straight & round

Sensei and Noah were with Doshu, preparing for the weekend seminar, reportedly his last in the US, so the evening class was taught by Lewis Sensei. On the mat were white belts Helena and Allan, probably 9 and 15 respectively, along with Nicholas who trained in France, and senseis Stefan from Ontario, Jerke from Germany, and Michael from Ohio, all in town for the seminar.

Lewis Sensei, who’s been nominated for Shihan, concentrated on basics and form, and some of the differences we might experience between the round and full aikido that Saito taught (and by the menkyo kaiden of our Sensei), and the more linear and extended Aikikai form that Doshu would probably display. We practiced both, with the idea that whichever one we chose be intentional and correct.

It’s been said that the aikikai style at Hombu dojo was taught to the urban intellectuals, who readily took to large flowing and graceful movements. While the style that developed at the Aikido shrine in Iwama was more suited to the local farmers and tougher county folk, with solid powerful moves, simple and direct. They didn’t practice weapons in Tokyo either, something that had a great influence on the Iwama form.

It was an interesting and enjoyable class, if not for just the mix of beginners and highly experienced Sensei. Just like our teacher has done so many times before, Lewis Sensei corrected me on my grimace, and recommended simple breathing instead, and my tight form, which needed to be open and extended to the entire room. “Otherwise, that’s how people get hurt” he cautioned. But try as I might it seems beyond my muscle memory to accomplish that for more than a few moments. I wonder if it’s my own nervous intensity, or something I picked up from the Chiba group I enjoyed for so many years? Either way, as close as I am to laying down my sword, I despair of ever reaching that more grounded and full technique.

One small plum: he showed us ukemi from what he called “walk the dog” iriminage. I had an idea what he meant: the old style canonical response to the aikikai large circle irimi: a drop to the inside knee and then the hands, the outer leg extended and swinging around in an arc, and then recovering balance and standing up just at the moment of being thrown backward. I was surprised that nobody else in the class knew that one, and he instantly could see I’d done it many times before. He even stopped to show the class the difference between Michael taking the fall for me, and me taking the fall the way he wanted it done.

Aikikai, like the style we practice in Taipei, fits my body like a glove, and those large expansive movements brings out that necessary extension. Iwama style, for as many years as I’ve practiced, still seems awkward: the shorter stance, the more horizontal and direct movements. I’m not sure I’ll ever be able to do it properly. Doesn’t matter, though, I’m having a wonderful time trying to learn and push through frustration, while finding comfort in knowing I can do my own aikido, bastardized ronin form that might be.

No tags for this post.