July 23 - 30, 2006
Contributed by Dan Rubin
Photos by Eric Miller, Kelly Groves, Jamie Tipton, Ginger Ikeda
Along with several of my classmates from Boulder (Colorado) Aikikai, I arrived a day early at the Colorado Mountain College campus (CMC) near Aspen to help set things up for our 26th annual Aikido Summer Camp in the Rockies. The college has many campuses around the state, but I can't imagine that any are in a more beautiful setting. The 6800-foot altitude is invigorating, 1370 feet higher than Boulder and lots higher than where most of our guest students train. I'm always stunned by the views, from Mt. Sopris to the Continental Divide, that provide the backdrop to our camp's outdoor training (and the camp's group photograph).
We carried stuff and dragged stuff and rearranged stuff and worked with the CMC dormitory staff and, as every year, somehow had things ready by Sunday afternoon, July 23, when everyone else began checking in. Nearly 240 students from across the United States, including Puerto Rico, and from Canada, Germany, Nicaragua, Russia, Spain, Switzerland, Turkey, Japan and the United Kingdom joined us for training that evening through the following Saturday morning.
Their goal? To spend the week studying with our four outstanding instructors: Mitsugi Saotome Shihan from Myakka City, Florida, Frank Doran Shihan from Redwood City, California, Kenji Ushiro Shihan from Osaka, Japan, and Hiroshi Ikeda Shihan, my chief instructor at Boulder Aikikai.
Saotome Sensei was uchideshi to O Sensei for 15 years, until O Sensei's death in 1969. In 1975 Saotome sensei left his high position at Hombu Dojo and came to the United States, to contribute to the spread of aikido throughout the world. He heads Aikido Schools of Ueshiba, and teaches by invitation at his Aiki Shrine dojo in Myakka City. He is the author of three books: Aikido and the Harmony of Nature, Principles of Aikido and Aikido: Living by Design.
Doran Sensei was studying judo and teaching hand-to-hand combat to his fellow Marines when he was introduced to aikido in 1959. Later, he took the opportunity to travel to Japan and train directly with O Sensei. He teaches at his dojo in Redwood City, Aikido West, and also at Stanford University. Doran Sensei is a frequent instructor at seminars in the United States and internationally. He heads Division 2 of the California Aikido Association.
This is the second consecutive year that Ushiro Sensei has been our guest instructor. He is an electronics engineer as well as a teacher of Okinawan Shindo-ryu Karate in Osaka. Ushiro Sensei bases his karate on the development of kokyu and the power of relaxation, offering aikido students a unique approach to the fundamental principles of our own art. He is the author of several books, including Kata: The Essence of Bujutsu Karate (a stack of copies that Stan Pranin brought to camp were instantly sold out).
The host of Summer Camp in the Rockies is Ikeda Sensei. He has been Saotome Sensei's student since college in Japan, and in 1978 followed his teacher to the United States, settling in Boulder two years later and founded Boulder Aikikai. He currently teaches at Boulder Aikikai and at seminars around the world. He also operates Bu Jin® Design, a leading mail-order supplier of martial arts clothing and equipment.
This year, the training theme at camp was genten, "origins," and the training began early. In fact, it began at check-in, when every student received a summer camp announcement and a summer camp t-shirt, both featuring genten calligraphy courtesy of Saotome Sensei himself. And in the camp newsletter that each student also received at check-in was an article by each shihan explaining his understanding of that term in budo.
Saotome Sensei wrote that genten is about discovering the essence and origin of the universal principles that are common to all life. This discovery "leads to the profound truth that we all participate in a shared existence on our planet, itself participating in the context of the universe at large." Click here for full text.
Doran Sensei wrote that "to rediscover the source is to go back in time," in particular to the fundamental principles from which aikido technique sprang. He quoted the master swordsman Yagyu Jubei, that studying technique and its underlying principle are the two paths to progress. Doran Sensei stated that three principles are essential: aiki (blending/yielding), kuzushi (balance breaking) and shisei (posture). Click here for full text.
