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Sharing the feeling of 5th Dan

coffeeWell, it’s almost twenty years since I first walked through the doors at the Brisbane Yoshinkan Aikido Dojo. I still remember it as if it was yesterday. The first class I did focussed on hijiate kokyu nage. I remember thinking how nuanced the movements were – how such a slight angle change created such a difference in the affect to uke – and how intrigued I was in this magical art from the onset!

Now, I hold a 5th Dan rank, teach this wonderful art and continue to graciously follow the path laid before me by Mori Shihan. I’d like to begin by thanking Sensei for having the belief in me to start a dojo and teach this wonderful way of life we call ‘Aikido’ to a standard he is happy with. This is my first aim for the Sunshine Coast Dojo.

Amazingly, it has been through teaching that I have been able to solidify kamae and the kihon (basics), which I feel has improved my technique personally and helped develop a better understanding of the centre line. In turn, this has allowed me to begin to explore deeper into Aikido movement and the control of uke. I remember a conversation with Sensei years ago, after completing my 3rd Dan and not long after relocating to the Sunshine Coast. It was about progressing one’s technique. It went something like this:

A lot of people train from shodan to 3rd or 4th Dan and stagnate in their technique and their understanding of Aikido…”, pointed out Sensei.

To which I replied, “Yes, I feel this myself in that it’s like I’ve plateaued or my progress is not as rapid as it once was when I was a shodan.”

Sensei continued, “Most find further growth once they begin to teach.”

Now, I know that most at the dojo already know that Mori Sensei chooses his words wisely and very rarely says something without greater meaning or suggestion. Therefore, I walked away from this conversation considering the idea that Sensei might think I’m ready to teach – i.e. my technique must be ‘basically adequate’ to teach the fundamentals of Yoshinkan Aikido at a level that which Sensei would be content and endorse. Then the questions and self-doubt began… How can I be ready to teach this? I’m only a lowly 3rd Dan. I don’t feel ready to teach. What does ready feel like? I’m only beginning to really learn this art, and don’t teachers need more experience? Better skill? Deeper understanding? What if my students’ technique isn’t any good? Isn’t this an indication of my teaching? Of course it is! What if my dojo doesn’t uphold the reputation and standard of ‘Yoshinkan’ dojos around the world? I can’t let Sensei down! … And so it went. Yes, self-doubt can be paralysing for anyone if fed, watered and nurtured. But I used Sensei’s confidence in me as strength on which to base small steps in building the dojo over the following years, and I simply applied myself to realising the opposite of every one of those questions above. After all, if I was ever going to achieve Gozo Shioda ‘Kacho’ Sensei’s ideal of ‘aiki soku seikatsu’ (aikido and life are one), I first had to make Aikido my life!

I’ve always lived my life by the maxim, ‘The easier you make life, the harder life becomes. The harder you make life, the easier life becomes’. I’ve found this to be true from my early twenties to how I live my life today in my forties. In my twenties I was working full-time as a butcher from midnight to midmorning, studying at university full-time from midmorning through to the evening and training in Aikido 3 to 4 times per week at the Brisbane Dojo. I trained in day classes at lunchtime as a break from study and evening classes on my way home from university (when possible I’d try to make day and evening classes on the same day). Yes, it was hard, but I knew it would get easier once my body allocated the necessary energy and my skill developed over time. That is to say, life got easier because I became used to the hardship; I guess I was now training for any further difficulties I would confront later in life!

Whilst finishing my degree, working and training in Aikido, Cindy and I had our first child Zara. After losing our first child Renee at 20 weeks, Zara was a gift. However, she was born with cerebral palsy and we began the journey of supporting and providing therapy (Botox injections twice a year; regular physiotherapy; daily stretching routines; regular plaster casts on both legs etc.) for a child with a disability. I don’t mean this to sound like a sop-story for sympathy, I simply want to make the point that difficulty just became life for us, but it had its peaks and troughs like any parenting journey. Now, thirteen years on, our life with Zara is easy – the harder it became in the earlier days, the stronger we all became and the easier life has become now as a result J Zara is one of the most caring, compassionate, loveable and able human beings I have ever met, and Cindy and I are both better people for being her parents, thanks to her. Needless to say, after graduating as a teacher and beginning work in high schools I needed to continue work on weekends as a butcher to pay the bills so that Cindy could stay home to support Zara. Again, the earlier maxim set us up for this and life didn’t remain hard for long. You probably wonder why I’m writing all this… and question what this has to do with Aikido? I apologise for digressing into my personal life so much and I’ll now bring this back to Aikido – it is all related in the ‘aiki soku seikatsu’ manner. I’ll return through Gozo Shioda ‘Kancho’ Sensei and let him provide insight here and bring my musings to a point. When asked by Aiki News just a few years prior to his passing about what he thought of today’s Aikido, Kancho Sensei’s response was that,

“Today’s aikido is so dimensionless. It’s hollow, empty on the inside. People try to reach the highest levels without even paying their dues. That’s why it seems so much like a dance these days. You have to master the very basics solidly, with your body, and then proceed to develop to the higher levels… Now we see nothing but copying or imitation without any grasp of the real thing….” (Master Gozo Shioda)

