Wednesday, 6 January 2016

Shedding skins: Calm and Storm School for Martial Arts - Aikido Kenjutsu Aunkai and more..

A few weeks ago David Lynch Sensei announced the 'End of an era' as he is resigning from regular Aikido instruction after over 50years of practice and teaching. Fortunately for all of us, this is only limited to 'regular' teaching so far, and so David will still be running workshops, informal classes and teaching and practicing in other ways.
David Lynch Sensei, 6th Dan Aikido, 10th Dan Life, 6th Kyu New Era
meditating at Koru Dojo New Zealand

For me, almost every email exchange I have with David also counts amongst these otherwise ways of teaching. So fittingly, in an email related to this era ending David wrote to me that he feels like he needs to shed his skins every decade or so and considers this end also a new beginning in this way. What is so instructive and inspirational for me about the great example that David once again gives, is not simply that he is shedding his skin, but that he is still doing that after all these year and at what some would say is going towards an old-ish age (I'm treading very carefully here as you can tell.. ;)). With this shedding of skin however, any concern one could have about age is effectively undone, as David comes out the other side without any crust and calcification so to speak. Out comes something new and fresh, yet with the calm and wisdom of past struggles, practice, trials and errors.

Just like for David, it is also the end of one and the beginning of another era for our dojo. There are many ways that change can come about, from variations of cocooning to gradual, sometimes almost unnoticeable alterations. Most often it is also not either of these, but both of them combined with any number of variations along this spectrum. The latter is certainly true in our case. To explain how this is so, let my start right at the top and say that from here on out we will continue under the NEW NAME..

Calm & Storm
School for Martial Arts
Aikido Kenjutsu Aunkai and more…

Over the next few weeks, you will find us changing to our new name in all the places you can usually find us across the web, from here, through fb and other social media, etc. Naturally, there will also be a new website (two in fact!), but as opposed to going into full cocooning and then doing a mega-launch, branding campaign, blah-di-blah as is often done, we will take a more gradual approach here and go bit by bit. Actually, this is a lot more representative of our process without scaling for the pretense of glossy-finishes and shiny products. And in addition to that, it will give us however time we need to do everything without undue pressure, allow for plenty of time to fiddle around and change – a process that should never stop anyway – and on top of that, will effectively make you part of the process, in ways that might still be difficult to foresee. And finally, it is also much more representative of the fact that this is not a change that results from ‘discarding the old’, but rather of continuing along our path.

So as far as websites are concerned, this website will stay up and running for another moment with its current url, and parallel to it, you will be to follow the development and changes on our new page as we go on..

Calm & Storm
School for Martial Arts
Aikido Kenjutsu Aunkai and more…

Next to this, but for the moment a bit more of a personal project and website of my own that still requires some cocooning and on which I will be putting forth some of my thoughts and practices that are leaning a little more overtly to all things healthcare and are thus ‘a little less martial’. Very broadly speaking, this will include a lot of my findings and materials from my doctoral thesis that I am currently in the process of writing-up (yes, still.. and before you do so, be aware that asking about reasons for this will see us return to martial modes of conversation very quickly..), as well as a range of other ‘stuff’. With that being said, in case the obvious synonymity of the terms isn’t glaring enough, I should emphasise that the separation is not a strict one by any means, but rather a description of two sides of the same coin. Really, the seemingly contradictory world of healthcare and the world of conflict always have been and still are closely, if not inseparably related, and this will continue to be an important link. But more on that some other time and I hope you bear with me, as progress here will likely be a bit slower. You can nonetheless check-in on occasion and see how I am going with and on..

