Contributed by Al Krever
Usually, when you go to a seminar, even a big one like the Boulder Summer Camp in the Rockies, you expect to come away with one or two new techniques and some refinements on your existing Aikido practice. You don't usually expect to have a complete change in your basic understanding of what Aikido is about. Yet this is precisely the intent and effect of the Bridge Seminar, the second installment of which was just completed at Jiai Aikido in San Diego. I admit that this is kind of an "over the top" type of pronouncement but bear with me for awhile.
Hiroshi Ikeda Shihan made a clear statement of intent at the opening of the first day of training. That is, to paraphrase, that in order to grow in Aikido you have to actively seek out input from outside your own practice and perhaps outside the art entirely.
Admittedly, all the senseis who taught sessions this year were Aikidoka. What they were teaching was Aikido. However, what you came away with was a broader understanding of principal at a very deep level. I think this arises from a few directions:
A good example of this type of this eclectic approach might be Wilko Vriesman sensei of the Netherlands who has not only studied Aikido, kick-boxing and other martial arts but has also studied Ballet for a few years to gain a better understanding of posture, balance and body movement. (There are other benefits of the study of Ballet but they are mostly social.) These arts are reflected in his movement which those who attended his evening session would agree was pretty fluid for a guy his size.
Frank Doran, Shihan of CAA, has perfected the teaching of Aikido fundamentals. His classes are case studies in how to present technique at several levels. I must add that when I get stuck for what to do for a class I will sometimes steal one of Doran Sensei's classes verbatim. I know for a fact that I am not at all alone in this. It turns out that as a "former" not "ex"-marine as we found out on a tour of the aircraft carrier Midway with Ikeda Sensei and Kevin Choate Sensei, he is a lot of fun as a tour guide. Apparently there is no such thing as an ex-marine.
But back to the original thread. If we look at Aikido as a language and keiko as kind of conversation then the more widely ranging our vocabulary, the more options we have at expressing ourselves. The best way to increase your vocabulary, other than through personal study, is to speak to as many others as possible, in as many different dialects and in as many languages as you can.
This is not to say that Tissier Sensei's Aikido is uniquely French. One can say that his organization communicates in another Aikido language. The techniques are recognizable but not the same. The reason for them comes from different underlying principals than the various American systems. Different in the way that Saotome Sensei's technique differs from that of Ikeda Sensei's or Murashige Sensei's. Spending several days trying to assimilate this new information will of necessity increase your vocabulary in the same way that immersing yourself in another culture through travel increases your cultural vocabulary.
Without this kind of pan-cultural approach Kevin Choate Senseis class might not even have been recognizable as Aikido, and yet creating new forms of expression is what language is about. Poetry, music, drama, dance are all forms of basic communication. If Aikido is such a form then why shouldn't we start to see the equivalents of poetry and music evolving from it?
Murashige Sensei's techniques are so refined and terse that it's sometimes very hard to see the simplicity of what he's doing. Once you catch on, a whole range of possibilities open up for you.
Due in no small part to Saotome and Ikeda Senseis' encouragement of individual direction, ASU's advanced instructors are already quite diverse in their practice. We are now also able to incorporate ideas from outside our family and add them to our own training.
On top of that, Jiai Dojo makes everyone welcome and Jeff Sodeman Sensei's group runs a smooth, well organized seminar. No problems with lodging, great food, lots of camaraderie and plenty of activities to keep you busy off the mat. Everyone seemed to enjoy themselves … though I did notice a few folks who, like me, spent a lot of time with a dazed expression on their faces. It's remarkably difficult to make sure an event of this size comes off without a hitch and to hide the hitches if they do occur. Jiai has done an amazing job for the second year in a row.
Let's hope that this becomes an institution in our yearly schedule of important seminars and that we see more of the same elsewhere. Arizona Aikido, if you don't mind the shameless plug, is expanding our own yearly Prescott Seminar into a mini-Bridge this September in honor of our 40th year as an Aikido dojo.
I hope you enjoyed this year's experience as much as I did. Love and best wishes to you all.