Little House In Ise

48th All Japan Aikido Demonstration

Day by day for the last two weeks the mats at Aikikai Honbu dojo have grown crowded as Aikidoka from all over the world trickled into Tokyo. They have come to view and participate in the 48th All Japan Aikido Demonstration at the Nippon Budokan.

Unlike previous years, this time I attended only as a proud papa and spectator. My main goals were to watch my daughter perform (my son had a science fair) and meet Ueda Shihan from Ise. Since I went with my daughter we arrived about three hours after the event started and then spent the better part of an hour trying to find her again (I lost the whole group right away) I didn’t actually watch much of the demonstration at all. Once the kids were sorted out, I received a phone call from Sensei and met him in front.

Having seen fewer demonstrations this year than at any event previously, I wasn’t able to take as many pictures as I would have liked. The few that I did take I’ve posted below.

After the demonstration, I met Ueda Sensei and the Mie-ken Aikidokai group at the Tokyo Prince Hotel — the one below the Tokyo Tower. After a bit of wandering we found a nice izakaya there in Akasaka. Over dinner, Sensei’s perspective and wisdom flowed with the beer. As usual, when spending time with him I felt as though I should have been taking notes. His ideas about Aikido, life and education are fascinating.

Two younger men sat with us at dinner and sensei quizzed them about the demonstrations. He asked the younger of the two, a new shodan, what he had been watching at the demonstration. The young man replied that he had been watching and trying to learn waza. Sensei responded that that he was crazy to try. Rather than waza, he said, manners and behavior of the uke were paramount. He said to watch how they bow. Remember how the give and receive weapons. He was especially adamant that just observing how the more senior teachers sat and stood should be food for thought.

Later on, when discussing education, sensei mentioned that he was now of an age that no one scolded him anymore and he missed it. His point was that when a teacher or parent scolds their child they are showing that they care. They are providing life lessons and, sadly, once a person reachers a certain age, the mentors in our lives seem to disappear. Becoming an adult capable of self direction and self correction is what growing up is all about but, even so, a friendly slap on the back followed by a “WHAT were you thinking when you did that?” is something that one eventually learns to miss. He told me that he hoped Doshu would scold me more.

The next day we stopped at Tully’s while his students attended Doshu geiko. He very kindly said that though we only meet once a year, it feels far more frequent than that. I agreed but do wish that I could speak with him more often. As always, I appreciated the time sensei gave me and I take his words to heart. I will endeavor to incorporate his wisdom in my life.


Evening Class
May 15, 2010, 18:07
Filed under: Aikido | Tags: , ,

I had the opportunity to enjoy an evening class recently (ed. it was March). This usually just means a new set of students with whom to train but in this case it also meant a new Honbu Shihan. I had never trained under this sensei but had heard a bit of grousing about his teaching style, mind you, the harshest complaint I had heard was that he talks too much in class. For an Aikido sensei, he did talk more than I am used to but it certainly didn’t slow the class down. I actually enjoyed the slightly different flavor.

Early in the class sensei approached a student who arrived late. The student apologized for being tardy but sensei brushed that off and replied, “In the old days, teachers would get angry when students arrived late. Now we are just happy that you come at all. Thank you for coming to my class”. Hearing that sort of attitude expressed by a senior (in rank and years) sensei was refreshing.

My partner that evening was an Iranian with a particularly martial flair to his movements. Every entry and most turns had some sort of nasty little atemi. Every time I threw an atemi into him he blocked appropriately. As class progressed, we also progressively increased our intensity. Space was limited so we neither threw too high nor too hard but we did move and strike quickly. Despite the speed our Aikido itself was pretty calm and smooth (my body just moves better in the evening). Every-so-often we tried reverses but even then avoided brute force. Even so, Sensei noticed us and made a point of stopping us for a moment. He said that when we go back to our countries to teach we couldn’t just teach the “hard stuff” we also had to demonstrate soft Aikido as well.

Thoughts of home have been coming to me more frequently lately and this reminder of it in an Aikido context was oddly disconcerting. One moment I was keeping a very serious martial artist from punching my throat and the next I was thinking of family, friends and life at home — very distracting. It was flattering that he seems to expect us both to teach.

All in all, it was a good evening and my partner was brilliant. I had not trained with an Iranian before and can only believe that when he does return to his home country he will have a wealth of Aikido to teach.

