Intersections & Synergies. A guest post by Seng-Yew (Melbourne/AUS) - 5 March 2015

Hey all, I am delighted to share this guest post by my friend Seng-Yew whom I first met in person in mid-2014 at the Melbourne Systema Seminar with Martin Wheeler, following a brief exchange of emails in regards to our Aunkai seminar later in the year. Seng-Yew is a kindred spirit in more ways than one I believe, even though we have not known each other for very long. He is also a long-time practitioner of Aikido, an Instructor-in-Training in Systema (Vasiliev, Toronto) and maybe most importantly just a very reflected yet open mind. Not wanting to give away the 'moral' of his post, I am very grateful for it, as it perfectly expresses the notion of Budo Kenshu that is the foundation of our practice at Jikishin Dojo Auckland. So with that I leave to enjoy Seng-Yew's reflections..
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------

My journey began with my first love, Aikido. For several years, that had been my sole focus. Whilst researching about the art in those early days, I would intermittently come across a strange, and bizarre art called, Systema. My fascination about this Russian system grew, but any hands-on exploration was limited due to my isolated geography. After moving interstate several years later, I was fortunate enough to learn more about it from a brilliant instructor. Side-by-side with my first love, I began my foray into Systema. My infatuation grew into a passion, and eventually developed into a firm commitment. At times, I questioned about their compatibility, but for the most part, I was able to compartmentalise my training, and use each to build upon the other's strengths. Whenever others asked how I perceived the two seemingly different arts, I would give the analogy that Aikido was akin to classical music, whilst Systema was like jazz. The former, idealistic and refined; the latter, vibrant and full of spontaneity. Both were different, yet both were equally beautiful to me. I refused to give up one for the other, though I secretly feared that one day, I might be made to choose.

So for a few more years, I continued training both side-by-side. Lo and behold, during that time, yet another facet of Aikido started creeping up. Like a pubescent teenager who could not resist the allure of the exotic temptations of this esoteric promise, I started dabbling in this elusive element of training that went by various names: 'aiki', 'internal power' (IP), 'internal work' etc. Having yet another focus in the mix made juggling these various practices that much harder. But no matter, being the young virile man that I was, I felt confident in being able to manage my expanded harem. Unfortunately, as any experienced polygamist would know, the fantasy did not last long before fractures started appearing between the jealous lovers. Several exercises and principles began to contradict each other quite fundamentally. One posited that I should always keep moving, and never stay still. The other asserted that I should be able to root myself, and form an immovable structure. One was erect like a mighty bodhi tree, the other slinking around like a floppy kraken. I was no longer sure I could prevent an existentialist crisis, and it felt like I had to eventually divorce myself from one, or the other. However, as fate would have it, I suddenly lost both my instructors within a span of a month of each other. I became lost myself, and was simply trying to stay afloat.

Seng-Yew with Akuzawa Sensei
(and Adrian Knight in the background)
Fast forward to late 2014, I had the opportunity to attend a Systema-esque workshop by Alex Kostic, and an 'aiki/IP'-esque workshop by Akuzawa Minoru Sensei, just a week apart. Getting the chance to train with various people from different martial backgrounds gave me a rare chance to evaluate my progress. Unexpectedly, the pieces started to fall together then. I cannot be certain, but I suspect that I had finally gotten a sense of how Systema and Aikido--or more specifically 'aiki/IP'--could fit together. For a while now, I had a feeling that they were closely linked, but I always got thrown off by a number of explicit exercises and principles that appeared to contradict each other. Although the memory now seems vague, I recall a brief insight of conceptualising 'aiki/IP' as an inherent structural foundation to work from--but with the shape and flow of Systema movements. 

More importantly, I also found my answer to another puzzle of mine, which was on finding a way to reconcile the different training methodologies. At the aforementioned workshops, I discovered that that I might not really need to! My experiences there suggested that my different trainings have somehow been 'absorbed' into my body, and it came out as needed without me consciously thinking of which I should use, or manifest. 

