Contributed by Dan Rubin
Thanks to a number of people for the photos
It was fists and twists at Boulder Aikikai's 25th Aikido Summer Camp in the Rockies, as karate teacher Kenji Ushiro Shihan joined Mitsugi Saotome Shihan, Frank Doran Shihan and host Hiroshi Ikeda Shihan at the week-long seminar, Sunday, July 24 to Saturday, July 30. There was a little huffing and puffing among the more than 240 students at the 6900-foot altitude, but it didn't interfere with the exceptional training. Students from across the United States and from Canada, Mexico, the Philippines and Switzerland came to the Colorado Mountain College campus near Aspen to help celebrate the summer camp's silver anniversary. The weather was perfect, the view of majestic Mount Sopris was inspiring, and the instruction was outstanding.
Saotome Sensei came from his home in Myakka City, Florida, where he teaches by invitation at his beautiful Aiki Shrine dojo, and from where he heads the organization he founded, Aikido Schools of Ueshiba. He was uchideshi to O Sensei from 1955 until the Founder's death in 1969, and was a senior instructor at Aikikai Hombu Dojo when he moved to Florida in 1975, following O Sensei's vision to spread the knowledge and understanding of aikido to all the peoples of the world. Saotome Sensei believed that America's multicultural society was a good place to pursue that vision. He is the author of three books, Principles of Aikido, Aikido and the Harmony of Nature and Aikido: Living By Design.
Doran Sensei's dojo is Aikido West, in Redwood City, California. He was introduced to aikido in 1959 while he was a U. S. Marine hand-to-hand combat instructor. He had been practicing judo for four years, and the other instructors had been studying judo or karate. One day a new instructor, Sgt. Robert Tan, arrived from Hawaii. When the head instructor grabbed him by the shoulder and said "Show me your stuff," Sgt. Tan dropped him suddenly and painfully with nikyo. "What was that?" yelled the chief instructor. "Aikido," replied Sgt. Tan, who had studied with Koichi Tohei Sensei in Honolulu. Soon Sgt. Tan started an aikido class, and Doran Sensei became his student. Since that introduction, Doran Sensei has studied aikido with many of Japan's master teachers. Today, he teaches aikido at Stanford University, at his dojo, Aikido West, and at seminars across the United States. He is the head of Division 2 of the California Aikido Association. In Doran Sensei's view, aikido is a way of life that seeks to polish the self through rigorous physical training and spiritual discipline.
Ushiro Sensei traveled to camp from Osaka, Japan. He is the chief instructor of Okinawan Shindo-ryu Karate, and is also an acclaimed writer and lecturer. He conducts a series of radio shows in Japan and he is the author of several books, including The Foundations of Budo and Knowledge and Practice of Karate as Bujutsu. Ushiro Sensei has been a featured instructor at the last three Aiki Expos, and his appeal to students of aikido may be found in this quote from his 2005 Aiki Expo greeting: "Shindo-ryu's essence lies in kokyu (breathing) and the mastering of kokyu where you become able to generate the flow of ki in your body. Moreover, this ki enables you not only to harmonize with your opponent, but also to neutralize his power thus making it possible for you to control him without fighting." Translation for Ushiro sensei's classes was aptly provided by Boulder Aikikai students Jun Akiyama and Dan Nishina.
Ikeda Sensei is chief instructor at Boulder Aikikai, in Boulder, Colorado. In 1968, as a young college student in Japan, he was Saotome Sensei's student, and ten years later he came to Florida to be with his teacher. In 1980, Ikeda Sensei moved to Boulder. This year, Ikeda Sensei opened the camp with a tribute to Saotome Sensei, explaining that without Saotome Sensei's guidance he might soon have lost interest in aikido and traveled an entirely different path in life. In addition to teaching weeknight classes at the dojo, he teaches seminars across the United States and in foreign countries. He also operates Bu Jin Design, an online martial arts supply/manufacturing company.
During the week, the four shihan presented different approaches to the principles of aikido.
In his classes, Saotome Sensei stressed that aikido is for everyone. It does not belong to any one style or country or race or gender. And he encouraged students to attend the classes of Ushiro Sensei, saying that Ushiro Sensei teaches "true budo." As if to emphasize these points, Saotome Sensei spent much of his class time emphasizing atemi waza, particularly punches, kicks and foot sweeps. In fact, during a talk and discussion by Stan Pranin (see below), Saotome Sensei joked that, at this camp, he was teaching karate and Ushiro Sensei was teaching aikido.
This was not surprising to students of Saotome Sensei. He has always emphasized that aikido is a martial art and that it has no secrets, but rather principles of movement and combat that can be found in many martial arts.
Doran Sensei emphasized in his classes that, in combat, nage's first move should stop uke's attack, and that the remainder of nage's technique affords the choice of ending the situation with or without injury to uke. But he recognized that the first move might fail, and so one of his classes dealt with henka waza, changing from one technique to another. Students practiced, in the middle of an "unsuccessful" attempt at ikkyo, changing to shihonage, kotegaeshi or sankyo.
In all of his classes Doran Sensei demonstrated how aikido's open hand techniques match how the techniques could be applied with a sword. This is a hallmark of his teaching method, which makes clear to students the powerful effect of slight changes in hand and body movement, and also the close relationship of sword and empty hand techniques in aikido.
Ikeda Sensei emphasized balance-breaking at first contact. He demonstrated how, with the most subtle movements of nage's body, uke's balance can be taken. With four students holding his wrist, he demonstrated using these subtle movements to take their balance, one at a time. When uke's balance is taken at first contact the attack has ended, and nage can complete a technique with relative ease. But Ikeda Sensei stressed that these subtle movements must come from inside nage's body. The movements begin there. By concentrating only on the visiblečoutsidečaspect of technique, nage is missing out on the technique's essence.