A Collection of Stuff

1) Megumi and I visited a sword shop in Ginza last weekend. The shop felt like a samurai art gallery displaying katana, wakizashi, tantou, naginata, bows, arrows, armor and clothing. The swords varied in age from Kamakura and Edo periods to the works of modern masters. I fell in love with the eclectic collection of tsuba (鍔: a sword’s wrist guard) and lusted after steel. Aside from the collection of rare objet d’armour, the feature that stands out about this place was that the master actually opened up his cabinets and allowed me to hold a few of the swords! Wow!

Name : Ginza Choushuya
Address : 104-0061 Ginza Choshuya Bldg 3-10-4 GINZA CHUO-KU TOKYO JAPAN

2) This year NHK is showing a historical dramatization of the life of Sakamoto Ryoma. This is the guy who, in his own rather geeky way, directed the birth of modern Japan. This is fascinating history, interesting drama and provides a view, though fictionalized, into kenjutsu dojo of the late samurai era (at the very end of Edo Bakufu). Four thumbs up from the Holcomb family.

Time: Sunday at 8:00 on NHK it will run for the rest of the year.

3) The Ferris Wheel outside of Korakuen (the Tokyo Dome) is a great spot for a date! The weather is still chilly enough for public snuggling in this non-snuggle friendly society. The view is OK, nothing spectacular, but a few minutes of privacy in a romantic-ish setting are worth it. If you are going there for baseball or to do Judo at the Kodokan (it’s around the corner) this might be a nice stop — especially if your date has started to wonder whether all the “keiko” (稽古: training) you’ve been doing is another girl ( 恵子: “Keiko” is a typical girls name).

Location: Across the street from the Tokyo Dome near the Korakuen Station.
Cost: 800円/person
Con: Adjusting the music to my tastes was challenging…

4) Cherry Blossoms are opening and I think they are regretting it. The weather went from Spring-like back to “Just kidding it’s still winter” in a blink of an eye. The trees are fluffing up but the weather is just not quite good enough for blossom viewing picnics. There is nothing like public drunkenness and karaoke to truly enable cherry blossom viewing. Aaahh! Spring in Japan!

Body Types
March 22, 2010, 15:06
Filed under: Aikido | Tags: ,

Recently, I trained with a couple of burly men with heavily muscled upper-bodies — large shoulder and thick upper-arms. In both cases, I found that sankyo was very easy to apply and particularly effective when they resisted. Two is by no means a statistically valid sample but it got me thinking about body types (shapes and sizes) in relation to ease or difficulty of applying various techniques.

I have read about a US based Japanese shihan who, having watched a basketball team walk past, said something like “Shohonage easy, ikyo harder”. Since then I have experienced that myself. Shihonage is more easily applied to a tall person than someone of equal or shorter stature. Ikyo on a very tall uke can be more challenging.

Turning it around, I have long Gumby arms on which some people have had trouble trying to set sankyo. Others, of course, just plop me on my ass. This may be a variation of the tall uke problem with ikyo but it still seems to be body type related. Also, I have found that koshinage can become quite difficult depending on how much shorter uke is.

While mulling ideas about body type and technique, I was reminded of something that O Sensei was supposed to have said. I can’t remember the context, but I remember that O Sensei apparently gave instructions on how to hit a fat man. He said that a straight punch into the gut wouldn’t do much especially if his gut was muscled as that of a rikishi (力士: sumo wrestler). Instead, a downward strike to the TOP of a big gut was more effective. Not having punched anyone that way, I have no idea and I can’t even confirm the reference but it does seem that body shape and size is an issue that others have pondered as well.

So what? I’m curious, what body type issues have you encountered when doing Aikido? Do some shapes or sizes of bodies, respond well to particular techniques? How about the other way around? What has been _your_ experience?

Yokota Sensei
March 1, 2010, 17:47
Filed under: Aikido, Japan | Tags: ,

Recently, I have lucked into more opportunities to train with Yokota sensei than my normal schedule permits. Each time, I have found myself more and more in awe of his Aikido. When I first attended one of Sensei’s classes, I felt as though I had reverted to being a beginner again. Every move I made was awkward or, at best, a mis-interpretation of what he was doing.

At first, I attributed my inability to perform at what I *felt* was my skill level to both sensei’s waza and the way he presented them. Which is to say, the waza he demonstrates are subtly (and unsubtly) different to what I was familiar. Also, Sensei frequently will demonstrate two or three techniques, all based on the same fundamental entry or dynamic and then have the class try to do what he just had. I would then furiously try to replicate what I thought I saw — often only his final technique — but then perform it as I understood not as he demonstrated. In other words, I kept missing his point.

