Contributed by Dan Rubin
Photos Contributed by Jun Akiyama
The 1800 miles between Philadelphia, PA and Boulder, CO seemed a short distance when Yukio Utada Shihan, chief instructor at the Doshinkan dojo in Philadelphia, taught at the Boulder Aikikai annual Spring Seminar, April 21-24. Utada Sensei is a direct student of Gozo Shioda Shihan, founder of the Yoshinkan style of aikido. In 1972, at the age of 24, Utada Sensei accepted an invitation to come to the United States to teach aikido in Detroit. When, the following year, Yoshinkan hombu dojo chief instructor Takashi Kushida Sensei came to the U. S., Utada Sensei became his uchideshi and helped him establish Yoshinkan aikido here. After relocating to Philadelphia, Utada Sensei continued to be Kushida Sensei's student, for a total of 17 years.
In 1974 Utada Sensei opened the Doshinkan dojo in Philadelphia, and in time founded the Aikido Association of North America, which he still heads. The AANA includes nine dojos in six states.
Hiroshi Ikeda Shihan, chief instructor at Boulder Aikikai, was a student of Mitsugi Saotome Shihan in Japan, and followed Saotome Sensei to Florida in 1978. Saotome Sensei is founder and head of Aikido Schools of Ueshiba, to which the Boulder Aikikai belongs. In 1980 Ikeda Sensei moved to Boulder. He met Utada Sensei a few years ago at the Aiki Expo. Since then, they have become personal friends, and Ikeda Sensei taught at Doshinkan dojo earlier this year. The mutual visits of these two high-ranking teachers to each other's dojos, and to each other's organizations and aikido styles, represents the sensei's vision of aikido as one art with many valid approaches that should be shared by all aikido students.
About 80 students attended all or part of the seminar. Few of the students had ever been exposed to the Yoshinkan style. Utada Sensei introduced them to the well-known Yoshinkan basic stance, with feet pointing 45 degrees off the line, hands directly in front with ring fingers parallel to the floor, and weight about 60 percent toward the rear leg. Sensei stressed that each individual is different, so that students are expected to adjust everything to their personal body types. He pointed out that Shioda Sensei was 4 feet, 9 inches tall and weighed 90 pounds (with all that power!) and that Yoshinkan techniques and training exercises were designed for someone that size. Utada Sensei is a few inches taller than that, but he displayed his techniques effortlessly against students who were much bigger than he is.
Utada Sensei also taught some kumitachi and kumijo (he remarked that jo practice is practice in "courage"). In all of the techniques, whether with weapons or empty hands, Utada Sensei stressed the powerful forward movement of his hips. He taught that this hip movement begins with bending the knees, and even involves gripping the mat with the toes. In fact, Utada Sensei had everyone practice moving forward and back with toe power‹the class pulled themselves forward and pushed themselves backward using nothing but the power of their toes gripping the mat.
In addition, Utada Sensei spent time on ukemi and on ma-ai. To practice ma-ai, students tested themselves by walking away from each other, then estimating and announcing how many steps it would take to reach their partner.
Ikeda Sensei followed up on Utada Sensei's lessons about hip power. He stressed that while he rotates his hands and shoulders to affect uke's balance, the power behind this comes from his hips. In particular, Ikeda Sensei said, he sends that hip power through uke's wrist, elbow, shoulder or hips to take uke's balance.
As always, Ikeda Sensei explained and demonstrated that a student who is beginning to practice a new style of movement must make big, obvious movements. Gradually, as the student progresses, these big movements can get smaller. When the student has finally learned the technique, the movements can be so small as to almost disappear. Nonetheless, Ikeda Sensei said, inside his or her body the student will still be making the big, obvious movements with which the practice began.
Ikeda Sensei stressed that the different styles of aikido are all true aikido, and that arguments of which style is "real aikido" are misplaced. There are some surface differences in how to train or how to execute a particular technique, but these differences point to the breadth of the art, not its limits.
As at most seminars, some forms of training continued off the mat each evening, and on the last evening of the weekend a dinner was arranged at a nearby Chinese restaurant. There Utada Sensei, Ikeda Sensei and about thirty students enjoyed friendship and a fine meal.
As much as the training was valuable to the students from two very different aikido styles, just as valuable was the attitude of both high-ranking aikido teachers. Both Utada Sensei and Ikeda Sensei expressed their pleasure with the friendship and sharing that marked this seminar. They expressed their hope that the attitudes that have prevented such interaction between aikido styles is a thing of the past, and that seminars like this one will become as routine as they are valuable to all who participate.