Ushiro Sensei also wrote about going back in time, to understand the era when bujutsu were practiced as life or death, and to understand the thinking of each art's founder, "to seek what the founder sought." In modern times, the budo have moved toward the external, and its essence has moved toward sport. "I believe," he wrote, "that we must be able to change ourselves to acquire the basics of the foundations, and in order to do this, we must return to the origin." Click here for full text.
To Ikeda Sensei, genten provides the foundation for our aikido. It is not enough to practice only technique, nor is it enough to understand techniques intellectually. We must also develop mental, energetic and breath power, the fundamental martial spirit that vitalizes the techniques. "By going back to the source of budo, reflecting deeply on what that source is, and reintegrating it into our training, our current practice can evolve." Click here for full text.
So here are articles by four shihan of aikido and karate, two arts that appear to be quite different. And yet, writing independently, they all speak of the same need: to look to the past to seek and discover the fundamental truths and principles of budo. And in their classes, they did.
In his classes, Saotome Sensei stressed "aiki first, technique second." Nage is being attacked by a person, not by an arm or weapon. When the attack comes there should be no conflict. Instead, nage should use intuition as well as distance, speed and timing to "see the future," not just nage's technique but what uke's counter-technique might be.
Doran Sensei stressed that bu does not mean to fight, but to stop the fight. Therefore, at first touch the fight should end. He pointed out that in other martial arts, a match ends with a winner and a loser, but in aikido a "match" stops before it gets started. And he stressed the three principles from his article: aiki, kuzushi and shisei.
Ushiro Sensei began by addressing the origins of movement in karate, judo and aikido. Then he reviewed what he had taught us last year: karate's sanchin kata, and delved into the applications of that kata's movements. He pointed out that he can always move both of his feet; he's never "rooted" to the ground. It's all about kokyu and non-resistance and relaxation. Along the way he demonstrated how he sends his ki through a jo or bokken, and taught us how a partner who is holding a jo or bokken tightly cannot resist our relaxed movement of the weapon into a throw.
Throughout the camp, Jun Akiyama and Dan Nishina (both of Boulder Aikikai) translated for Ushiro Sensei.
Ikeda Sensei stressed that at first touch, uke "is in a different place." He demonstrated with katatedori ikkyo, explaining that nage doesn't do ikkyo, uke does ikkyonage just moves. However, echoing his article, Ikeda Sensei told us that it is not enough to practice technique. Rather, to advance our aikido we must change on the inside. That, he said, is why he invited Ushiro Sensei these two summers, to help us change on the inside.
The shihan stressed these principles and insights at their indoor classes and also at their weapons classes, taught under a 40' X 80' tent on the giant lawn, with Mt. Sopris looking over our shoulders.
As if all of this did not give us enough to ponder, on Wednesday evening we were treated to a presentation by Stanley Pranin, aikido historian and editor of D ou Magazine (in Japan, formerly Aiki News) and Aikido Journal Online. Stan's presentations have been an annual event for the past several years at Summer Camp in the Rockies.
This time Stan changed the format. In the past, he has given talks on an aspect of aikido history, or interviewed the shihan about their personal histories in aikido. This year he surprised us by describing two incidents among passengers on Japanese trains that he witnessed and intervened in, and inviting Saotome Sensei, Doran Sensei and Ushiro Sensei to describe what they might have done in those situations. Stan also invited George Ledyard (Aikido Eastside, Bellevue, Washington), a police trainer, to comment from that perspective, and flattered me (I'm a retired police officer) by asking for my thoughts. And to help everyone visualize the scenarios, he somehow talked Raso Hultgren (Aikido of Missoula, Montana) and Edward Cranmer-Brown (Boulder Aikikai) into acting them out. Edward played a very convincing drunk, harassing Raso, the damsel in distress - who turned out to be anything but!
Stan wasn't the only journalist at camp. Ms. Ikuko Kimura of Dou Magazine was at camp, too, taking photographs all week long for an upcoming article.
As always, many students leapt (or rolled or fell) out of bed every morning in time for the 6:30 AM pre-breakfast classes taught by senior students. At breakfast these aikidoka could be identified by their bright eyes and voracious appetites. This year, those well-attended 6:30 AM classes were taught by Duane "Pee Wee" Jones (Sarasota Aikikai), Yuki Hara (Chicago Aikikai), Jim Podolak (Boulder Aikikai) and Wendy Whited (Inaka Dojo, Beecher, Illinois).
