Contributed by Dan Rubin
Photographs by Hiroshi Ikeda
This year Boulder Aikikai's annual Spring Seminar (Thursday evening through Sunday morning, April 24-27) featured guest instructor Katsuhiko Uzawa Sensei. It was the second consecutive year that Uzawa Sensei traveled from Japan to teach this seminar. This provided a valuable boost to students who attended the seminar in 2007 and over the intervening months forgot much of what had been taught. It benefited new students, too, because Uzawa Sensei was already familiar with the dojo and its students and what would be good to teach.
About 80 students attended all or part of the seminar, including students from other Colorado dojo and students who flew in from Chicago, Redlands (California, near Los Angeles), Philadelphia and New York City, not to mention "visitors in residence" from Germany, New Zealand, Russia, and Switzerland.
Uzawa Sensei and Hiroshi Ikeda Sensei, chief instructor of Boulder Aikikai, go back a long way. Uzawa Sensei was five years ahead of Ikeda Sensei at Kokugakuin University in Tokyo in the 1960s. That made Uzawa Sensei Ikeda Sensei's sempai in the university's aikido club. Uzawa Sensei went on to study many different martial arts, including Ueshiba Aikido and Yagyu Shinkage-ryu Kenjutsu. Uzawa Sensei laughed as Ikeda Sensei introduced him as a "budo-crazy."
Uzawa Sensei's main study began 30 years ago under the master of Jyushinkan-ryu Aiki Jyujutsu, a branch of Sokaku Takeda Daito-ryu Aiki Jyujutsu. Jyushinkan-ryu Aiki Jyujutsu includes in its practice the study of Mugen Shinto-ryu Iai-jyutsu. The study of iai is what distinguishes the Jyushinkan-ryu from other styles of Daito-ryu. In Japan, Uzawa Sensei is a well-known expert of Daito-ryu and is the current shihan-dai of Jyushinkan-ryu Aiki Jyujutsu.
Uzawa Sensei teaches like, well, like a teacher. He has a lesson plan in his head. He tells you what he's going to teach, he teaches it, and he tells you what he taught. And each class builds on the previous one. This was a great help to those of us who were able to attend every class, although it placed a slight disadvantage upon students who, inexplicably, have lives outside the dojo and couldn't attend the entire seminar. Of course, since Uzawa Sensei speaks little English, no one would have learned much without the expert translation skills of Boulder Aikikai student, Dan Nishina.
Uzawa Sensei began by having us walk back and forth on the outside edges of the feet, then on the inside edges. This is part of the warm-ups in his dojo, and became an important skill throughout the seminar as we learned how to move our bodies by pushing-off with those edges.
Walking on the edges is also part of another warm-up, rotating each knee in a large figure-8. Using the knees is an important part of Uzawa Sensei's techniques. He drops his weight, not by lowering his hips, but by suddenly relaxing one or both knees (at the point when the knee feels uke's weight). And many of his techniques include contacting uke's knee with his own, then blocking uke's knee or moving it, to help take uke's balance.
Another basic movement in Uzawa Sensei's dojo is coming up from a roll in a defensive position; we practiced meeting an attack as we came up from a forward roll. And we practiced techniques seated as well as standing; Uzawa Sensei said that if we can't do a technique seated, we can't properly do it standing, because seated we cannot help ourselves with extraneous movement.
Dropping weight effectively was the main theme of the seminar, as it was last year. And again Uzawa Sensei taught us that dropping weight properly depends on posture. He drops his weight with his body upright, as if his back is sliding down a wall.
He compared this posture to the posture one uses with the sword. To emphasize this point, we practiced cuts with bokken. Uzawa Sensei stressed that the bokken must be moved by the body, not by the arms. Likewise when empty-handed, our bodies must move our arms, which stay still in relation to our bodies. And when uke holds our wrists, it's our bodies, not our arms that must drop uke.
As Uzawa Sensei stretched his legs before each class, one could see that he maintains great flexibility, which aids his ability to drop uke so suddenly and decisively.
Uzawa Sensei got a break on Friday morning as Ikeda Sensei taught the class. Ikeda Sensei emphasized the same things that Uzawa Sensei did, taking uke's balance until we feel uke's weight, then dropping straight down. Ikeda Sensei added an element to this class, having uke resist each technique. He explained that if we always practice with cooperative ukes we will gain an unrealistic confidence in our ability, and will be stymied when met by an uke who resists.
I was impressed (as I was during the seminar last year) by some important lessons that were not in Uzawa Sensei's lesson plan. First, as Uzawa Sensei moved around the mat observing and correcting students, he didn't just perform the technique on them, he also took ukemi for them, often taking some pretty hard falls. Second, as the class practiced, Uzawa Sensei took time to give individual instruction to Dan; often, the translator is overlooked as instruction is given to everyone else. Third, we all watched as Ikeda Sensei, just another student in Uzawa Sensei's classes, practiced and took corrections from Uzawa Sensei just like the rest of us (except that the corrections were in Japanese).
Once again, Uzawa Sensei's seminar was a valuable learning experience in many different ways.