In other words, training in one’s early stages needs to be hard, rigorous and arduous. It needs to be felt in the body. In Kancho Sensei’s view, many people are doing what they think is Aikido, but it has no substance, no strength, no centre. It hasn’t been developed through hardship and rigour. This is why in the twenty years of training at the Brisbane Dojo under Mori Sensei I’ve always sought to attend as many classes as possible (advanced, general, Hajime, and double classes where possible) even when things already felt difficult in other areas of my life. I believed that this would give me the opportunity to feel the most rigour possible and deepen my Aikido development and understanding. I guess it’s the same in all aspects of life. To pursue a life of happiness without ever exposing yourself to hardship, compromise and complex emotion felt in the body, will lead to what Kancho Sensei terms ‘dimensionless, hollow and emptiness inside’, just as in our Aikido technique. Those who know me best, know that in other aspects of my life, I always strive to complete difficult tasks to further enrich my life, develop my humanity and possibly provide a good role model for my children and my students young and old. This is how I strive to live out ‘aiki soku seikatsu’ within and beyond the dojo.

Looking forward into my future in Aikido, I first reflect on the significant moments over the twenty years that I have experienced most growth. As I mentioned earlier, I feel I experienced the greatest growth around the shodan stage (the real beginning) and between 4th and 5th Dan. Therefore, I see my training so far in two concentric circles:

Screen Shot 2019-04-25 at 9.24.16 am

For me, it felt as if doors opened at these two significant times to ‘unlock’ Aikido knowledge or insight, I guess it’s much like unlocking new levels in a video game. It has been at these moments after extensive training, I believe, that I have been able to overcome SOME faults/blocks/shortcomings/errors in my technique and gain access to a greater understanding of Aikido than I had previously. In wonder where and when the door exists in the third concentric circle? Nevertheless, none of this would have been possible had it not been for the prompting and pressure offered to me by Mori Sensei. For this I am eternally grateful. And while I am thanking significant people, I’d also like to thank my wife Cindy as without her support, my recent 5th Dan, the Sunshine Coast Dojo and any of my initiatives in life would always come up ‘hollow’ and ‘empty’. I guess I need to also thank the ‘big fella’ too. Thanks Lawrence, for all your support and generous giving of yourself! I look forward to reciprocating the gesture!

I now look to the next stage in this journey: what happens after 5th Dan? In one respect, I am excited to see what quality of student I can produce at the Sunshine Coast Dojo – both in terms of their level of Yoshinkan Aikido technique and development of their humanity. On another level, I am excited to follow further where Mori Sensei may journey and explore deeper into the world of Aikiwaza – where seemingly less is always more. I just hope to continue to develop sufficiently what Kancho Sensei termed ‘paying one’s dues’ so that I master ‘the very basics solidly, with my body, and then proceed to develop to the higher levels’ and avoid at all costs ‘dimensionless,’ ‘hollow’ and ‘empty’ Aikido, or should I say life!

Osu!

Ryan Slavin

Why Yoshinkan Aikido? Above all, because it works!

coffeeCoffee Break: The efficacy of Yoshinkan

You may have come across people questioning Aikido’s practicality in a ‘real’ situation. You might have seen comments on YouTube or someone you know saying, ‘Oh, Aikido doesn’t work in real situations… but what if this happened… what if that happened… oh, if you don’t do grappling or floor work or competition then you never know if it really works’. I often have these conversations with Brazilian Jiu Jutsu (BJJ) or Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) practitioners. Well, I’d like to share this story with you to quell the theorising, instil further confidence in you and offer ‘real’ examples of why Yoshinkan Aikido is an effective and practical system of self-defense (over and above all the other incidental benefits of health, wellbeing, community, confidence, strength, flexibility etc.).

Some of you might know Kaido. He has been training in Yoshinkan Aikido for many years and is a 4th Dan Black Belt. Kaido works as a security guard and is soon to join the Queensland Police Force (QPS) this year. He is of average height and weight, and in the security field looks like a ‘pipsqueak’ compared to many of the man-mountains he works alongside. Kaido’s work primarily involves controlling crowds as a ‘rover’ in bars, pubs, sports events, concerts and music festivals, among others. He frequently has to defend himself and others against violent attacks of all kinds – he is confronted by individuals and groups of attackers, and often needs to get in the middle of violent confrontations between others in order to subdue and remove people from the premises to be taken away by the QPS. In short, his job can be quite dangerous!

Kaido works alongside security guards that come from a variety of backgrounds. Some boxers, MMA and BJJ practitioners, and even other Aikidoka (Aikikai). Let me relay his experiences from the conversations we have about his work.

As a ‘rover’, Kaido constantly moves around the premises where he is working to quell conflict and keep the peace. However, as I mentioned above, he often finds himself in the thick of the ‘action’. In many instances when he is neck-deep in people hurling abuse, fists, kicks and all kinds of attacks at him, he turns to see which members of his team are with him controlling the situation. What he sees is very interesting. The boxers and Kaido are often left to fly solo in the violent confrontations while the MMA, BJJ and Aikikai guards remain on the fringes setting up a perimeter of safety for others. (This is why he is given the role of ‘rover’, much to the astonishment of many when they see his size. And, the others are stationed in areas less volatile.) When Kaido asked the BJJ and MMA guards why they don’t engage in the confrontations and control the situation – but leave it up to him – they respond with, ‘But we are not trained to deal with this… We don’t know what to do with more than one attacker… I am worried about going to the ground in these situations…’ In short, their systems of training haven’t prepared them, nor instilled in them sufficient confidence, for the fluid and varied nature of real violent confrontation. Kaido claims that his Yoshinkan Aikido skills adequately allow him to control people in any situation. He uses joint locks such as ikkajo, nikkajo and sankajo to remove people all the time and rarely needs to rely on atemi (striking), especially as he must be wary of litigation and only use reasonable force in the control of unruly patrons.