Motion & Stillness

To stay with all things tentative, we will explain what we mean when we talk about the obvious themes of calm, storm, motion, and stillness, as well as what else lies behind their emphasis and the accompanying change in due course and in all likelihood on their respective sites. So practice some patience and enjoy YOUR FIRST FREE LESSON (good marketing etiquette dictates that one write this in UPPER CASE.. … ..) that could loosely be classified somewhere amongst ‘calm’ ;) Can you feel it wash all your worries away? Or is it beginning to stir up an uncontrollable storm of wrath inside of you? Well, rest assured, you will be fine either way, it’s pretty normal to feel both on occasion..
Moving on on this wave of wisdom and wordplay, there is one theme that is less obvious than the above four but actually at very the center of all of them and at the center of everything you will find at Calm & Storm, as well as at Motion & Stillness. It is noting but the age old evergreen connection that you can find in any ‘&’, ‘and’ or otherwise conjunction. Once again keeping it tentative, we will get to more detail about what we specifically mean by this come time and place. To get this discussion up and running a bit, here are a few ways in which connection can, does and will find its expression in what we do: 

The first is another little change, or rather addition, apart from the new website(s), that is, our new class format that will kick off with a dedicated regular class from 2nd February 2016 onwards and that we will (tentatively) call..

‘Calm & Storm Lab Sessions’
Every Tuesday morning from 7-8am
Starting on 2nd February 2016

Roughly speaking, Calm & Storm Lab Sessions will be a time and space for broad, open exploration, experimentation and practice across, but also beyond the martial arts, schools, styles, groups, organisations and other narrow (by-)definitions. But again, more about that later.. no surprises there ;)

Already part of the Lab Sessions and undoubtedly one of the most outstanding expressions of connection are connections to other people, places, practice, ‘and more..’. This year’s kick-off for this most special kind of connection, and specifically of the new sort, was made just when I had the brief chance to visit the team of GNK Core on my stopover in Seoul/Incheon, Korea, en route to Europe. On really short notice due to me contacting them literally only a day in advance, Ka Beom Seok, HK Gong, and Sunim Kim of GNK Core agreed to meet and train with me on the one evening that I’ve just had in Seoul. Even if only briefly, it was really cool to meet all three of them and I am really grateful that they took the time and even especially booked a space for us to train in on the evening, before going out to finish off the evening with some really good bibimbap, kimchi, ‘and more..’

To give you some background about the source of this connection, Ka Beom and I have been loosely connected through various channels relating to our shared appreciation and practice of Aunkai. So, with the numbers of people involved in Aunkai still being fairly overseeable around the world it is fairly easy to pinpoint who does Aunkai wherever one might go or be at any given time. Put this together with the right amount of obsession, and you get 2hrs of practice in between a late night arrival and early morning departure amongst a handful of people who have never met in person. It’s certainly a special kind of lucky to be able to connect, and more importantly yet, make new friends in this way, so big thanks to the universe once again!

Further along the chain of connection, Ka Beom and HK combine their knowledge and skills, working as a team in what they offer under the banner of GNK Core. From the brief time I have had with them and Sunim, I can certainly say there you will find both skill and knowledge here. Both G and K are very sensitive and fine-tuned in their work, bodily perception, and instruction, as they bring together and combine their experience from Yoga, Kyokushin Karate and Aunkai. Both of them have a clear ‘knack’ for detail in the right place and take time and attention to aspects of body use that can easily be forgotten and overlooked. Not surprisingly, the result of this attention to detail is a calm kind of clarity and precision about their movements that fits perfect with their friendly personalities.

And guess what broader theme we worked on during those two hours of training? Yep, connection of course. Who would have guessed, right!?

A great way to spend time for sure, so once again, thank you very much Ka Beom and HK of GNK Core! And a special thanks goes to Sunim, an equally friendly, open and light-hearted friend of GnK who also trains with them and took the time to join and translate for us – thank you so much Sunim!! J I hope, no actually – I’m sure! – that we will all see each other and train together again soon, briefly or at length, in Korea, NZ, or elsewhere and am looking forward to it! If you find yourself in Seoul/Incheon and want to get some quality training in, get in touch with GNK Core and I am sure that they will quickly get back to you! Apart from their website, you can of course also easily find them on the usual suspects, facebook and youtube.

As for Calm & Storm School for Martial Arts, follow the lengthy instructions above, join in for a day seminar in Frankfurt, Germany on 17 January if you’re around, or see us back on the mat on Monday 18 and Monday 25 January, before we return back to our full, expanded schedule from 1 February 2016 onwards! 