For instance, at Kostic's seminar, we had a really fun game where there the goal was to have the 'last person standing'. All participants--from various MA backgrounds, would get on the mat, and try to throw, trip, or wrestle everyone else until only one person remained. At about three quarters way into the game, where most of the participants were already out of the mat, I was just darting between the remaining survivors, as I could not really throw these skilled participants. At one point whilst I was tied up with someone, Kostic loudly declared that participants should be ganging up on each other! Before I knew it, two more people grabbed a hold of me, and tried to throw me off. It must have been a funny sight because there was one person grabbing my arms in front of me, another tugging on my back, and one more pulling on my leg, whilst I was hopping around on one leg! This actually went on for a while until one of my attackers gave me a big swing, and threw the three of us to the ground. To be honest, I did not not even know I had three people on me, as I was just simply focusing on maintaining my balance. I was surprised when people were laughing and applauding when I finally got thrown off. More importantly, I had no idea what I did to keep my balance in such an awkward position for that amount of time. Nonetheless, clearly something 'interesting' happened then. Was it Systema? Was it Aikido? Was it 'aiki/IP'? I don't know. And although not as dramatically illustrated, I found similar revelations when I attended Akuzawa's seminar the following week. Whilst I was groping around the dark with various drills that appeared foreign to me, something from my previous trainings would intermittently click in--and again, interesting things happened, without my conscious awareness.

Seng-Yew with Aunkai Instructor Watanabe Manabu
Whilst reflecting at the time, I came up with a provisional thesis that Systema is easier to learn and use, at a moderate-to-high level of competency, in a relatively short period of time. I suspect that if someone with a decent baseline were to put in a solid 2-5 years in Systema training, they would probably be able to defend themselves under most general circumstances. When it came to 'aiki/IP' however, I propose that it would take a very long time, possibly in range of 5-10+ years, to develop and build, and probably even longer still to use in a practical setting. However, I feel that if someone wanted to achieve a supreme level of competency, it would almost be inevitable that they needed to do some form 'aiki/IP' training--under whichever name/style. 

As for me, I'll keep going where the road takes me, and enjoy my training in whatever shape or form it comes. Whilst tricky to balance at times, every moment on this journey is too precious to fuss over arbitrarily drawn lines.

---------------------------------------------------------------------------
Seng-Yew is based in Melbourne, AU, where he strives to satiate all his loves. You can follow his sporadic ramblings at www.osaya.org, or better yet, get together and play if you are in town.

Frankfurt, City of Philosophers - 17 Feb 2015

Ever since I moved to New Zealand I have been visiting friends and family back home in Frankfurt and based from there in other places in Europe about once every year. Time in Frankfurt is special in more ways than one. The city of Frankfurt is largely known and overshadowed by two things (other than its murky weather) - banking and its airport - often to an extent that makes it very difficult to see any of its other facets. Nonetheless it undoubtedly has these facets. 


For me personally, it was particularly one facet that has always stood out and one that I always return to when I come here, visiting certain places, traces and memories. To be precise, for me Frankfurt has always been most importantly a city of philosophers. It is the city in which I read my first philosophical books - Erich Fromm's Having and Being and The Art of Loving, and which so strongly  sparked my enduring interest in all things philosophy, psychoanalysis, Aikido and Zen. Learning about Erich Fromm it was always somehow special to me that he was originally from Frankfurt and had lived and worked here for a significant amount of time. 

Then there was the house in which my grandparents lived for a long time and in which coincidentally Max Horkheimer also lived for a long time, only two houses away from where I lived myself. 












Horkheimer and Fromm of course were both members of the Frankfurt School that was also home to so many more influential philosophers over the years, including Adorno, Marcuse, Benjamin, and Habermas in later years and that still has its base in the Institut für Sozialforschung, again not far from where I used to live in my childhood. 












Like houses and squares, street names also frequently remind me of a connection to very deep thought that runs through this city. 















Continuing this walk through particularly Frankfurt's Westend, next up is the Johann-Wolfgang-Goethe Universität of Frankfurt am Main with its impressive new campus, on which one can get lost in a day of exploration.



video

The hallways of the main building also provide one with the rare joy of travelling from floor to floor in beautifully restored paternoster elevators, which via their age always gave me a sense of connection to all those philosophers that this city has brought forth or hosted for a few years.