I must say that I am by no means saying Aikido is ‘the best’ and that everything else is rubbish. This is not my point. What I am saying is that Yoshinkan Aikido is a practical system of self-defense that when trained regularly will work in real, violent situations – Kaido is a good example to support this. So please take confidence in what you do and embrace the holistic nature of Yoshinkan Aikido.

In terms of other arts, I believe that we should try to avoid comparisons like ‘this is good for…’ and ‘so and so art is the best for …’ or even ‘so and so art is better because…’ One should search for the system that best suits them: their needs and their character – I know Aikido is my best fit and I have confidence in its efficacy! However, irrespective of the art one might practice, the practitioner’s approach, dedication and spirit are what counts most after all! If it is simply about fighting, we should ask the question, ‘how is this making me a better human being?’

Enjoy your training in 2019!

Osu!

Ryan Slavin

 

The Journey to Nidan

coffeeThe journey to Nidan for me has been quite a few years. You would think by now I have a good grip on things. Ha! Aikido humour, Get it? Grip…Never mind.

Now after the dust has settled I can look back and feel this has been a great moment in my Aikido journey. Yet as an individual moment, it pales in comparison to the unexpected lesson that has had more an impact on my practice than becoming Nidan.

Let us go back in time. Que strange music and visual effects.

It is the morning of the grading. Feeling ready and confident in my abilities. My nerves in check I moved towards my goal. “I got this.”

I had asked to be Jacob’s Uke for his Important Shodan grading. The second Shodan of “The Originals”. (Students who started their Aikido journey with Sensei Ryan.)

Sensei calls us up and Jacob calls out the words “Sensei ni Rei!”

Jacob finishes his first technique. I thought to myself “That was very good. Glad I don’t have to…” My thought cut short by Sensei calling the words “Shite Uke kotai”

The lesson that I have heard repeatedly came flying in to kneecap me and drop me on my ASSumptions.

‘Only from good Uke can you become good Shite.’

As Jacob’s Uke I was unprepared and with nowhere to hide.  What was only just a few minutes for everyone was an ego crushing eternity for me. Jacob being Jacob was unaffected, unfazed not even a hair out of place. He performed brilliantly despite my mistakes.

Sitting waiting for my turn to grade all I could think about were my mistakes. Just like Uke stunned and put off balance by an atemi just before being smashed to the mat. My fate awaited me.

Sorry too dramatic lets tone it down.

The truth is I look back on that day and think of how perfect it was. Don’t get me wrong I still cringe at not being a good uke for such an important occasion. However, it was perfect timing. Just as I am about to reach a higher level I am humbled.

“Your best teacher is your last mistake.”

In finishing, I look forward to all the wonderful mistakes to come.

Osu!

John de Vries

2018 Demonstration Winners

Aikido symbolises the way of adapting the spirit. I joined Aikido Yoshinkan at the Sunshine Coast Dojo in 2015 because I was intrigued by watching my brother train. Not only because it looked fun to flip people around by a 12-year-old but because I was curious of the art behind this martial art. I knew I wasn’t going to become the Karate Kid because that’s not what Aikido is about. At the Sunshine Coast Dojo we have become a close community and I have made new friends, this shows how the spirit doesn’t just have to be when we’re training as students but that it’s all around us as human beings.

Osu!

Kayla Holloway


 

Dread, Trials and Cake

How would you describe your relationship with The Annual Demonstration?  For me this has been forever changing throughout the years. For my first couple of years doing Aikido I had extremely feared the demonstration, and the only thought I had was to survive.  Survive and move on; that’s what I wanted.  Then the next year it changed to being approved.  It was that time of year that I had to show why I was worthy of my rank and a place in the dojo.  A trial more so than a celebration.  But now demonstrations mean so much more to me.

The short time frame to reach such high standards is no longer a dread but a blessing.  It forces me to get to a place I otherwise wouldn’t strive for, and to sum up everything I’ve learnt and work for during the past year. A chance for others and myself to see the rewards of training class after class.

But after doing a few demonstrations I have acquired a confidence I’m so grateful for, because this has allowed me to try and tackle more each year and seek to do something new each demonstration.  Whether it’s incorporating new weapons, being uke more often than previously or even throwing my sister around with music blearing in the background, all are thrilling new experiences only possible through the Annual Demonstration.

Even though demonstrations give so much to me personally, they give something even greater to the dojo. They have the ability to unite everyone by giving us one parallel goal; to establish the growth of the dojo. This brings the students of Aikido even closer than before, as it forces us to rely on one another, give to one another and push one another.  Whether this means trusting your Shite, giving yourself as uke or practising with each other to ensure perfection.

So how would I describe my relationship with The Annual Demonstration?  To me The Annual Demonstrations is like baking a cake.  Sure, you may dread the preparation and cooking, and stress when you forget an ingredient; but in the end it always tastes great and leaves you hungry for more.

Osu!

