contributed by Grazia Di Giorgio, Boulder Aikikai
Reprinted by kind permission of Aikido Journal, where it was first posted January 26, 2007
The Jiai Aikido dojo in San Diego, under the direction of Jeff Sodeman sensei, just hosted the first "Aikido Bridge Un Pont Friendship Seminar", with the support of the Aiki Atlas Foundation and the co-sponsorship of Bu Jin® Design and the Boulder Aikikai dojo. I had the good luck of being one of the participants in this remarkable event, and while I am still busy processing some of what I experienced in these busy six days of practice I thought I'd share some of my experiences. Hopefully this will also help in "getting the ball rolling," so to speak, and inspiring other aikidoka who were there to offer their own perspectives.
The daily schedule for the seminar (still available for viewing on the website www.aikidobridge.com) listed each of the four shihan teaching every day for an hour and a half, and a different guest instructor closing each day with another hour-and-a-half long class. For the truly dedicated, the program also included daily morning classes starting at 8:00 am. On the uncharacteristically chilly morning of January 13th, Sodeman sensei and the Jiai dojo folks were there to welcome everyone. They speedily took care of registration and even had some delicious homemade chocolate cupcakes ready for those needing an extra boost, and eventually it was time to line up on the mat for the opening class. As I looked around I saw some known and many unknown faces, I noticed unfamiliar emblems sewn on dogi jackets, and I heard a few different languages being spoken at the same time.
Hiroshi Ikeda shihan, from Boulder Aikikai, started our first session of keiko with a welcoming speech that set a wonderful tone for all the hours of practice that we were going to share in the following days: he invited us to approach this experience as someone who enters a library and has an opportunity to read different, new books. He suggested that we set aside our preconceived judgments about "the right" aikido movements and rather try on what the teachers were about to offer just as someone tries on a pair of shoes to see if they fit or not. While our eyes would serve us in accurately seeing the new, possibly unfamiliar details of what was presented, only by trying things with our own body would we be able to decide if something worked for us or not, and consequently if we wanted to keep it in our own aikido practice or not. Ikeda sensei also let everybody know that the purpose of this event was to cultivate the future generations of aikidoka, so that we would be able to grow and continue to exchange with each other across the borders of different nationalities and organizations.
The rest of the day unfurled on a pressing rhythm, with a two-hour break for lunch. Ikeda sensei's class was followed by Frank Doran shihan from Aikido West, who taught one of his crisp, no-nonsense classes that got everyone on their toes - literally! In the afternoon it was the turn of Morihiko Murashige shihan from San Diego Aikikai, followed by Christian Tissier shihan from Cercle Christian Tissier in France. Frank McGouirk sensei, from Aikido Ai, closed up the day with a Zen flavor in his evening class. During the first couple of days of the seminar I found it quite natural - and easier - to focus on the differences between the four shihan: Ikeda sensei is my teacher and my admiration for his aikido and his commitment to sharing it with others is already a given, but by the end of this seminar I really had the sense that he has broken through yet another layer of his already profound grasp of the never-ending path of aikido. In fact, I'd like to report the eloquent comment I heard from one of the participants after his last class: "Scary: Ikeda sensei has entered warp-speed!"
Once again, I had a chance to distinctly appreciate Doran sensei's beautiful posture, the dignity and elegance of his movement that always seems to involve his whole body, from the tip of his toes to the top of his shining bold head, like the budo equivalent of a prima ballerina. Unlike Doran sensei, whom I luckily have a chance to see at least every year at the annual Boulder Aikikai summer camp, I had only taken one class with Murashige shihan a few years ago, and my memories of him were pretty vague to say the least. I have to admit that when I saw him throwing uke during his first class I felt quite apprehensive for the young man, only to be completely amazed later on when I had a chance to feel the relaxed, soft power behind his technique. As a result, and probably to Murashige sensei's dismay, I spent most of the remainder of the week literally chasing him around the mat, jumping at any opportunity to attack him …
I also really appreciated having the chance to experience Tissier sensei's dynamic, powerful movement. One of the things that particularly caught my attention in his classes was noticing the ways in which he uses the back, or "ura" side of the situation, so to speak, be it the space behind uke's body, nage's own second hand, the outer side of nage's body in relation to uke, or the empty space "at the back" of an incoming attack. From my perspective observing them teach side by side, Tissier sensei's approach was a very interesting contrast to the powerful irimi principle that I often see manifested in Ikeda sensei's aikido.
As the week progressed, Ikeda sensei's opening remarks continued to resonate in the generosity of the students' efforts to learn and to share with each other, in spite of the intensity of the training and the unfamiliarity of some of the things presented, as well as of the differences in each other's styles. Amazingly enough, throughout the whole week there was only one rather minor injury: a twisted ankle as someone was getting up from the mat. However, for me the greatest teaching of the whole seminar came by observing the way in which the teachers related with each other throughout the week. Watching these martial arts masters come in and "do their thing," then respectfully sit down and observe each other's classes every day was incredibly interesting. I may be wrong, but I think the fact that by the end of the week everyone seemed to be noticing more the similarities rather than the differences amongst the four shihan had less to do with our tired, overworked brains than with the fact that they also were "bridging," drawing inspiration and validation from each other, and giving that back to us in their classes.
To conclude, it was a wonderful week of training. I just hope that next year they'll arrange for some warmer weather…