by Dan Nishina, Boulder Aikikai
The Aikido Bridge friendship seminar was held in San Diego at Jiai Aikido Dojo from January 13 through 19, 2007. The seminar featured four primary instructors and five guest instructors. The four primary instructors taught one session each during the daytime, and consisted of shihan Frank Doran, Hiroshi Ikeda, Christian Tissier, and Morihiko Murashige. The guest instructors were from Southern California and each taught one evening session, and included sensei Frank McGouirk, Haruo Matsuoka, Dang Thong Phong, Lia Suzuki, and Francis Takahashi.
It could be said that there were two themes in this seminar: Sense and Reason.
Ikeda sensei and Murashige sensei's classes represented "Sense", and featured less of the external and form, and more of the internal, indistinct aspects; while Doran sensei and Tissier sensei's classes represented "Reason", and featured teaching that emphasized the reasons and meanings of movements within techniques and the expressions of aikido principles.
Ikeda sensei taught the necessity of what he called "tightness" between nage and uke before any movement affecting uke's center could occur. He demonstrated the concept of a movement becoming smaller and smaller until it was happening inside of himself, outwardly invisible. During such demonstrations he would check with the uke and ask whether they felt stable and strong, when in fact he had already taken their center.
Ikeda sensei repeatedly touched on the idea that the purpose of budo was for the weaker and smaller to become able to survive against and overcome larger and stronger opponents. One related condition is that one's initial action against the opponent must be imperceptible.
As Ikeda sensei showed with his concept of movement inside of himself, Matsuoka and Murashige senseis showed this in their own ways also. Matsuoka sensei stated similarly that he struggled to make things work against stronger opponents. Throughout his class, he touched on the ideas of letting the attacker feel satisfied that he has done his attack, not adding energy to the relationship with the opponent in the effort to move him, and to move with emptiness. The way that Matsuoka sensei moved his opponent could be understood at first glance as simply moving suddenly, but against able opponents it quickly becomes apparent that this is not the case. There is a way to move "under the opponent's radar" so that there is nothing for the opponent to respond against.
Murashige sensei's classes began with no verbal explanation. Instead, he walked around the room allowing the participants to feel his aikido. Appearances notwithstanding, it became clear from feeling his aikido, as well as from hearing his statements later, that his aikido was extremely soft. He repeatedly stated that "softer is stronger than hard." One could have a firm grip on his wrist and see him visibly begin to move, but the locus of contact betrayed nothing against which to respond and reorganize one's balance and physical integrity. Through his technique, Murashige sensei taught about entering the opponent in an imperceptible way, relaxing viably, and with martial applicability.
Lia Suzuki's sensei's class also fell under the theme of "Sense" as she continually went around to the participants to share what she was teaching. During the first part of the session Suzuki sensei had everyone use short sword, or shoto, which accentuated the direction of uke's attack and made any "arm-wrestling" type of engagement impossible. She emphasized the freedom of choice nage has around uke's attack; direct and meaningful lines of entering; letting the uke attack fully and drawing him in; and entering uke's space in such a way that the attack is negated and can be redirected.
Meaningful movements characterized Frank Doran sensei's classes, which he led in such a way that the participants could be more mindful of their own actions and could grasp the underlying reasons for the actions that they were practicing. Through many examples, Doran sensei illustrated attaining a superior and safe position as nage, with uke's viability simultaneously becoming diminished. Interspersed throughout his classes were his well-known humor and illustrative exaggerations of common mistakes. Movements by nage should allow him to be out of uke's striking range, while nage himself has the option of striking and maintaining good posture. There was also emphasis on the significance of first contact between nage and uke, at which time nage should achieve the above mentioned conditions.
Tissier sensei's classes also abounded with the reasons underlying movements within the way we practice aikido. Sensei's generous explanations included the ramifications of moving incorrectly or imprecisely. Examining the reasons behind movements allowed the participants to relate one movement, usually kuzushi (breaking balance), to movements before and after; see the nage's posture and power at various points during techniques; and consider the applications of techniques based upon how we practice them normally. He also directed attention to the uke role, demonstrating the role himself at times. The relationship between nage and uke being grounded in rationality entails this: that nage responding too early or too late, or moving in ways that are not in accordance with his own structure or with uke's movement, is the same as creating and addressing problems that do not exist.
Despite being under-the-weather with a cold, Phong sensei joined us to lead a vigorous class demonstrating his efficient movement, which betrayed no gap between himself and his opponent. Sensei made the rounds, generously sharing his powerful aikido with everyone.
While the schedule for the week was very full and tested the endurance of some participants, many attended throughout the week and enjoyed the continuity made possible from numerous classes by the main instructors as well as the stimulation from encountering such a variety of practitioners overall.
Certainly the goals of the seminar, to bring together people of various backgrounds in the hopes of new relations and friendships emerging, as well as to open people's eyes to the possibilities of aikido in a positive light, were achieved.