If you have still other questions about any of this, or the new Star Wars movie, or life in general, feel free to contact Filip on filip[at], or just come around to have a chat, a cuppa, and a friendly (!) fist exchange, we are always happy to help ;)

See you soon,
Filip & the team and members of Calm & Storm School for Martial Arts

Saturday, 7 November 2015

The Koru Sessions - Philippe Orban Sensei and David Lynch Sensei (and not forgetting Neil the Eel!)

Colin Jowett practicing Kenjutsu
at Koru Dojo, Coromandel, NZ, Oct 2015
There are occasions when the planets are aligned quite correctly (or something) and you realize that you are in one of those 'moments' that lasting memories are made of.

I recently found myself in one of those moments.

It's the annual Phillipe Orban Sensei (6th Dan Aikikai) seminar, which has become something of a regular, though certainly not mundane or commonplace, affair, brought to us from Leipzig, Germany, by Fillip Maric (4th Dan Aikikai). This year however, has proven to be something special.  Phillipe has brought with him a small retinue of his students from various German dojos and, consequently, a select event, hosted by David and Hisae Lynch at the Koru Dojo, Coromandel, was on the cards.

The 4 day end of winter camp was a 'live in' style affair that found us camped out on the floor of the awe inspiring Koru dojo 'dome'.  6 Kiwis and 12 Germans in all - not including our hosts of course.  This was by no means the stark ascetic life of the 'live in uchi deshi' for we are all a little too soft for such things (or at least I am), but it was at least a glimpse into that world and did include somewhere in the region of 6 or so hours of training a day.  Sore?  You betcha.

The theme of the sessions built on Phillipes ideas and his current Aikido research and teaching methods, that he discussed with fervor at the Jikishin Dojo Auckland (Glenfield) seminar.  In between Aikido sessions, we indulged in the sword of Kashima no Tachi for roughly 3 hours a day.  Great for those of us who study, at some distance, and I believe a real eye opener for some of our Aikido brethren who are unfamiliar with the style.  Christchurch study group anyone?   Watch this space…. ;)

I won't spend too much time on the Kashima classes as there is a limited select audience for this currently, but we spent the morning session concentrating on the basic sword movements and cuts that are quintessential foundational exercises for Kashima, and the evening session on the practical application of the exercises by working through the First Series of kata - Kihon Dachi.  

Watchful eye -
Philippe Orban, 6. Dan Aikido
What can you say about studying Kashima under Philippes hawklike and laser precise gaze?  Intimidating is certainly one - he is a dedicated practitioner and he expects the same level of awareness and concentration, especially in such a dangerous art.  There is no room for either complacency or lethargy in Phillipes classes and the intensity level is high as a result.  Is it fun?  Of course it is!  Don't misunderstand me, Phillipe has a rare self-effacing sense of humor and is not behind the door at cracking a joke or two during training, but he rightly knows where the line is and when to draw it - and expects his students to do the same.  That said - it's a rare and very intense feeling to be standing opposite him while he holds a sword and prepares to strike you!  Not once did I see him strike anyone by accident or in so doing hurt or inflict pain unnecessarily - such is his precision with the sword.

To Aikido then.  As I said, the aikido sessions built on previous work and insights by Phillipe that he discussed briefly at the Auckland seminar.  In a nutshell - extension vs tension, flexibility vs relaxation, integration vs separation, unity vs disparity.

P. Orban throwing F. Maric
Aikido intensive Oct 2015, Koru Dojo Coromandel, NZ
As Phillipe acknowledges, he no longer 'teaches' tai sabaki at his dojos.  Why?  Because perhaps the tai sabaki arises as a result of correct body movement, rather than the opposite assumption that tai sabaki 'creates' proper body movement.  Or so goes my interpretation anyway.  Our sessions therefore involved little to no actual 'training' in techniques - which is not to say that there were no techniques in use.  Jiyu waza was a part of almost all sessions at some point or other.  No, the main focus of these sessions was to lay the proper foundations for good movement and from such movements allow Aikido to arise.  Sound familiar?  You might want to check out some of O' Sensei's writings on the subject matter for comparison!

