makes his first visit to Colorado for a weekend seminar Friday, Mar 31st through Sunday, April 2nd, 2000
by Forrest Hare, Pikes Peak Aikikai
Aikido at the foot of Pikes Peak
Hiroshi Isoyama Shihan, from Iwama, Japan, recently made his first trip to Colorado Springs, Colorado. Isoyama sensei began studying with Ueshiba O'Sensei in 1949 when he was 12 years old and he began training American students stationed in Japan during the late 1950s. I had the unique fortune to study with him while stationed in Misawa, Japan and thought it would be great to bring him out here to Colorado so that other American aikidoka may have the opportunity to receive his fantastic instruction. Though only one person in attendance had ever practiced with Isoyama before, more than forty aikidoka from places as far away as Grand Junction and Alamosa, Co, made the journey to the US Judo Institute in downtown Colorado Springs, home to the Center for Aikido Studies, for the weekend. Judging from the feedback I have received, everyone seemed to be glad they had taken advantage of this great opportunity despite the bad weather during their drives through the mountains. Isoyama shihan was impressed by how far people had come to practice and was happy to see the level of dedication to aikido he saw in American students. He was also impressed by the breath-taking view of Pikes Peak from the windows of the dojo.
4 Days of Training
Keiko actually started on Tuesday night. Isoyama shihan agreed to lead a weekday practice of the combined dojos of Pikes Peak Aikikai and the Center for Aikido Studies as a thank you for helping to organize the seminar. Not only was it a great opportunity for us all to get some personalized instruction in a more relaxed atmosphere, but it allowed sensei to gauge the level of Aikido being taught at our dojos and tailor the seminar accordingly. After practice, Sensei remarked at how well the students knew the techniques and could take ukemi. He decided that he would not have to spend an excessive amount of time on the basics, instead devoting about one half hour to weapons training each practice. Needless to say, we were excited to be exposed to such a significant amount of weapons training since most seminars are only able to devote one session or less to such advanced training.
The seminar officially began on Friday night. Sensei started with some kihonwaza but transitioned to nagewaza and then to bokken work. This progression developed into the basic pattern for each class. Many students were only able to practice during one or two days of the seminar, so sensei used a gradual progression each session though the techniques were different each time. Sensei even took the time to review etiquette for weapons training which was a good review for some and was the first introduction to the subject for many since we have limited exposure to using the bokken in practice.
Saturday morning we woke up to a typically gorgeous Colorado day and everyone was in great spirits when we arrived at the dojo. We were all looking forward to an intensive day of training and that is just what we received. We began with a few warm-up techniques and happoundo or 8 direction extension exercises. Then we moved immediately into a progression of wrist techniques from one or two different attacks. Though we made it all the way to yonkyo, sensei emphasized how each of the techniques can actually build on the previous one. He demonstrated how a nikyo hold can be smoothly switched to a sankyo hold, which can in turn be switched to a yonkyo hold. Sensei used this training to stress the importance of maintaining contact with and positive control of uke during the application of any technique. He stressed how the transition point is where your opponent will seek to find a weak spot and counter attack. As Jun Akiyama pointed out while he was uke for sensei, "His transition from the nikkyo at the shoulder to the pin was quick and had absolutely no openings that I could feel."
The afternoon began with a demonstration for the general public. A number of families filled the bleachers at the US Judo Institute for a half-hour of aikido philosophy and demonstration techniques. Again, quoting Jun Akiyama, "He has one wicked go-right- through-the-person iriminage, by the way; he went right through the person, all right -- even if his arm was caught underneath the shomenuchi!" One of the highlights of the demonstration was when 4 aikidoka working together tried unsuccessfully to lift shihan off the mat. I guess that's why we call him "shihan!"
The mat was filled during the Saturday afternoon practice but we still managed to have a high-flying keiko. One interesting exercise we did was responding to blind wrist grabs from behind while you are casually strolling along. Here sensei was stressing the importance of being able to quickly respond to any attack even when you don't see it coming. The variety of responses he taught showed how we can adapt to any blind attack. Now we just have to practice them all so we don't have to spend that extra second of response time. Again during this practice we did more jo waza and learned a set of the basic strikes from "uchi" to defenses such as "kaeshi." We finished the day Saturday with an all-you-can eat BBQ feast at County Line BBQ. Sensei really enjoyed trying new and messy Colorado cuisine. I tried to convince him that one is supposed to make a mess while eating BBQ, but he didn't buy into it.
Some people looked forward to Sunday's practice with more apprehension than others; specifically, the three of us who were testing after the morning practice (I was testing for nidan). Keiko began with a number of warm-up techniques that I do not see practiced regularly here in the States. In fact, I don't even know their names. They are similar to tenkan exercises but stress different ways of entering. Though they are basic, I think most aikidoka on the mat were trying something for the first time. After moving on to some nagewaza and bokken vs. jo exercises, we were ready for the tests. One person from the Center for Aikido Studies tested for gokyu, while another tested for yonkyu. Though sensei ran them through many techniques beyond those required by Hombu dojo for their rank, they both responded well. As I mentioned, I tested for nidan. After some jiyuwaza from hanmi handachi, I was required to defend against attackers with tanto, then jo, then bokken. Once I was completely out of breath, the randori began. The feedback I received from one fellow aikidoka which will stick with me the most was, "Gee Forrest, I don't think I have ever heard anyone gasp for air quite like that." And I thought I was in shape.
After lunch we had one more keiko for those who had not received enough beating. After the afternoon session, I'm sure everyone had definitely had enough. The highlight of the session was "renzokuwaza" or "continuation techniques." Sensei demonstrated numerous ways to transition from kotegaishi to shihonage and back and then to other techniques such as nikyo. As on Saturday, he stressed the importance of keeping positive control of your attacker so they are not presented with an opportunity to counter-attack between techniques. We finished up the keiko and the seminar with a couple of jo combinations that we can practice on our own. I have already begun to review the video so I don't forget them.
Again I would like to thank everyone who attended the seminar, those who help make it run smoothly (Shara Donoho flew in from Seattle to help out), and especially Isoyama shihan for flying all the way here to be with us. Many people commented after the seminar that they had a great time and I appreciate the feedback. For those of you apprehensive about putting on a seminar, it is well worth all the work that goes into it and you can count on your fellow aikidoka to help out when you need them. I sure could! If you have any questions on the seminar or about Isoyama shihan, please send me an e-mail at email@example.com.