One would think that our four world-famous instructors could have no competition, but as every year the "focus" classes were well-attended. These classes were taught during the day in a small dojo by senior students, and focused (thus the name) on specific aspects of the martial arts. This year, focus classes were taught by Cyndy Hayashi (Aikido West, Redwood City, CA: basics), George Ledyard (Aikido Eastside, Bellevue, WA: police tactics), Julian Wong (Tai Chi of Victoria, Canada: chi kung), Jim Alvarez (Aikido Shin Rei Dojo, Livermore, CA: batto/bokken), Ron Santichen (Boulder Aikikai: kuzushi), Darren McKee (West Seattle Aikikai, Seattle: tantodori), Kimberly Richardson (Two Cranes Aikido, Seattle: tai chi applied to aikido) and Jun Akiyama (Boulder Aikikai: ukemi).
For the many students who craved training in the evenings, there were crowded 8:00 PM classes on Tuesday and Thursday, taught by Tres Hofmeister (Boulder Aikikai) and Kevin Choate (Chicago Aikikai).
For most of us, including the four shihan, Wednesday was a day off from training, as it is every year. A bunch of students took raft trips, some went horseback riding, others went hiking or bicycling or just drove into Aspen or Glenwood Springs or among the mountains for sight-seeing and shopping. But the goal of Summer Camp in the Rockies is always training, and despite the lure of a day off a large number of students attended the morning and afternoon classes, taught this year by Tracy Alpert and Troy Farrow (both of Boulder Aikikai), respectively.
The hot springs outdoor pool in Glenwood Springs is world famous, and groups of students car-pooled there on Monday and Saturday evenings (the latter for those students who stayed until Sunday). Natural hot springs keep the pool at a constant 104 degrees, which feels great to a tired and sore aikido body.
Friday night was camp party night at the historic Hotel Colorado, in Glenwood Springs. Dinner was served and dancing was had to the music of a local DJ. The hotel's outdoor bar, which overlooks the hot springs pool, was almost as popular as the dance floormany of us gathered there after dinner and talked in the cool of the night air.
But this was footnote to that night's entertainment. The party theme was "superheroes," and many students arrived comically dressed as their favorite ones. The crew from the Arizona dojos didn't stop there, however. They created superhero personae for the shihan, assigned each one "appropriate" superpowers, and presented each with garb to match. And when the laughter and applause died down, their performance was matched by a great presentation of team juggling by Colin Davey (Aikido of Eugene, OR) and John Viner (Iowa County Aikido, Ridgeway, WI).
Eventually, camp ended, and new friends and old friends parted with fond farewells and promises to see each other next year. Then my Boulder classmates and I started lugging all the stuff back to where it was before we arrived a week ago. But as always I still had timeor maybe I always take the time to reflect on the past week.
Ikeda Sensei stressed that technique is not enough, that aikido involves the spirit as well. Boulder Aikikai's summer camp seeks to do just that. Between the time we laid down the mats in the gym to seven days later when everyone helped pick them back up, we all had the opportunity to train with aikido students from all over the world. Many of these students are well-known high-ranking teachers in their own right. And in the dormitory and during meals and at the party, or while at the hot springs pool or river rafting, we all had the opportunity to talk and joke and laugh and connect with these students and with four shihan who are among the top martial artists in the world.
I had a nice conversation with Stan Pranin at breakfast one morning, and the shihan were never alone during the weekthere were always students with them, and the shihan were happy to engage in conversation. The "Aiki Café" espresso cart did great business all week long, yet it was as much about conversation with barista Ikeda Sensei as it was about caffeine, conversation that he enjoyed as much as the students did.
O Sensei's dream was that aikido would contribute to peace in the world. That is also the dream of Saotome Sensei, Doran Sensei, Ushiro Sensei and Ikeda Sensei. As I walked around I heard students conversing in Russian and Turkish and German, Italian, French and Spanish and Japanese. How better to bring peace to the world than by bringing together people from around that world, to interact with each other physically and mentally and emotionally, to break bread together?