Jacob Holloway


 

The Spirit Award to me is a big deal. While we train hard to have great technique and flow with our Shite/Uke, I believe this is not possible without Spirit. Spirit encompasses everything we train for!
From the time we step on the mats till the time we leave the mats, till the time we come back to the mats to learn more about this art. Spirit is as much about showing great technique on the mats with respect to your Uke or Shite as it is about respecting and honouring all in our lives, and who have helped us get to where we are, whatever stage in life we’re at individually. Without Spirit there simply would be no technique. Train hard with plenty of Spirit!!

Osu!
Darren Holloway


 

November last year was the first time I stepped into the dojo. I had no idea what to expect nor what I would gain from this experience. I have now learned that the culture that exists here is a supportive, friendly and respected one. I must admit the chanting warm-up frightened me at first, though as time passed it became routine. In late June in a group of students I took part in the Dojo’s fourth annual demonstration. There were a number of well-prepared groups and solo demonstrations. Watching the final product of a month of dedicated training become a success was a very proud moment for Sensei and the Dojo. One of the events I participated in was Kyogi Embu. There were several pairs and two awards for this event. The award for best technique and for the best spirit were awarded, Darren and I won the best spirit award this year. Although there were mistakes in our demonstration we were able to save the technique without the audience knowing, or at least that’s what I believe. Personally, I did not believe we were in the running for an award as it was my first demonstration, so I was very happy and surprised when our names were called. Overall it was a great experience!

Holly

 

If only it was easier, if only…

coffeeI often overhear people prefacing what they say with things like, ‘If only it was easier, I would…’ or ‘If I had more time, I would…’ or even ‘I wish I could…, but…’. And they are right!

 Well, perhaps in part anyway. If we were presented with the ‘right’, ‘correct’, ‘perfect’, or ‘ideal’ conditions under which to perform or live our life, things would be a lot ‘easier’, ‘more enjoyable’, ‘more productive’, etc., but we may never really know our potential. I guess my question is: ‘in living with ease, are we truly growing?’ If we are constantly in search of ease in our life – training; work; home – I believe we are not presented with opportunities to be better, or stimulus to grow.

 It’s easy to tell ourselves and others that the conditions aren’t right to do something. And therefore, not have a go. What’s more, it’s easy to excuse away a lesser standard afterwards by ‘explaining’ that there wasn’t time or that something got in the way. This can often make us feel better about ourselves, but are we being honest with ourselves? Now, let me be clear that I struggle with this human condition too. I don’t pretend to have mastered this… But I am aware of it and giving it my all to be better at it every day. Therefore, I challenge you (as I challenge myself) to resist these temptations. If the circumstances aren’t right for what you might term ‘optimal performance’ and you are considering not doing something, do it anyway under the trying conditions and grow from the imperfect experience. I suggest working with the conditions and notin combat with them wasting valuable energy attempting to change something that may be beyond your control. I suggest applying a flexible disposition that will offer the prospect to develop a view that while perfection is always our ultimate goal, it is often not the immediate objective. In the pursuit of this, I often apply the metaphor of the muscle to our overall development.

 Just as a muscle needs stimulus to grow, we also holistically need stimulus to develop to be the best version of ourselves. The muscle may at times resist the training; it may feel stiff, it could even have a slight strain. But are these reasons enough to not use the muscle at all? Even while nursing a strain a muscle can be used through its recovery and other muscles used in more intensity to compensate. For example, when you break the arm or tear a muscle in the arm with which you brush your teeth, it is a great opportunity to increase the dexterity of the other hand. Right? The alternative is to not brush your teeth, and we know where that leads. In short, just as the muscle will respond to exercise (stimulus) by growing stronger, bigger, more flexible or even faster, so too does our cognitive, emotional and physical capacity develop when placed under conditions (stimulus) not ideal or of our liking. In these circumstances we are asked to either respond or walk away (wondering what might have been or could have been achieved and developed within us).

 Often when thinking of or responding to situations not ideal or perfect I look to my daughter for inspiration. So I will share some of her story in the hope that she might help you too to be inspired at times when it’s easier to make excuses and walk away. Many of you know that my daughter has spastic diplegic cerebral palsy caused through brain damage that occurred at birth. Many people see her as almost what society terms ‘normal’. However, what many don’t see regularly is the indomitable spirit that lays beneath all that she is and all that she is becoming. From the moment she could move, movement was difficult – her legs just didn’t work. When she crawled, she dragged her legs behind her with the strength of her arms, all the while developing further strength in her upper body to drag herself around the house faster. Never did she cry about it and never did we pander to her disability, pitying her and making allowances for her. Some may have judged this as excessively harsh, however, we believed that support is what she needed, not pity and that one day, she still needed to walk and engage to the best of her ability in a world that was not perfect! Over time, with much therapy and unrivalled determination on Zara’s part, she eventually crawled. Walking was much the same. I think that a lot of the therapy and Zara’s hard work at such a young age has developed new neural pathways to circumvent some of the damage to the brain. Now almost 12 years on, Zara holds the Australian record for the T-35 Multiclass 800 metres. She also practices Aikido, ballet and contemporary dance. Now, my intention here is not to boast about Zara’s accomplishments, nor am I trying to convince you that she is any different to you or I. But I do hope to explain that she wouldn’t be the successful human being she is today without choosing to respond positively and actively to far less than perfect conditions, and perhaps even finding a way to excel at the same time. In addition, Zara always looks empathetically to support others through difficultly despite having every reason to demand support herself. This quality, if nothing else, is a quality we can all aspire to, wouldn’t you agree? Finally, Zara’s cerebral palsy doesn’t define her as ‘disabled’, she has chosen to flip it to define her instead as able and exceptional. Likewise, our ongoing and often difficult circumstances don’t define us, it is our responses and achievements in spite of them that does.