Take the paternoster to the second floor and you find yourself at the university's Institute for Philosophy in the rooms of which I also heard of the ethics of Emmanuel Levinas that continues to haunt me until today.










A little further down the hall one enters the library tract and still on the second floor particularly the philosophy library which again has always been a special place for me. It is an interesting feeling to sit and write from here again, the view to the city often as grey as ever...


Further exploration of the university also allows one to find the office of the current professor holding the Martin-Buber-professorship in succession of Martin Buber who himself used to work and teach at the university. Remembering Martin Buber of course immediately reminds one of his friend and colleague Franz Rosenzweig, author of The Star of Redemption and The New Thinking, who also lived, worked and died in Frankfurt.




There are many more philosophers that have a connection to this city, Goethe himself amongst them. Of course, I have not mentioned the Budo Dojos, Zendo's, physiotherapy clinics and countless other little places in which philosophy is studied and practiced inasmuch, nor the restaurants, bars and clubs in which it is passionately debated. It is a strange city somehow, but one can find deep thought, a real yearning to change the earthly situation for the better and just good company here indeed. Importantly, the places, traces and memories that one finds here create a link between the thoughts of these philosophers, to their lives and ones own that, if tended to ever so little, is inseparable even across great distance in space and time. This undercurrent runs deep through the city and it is this Frankfurt that I can recommend to those who ever have the chance to visit. 

Announcing the Fudoshin Aikido NZ Tour 2015 with Philippe Orban & guests - 19 Jan 2015

We are very happy to invite you to our next and very special seminar series at the end of this year! Orban Sensei is already well known and highly regarded in NZ Aikido & Budo circles and will be returning to share more of his skills and experience with us. For the first time so far, about 10 practitioners from Europe will be coming along for the entire tour, which will greatly add to our learning experience. This will be a great opportunity no doubt, so we look forward to training with you! 


Check out videos from our previous seminars with Orban Sensei here or directly on our youtube channel. Various Interviews with Orban Sensei are also available in previous blogposts and elsewhere on the web.


3/4 October 2015 at Jikishin Dojo Auckland
17/18 October 2015 at Otautahi Aikido Christchurch

Costs:
Super early bird rate:              $140 (full payment by 30 April 2015)
Early bird rate:                        $160 (full payment by 30 July 2015)
Standard rate:                        $180
One day fee:                           $100

REGISTRATION & INFORMATION
Auckland: Filip Marić
filipmaric (at) jikishin.co.nz
021 192 9993

Christchurch: Liam O'Donoghue
chchaikido (at) gmail.com
021 727 690

Registration is only complete after you have emailed either Filip or Liam and your full payment has been received! 

New Instructors, New Classes, New Year - Bring on 2015!

Ok, the last class is over and 2014 is actually coming to an end. At Jikishin Dojo Auckland 2014 has been a busy, crazy, eventful and intense year in so many ways and on so many levels, and for literally all of our members both in and outside of the dojo, with lots of simply enjoyable and as much rather challenging stuff. It was great to share all that with everyone, enjoy together and support each other to get through the various challenges, thus growing from both the joy and challenges equally. For all matters and activities relating to Jikishin Dojo Auckland specifically, I want to thank you all for your ongoing enthusiasm, interest and support in our regular training sessions, national and international seminars inside and outside of Auckland throughout this entire year!

All that said and in many ways as a result of it, 2015 is also already shaping up to be an equally exciting year. First off, this is thanks to Jikishin Dojo Auckland is gaining significant strength with Antonella Coppolino and Colin Jowett coming onboard as assistant instructors. Both Antonella and Colin come from different, strong Aikido backgrounds in their own right and have been practicing with me very regularly for a considerable amount of time. Their presence in the dojo is an invaluable asset at all times and I am both humbled and honoured to have them onboard in this new way. I truly cannot recommend training with them enough. You can read a little more about them here, but more importantly, come around and get on the mat with them whenever you can!

