years and is a recognized instructor in Kempo, Aikido and Yang Mian. In real life he is also a practicing physiotherapist. Recently he has been studying a system called target focus training, which he regards as ‘the pointy end of the stick’ for personal protection. I believe it embodies many aikido principles, but with the gloves off. Mike sensei is an approachable and articulate instructor with a genuine interest in sharing this method in a safe environment.

For me the introduction to the reality of ‘Asocial violence’ was quite confronting. It was good to learn more about how our bodies and minds can and do respond as a way of being prepared for such a situation. When coupled together with some of the tools Mike presents I think this rounds out our understanding of Aikido in the realm of Personal Protection. It nicely complements the methods that Catherine Sensei will present later in February and will help prepare us even better as we continue to develop our Personal Protection workshops for the community.”

See Also Mike’s article on our self defence page on  Asocial violence

 

A Union of Opposites with Seymour Sensei

union-of-oppositesA big thankyou to Steve Seymour Sensei from Aikido Kenkyukai and Balmain dojo for his visit on the weekend. We were treated to a tour de force of Internal Strength as sensei shared from his current practice and further research into Internal Strength.

Its almost a year since we visited Seymour Sensei in Sydney to find out a bit more and embarked on the journey with our own study group.  Internal strength allows us to see what is hidden in plain sight in our schools kata and exercises given to us by Okajima and Maruyama Sensei’s.

Unfamiliar and  familiar teachings (like  keeping elbows in and closing and seperating the shoulders and hips)  were given context,  purpose and a framework.

Sensei shared and reviewed the practices of the body work seminar fundamentals and extended on our knowledge to a deeper level with insights from other arts and utilised exercises from physical therapists to increase strength and flexability in our Kua and Body

It was great to see Dave Kolb Sensei from Bayside Budokai and Kim from Brisbane Aikikai too.

We appreciated much also his insights in how to continue this practice in an integrated way with the aikido arts and to know we are (more or less) on the path.

I  think we got a B+ on the report card 😉   Many thanks Sensei for visiting, sharing you time and experiences