by Dan Rubin
On the weekend of April 24-26, 2009, Hiroshi Ikeda Sensei hosted Mary Heiny Sensei as guest instructor at Boulder Aikikai's annual Spring Seminar. It had been a very long time since Heiny Sensei had last visited Boulder Aikikai, and she seemed as happy to return as we were to have her. For me, part of my enjoyment of attending her classes was a response to her obvious enjoyment of teaching them. Her quiet humor, punctuated by self-deprecating tales of her early training in Japan at Hombu Dojo and at Shingu, kept us smiling and at the same time made serious points about mistakes we all make along our aikido journeys.
Heiny Sensei's lessons were relatively light on physical technique and heavy on visualization and exploration. She began by explaining how she visualizes spirals of energy coming from uke, and how she joins with these spirals to perform her aikido with little strength.
In a way, Heiny Sensei told us, she never really throws anyone. Instead, she joins with uke's energy (every uke has a unique energy, she said), continuously asking herself "in what direction does uke want to go now?" and when uke falls she feels surprise and asks herself, "what caused that to happen?" In this way she does not force uke to move in this direction or that, and is always refining her understanding of how her aikido works. She stressed that what she showed us was her aikido, and that what works for her may not work for everyone. And after she made a point she gave us plenty of time to explore it for ourselves, without any pressure to throw our partners.
Joining with uke's energy "is musubi, is aiki," she said. She told us that nage can throw uke with muscular strength alone, but that would not be aikido, or at least not the aikido that she is interested in practicing. She asks herself how her ukes will feel after taking her technique: Will they feel good and want to be her uke again? Or will they feel resentment at how they were thrown. Muscling uke often results in a resentful uke. So instead of forcing uke into her technique, she "invites" uke in.
Heiny Sensei encouraged us to ask questions, and many of us did, but she also asked us a question: What are the characteristics of a good relationship with someone? Answers included "sincerity" and "honesty" and several others, and she observed that these are the same characteristics of a good relationship between uke and nage. She tries not to pre-judge uke - she said that it's disrespectful to make assumptions about someone - instead she accepts her ukes as they are, and as a result she gets a lot of information about them as they practice with her.
Many of us were used to teachers who do not emphasize the uke-nage relationship in this way, and Heiny Sensei may have had that in mind when she said that aikido students must have "patience, intellect and sensitivity" (to which my partner whispered, "We're doomed!"). She meant that we need to control our desire to throw uke and instead use our minds and senses to explore our relationship with our partners. In this way, nage can learn to interact with uke as if they were one entity.
This last idea, unity, the idea that uke and nage become one entity, is familiar to students of Ikeda Sensei. And in the quarter of the seminar that he taught, he emphasized this. Ikeda Sensei teaches that aikido principles are learned through the body, and so his classes were more physical than Heiny Sensei's, with less explanation. Yet as the seminar progressed, the more I saw how their classes supported each other's. Like Heiny Sensei, Ikeda Sensei emphasized that nage's technique must be such that uke is unable to resist it. Like Heiny Sensei, Ikeda Sensei emphasized that nage must avoid fighting against uke's attack, and instead unify with uke so that when nage moves, uke has no choice but to move with nage. And like Heiny Sensei, Ikeda Sensei emphasized that nage must be able to deal with a much larger uke, and he showed us how nage can make uke "lighter," and more easily moved.
This is one of the many valuable lessons that I took from the seminar, that even though the aikido of two teachers look very different they can really be very much the same and complementary.