Amongst the many things that growing the instructors team makes possible is having new classes, so to begin with, I am very excited to announce that Jikishin Dojo Auckland will finally be starting its very first kids class with the beginning of Term 1 in 2015 every Monday from 4-4.5pm. We will post about that more closer to the time, but I can already promise that this will be a special opportunity for kids to benefit from Antonella's great personality, attitude and expertise in Budo. 

Also, as mentioned in the previous post, we are very excited to launch the Official Aunkai Study Group Auckland, with a regular class Thursdays from 8-9.15pm at Jikishin Dojo Auckland. This will be starting as of the first week of January, after recommencing regular training on 5 January 2015.

Beyond the expanded weekly schedule, the event schedule for next year is also already filling with what is promising to be much great learning across and beyond the various component parts of Jikishin Dojo Budo Kenshu. Some of these events are already uploaded here, so you can already block the dates, both in and outside of NZ. As always, we will continue to add and provide more information on all of them as we go along.

So with all that on the horizon, there is every reason to be excited about what is coming in the new year, but before then, have a great holiday, a reenergising break and we will see you all again very soon!

Bring on 2015!!

Akuzawa Sensei and the Aunkai NZ Tour 2014: a (p)review by Filip Marić - 13 Dec 2014




About a week and a half has passed since Akuzawa Sensei and Manabu Watanabe have left and I can't stop myself from thinking about Aunkai practice over and over again and working on what I have been taught, while I'm walking around, driving in my car doing 'Car Maho' and practically all other daily activities. In addition to that I keep reviewing the DVDs, personal notes on the various exercises, the philosophy and methodology of Aunkai that I keep adding to, re-reading old Interviews that I have saved from the web, and collating it all  for myself to make more and more sense of it all. The entire 12 days of the 'Aunkai New Zealand Tour 2014' have been so rich and I am still trying to process it all that I don't even know how to write a review of it all. I will try to share some very unsorted thoughts, impressions and sensation, rather than recount the entire time and information in a very sorted, clear and chronological fashion..

So one thing that was very special and that I am very grateful for is all the time I've been able to share both with Akuzawa Sensei and (Sempai) Watanabe off the mat, before, after, and in-between the seminars in Auckland and Christchurch. Particularly, apart from some time spent training more personally, what I mean is having had the opportunity to not just meet the teacher, but the person behind the teacher. This is not to be mistaken to signify a disconnect or difference between the two, on the contrary, there is actually a complete congruence there and so I have experienced a man that is deeply committed to the study and practice of Bujutsu, whose thinking always returns to it and never circles too far away from it, and whose body and mind have integrated the principles of his art into his daily life. Over and beyond, I have also met someone who is simply fun to be around, who laughs and jokes around constantly, is very down to earth, open-minded and open-hearted, generous and easy-going, yet a strong, independent and deep thinker and a keen observer of everything that happens around him. Whether as a result of all these character traits or despite them, importantly, Sensei never seemed to set himself apart from anyone and never claimed to be more special than anyone else, nor radiated such an attitude at any point. Quite the contrary, Sensei was just a very normal kind of guy, just like you and me, thus generated a very immediate feeling of comfort and familiarity when being around him. It is special to be that normal. Equally, I have to mention that I am just as grateful and in fact happy to have made a true new friend in my Aunkai Sempai Manabu Watanabe.

Having said that, it needs little addition from me to point out how very much Akuzawa Sensei's bujutsu skills stand-out. I think there is already a considerable amount of videos, interviews, reviews, etc. available on the web that reiterate this point in sufficient detail, so I 
Akuzawa Minoru Sensei, Founder of Aunkai Bujutsu
don't think I have to add much more to it. If it means anything, I had been observing Sensei from afar (via the web) over a number of years and desperately wanted to train with him because I intuited him to be a great martial artists of the highest level. It was almost surreal to me when he actually arrived in New Zealand and shortly after stood on the mat, following the invite of a total stranger (me..) to visit and teach here. It took me quite a while to adjust to the fact that a long-held dream of mine had materialised and was very suddenly right in front of me... and that is not on my laptops screen. Suffice to say that my intuitions were met and in fact surpassed on both a technical and as mentioned, personal level.

