Aikido is a non-competitive martial art that can be practiced by almost anyone. Aikido techniques do not rely on physical strength but rather develops relaxed power through the focus of intention and Ki. The result is a creative method of non-destructive conflict resolution.
Aikido is practiced on many levels. The first level is includes the development of stamina, flexibility, and learning how to focus one's intention. The second level is built on the first and stresses self-defense techniques that teach the natural order of movement. In this process the students also become adept at ukemi, the art of rolling, falling and protecting oneself. Aikido provides the opportunity for the development of the entire person. It is a workout of the entire body and mind and results in increased strength, overall physically fitness, flexibility and centeredness.
At the third level students are gradually introduced to the secrets of receiving and harnessing the power of ki, they also develop spatial awareness and learn to judge proper timing and distance. During this training the goal is to establish and maintain an energetic connection to your partner and to lead them off balance. This eliminates the need for more destructive means of resolving situations.
The highest level of aikido is mind over matter. This involves the use of visualization techniques, the power of intention and ki, breath control and meditation. Aikido is truly a spiritual martial art that explores themind - body - spirit connection. This advanced level of training at Shobu Aikido reaches a level not easily found elsewhere. The student learns how to manifest power and effectiveness by the focusing of intention alone. This level depends on and can only be reached through the refinement of technique and the students own deepest feeling. For this reason it alternates between the physical and the spiritual.
In the process of practicing aikido, students inevitably find themselves less stressed and more energetic, better equipped to manage life's many conflicts with calm control. Aikido is great for adults and kids alike because practice encourages respect for self and others, self control, cooperation and responsibility.
Gasshuku or weekend long intensive seminars with William Gleason Sensei are available seasonally.
Children's aikido classes provide a friendly, non-competitive environment for students to become more physically fit, agile, flexible, aware, focused, and relaxed. They learn how to safely fall, roll and perform a variety of self-defense techniques in a supportive, comfortable setting, and parents like Aikido because kids learn how to be powerful without becoming destructive.
Muketsu Invades D.C. (Part 1 of 5)
It’s been awhile since I’ve done my “Invasion” series (March 2007, December 2007), but I hope this one does not disappoint. This time I went to Washington, D.C. for the 2010 ASU Summer Camp, which was held in the DeFour Athletic Center at The Catholic University of America from July 1 to July 5. For me this trip was 1-2 years in the making because not only was this camp a requirement for nidan according to the ASU, but also I have heard good things from this camp from Danny and Doug’s experience. And I have always wanted to check this camp out and make it out to D.C. to visit my friends who I have not seen in a long time. During my experience, I kept a running journal of what went down during the days’ activities. Because of the length of this essay, this will be presented in five parts.
The theme of this year’s summer camp was “two swords with a focus on the aikido principles that underlie two-sword training.” In preparation for this summer camp, I studied “Two Swords of Aikido,” an instructional video featuring Mitsugi Saotome Shihan of the ASU. Unfortunately, this video is limited in its helpfulness because the majority of the video, and therefore content, consists of footage of a 1988 Two-Sword Seminar at the Chicago Budokan. The footage was shot as a home video where the resolution was grainy, it was difficult to make out the details of the techniques, the techniques were shown from only one angle, and I can barely hear Saotome Sensei. Nevertheless, the video interestingly demonstrated the principle of Kobo Ittai (Offense and Defense as One).
In addition, I read “The Book of Five Rings” by Miyamoto Musashi. Many martial arts enthusiasts have heard of this man. But for those who have not, Musashi was a masterless samurai, independent teacher, and Japanese swordsman famed for being undefeated in duels and for his distinctive style of swordsmanship. “The Book of Five Rings” is a text on military strategy, similar to “The Art of War” by Sun Tzu. There were several quotes that were inspirational and relevant to this summer camp, and some of those quotes will be presented in this article.
What made Musashi’s style unique was his use and mastery of two swords.
“When your life is on the line, you want to make use of all your tools. No warrior should be willing to die with his swords at his side, without having made use of his tools.” – from the “Earth Scroll”
Even though the techniques of Musashi’s school – Niten Ichi-ryu, or “The School of Two Swords” – are not necessarily in the aikido curriculum, the principles do apply to aikido and the two-sword techniques that Saotome Sensei developed. It should be noted that studying two swords is ordinarily reserved for the more experienced student, as the practitioner should already have some level of proficiency with using the single sword. This is how the curriculum of the Hyoho Niten Ichi-ryu is set up.
With that in mind, let’s talk about the camp…
Day 1 – July 1
So I enter the DeFour Athletic Center, and whom do I see at the registration desk…Amy! It was really cool to see her again. (And by the way, she sends her best to everyone at Shobu Aikido of Ohio!) Saotome Sensei led the first class at 10:00 AM, and we worked with just the bokken. The first lesson was how to wield a sword. According to Sensei, the sword should be pointed to the opponent’s face, the knees should be bent, and the shoulders should be relaxed. The grip should be akin to wringing a mop. At one point Sensei referred the sword as the “killing sword.”
“The long sword should be taken up with the thought that is something for killing opponents. Let there be no change in your grip even when slashing opponents; make your grip such that your hand does not flinch.” – from the “Water Scroll”
Next, we did paired kata with the bokken. Amy and I were partners for the first half of class. There were no mats available yet, so practice felt like kendo training. The movements were similar to Aiki-ken #6-12.