 What might this look like for me? Well, when challenged by Mori Sensei to do my 4thDan four years ago (which I have written about in a past article) under very tight time constraints, a knee operation recovery and demonstration preparation, I had two choices. Thankfully, I chose to trust Sensei’s judgement, accepted the less than perfect conditions and went for it. Consequently, I now have this in my psyche as a measuring stick to which many other challenges pale in comparison, i.e. life has actually become easier as a result! And now, as I prepare for my demonstration this year and I look to do my 5thDan sometime soon, I embrace the ‘less than perfect’ to see what standard I can achieve under challenging circumstances. What might this look like for you?

 In closing, I would like to place a further challenge in front of you. From the outside we often perceive conditions in the lives of others as far better than that which are actually being experienced. So, while we individually battle to respond flexibly, positively and actively in less than ideal conditions in our own lives, I challenge you to be as perceptive as possible of the difficultly others might be experiencing too. Let’s allow our awareness of the challenges we are facing, not shying away from, be the first step in supporting each other to be the best version of ourselves.

 Osu!

Ryan Slavin

Sharing the thoughts of our black belts

Below is an article written by Darren Holloway. It is a reflection on his training in Aikido so far and written following his achievement of Shodan.


Black belt!! … Finally yeah😀Black belt … Just the beginning 😩…

For myself personally it has never been about the black belt. The training is what keeps me coming back each and every week. The variety and the many different techniques is always challenging but satisfaction is guaranteed if the will is there.

For myself it began 4 years ago, when one day I was out running and past what is now our old Dojo in Bulcock Street. I noticed the sign on the window and rang Ryan Sensei when I got home and started training that week.
Back then there were 3 students and 1 training session a week. 12 months later 2 classes then later a 3rd as the number of students grew to where we are today with over 15 students training on a regular basis.
Aikido to me will always mean Harmony. Harmony with Uke or Shite. Harmony with those around me in life.

The challenges with training in Aikido will be constant, but this is what will keep bringing me back week after week. While they are the challenges personally, it is the people/ students who make our Dojo. The sense of community and spirit among students. I believe this is unique in Aikido and even more unique in our relatively new Dojo.

As I said in the beginning, while it has never been about the black belt it is a very rewarding and humbling achievement after the years and training.
I would like to thank Greg and John for their patience with me over the past couple of years. I have learnt a lot of them, but most of all I have learnt how much I don’t know!!

A final thankyou to Ryan Sensei and Cindy. Your hard work and dedication does not go unnoticed.

I have the privilege of saying I’m an original student of the Dojo and along with Sean the first Black Belts under Ryan Sensei. Yippee!!!

OSU!
Darren Holloway

Sharing the thoughts of our black belts

Below is an article written by Sean Keogh. It is a reflection on his training in Aikido so far and written following his achievement of Shodan.

What Aikido Means to Me

When I started training in martial arts in a very haphazard way when I was young in the UK it was for one reason only, and that was self-defence. I was born in a rough area and to be honest the training came in pretty useful! Then there was a break of many years and I came to Australia and to aikido. The big difference for me now is that my inspiration to train is not primarily related to keeping my front teeth and avoiding black eyes, but to something more fundamental, something much more along the lines of developing my spirit and focus, even though I think aikido is the most effective system of self-defence I have seen (when I see Ryan sensei do it anyway!)

For me, aikido is most beautifully crystalized in the phrase DoChuSei, or quietness in turmoil, a term I first heard when I started my aikido training and a philosophy which I do my best to use inside and outside the dojo – initially I found that my attitude and approach to my job as an emergency doctor, which is often in a fraught and chaotic environment, helped me in the dojo but now I am finding what I am learning in the dojo is also helping me in my work – not so much that I feel better prepared if a crazy patient tries to bash me (though I do) but because I really do find aikido centres me and brings me calm, something I am noticing especially over the last few months. I also value the humility I see, especially in the more experienced practitioners up to and very much including Ryan sensei, which is a great example to us all.

I genuinely believe our young dojo is special and is more than the sum of its parts – I think we all know this. It has an element of ‘family’ both in the community sense and also in the literal sense, which I think is a great strength. Everyone supports each other and we all have a good idea of each other’s strengths and weaknesses and will go the extra mile, at every level, and this atmosphere is precious. I especially love watching the kids class and seeing the enthusiasm in my own son’s face every time he trains, even though he wakes me on Saturday mornings at 5am to demonstrate his kamae!

Which brings me to another key aspect of the way I think of aikido – I think the phrase of describing an activity as a journey rather than a destination is often overused, but not, as I see it, in the case of aikido. Over recent months I now think less about getting this belt or that belt, or reaching this grade or that grade (though I do believe grading is essential and we still need to work hard at it) but I think more about what I can extract and learn from training and how I can help others to do the same where I am able to.

I think aikido is a true example of the more you learn, the more you realise you actually don’t know very much, and it is easy to be discouraged at times but this must be resisted. Even though I do not believe I have ever done any aikido technique, even a basic one, anywhere close to perfectly I don’t really believe this is the point of aikido – I suspect that aikido is not so much about locks and throws rather it is all about something I have yet to fully grasp. I will not be giving up as long as my body can take it and I am forever grateful to those at the dojo that have helped me on this journey so far.

