Contributed by C.D. Thomas
One of the best aspects of aikido practice is how we are able to work hard, smile, and share ourselves continually, on and off the mat, and this year's Colorado Aikido Summit offered many opportunities to share and learn. On March 26th, I was privileged to participate in the Fifth Annual Summit, hosted by Aikido at the University of Denver and Rocky Mountain Aikikai at University of Denver's Gates Field house.
Organized by Edgar Johansson, this seminar featured four teachers representing the diverse styles and approaches of aikido. At 9:00, Susan Chandler sensei of Rocky Mountain Ki Society demonstrated the principles and philosophy behind Ki Society practice, involving bokken work, unbendable arm exercises, and hara (mid-body) awareness. These activities were aimed at developing purer spatial perceptions, leading to quicker reflexes, surer actions and more effective movement. Chandler sensei's session ended with a series of 'follow-the-leader' sword cuts, to illustrate how the more honed and automatic the student's responses become, the more thoroughly this enhanced awareness extends to his/her other physical and spiritual capabilities.
At 10:45, Through his amazing stamina and speed, Seji Tanaka sensei of Hyland Hills Tomiki Aikido revealed the benefits of over 40 years of aikido practice. (His wrist pushups, alone, put other aikidoka's boasts of fitness to shame.) He shared with the class techniques to improve bokken strikes (from hanmi and seiza), throws of multiple ukes, and empty-hand kata, and he was most generous in helping aikidoka with their own practice. He ended this strenuous session with a demonstration of bokken kata; Sensei's focused responses to a multitude of attacks were clean, quick and instructive.
Lunch featured bento boxes from Micky Hashimoto owner of Japon Restaurant 1028 S Gaylord St Denver, Colorado 80209 Phone: (303) 744-0330 Fax: (303) 715-0336; despite a welcome flurry of last minute registrations, most every participant was fed. Digestion was aided (and, spirits refreshed) by a stirring performance by the Denver Taiko Drummers.
After some brief socializing, aikidoka resumed training at 1:30 pm, with Kei Izawa sensei of Aikikai Tanshinjuku. Izawa sensei began by exploring something not normally covered in classes: Walking. He wanted his students to move, backwards and forwards, concentrating on hip rotation as the source of movement, keeping knee and ankle motions fluid. Then, Izawa sensei applied such hip control to demonstrate a variety of koshinages and shihonages. Perhaps due to the resulting power nages gained from these techniques, this was the time ukes broke out the first aid kit (although no one was seriously injured). Lastly, Izawa sensei covered blocks for katadori grabs.
The final seminar, at 3:15, was conducted by Hiroshi Ikeda sensei of Boulder Aikikai. Ikeda sensei, always cheerful while demonstrating the most decisive of defenses, concentrated on aikidoka understanding their bodies' power. Nage, Ikeda sensei explained, had to develop awareness of his/her inside and outside balance and power, in order to efficiently break uke's balance. This meant extending the self to encompass a bokken (or any weapon), and remembering this extension while performing empty-hand techniques.
Ikeda sensei's emphasized his signature concepts of spiral movement, incremental building of technique, and nage's connection to uke. He noted that at first, movements can be large, but as aikidoka gain understanding, smaller movements become feasible, and more effective. At the wrong angle, a nage bounces off uke; at the right angle of connection with uke, the task of moving nage becomes most difficult. With each contact, nage should place uke in front of the body's balance point. These movements are often subtle; when well practiced, they look invisible. Yet these small circular, close movements, using nage's internal force, make all the difference in using the shared connection between nage and uke to break uke's balance. Ikeda dismissed his students with a reminder to observe many different types of aikido -- and all of the forms demonstrated that day share the same goal of "perfecting the self", at their center. Lastly, we thanked the instructors for their efforts (who in turn thanked Johansson sensei, for his hard work), and took group photos.
Ms. Thomas has trained at Aikido at the University of Denver for over a year, and at this stage of training learns as much off the mat as on.