Quick overview and some feedback from the Aikido / Budo Kenshu seminar in Tauranga - 23 July 2014

Hey all,

sorry for the lower frequency of posts recently, but it is likely to persist for another while as other work demands my focus and attention - the fruits of which I hope to be able to share with you at a later stage.

Nonetheless, some sharing took place last weekend in Tauranga where I taught a seminar for the third time round. No photos were taken, nor videos made this time round. All there was was some excellent and most enjoyable work form all the attendees as we explored some of the questions I proposed. I've quite come to like this type of seminar teaching, in which I don't simply present something that I am presumably good at, but share what I am currently trying and working on in my own practice, what works, what doesn't work and what I think about it as I find my way through it. In this format, I think of the dojo as a laboratory and everyone on the mat, including myself, as a research team. I just happen to throw in the research question and then we see what we find out about it throughout the day, if we keep some of what we have found, discard it all, or else.
A photo from last times massage element

This time round the entire day was at its core based around being and always staying centred, or connected, using the body as a unit, or whatever else you might want to call it (much in the way I have described in a recent post) and to keep it that way no matter what changes of position we might make or might come in from the outside. Throughout the day we started this exploration by actually trying to breath in such a way that we equally expand in all six directions during breathing. This established a most fundamental sense of connection that we then carried forth into the rest of the day, as we tried to keep it through 'simple' activities such as sitting down and standing up, walking, changing directions and then actually having to deal with an opponent that comes in to grab or strike us.

In regards to some of the other topics touched upon throughout the day, from relaxation, to mobility, striking/atemi and massage, I will share a very kind piece of feedback that I have been sent and that has been approved for posting:

First and foremost, thank you for a wonderful and fulfilling day on Saturday at our Tauranga dojo.

For each of us pursuing excellence in Aikido, we must each follow the path that leads us towards our perceived destination, occasionally changing direction to adapt to circumstances in either our physical or mental space. It is a journey that requires dedication and focus, and your seminar highlighted the very real space of relaxation for me. 

I recall reading a story about an elderly Japanese sensei that had the opportunity to train with O'Sensei. When asked, by the interviewer, of his most memorable moments whilst training with O'Sensei, his reply was "he was always relaxed with every move he made and in all circumstances".

There is no doubt that O'Sensei was an accomplished exponent of Aikido in it's purest form, elevated to the highest levels, and for him to train in such a manner is obviously worth considering. We touched on it during your seminar, and I found this area of training to be exciting on many levels and plains.

Thank you.
Dean Spense, Shodan, Tauranga Shinryukan Aikido Dojo" 

‘Every exercise is just to make you relax’ - Systema Masterclass with Martin Wheeler - 30 June 2014

A few years ago now I’ve started training in the Russian Martial Art Systema with the very talented and hard-working Loren Clements in Auckland and it has been an invaluable addition and part of my training ever since. I haven’t written or posted anything about it so far, but this long weekend’s trip to Melbourne lends itself to the occasion. Though also not my first Systema seminar, it was the first time that I attended a seminar with Martin Wheeler, a long time student of Vladimir Vasiliev and Mikhail Ryabko, and an accomplished martial artist and instructor. I don’t have any videos from the seminar, but am sure there will be some online shortly, but even outside of that there is plenty videos of Martin working online as is, so no need for me to post any of that here now. Instead I’ll just wanted to share some of the moments and gems that stood out for me during the 4-day Masterclass.

First off, the man lives up to his reputation, both in sheer skill and knowledge in his craft, as well as in the teaching and sharing of it and I thoroughly recommend his classes to anyone interested in the study of Systema and martial arts in general. During the four days Martin took us through an excellent progression of drills and exercises, filling every day with rich information and material for us to take home and continue working on for some time to come.

Leading into the first day, dedicated to groundwork, we started exploring the movement possibilities of our spine and how all movements of the extremities can be generated from there. More importantly maybe, in doing this we explored a deeper and deeper relaxation of the spine that was to set the tone for the next few days.