Here is to many more happy training sessions

Osu!

Sean Keogh

Training your senses

coffee

Below is an article written by Michiharu Mori Shihan. As always, I hope you find this article as insightful as I have. The article gives us rare insight into the life and times of Yoshinkan’s founder Master Gozo Shioda through the recollections of Mori Shihan, who spent 10 years under his tutorage as ‘uchi-deshi’ (live-in student/disciple).

Please enjoy Mori Shihan’s words and experiences and allow them to build further confidence in the art in which you train.


TRAINING YOUR SENSES

“Around 25 years ago, I felt I had reached the entrance of the “Aiki” world, the ultimate Aikido techniques. It was just a start and what I could do was only a very limited Aiki-waza, yet the change I felt in my body was clear. The sensation with the use of my knee movements changed.

For instance, I picked up a toothpaste to brush my teeth one morning and dropped the cap accidentally from my right hand. It would usually drop on the floor before, but this time I caught it by my left hand before it touched the ground. I was surprised with what happened and this was not a coincidence. That was because I began to master bending my knees without changing my upper body position, which was a necessary movement to master the Aiki technique (breaking the balance of opponent by bending knees without changing the dynamics of the contact position in the upper body.) The speed of dropping my body had gotten much faster by just bending knees while my upper body balance had no change and that was why I was able to catch up with the dropping cap. Well, I thought this phenomenon was the proof of reaching the entrance of “Aiki,” not relying on my physical strength but more on the way of using my body parts, especially knees. In other words, it was the start of mastering my centre line.

In recent years, that phenomenon has evolved. Well, I drop a thing and chase it by eyes as it drops (you know, I drop things more as my hands are dryer as I age!) As I watch a dropping object I realise that I am seeing the line along which it is going to go, for example hitting a sink and bouncing off a cup. So, I am not actually chasing the object to catch but placing my left hand waiting for the object to fall into my hand. This does not happen all the time, of course, but happens more often now. I feel this is one of the results of my long years in training my senses as a budo-ka. This sensation sometimes happens during tasu-dori too that I suddenly see things get slower, though only for a moment, and lines of uke’s attack movements appear as if drawn in dotted lines. I assume that I will be an expert of Aikido one day if I can master this ability of seeing the moving paths of things and people in advance, and if I can use the ability freely. I am excited to experience something more amazing than just catching a cap in future as I train my sensors more diligently.

O Sensei, the founder of Aikido, left many quite amazing episodes about training his sense. Here are some.

One day, when he was traveling by train with Gozo Shioda, O Sensei passed a Tessen (iron fan) and asked him to attack him whenever he had a chance. He sat down face-to-face and closed his eyes falling asleep. Our cheeky master, Gozo Shioda, loved this kind of chance and got so keen to hit his master. He carefully read the timing and made sure his master looked unguarded. At the moment he was ready to attack however O Sensei opened up his eyes and grinned. The same thing kept occurring as if O Sensei was able to read his mind and Gozo Shioda could not even use the Tessen once.

One night, O Sensei and his disciples were climbing up a mountain to train in the dark. The steep path of the mountain was too hard for an old man like O Sensei and he had to rely on the support of one of his students by having him push on his back – our cheeky master. As Gozo Shioda pushed his master’s back he came up with a prank. He thought of letting his master fall by suddenly letting his hands off from his back. He was sure his master would fall on such a steep hill feeling the master’s weight leaning to his hands. He grinned to himself and followed his plan. The next moment he could not believe what he saw, but his master kept walking in the exactly same position, leaning backwards, as if there was nothing happened. O Sensei obviously knew what his trustworthy disciple was thinking.

On another day, one of his students who had a duty of striking O Sensei with a bokken as daily training decided to try him. He thought of giving a trick by striking where O Sensei was going to move instead of trying to hit him directly, recognising that O Sensei had a habit of moving to his right at the first move. So, he swung down his bokken hard to O Sensei’s right and found it whizzing hard cutting through air. O Sensei was grinning at him without moving an inch. Playing mental games with his students like these episodes was one of his means to train his sensors and abilities.

O Sensei was certainly the legend and beyond ordinary people. My uchi-deshi life with Master Gozo Shioda was nothing as exciting as these episodes, yet I still had good trainings to sharpen my senses. Communication with him, for instance, required a great deal of concentration. When he needed to tell something to uchi-deshis he usually said, “A, ah~, ah~….,” and we had to know the answer to offer him or act straight away. You would not know a clue at the beginning of uchi-deshi life but as you serve him in daily life for opening doors, making teas, assisting him to change his clothes, attending to his personal needs while he takes a bath and so on, your sense is getting well trained to read his mind and harmonise with his moves. Once I had more cases of satisfying him with my answers and acts then I began to be called to take his uke more.