In the kata, Sensei was showing something resembling “sticky blade,” where when uchitachi (in this case, Chuck Weber Sensei), struck Saotome Sensei’s sword, he did not allow his own sword to be deflected but rather received uchitachi’s energy and stuck to his sword.
There is this one slick move where Sensei makes an irimi-tenkan and grabs uke’s sword while at the same time stabbing uke with Sensei’s sword wrapped behind his back.
“The sticky body means getting inside and sticking fast to an opponent. When you get inside the opponent’s defenses, you stick tight your head, body, and legs…Sticking to an opponent means that you stick so close that there is no gap between your bodies.” – from the “Water Scroll”
During the break at the halfway point of the first class, Amy introduced me to the D.C. aikidoka.
The second half of class consisted of more paired kata with bokken. During this time, I paired up with Mark Kaye Sensei, Chief Instructor of the Aikido Wellness Center in Miami, Florida. Very kind gentleman. In one kata, there was some confusion regarding who initiates the first movement: shitachi, uchitachi, or both.
“There are three kinds of preemption. One is when you preempt by attacking an opponent on your own initiative; this is called preemption from a state of suspension. Another is when you preempt an opponent making an attack on you; this is called preemption from a state of waiting. Yet another is when you and an opponent attach each other simultaneously; this is called preemption in the state of mutual confrontation.” –from the “Fire Scroll”
Next, we went over two aikidoka with swords against one aikidoka with sword.
“The way to win a battle according to military science is to know the rhythms of the specific opponents, and use rhythms that your opponents do not expect, producing formless rhythms from rhythms of wisdom.”
-from the “Earth Scroll”
“Even when still, your mind is not still; even when hurried, your mind is not hurried. The mind is not dragged by the body, the body is not dragged by the mind. Pay attention to the mind, not the body. Let there be neither insufficiency nor excess in your mind. Even if superficially weakhearted, be inwardly stronghearted, and do not let others see into your mind.” –from the “Water Scroll”
Finally, Sensei showed us some sword-drawing techniques.
During my first three days at D.C., I stayed with a friend from college. For lunch, he suggested Yes! Organic Market, located at the corner of 12th Street NE and Quincy Street NE. It’s about a 3-minute drive from camp and does having a small adjacent parking lot. This place is an organic food grocery store that also sells prepared sandwiches. Everyday, I got lunch from this place and brought it back to the gymnasium. Organic food is the blandest food I ever tasted, but it did the job and got me through the day. At least it wasn’t oily and greasy that would slow me down during keiko. A typical lunch of an organic sandwich, organic potato chips, and bottled organic lemonade cost me less than $10.
The afternoon classes were led by senior ASU instructors, all rokudans. The first class was conducted by Tres Hofmeister Sensei of Boulder Aikikai. At this time there were no mats yet, but he wanted us to take forward and backward rolls on the hardwood floor! The rest of the class was very basic practice with Katate Tori Tenkan Ho and Katate Tori Irimi movement and study of connection with uke pushing off from nage.
Kevin Choate Sensei of Chicago Aikikai taught the next rokudan class. The practice was very sugaso in nature. To be honest, it was very difficult to comprehend what he was saying. In fact, the entire class was confused. I know that he has been training in Systema lately, so perhaps he was conveying the incorporation of Systema principles to his Aikido. I’m not really sure.
Finally, we have mats! Hiroshi Ikeda Shihan taught the evening class. We worked on paired jo kata, which resembled the movements in Aiki-Jo #4-6. Next we worked on Jo Dori that focused on unbalancing uke who is grabbing the jo. This transitioned to empty-hand practice involving unbalancing uke from katate tori. Ikeda Sensei has always been difficult to figure out, which I will later elaborate in detail. At one time he called me up to be his uke for a demonstration, which is always a thrill. He told me to grab his wrist and fight him as much as possible. So as I was grabbing him, he told that class that he was “not entering” and then “entering.” Neither of those two things he was doing on me felt any different. Then as he was “entering,” he said that he has my balance. Again, I did not feel any different and or unbalanced at all. The next thing I know, I was on my back. How the hell did he do that??? He did not just do that on me!!! All this time, I was summoning the resistance of Danny and the skepticism of Dale (all of you Chikyokan Dojo guys know what I’m talking about) and Ikeda Sensei was still able to break my balance. Anyway, at the end of class, he made his announcement regarding Bu Jin Design. He was selling merchandise during the camp, including new videos. In the meantime, he is talking with a German company, and hopefully Bu Jin will be up and running in a few months for selling hakamas, etc.
After class, I checked out the Toledo Lounge. Mary and Stephanie Abbajay, two sisters from Toledo who worked for the government in D.C, established the Toledo Lounge. After losing their government jobs, they decided to open a bar, which paid tribute to their hometown and the Midwest. It was a very small bar. There were memorabilia from Toledo hanging on the wall, but other than that, it was nothing special. At least I made my pilgrimage to this establishment and got a burger and a Guinness while I was there. Here are some pictures.
That's right - St. Francis, my former high school! Go Knights!
Now on to Day 2…
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