A special moment from me was when Martin showed us how the relaxation of the spine, hips and legs can lead into a backward roll with zero use of momentum or tension in the abdominal, or any other muscles in the legs or arms. Amongst the reasons for this being special to me was because it shows a beautiful overlap in the fundamentals of Systema and the traditional Japanese arts that might well reach deeper than the more superficial differences and actually point to a more fundamental human movement possibility. The backward roll instructed by Kuroda Tetsuzan, one of the most highly regarded traditional Japanese martial arts instructors today, in the video below shows 1:1 the exact backwards roll that Martin had us practice. For the non-french speaking folks, Kuroda Sensei is making the very same point of difference between a roll with abdominal contraction, and a roll done with relaxation. I can’t say I can do it yet, but when Martin gave me a hand and actually led me through it, I could at least and quite definitely feel what I will be looking for in this from now on. In all my teaching and training of rolling and falling, I am more than convinced that this is THE one addition that will make the greatest difference, not because of the way the roll looks, but because it is done with ACTUAL relaxation.
On the second day, dedicated to striking, Martin had us further spend a lot of time with squats, push-ups, sit-ups and walking that really prompted us to relax our spines, both by ourselves as well as with the help of a partner. The way we did this work on that day really drove home the difference between Systema (Aikido, Koryu, …) and fitness training for me and that gave the title to this post: ‘You only do exercises (like e.g. the above) to relax yourself, not to build strength, endurance, or even flexibility’! Martin repeated this several times and I think it’s importance cannot be overrated, as paying attention to this point so quintessentially changes the direction of our practice. Just like Philippe Orban, Minoru Akuzawa and those others that know and can do it, Martin also pointed out that relaxation is not a state in which all muscles are entirely relaxed simultaneously, but where only the bare minimum of what is needed is working, oftentimes those muscles inside the body, close to the joints and bones. The paradox thing here is obviously that although relaxation always sounds so easy to do, it actually ends up being the most difficult to gain amongst all the physical (and mental) qualities.

Just to make a point of this, the third day I just could not relax at all for the life of me and pretty much spent the day wrapped in my frustration about this. It’s always amazing to feel what a difference it makes when the knife comes into play in training and how much fear and tension creep in almost instantly. Additionally, and probably related to this, I just constantly caught myself trying too hard, trying to do something to my partner, to the knife, not getting cut, etc., the tension in my head just as frustratingly matching the tension in my body. Two things that Martin said weighed heavy with meaning at the end of the day: Firstly, that all those voices in my head actually end up being additional attackers that I have to deal with even before I engage with anything or -one outside of me and that therefore it would obviously be best to quiet them down; and secondly, that Systema is all about being creative, something that is only possible when we relax, and maybe even allow ourselves to loose, observe the process, and learn from it.

Thankfully on the last day I had chilled out again and regained my sense of balance and relaxation. Adding to this was almost 2.5hrs spent on much needed massage work and stretching that was greatly appreciated by everyone (despite some minor pains and aches…). With all this I was well prepared and back to my playful self for the last component of the Masterclass in which we tied together all of the elements and work from the previous days, from standing to the ground, with and without the knife. With frequent partner changes and much space to explore freely, this was an outstanding opportunity to train hard and laugh hard with many of the over 30 participants at the seminar.

This is probably also what I should close on, that is, the people that attended and the atmosphere during the entire four days was absolutely outstanding. I have reconnected with people I have met before and met many new people and have thoroughly enjoyed sharing this time and training with everyone from across AUS and NZ. It was truly a fantastic bunch of people, and a fantastic four days, and as I said at the final wrap-up, thanks to the organizers, everyone who attended, and obviously Martin. The faces in the picture below pretty much sum it up I would say and I am already looking forward to next time!
Martin Wheeler with the participants from NZ: Dan Miles & Les Hayes (from Systema Waikato), and myself

Additional Aunkai Seminar with Akuzawa Sensei in Christchurch - 18 June 2014

Very glad to officially announce that partners in crime Otautahi Aikido Christchurch will be hosting an additional Aunkai seminar with Akuzawa Sensei on the 22 & 23 November 2014

The seminar will be limited to 30 attendants and the first 16 spots are already taken. If you want to join in, I suggest you 

contact Liam very quickly at chchaikido(aet)gmail.com 

to register and make your payments.

You can find more information on Akuzawa Sensei here.

'Never blend with your partner' - a weekend will Bill Gleason Shihan - 15 June 2014

The weekend seminar with Bill Gleason Shihan from Shobu Dojo in Boston has finished a few hours ago and I am as happy as can be. As always, it was great to train with people I have met before and whom I haven't, meeting new parts of the NZ and AUS Aikido community. I'll refrain from giving a comprehensive synopsis of the weekend because firstly, I want to have time to process it all a little more, and secondly, much of the themes and exercises/ practices are all but easy to get my head, let alone my body around.

 What I can say though is that one of the big reasons why I am so happy is because all of the themes that Gleason Sensei presented and challenged us with, link into a common thread that is becoming more and more clear to me. It's almost unreal how much what Bill talked about and showed overlapped, sometimes even in the exact wording (over and beyond the similarity in how it feels), with the work of Philippe Orban Sensei who was here just two months ago, of Toby Threadgill Sensei, whom I have also had the pleasure of meeting and training with here in Auckland, of Jan Nevelius Shihan who has also visited us here before, and of Akuzawa Sensei, whose first ever visit to New Zealand in November this year I am already eagerly awaiting.