You are not uchi-deshis and do not have these kinds of means to train your senses. Yet, I have realised that you are always training your senses whenever I speak in my broken English as you have to concentrate to understand what I mean. Well, my poor English is somehow useful in this way…Thank you everyone, for trying very hard to harmonise with me! Other than the training of understanding me, you can always train your senses whenever you take uke, especially for Kihon-dosa. You can feel so much of your shite’s mechanical motions through your hands where you are connected, only if you are trying to do so. Moreover, while you are uke-ing for Jiyu-waza you can keep sensing any slightest move of your shite and can start reading which technique is coming next. When your senses are more trained you can take uke safely and these skills can be utilised when you apply techniques. I did the same. I had to take uke for Takeno Shihan and Nakano Shihan a lot during my uchi-deshi time. These two had a powerful type of Aikido and I received a lot of pain and impact on my body at the beginning. As I was forced to learn to read their moves for the sake of my life I earned the ability to take perfect uke for each of them by knowing exactly which technique they were performing next. I realised then, as they were more satisfied with my uke, my level of performing techniques also had advanced.

I can say, from my experiences, that training with no concrete aim will not bring much fruits for you. But your Aikido training can be far more enjoyable and interesting if you keep sharpening your senses through lots of thinking and attempts. Aikido is something that never shows your limitations to improve and progress. I wish everyone to taste the world of ultimate Aikido.”

Osu,

Michiharu Mori

 

The Spirit of Bushido

coffeeBelow is a recent article written by Michiharu Mori Shihan. I hope you find this article as insightful as I have. As we all know, we are all on the aikido journey that parallels our life journey in many ways. Even though we are all at different stages of these journeys, thankfully we have people like Mori Shihan to illuminate the path; someone with such a wealth of experience who gives us an unbroken flow of aikido knowledge and insight from its source.

Please enjoy Mori Shihan’s words and experiences in aikido below and allow them to build further confidence in the art in which you train.


THE SPIRIT OF BUSHIDO

The annual demo season is coming closer again for this year. I thought of writing something to do with demonstrations from my experiences to encourage you and provide motivation to train for it. I searched my memories to find a good episode of some amazing techniques, possibly from Master Gozo Shioda or Mr. Scary Takeno Shihan, but could not recall any. Instead, an episode from the spiritual aspect of Budo hit me.

Although I have written about this story before, I would like to mention it again to confirm the importance of learning Budo for our lives, that I believe in. The Headquarters of Yoshinkan held a yearly demonstration which all the instructors and many students from all over Japan gathered. After the demo, a seminar for all the instructors was open to teach, nothing special, but all the basics like angles and percentage of shifting weights for basic movements and techniques to standardise Yoshinkan techniques nationally. At the opening of the seminar, Inoue Dojo-cho (the top instructor of the Headquarters then) began with a question to all the instructors, “Everyone, did you fold your clothes neatly after you changed to dogi for the demo yesterday and today for this seminar? Or, did you fold your dogi properly after you demonstrated yesterday?” Everyone’s faces were puzzled. So, he continued saying, “Clothing protect your body from the cold and the heat. Your dogi protects your body from the training. We should treat them nicely with respect and gratitude. That’s the way of budo-ka (Budo practitioners.)”

I was very impressed with his words and I felt that was the reason I loved Budo that emphasised the spiritual aspect above all. The essence of training Budo is not about learning skills to beat the opponents but giving oneself the appropriate disciplines to train and cultivate one’s mind and spirit. While the purpose of training in MMA types is to win the matches and beat the opponents, the purpose of training Budo is to train one’s spiritual respect to grow as humans that improves and enhances one’s life itself in the end.

 

When we can develop a sense of gratitude by looking after our clothes and dogi’s with respect each time we train Aikido as Inoue Sensei said, we can gain the habit of thanking and respecting anything and anyone in our lives. The attitude of thanking our training partners on the mats sets our minds to thank our partners at home naturally. Besides, we start appreciating our society more as our minds get humbler instead of finding all sorts of complaints towards it; and we wish to be of use to society selflessly out of deep gratitude. This kind of person receives recognition of having a samurai spirit in Japan and well respected. Whenastudentaskedme what was Bushi-do for me, I answered, ‘cleaning the dojo toilet’ which became like a Zen riddle (I wrote about this before.) The point is that doing a job that others do not wish to, contributing oneself for other people unselfishly, out of gratitude towards the dojo and the training is a way of samurai spirit, I believe.

A man whom I thought was a true samurai in this modern era was Shojiro Ishibashi, the founder of Bridgestone Corporation, the world’s biggest tyre maker, as you know. Around the time of World War II, he expanded his tyre factory to Java in Indonesia but it was forced to shut down and draw off after Japan lost the war. It was an accepted practice or normal for any business of the defeated countries to destroy their facilities as they left to make sure they were not usable because it was painful to give away their asset with no compensation. Therefore, American troops got a big surprise when they went into the Bridgestone factory. Everything inside of the factory was cleaned thoroughly as if new and all the machinery was tuned and lubricated to be used straight away. All they simply needed to do was turn the machines on.

The leadership of American military force located in Japan was puzzled by this behaviour of the Japanese company and called in Shojiro Ishibashi for questioning. What he answered was that they owed people in Java so much while they stayed there, and to repay obligations to people in Java, they wanted to leave the factory in the best condition. The American military leaders were astonished by his words and impressed at the same time. They understood that this little Asian man was worth trusting for his faith in holding a strong sense of gratitude – his code of conduct. Later on, American leaders decided to offer the reprocessing of used tyre entirely to Bridgestone Corporation, the company recovered its business productivity and performance from these orders. The company today is very well acknowledged worldwide for contributing to society by providing reliable and high quality products.