Very early on, I noticed a very particular 'superpower' of Sensei that is related to his technical skills or results from them, but I have not yet seen or heard noticed or mentioned anywhere and can actually easily go unnoticed. To be clear, Sensei's practice and bujutsu skill are a very serious matter to him and he trains and teaches with the utmost concentration, often displaying a considerable explosiveness and speed in his movements paired with exacting precision. The 'superpower' I am alluding to however, is unfailing and works with literally everyone regardless of height, weight, age, or else, and that is that he makes literally everyone smile as he makes his way around the mat, helping people with their experimentations, showing them stuff etc etc. Oftentimes this smile is linked to a demonstration of something and from close-up or afar (and without ever having asked 
Aunkai NZ Tour 2014 - Auckland Seminar 
anyone about it), seems to go along the lines of any of the following: a 'how the hell did he just move me' smile of disbelief by a tall and strong person, or really anyone else; a 'wow that looks so nice' smile; or a 'what just happened he moved so fast I couldn't even see it' smile; a smile following a joke; a 'I know I was just thrown but have no idea how' smile following a throw by Sensei; or a smile after being told to throw him that seems to express a 'you must be joking, it does not feel like I will be able to move you at all'; and many more such examples. Given that we had 70+ participants overall at the Aunkai NZ Tour 2014 I can assure you that was a lot of smiles created over the two week period. 


I really don't think I need to get into the detail of his principle-based 'technical' teaching, as there is so much available online already. Akuzawa Sensei's ability to move every joint of his body with great precision and control, absorb incoming forces, produce incredible 
Akuzawa Sensei - always relaxed
(while everyone else struggles..)
amounts of ongoing force, yet at the same time always stay relaxed is truly astonishing. But what is maybe more important and what came out really strongly for me, is that yet again he does not sell himself as being special, but on the contrary repeatedly says and gives you the feeling that we can all achieve the particular skills he is displaying given the right kind of practice. And this is precisely what Akuzawa Sensei has created and is sharing with the Aunkai method. I think this can be easily misunderstood, or again, go unnoticed, but the methodology and exercises put together under the Aunkai umbrella are a very clear and straight forward process, that although requiring considerable amounts of personal effort, time and hard work, can get you from where you are to where he is on a fairly straight line (that never closes itself off to further development/experimentation). 


Akuzawa Sensei with Colin Jowett

In essence, Akuzawa Sensei has undone with secrets, but has simply laid it out there and keeps spilling and spilling, and sharing and sharing with anyone who expresses even the most remote amount of interest. I mean, pretty much directly upon his arrival, after having  dropped his luggage off at my house and strolling through the city, he began showing me stuff as we were walking along, alerting to the importance of posture, dropping my center of gravity, etc etc. Later in the evening, having dinner at my house, he would ask my fiancee (who practices no martial arts at all) to 'come, stand up, I will show you' this and that. And even after two full seminars, Sensei continued teaching at the bar where we were all having end-of-seminar drinks, over beers and food, moving from person to person, inviting them to feel how he does something, ask questions, etc etc. Again, NO secrets whatsoever, if you asked him what the essence of Aunkai 
Sending Colin to the mats..
was, that is exactly what he would tell and show you, on the spot and with the greatest passion you can think of. And at the risk of repeating myself over and over, this is also exactly what Aunkai is: an open book for anyone to read, explore and experiment with - a clear methodology and step-by-step process towards learning a particular set of fundamental skills, or as he says. 'the development of a martial body' from which an infinite number of techniques can emerge as an adaptation to requirements of anything that presents itself. 

This is certainly one of the greatest gifts that I take away from this time, the seminars, but also and importantly, the conversations and small and large training sessions with Sensei and Sempai in between. Particularly this period of 'processing' and reviewing the available material and DVDs has made this clear to me and I feel as though having felt and trained with Sensei and Manabu Watanabe. It is not that I can do it all, but that I feel as though I have been completely freely gifted the key alongside the trust and encouragement to explore and experiment with what I find behind the newly opened door. This is the strongest and most important foundation for my future study of Aunkai from here forward and I feel confident and could not be more highly motivated than I am to walk along this path.

