This may read like the brag post that it is but I think it is important when I wax on lyrical about the workings and mindset of Aikido that you get some idea of my background for this.
Firstly – About my introduction to and development in Budo. When around 17 years old I began seeking answers to life and existence and my pursuit lead me, via Karl Jung, to Zen and in particulars Japanese Zen as expressed through the budo ways. Judo, kendo, kyudo, etc. After reading more books on Zen and Asian philosophies I enrolled with the local Judo Club as a means of Zen practice and my Budo life began there at 19 years of age.
After a break away from judo due to time spent with performing in bands I found my way to Shotokan karate in 1984 which came to town just as I retired from performance work. During my time with Shotokan I was introduced to Miyamoto Musashi’s “Go Rin no Hon” and also talk about Aikido. A Sandan aikido instructor came to town in 1989 and started classes at the local Judo dojo and I was right in there. Bill Sensei was 68 years old and I was quite impressed. As student membership grew Bill and I formed Tauranga Aikido Club in 1991 affiliated to NZ Aikikai headed by Nobuo Takase Shihan.
At this time I had my first introduction to Hombu Dojo Shinjuku instructors. Masuda Shihan came to visit Bill so we ran a small seminar and invited other dojo students from other towns and aikido styles. It was also at that event that I met Alan Wade Sensei from Gisborne Dojo.
Alan was a weapons man and had trained under Chiba Sensei in the UK before coming to NZ. On his way to NZ Alan stopped off at Iwama and trained ushideshi with Saito Sesnsei for a while. I formed a close friendship with Alan and trained with him often, attending weekend seminars in Gisborne and also inviting him to Tauranga to teach.
Hence my bokken Aikiken work is based on Chiba Sensei’s style and Aikijo is from Saito Sensei. Although I have trained extensively later with Sawada Shihan from Kimori Dojo, Nagoya, my base styles are still those I learned from Alan.
In 1992 I attended my first national Gasshuku in Auckland with Ichihashi Shihan (RIP) and this followed on with Masuda Shihan, Miyamoto Shihan, Ng, Sawada, Seki, and others over the years, including Doshu.
While attending the 8th International Congress at Yoyogi in Tokyo, September 2000, I managed to fit in classes with Endo, Tissier, Yokota, Yamada and Tamura Shihan, also Doshu. I managed to bring back so much material for my classes over the following years, plus the whole thing was a once in a lifetime experience with many great memories. 28 instructors and senior students of Shinryukan travelled from New Zealand with Takase Shihan to Tokyo and we stayed at the Olympic Village (1974) in Yoyogi Park for the week.
So, hiking back to 1996. Bill for health reasons left Tauranga and resettled on Waiheke Island. I suddenly found that I was Dojo Cho at Nikyu. Takase Shihan became my Sensei and I forged on running the show with help from Hamilton Dojo who invaded the dojo one Sunday each month to check up on progress, offer some mentoring and generally see that we were doing it right. I gained Shodan in 1998 and formally closed Tauranga Aikido Club. Takase had recently launched Aikido Shinryukan as his national school and organisation under the patronship of his sensei, Masuda Shihan, thereby astablishing a direct link to Aikido Hombo Dojo, Shinjuku. Greerton Dojo was formed as a direct branch of Hombu Dojo Auckland and an integral part of Aikido Shinryukan.
After gaining my Sandan, Takase had me registered as an assistant instructor (fukushidoin) with Hombu Shinjuku.
So that is my Aikido lineage: myself –> Takase Shihan –> Masuda Shihan.
And, yes, I did get to train at Hombu Shinjuku in 2000. We all took an afternoon off from the Congress programme and Takase took us in to attend a class with Yokota Shihan and formally meet Doshu. Also, even though I missed the class with Sugano Shihan (RIP) because of that, I did get to spend the evening drinking beer with him, although I think he may have been drinking whisky!
Often when training in Aikido dojos I have heard discussions about what style of Aikido is better, or the best.
I always think that trying to compare aikido styles, or schools, is a rather counter productive exercise.
My Sensei [Takase Shihan] lectured about this at one of his early instructors seminars that I attended and said basically that each dojo and every individual instructor was their own “style” of aikido.
I have found from experience that this topic is fairly prevalent with the lower grades and tends to diminish and eventually vanish as one progresses upward into the Dan grades. I have seen and experienced very marked differences with the basic teaching methods of differing styles as I have often invited instructors from other styles to come and give a class.