And again, the level of concentration and intensity required to begin this process really sets your teeth grinding.  By the end of each session, you really know you have been busy and parts of your body you never knew existed suddenly start complaining - regularly.  It was, and is, a refreshing way to study and train in Aikido and to a certain extent it seems to work better at 'building the picture' of Aikido than what we perhaps refer to as 'traditional' methods of teaching.  I have to say that all of this is built up and cemented into your psyche by Phillipes constant verbal and physical refinement and explanation as to the process he is involving you in.  It has, as he says, a process, a means to something - not perhaps an end - but rather a way - a do!
But enough about the sessions, for I am still not sure where to begin or end with my own understanding of the camp - as I said to Phillipe at the end of the camp, I feel like a sponge - saturated by martial experience, and I am sure that it will slowly ferment over the coming months (years) until it eventually makes some internal sense for outward application.

On the last day, David Lynch joined us in his dojo for a quick lesson on the finer points of Aikido that he has gleaned over the years.  What an amazing end to the camp.  My thanks in particular go to David for a fantastic afternoon I got to spend in his company, over tea, chatting about his life and experiences in the Aikido world and beyond.  It's a rare thing to spend time with such an influential and distinguished elder statesman of Aikido in a private setting, a joy which he did not have to give, but did so because as those who have met him will probably attest - thats just who he is!  David is certainly a true gentleman.

Happy campers at the Aikido Intensive with Philippe Orban, 6. Dan Aikido
Koru Dojo Coromandel, Whitianga
And that perhaps is only the beginning.  The whole experience will settle into my life as one of those 'great stories' that will grow older and more distinguished with age, like a fine whisky.  The Koru dojo itself is a fantastic space of soaring timber and rope that really does take the breath away, set in David and Hisae's extensive private bush property near Whitianga with such delights as a riverside galaxy of glowworms, more than one waterfall and pool, tracks through the bush, a resident kiwi, some apparently scary possums, the odd hedgehog, and of course the star attraction - Neil (or Nelly) the Eel!

So, 84 hours, a few hundred kilometers of coromandel roads (gravel included), some bruises (thanks Liam!), some new experiences, a bunch of crazy but humorous and dedicated Germans, some slightly bonkers Kiwis (and other migrants) and our genteel hosts David and Hisae lynch.

As Filip Maric rightly put it at the close of business - 'PERFECT'.
The beautiful coast close to Cathedral Cove, Coromandel, NZ 

Tuesday, 27 October 2015

The Auckland Seminar of the Fudoshin NZ Tour 2015 with Philippe Orban Sensei, 6.Dan Aikido (by C. Jowett)

For those of you who don’t know, Phillippe Orban Sensei (6 Dan Aikido) is a regular visitor to our shores.  This is now his fifth annual visit to New Zealand, which is part of his lasting connection to the Jikishin Dojo and its founder Filip Maric.

Phillippe is a great exponent of aikido evolution and freely admits that his aikido experience is, and continues to evolve and change as he progresses, which is, after all, part of Aikido – constant change and evolution.  To those of you who have studied with Phillippe before, you would have probably been aware that his Aikido this year was subtly, but markedly, different to last year.

Keeping 6 directions during movement... 
The fundamental lessons underpinning the seminar (my interpretations anyway) were the unity of the 6 directions, the balance and alignment of the 3 centres, and the extension and loosening of the body.

Orban Sensei showing Aunkai Shintaijuku upon sword attack
Some of you are no doubt aware of the 6 directions principle:  that is our connection to a vertical axis expressed as up-and-down, and two horizontal axes expressed as forward-and-back and left-and-right.  Collectively – 6 directions.  Within this structure sits our body and by movement we interact with these axes in differing ways and at differing times.  Walking for example is an expression of movement along the forward-and-backward axis but may not involve either of the other four.  Irimi for example is a lateral translation of all 6 axes from point A to point B.  Tenkan is, or at least should be a revolution around the vertical axis that may not necessarily involve any of the other axes.  Gone are the long loopy turns and complex backwards and forwards movements – in come the direct, the succinct and the sharp turns and irimi movements.