The clarity also comes from and with another feeling that I had, at times at the seminars, but most explicitly during a training session with Sensei and Sempai at the beach around the corner from my house and that continued or deepened a sensation I had on Orban Sensei's last visit to NZ in April. I can't really describe what was largely a physical 
Akuzawa Sensei
Manabu Watanabe & Filip Marić 
sensation and I don't want to sound presumptuous, but it had to do with actually 'feeling' in and with my body, what is meant with a connected or unified body, moving it as a unit, as well as a strong sensation of my center, almost oddly deep inside my body. Now I might just be a late bloomer and everyone else might already have that, but to me it felt sufficiently different and instantly generated (another) huge smile on my face. In that instance I felt a childish excitement (those who know me will know that this is a frequent description of me during Budo/Bujutsu practice..) and the thought that popped into my head without any premeditation was 'THIS IS IT! This is what Budo/Bujutsu is really about! This is the sh**! It is what I have always read and thought about, looked for, the stuff of legends, and it is actually possible! And it is all right here, at my beach and 'this guy' (sorry, I mean Sensei!) is teaching a direct path to it without any unnecessary 'stuff' around it!'. I could not believe it. And then it was suddenly gone... 

I guess I better stop writing about this here, but I am not at all sad about it being gone. As I have already said to some people in talking about this, I am well aware that I can't really 'do it' at all times and with everyone. Quite the contrary, I get stuck all the time, not last with the many people in NZ that are taller and much stronger than me (What is it with the crazy rugby-genes in NZ away and why did I never get any of those back in Europe, I mean seriously people!?). But what I have had and what is not lost is my vision of that light at the end of this very long, long (long, long, long) tunnel and as I have said, I am grateful for having been gifted the methodological key and experienced the bodily sensation, that will enable me to walk towards it with clarity and conviction.




This is also critical for me going forward from here. Akuzawa Sensei's visit here marks a beginning for me in many ways. First off, it is clear to me that I want to continue to study and practice Aunkai Bujutsu and I am glad I have had such an outstanding opportunity at making a beginning. Also, at the same stroll through the city, when Akuzawa Sensei literally had me stand with my back against a wall, heels, back and head touching it and said 'Now walk, but no muscle.', it was immediately clear to me that this time would be very much a 'start from zero' experience that would highlight how little I can do. This was repeated immediately after with a grab to my hand and the instruction to 'now lift my hand', where I felt that I would not produce even an inch of movement, and much similar situations and laughter over the weeks to follow. As much as this might seem unwelcome or unpleasant, for me it actually opens a huge space for learning in front, which I look towards with much excitement. Its funny, but I am excited at the prospect of wearing a white belt again for my Aunkai practice (not that belts do more than hold up our pants anyway, but you get what I mean). In this context I hope for and look forward to the long continuation of my study of Aunkai under the direction of Akuzawa Sensei and hopefully the many more seminars we will arrange in NZ with him and other Aunkai Instructors.

Further, I am honoured and humbled that Akuzawa Sensei seemed very happy with his time  in New Zealand following my invitation and that he has expressed his support for the formation of the first two official Aunkai Study Groups in Oceania, one in Christchurch led by Liam O'Donoghue and the other in Auckland lead by myself. If you are on the South Island and for information on the former please contact Liam directly via Otautahi Aikido Christchurch, without whom the Chch seminar would not have been possible. At this stage, both groups will start with one regular weekly class. The Aunkai Study Group Auckland launches on 8 January 2015 and will be training every Thursday from 8-9.15pm at Jikishin Dojo Auckland, whilst Aunkai exercises will also continue to influence all other sessions. At some stage next year, we will also arrange Aunkai NZ study days/seminars in Auckland and Christchurch where members of both groups and all others that are interested will come together and share practice with each other. Given all these beginnings, it seems even more fitting that I happened to use the Agyo figure of the respective A-un pair, which I felt somewhat resembled the shape of NZ (see the first image in the post) and which also marks 'the beginning', for the backside of the tour T-shirt that I had put together. In this sense, I don't want to waste anymore of our precious practice time. 

Let's begin!