From the way Sensei groups his techniques in a demonstration, it is clear that the common movement linking them is major part of his point. Details of individual waza are important but his overwhelming, uke dominating movements are the basis of his teaching and, I think, must be understood before trying to actually copy his techniques. Fortunately, Sensei will patiently demonstrate his footwork and frequently throws students as he wanders about the mat.

This may seem obvious but, when in Yokota sensei’s class expect to move. Expect big movements (even suwariwaza seems bigger) and dominant positioning to be explored. I know that when I first stepped onto the mat with him my attempts at replicating what he was teaching were very tentative and so, again, missed the point.

Now, I’m looking forward to my next chance to train with him!

Aikido Gakko
March 1, 2010, 17:44
Filed under: Aikido | Tags: , , , , ,

Andrew Parker has a blog post about the Aikikai Honbu Dojo’s Aikido Gakko program. I’ve been very interested in hearing details about the class series and Andrew has filled in all the blanks. Take a look!

2010 Mid-Winter Training at Honbu
February 4, 2010, 17:53
Filed under: Aikido | Tags: , , , , ,

The two coldest weeks of the year seem like an excellent time for some hard training, right? Honbu Doju held its 2010 Kangeiko (寒稽古: mid-winter training) from Monday January 25 to Wednesday February 3rd. Regular and irregular students of all stripes showed up making an effort for kaikin (皆勤 : perfect attendance). After about three days the crowd thinned back to busy normal and stayed that way to near then end when the mat grew crowded again. The day after winter training ended the only people left were a few foreign visitors and some hardcore regulars (OK, I was there too, but I live in the neighborhood).

As per my usual, I attended ichibangeiko — the first morning class — taught by Doshu. The curriculum was as follows with each day devoted to a specific attack.

Monday 正面打ち Shomen uchi (forehead strike)
Tuesday 横面打ち Yokomen uchi (side of head strike)
Wednesday 逆半身片手取り Gyaku hanmi kaktatetori (toe-to-toe wrist grab)
Thursdsay 諸手取り Moretetori (two hands grabbing the wrist)
Friday 両手と売り Ryoutetori (both wrists grabbed)
Saturday 後ろ両手と売り Ushiro ryoutetori (both wrists grabbed from behind)
Sunday 肩面打ち Katamenuchi (grab shoulder punch face)
Monday 交差取り/合い半身片手取り Kosa tori / Aihanmi katatetori (cross hand grab)
Tuesday 突き Tsuki (punch / stab)
Wednesday 肩取り Katatori (shoulder grab)

On the Thursday following Kankeiko, Wakasensei substituted for Doshu and focused on shomenuchi.

All in all, I had a lot of fun but the my biggest revelation from this training was that I still have a pretty big hole in my iriminage (入身投げ: entering throw). When students of Aikido first see iriminage their impression is usually, “OK, I finally understand something — just smash him in the face with your arm, right?” Subtlety can really suck sometimes and this is one of them. Iriminage does NOT mean clothes-lining uke. However, it does mean that you need to be able to maintain the threat of smashing uke in the face throughout the technique so, if uke drops their defense, nage should be in a good position to knock their block off.

All that said, the key to iriminage isn’t the arm. The key is position (caveat eric: this is as I understand it now, if I discover that the key is actually a mystical force I will edit this article appropriately). Nage must enter behind and as close to uke as possible. From this point the tenkan and throw happens. It is also at this point that many of us find that we didn’t quite enter deeply enough or close enough. Entering too deeply is also a problem but, I think, less common. At any rate, if you don’t enter to the sweet spot, uke can very easily disconnect and walk away. Worse yet, a good uke can stay connected, over-rotate to the point where they are lined up perfectly to gut you.

What I have been experiencing recently is the latter. When a certain sempai decides to resist he has shown me that he can over-rotate, re-enter my space and pound me in the stomach. After repeated demonstrations of my lack of prowess, one of my favorite mean-old-men noticed my confusion and took the opportunity to point out a remedy. His claim is that a good way to practice finding the correct position for iriminage is to repeatedly do the “drop-em-on-their-ass” variation.

Uke attacks, nage enters deeply to uke’s rear. Nage is now standing close behind uke, almost touching. Nage puts both hands lightly on uke’s shoulder and then does a reverse tenkan, swinging the foot on the side from which they entered. While swinging their foot, nage lowers their center, dropping uke onto the ground. Repeat until it works without effort — I’m still working on that part.

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