Once we organised an afternoon seminar where instructors from three different schools each took a class each teaching the same techniques so that all students could see the differences which were then analysed and discussed.
This generated great respect between the students of the different dojos as well as the instructors involved, particularly when the most senior instructor demonstrated the natural progression of the techniques evolving through the developing skill level of any given student. (Lesson elements heavily borrowed from Doshu’s class at the 8th International Congress in Tokyo, September 2000.)
The main point now is the fact that when Dan grades reach Nidan or Sandan there are very little, or no differences. The techniques have all developed to the same level, regardless of the path, and it is hard to spot who belongs to what school based on execution or delivery.
Often certain aspects of the techniques that may be emphasised by one school or another at basics level will develop naturally as the student progresses.
Doshu’s lesson mentioned above looked at the evolution of the base technique. He said that one must explore every variation and aspect of the technique, find what fits, then make it your own.
[Nobuo Takase Shihan, 7th Dan, is my Sensei and is head of Aikido Shinryukan the NZ Aikikai school. His Sensei is Seijuro Masuda Shihan of Shinjuku Hombu.]
While visiting the Japanese city of Kyoto I had the great pleasure to walk in the footsteps of my heroes and spiritual mentors, Miyamoto Musashi, Munenori Yagyo and Takuan Soho, across the nightingale floors of the Shogun’s Imperial Palace in Nijo Castle.
This was not a planned visit but happened by accident. We were staying in Tokyo and decided to take the Bullet Train to Kyoto and booked an afternoon walking tour for the following day. On arriving at the hotel we had booked on line we saw an interesting structure across the road and found that it was Nijo Castle.
After breakfast the next day we decided to go and check out this castle while waiting for our walking tour after lunch. Once inside the castle grounds we discovered the Imperial Palace, but it wasn’t until walking in the palace corridors that the penny dropped.
As we walked down the polished planks of the corridor my wife nudged me and said “listen!” I could hear the chirping and said “it must be a recording”, but no, it was a real and active Nightingale Floor. Then I saw the signs on the static displays in the audience rooms and I realised that we were in the Imperial Palace of the Tokugawa Shogun.
For some odd reason I had thought that the Shogun was based in Osaka and had forgotten that Kyoto was the seat of power at that time. Tears came to my eyes as I realised where I was and who had passed in these corridors before me. Not only the corridors but the whole castle grounds.
I never ceases to astound me just how many significant things happen in life purely by accident. Or do they?
Footnote – A Nightingale Floor is formed with close fitting polished boards with the edges not connected so that they move independently when walked on. There are also metal spikes set to the underside in pairs that cross the joins so that they rub together as the boards move, thus emitting a distinctive chirping sound. This will alert anyone sleeping inside the rooms that are surrounded by these corridors to the presence of intruders, Ninjas or assassins.
I have recently seen people referring to aikido styles as ‘Aikido that Works’, and that really made me stop and think.
Is it the style of aikido that works or is it the execution by the practitioner that works?
I am sure that a lousy effort by a student of a ‘strong’ style will be ineffective, just as the strong execution of a ‘soft’ style technique may be devastating. I have both seen and experienced these situations many times.
I have seen, though, examples of the bullshit aikido that looks totally staged, lame ass and sometimes downright embarrassing. This is what gives aikido a bad name and certainly needs to be buried somewhere with a bucket of lime.
Putting these ‘side show’ efforts aside though and looking at the more serious schools there is still scope for comparison and consideration of the differences. I have been looking at videos held as good examples of ‘Aikido that Works’ and liking what I see, however I do also see techniques executed the same way as I have been shown, taught and practiced in my own training and development and my mind recalls the dynamic executions of Miyamoto Shihan and Yokota Shihan, both of Hombu Shinjuku, as examples of a direct, dynamic and very effective form of delivery.
This is in direct contrast to other shihan that I have trained with, like Ichihashi (RIP) and Masuda, who’s rounded and relaxed styles do tend to look somewhat ineffective. That is until you happen to come to grips with these guys and be on the receiving end. The power is awe inspiring and it is like trying to move a tree.
So, I think that the answer to developing an effective aikido, and making it work, is to take in all that you see and learn then develop the techniques that suit your personal abilities best. Practice hard and make the techniques your own. In fact, own them.
It does not matter how good, powerful or proficient your instructor may be, you need to make the effort to hone your techniques into the effective dynamic yourself.
[Related post – Making it Matter]
Photo – Seki Shihan teaching at Auckland gasshuku 2006.