We, Japanese people, call this kind of person a ‘samurai’ for maintaining a firm faith in contributing to the public good out of respect and gratitude for other people, and being prepared to sacrifice one’s life for the faith. In other words, this is the spirit of Bushi-do. I, who train and teach in ‘Budo’, respect the spirit of Bushi- do very highly and always wish to follow the path of Bushi-do. I believe that the heart and essence of learning a ‘Budo’ is about achieving spiritual growth by mastering, through the physical training of the art, a way to be always respectful, grateful, unselfish and humble to anybody and to anything. Pursuing this path, we gain trust and respect from others naturally which improves and enhances our life significantly.

Well, believing in this faith, I fold my dogi and clothes neatly, clean the dojo with a humble mind and try to deal with others in a respectful and grateful manner, every single day. This is my Bushi-do.

Osu, Michiharu Mori

 

Sentiments from the source – words and thoughts of O-Sensei

‘Budō[i] is a divine path established by the gods that leads to truth, goodness, and beauty; it is a spiritual path reflecting the unlimited, absolute nature of the universe and the ultimate grand design of creation’ (Ueshiba, 1991).

Morihei Ueshiba (also known as O-Sensei) founded the wonderful art that we practice, ‘Aikidō’, from his initial training in the centuries old art Daito Ryu Aiki-Jujutsu (among others). In the early 1920s Morihei Ueshiba developed and taught what he termed Aiki-Budō and continued to progress his art until his death in 1969, leaving behind what we know today as Aikidō. Aikidō can trace its lineage back centuries and is steeped in Japanese martial traditions, but uniquely encompasses a spirituality that focuses on the journey to an enlightened state through a disciplined and harmonious approach to life. All we have to do is walk the path with an open mind and work damn hard – simples, right?

7cb6dabd4963c2c230bacf319211bc86--aikido-quotes-bushidoWrong. I think the 26th President of the USA Theodore Roosevelt best summed it up when he said, ‘Nothing in the world is worth having or worth doing unless it means effort, pain, difficulty… I have never in my life envied a human being who led an easy life. I have envied a great many people who led difficult lives and led them well.’ As humans, and especially in this highly technologically advanced and modern world today, we often fool ourselves into believing that we should rest for long periods of time, ‘take it easy’, look for the ‘easiest’ way to do anything, and shy away from anything that seems overly difficult, arduous or risky. In truth, and in accordance with O-Sensei’s sentiments, these are all the ingredients that define a worthy, good, beautiful or ‘divine’ life. ‘Divine’, in this sense of the word, is not necessarily referring to something ‘supernatural’, it is more attuned to anything that inspires reverence and manifests goodness, purity, and beauty. This is where Aikidō comes in… and can be seen as a metaphor for life. Yoshinkan founder Gozo Shioda talks of ‘aiki soku seikatsu’, or aiki and life are but one. If we see the hardship we experience in the dojo equating to the hardship we experience in other aspects of our life, and the achievement in technique and health through this hardship as the achievement that comes to us from a committed and disciplined approach to a task in other aspects of our life, then we can start to understand what both O-Sensei and Shioda (Kancho) Sensei are proposing.

Now, I don’t pretend to have worked this all out… in fact, I am only scratching the surface at this point of my journey. But one thing that is becoming apparent to me in the teachings of O-Sensei and his contemporaries, is that revelations about life and achievement only come through hard work, difficulty and seemingly ridiculous challenges. I see one of the challenges as a call to action from O-Sensei, Shioda (Kancho) Sensei and Mori Sensei… a call to action in the sense that through training in budō and offering others the opportunity too through our dojo, we can reform our ‘perception of how the universe actually looks and acts; change the martial techniques into a vehicle of purity, goodness and beauty; and master these things.’ (Ueshiba, 1991) By ‘these things’, O-Sensei is talking about ‘harmony’ in all its forms, but most importantly (and most esoterically) he is referring to harmonization that links ‘heaven, earth, and humankind’, liberates us from our egos, and allows us to purify and forge the ‘self’ (Ueshiba, 1991). How might we do this? Well, as far as I have worked out… we train hard and serve others! Aikidō is the way, and the people we come in contact with daily inside and beyond the dojo are the vehicles. O-Sensei points out that we ourselves and all that we possess ‘should be dedicated to majestic causes; as warriors on the martial path, it is our duty to follow the [aiki path], externally and internally, and serve the people.

c5b5db8a6aea26deb38bc9798da59d2fIn budō, we guide the enemy where we please. The true purpose of [training in Aikidō] is to teach [us] how to receive and fill our mind and body with a valorous spirit…enlightened wisdom, and deep calm’ in the face of adversity (Ueshiba, 1991). O-Sensei sees the appearance of an ‘enemy’ (or someone that challenges us in any aspect of our life) as an opportunity to test the sincerity of our mental and physical training, to see if we are actually responding to the ‘divine’ (in the sense mentioned above) will. So, please enjoy the challenge of interacting with difficult people daily and test the sincerity of your training!

I know that I live to train in Aikidō, but more importantly, I now train to live in Aikidō; to live a life of what O-Sensei called the ‘divine’. I sincerely hope I can aid you all to do the same!

Osu,

Ryan Slavin

[i] Budō: The path of Martial Valour, the way of the warrior. This is a way of life dedicated to peace and enlightened action. Here budō is used in both the general sense of the Japanese martial traditions and the more specific manifestation of Morihei Ueshiba’s aiki-budō, which eventually led to the formulation of aikido.