Amongst these topics were not to pushing, but pull on the feet, rolling the femurs in- and outward (what I believe might be using the adductors or Yin-muscles in Orban/Akuzawa-speak), ensuring that breathing is continuous and independent of movement, relaxing the arms and shoulders, and ahhh.. so many more I can't remember them all just now (but they will come to haunt me in the next few days and weeks for sure..).

One of them stood out for me particularly as I only recently felt it in my own body for the first time in a new and meaningful way on Orban Sensei's last visit here and have been trying to work with it in regular classes ever since. This feeling goes by many names, like for example being centred, or being connected, using the body as a unit, unity (Orban
Sensei's favourite term for it), being in the one point (Tohei's term for it), being balance (as opposed to being balanced), etc etc. The name really doesn't matter and as we all have our own preferred terminology, I think it is quite ok we use whatever suits. With what I can grasp at the moment, it feels to me like anchoring in the central point of the body (where the 3 basic rotational axis meet) and maintaining an equal distribution of force, weight, energy around it throughout movement. 

More importantly maybe, all movement should be generated here according to everything I think we are told in the traditional martial schools. There is tons more that happens from this point and that I'd rather not go into now for lack of clear experience and skill, but both Gleason and Orban Sensei talked about extending equally in all directions from this point and then gradually learning to extend more and more. Fundamentally, this is the work of connecting the body into a unit and I am really, really enjoying it and I'm excited about continuing to explore it. It's really vague, but it feels like I'm sitting in the midst of myself, a feeling I've been looking for for a very long time.

To link this to the catchy title, I've really liked when Gleason Sensei said that Aikido is not about blending with our partner/attacker (and I'm smiling again as I am writing this). Thinking back to some common Aikido sensibilities that I have also held for a very long time, this sounds almost outrageous, but Orban Sensei said precisely the same to me several times over the last few years and with the above feeling I think I am beginning to get at least a hint of what they are getting at. Elements of it seem to concern the impossibility of connecting to anything- or -one unless I am connected within prior to that, being the center of the movement, rather than being thrown around by the centrifugal forces that spiral out from it, and more. 

There's more exploring to be done, and I look forward to it.. 

Many thanks to everyone for sharing paths, 

P.S.: I should mention a special detail of interest - Gleason Sensei also studied and still continues to practice Kashima Shinryu Kenjutsu, the same style that we practice here at Jikishin Dojo, and it is an influence in his work. His main teacher, as he told me this weekend, was Noguchi Sensei, a fellow student of Inaba Sensei under whose guidance we practice within the International Shiseikan Budo Association.

Inviting you to the 1st NZ Aunkai Seminar with Minoru Akuzawa Sensei - 11 May 2014

Hey everyone, we are very excited to be able to announce and invite you to the 

Akuzawa Sensei is an extremely sought after instructor with a busy travelling schedule that is currently taking him nearly all around the world, so to have secured a spot and be able to  invite him to New Zealand is all the more exciting. Akuzawa began his journey through the martial arts at a very young age, initially practicing traditional Chinese martial arts and successfully representing Japan in the International Sanda tournaments in the early nineties. He then studied with various teachers within the Japanese traditional martial arts world who placed little importance on the practice of form and instead focused on the basic conditioning methods necessary to create an individual expression of Bujutsu.
 Incorporating what he had learned from his studies of both the Chinese arts and Japanese Koryu, he founded Aunkai to share and further his research into the fundamentals of martial arts.

The focus of training in Aunkai is not on method or technique, but on the development and usage of a martial body. Irrespective of style, for a method or technique to work, the body must first be trained and developed according to the fundamental principles that govern human movement. "Technique" is then only an expression of a body that has been trained to intuitively understand the most natural and efficient ways to move in a martial context. 

Aunkai practice is of immense benefit to martial artists of all styles and classes and seminars are open to and attended by students irrespective of style and level, including for example Karate, Aikido, Muay Thai, Systema, MMA, Tai Chi, Wing Tsun, Koryu, etc. 

In the same spirit, our seminar is open to all and everyone interested in the strengthening and deepening their martial arts practice with a solid foundation of martial arts specific conditioning. 

This is not one to miss people! Spaces are limited, so get in quick!

To get an impression of Aunkai practice and find out more visit the Aunkai homepage, check out the following video playlist, or search for yourself on youtube, vimeo, the web in general, or stay tuned here as we will be posting more about Akuzawa, Aunkai and the topic of conditioning in the martial arts shortly. Looking forward to seeing you at the seminar!