A theme that ran through the lessons taught by all four shihan was that of good posture. All of them stressed that effective technique, in aikido and karate, cannot be performed without good posture. In this way, the four sensei complemented each other in their teaching. They all emphasized posture, keeping one's own balance while taking uke's balance, the power of relaxation, and the ultimate effect, which is not to overpower one's opponent with one's own strength, but rather to take away the opponent's strength at first contact (or even before).
Not all of the classes were indoors. Each morning and afternoon the sensei taught weapons classes outdoors (in his outdoor classes, Ushiro Sensei used the bokken as a tool for teaching the power of kokyu). Students had the option of practicing in the shade of a 40 ft x 80 ft tent, or practicing outside the tent on the huge lawn, beneath Mt. Sopris.
The Shihan are not the only teachers at Summer Camp in the Rockies. This year, the 6:30 AM classes were taught by Duane "Pee Wee" Jones (Sarasota Aikikai), Yuki Hara (Chicago Aikikai), Herbert Looser (Aikikai Zurich, Switzerland) and Wendy Whited (Inaka Dojo, Beecher, Illinois). An evening class was taught by Kevin Choate (Chicago Aikikai).
"Focus" classes concentrate on specific subjects and are taught during the day in a small dojo separate from the classes being taught by the Shihan. This year, focus classes were taught by Ian Starr (Boulder Aikikai: ground fighting), George Ledyard (Aikido Eastside, Bellevue, Washington: kumitachi), David Keip (Wellspring Aikido Arts, Santa Rosa, California: model mugging), Jim Alvarez (Aikido Shin Rei Dojo, Livermore, California: batto/bokken), Lee Crawford (Aikido North Shore, Kirkland, Washington: tachidori/jodori), Darren McKee (West Seattle Aikikai, Seattle: tantodori), Jun Akiyama (Boulder Aikikai: ukemi) and Wendy Palmer (Aikido of Tamalpais: Conscious Embodiment, an application of aikido principles to one's personal life).
At Summer Camp in the Rockies the Shihan do not teach classes on Wednesday, and this is an opportunity for the students to take advantage of the many recreational opportunities in the area. Some students take a raft trip or go fishing, others go horseback riding or bicycle riding, some go hiking in the mountains or go caving, others go sight-seeing in Aspen or Glenwood Springs. And for others there's still excellent aikido training available from senior students. This year, Tres Hofmeister and Laurie Nusbaum (both of Boulder Aikikai) taught class on Wednesday morning and afternoon, respectively.
On Thursday evening, students attended a talk by Stanley Pranin, aikido historian and editor of Aiki News (in Japan) and of Aikido Journal Online, and producer of the Aiki Expos. It was at the Aiki Expos that Ikeda Sensei met and became friends with Ushiro Sensei. Mr. Pranin has flattered this camp with his presence for five of the last six years. Joining Mr. Pranin on the podium were Saotome Sensei and Ushiro Sensei. Mr. Pranin's interest this year was in the value of cross-training.
Ikeda Sensei prefaced the talk by explaining why he invited Ushiro Sensei to be an instructor this year. He said that aikido will stagnate if it is not open to many different points of view, and that Ushiro Sensei's approach to karate provides a valuable approach to the study of aikido. He also reminded the students that Saotome Sensei has always promoted this idea. This point was supported a few minutes later, when Saotome Sensei made the light-hearted observation that he had been teaching karate and Ushiro Sensei had been teaching aikido, the point being that at the highest levels, there is little difference between the martial arts. Mr. Pranin pointed out that O Sensei studied other arts, as has Saotome Sensei, and suggested that students of aikido who avoid exposure to other arts are missing an important opportunity.
Ushiro Sensei related that he had never met Saotome Sensei before this week, and that he was very pleasantly surprised to learn how alike were their martial arts philosophies and practices. And when Mr. Pranin asked Ushiro Sensei what suggestions he might have that might help the students improve their aikido, he replied: "Things will change if you learn how to attack better. And that's pretty much it." The reaction of the audience to this discussion was one of appreciation, fascination and thoughtfulness. (An audio replay of the entire discussion may be heard at http://www.aikidojournal.com/download_media.php?media=radio&id=7.)
On Monday and Saturday evenings, many students took advantage of group trips to the famous outdoor pool in nearby Glenwood Springs. The pool is kept at 104 degrees by natural hot springs, and time in the pool was perfect therapy for sore or tired muscles. And Friday evening was the equally famous (a slight exaggeration, perhaps) summer camp party in the historic Hotel Colorado that overlooks the pool. Students enjoyed a fine dinner, followed by dancing to the music of a local DJ. There was also the hotel's outdoor bar, where many students gathered after dinner and talked in the cool night air.
These activities illustrate that while Boulder Aikikai's summer camp offers a week of aikido classes with master instructors, its value goes far beyond that. The camp is also about the teachers and students and their opportunities to interact with each other. On the mat one has the opportunity to work with students from all over the world, many of whom are themselves well known high-ranking aikidoka. Off the mat one has the opportunity to chat with Ikeda Sensei at the coffee cart (he'll be making the coffee), or to ask questions of Ushiro Sensei (one question brought out a demonstration of his iaido skills), or to join any of the shihan or Stan Pranin or other students at the hot springs pool or at the party or while river rafting or at their tables in the dining hall and visit with them in a social setting.
Thus, the experience of Aikido Summer Camp in the Rockies is really an expression of O Sensei's vision that aikido be a means for people from around the world to meet each other as equals, and to learn about and respect each other as people, not opponents. This year's camp was a successful example of that vision.