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! 

In memory of Mike Stanford, 7th Dan Aikido Yuishinkai, Auckland - 16 Nov 2014

Very unfortunately, Tuesday this week, New Zealand Aikido has lost one of its highest ranking and most special practitioners with the passing of Mike Stanford, long time 7th Dan holder and chief instructor of Yuishinkai Aikido New Zealand. I must admit that I have only met Mike on two occasions, so there is certainly many other people that could write much more and much more accurately about him that I can. Nonetheless though, in the two times I have met him, Mike left a very specific impression on me, in fact, inspired me quite significantly and I have been sharing this inspiration with many people ever since, so it seems fit to share it again here under these sad circumstances.

Now, it is interesting to note that whenever I have talked to someone about Mike, asked them whether they knew him, or even if they did, once it was clear who we were talking about, the conversation would invariably kick off with something like 'Ah, yes, of course I know Mike, he is a real gentleman', or 'Of course I know Mike, he is the true gentleman of Aikido'. That in itself, and the fact that it would happen invariably already shows what kind of impression Mike left on people who met him and probably even more so, how he treated the people who met him.

The two occasions on which I had met Mike were both in 2010, once at a training sessions at the Yuishinkai head dojo in Northcote, Auckland, and once at the first ever seminar hosted by Jikishin Dojo Auckland with visiting instructor Philippe Orban Sensei in October 2010. Mark Allen and myself visited Mike, his assistant Craig Andrew, 5th Dan Yuishinkai, and their students at the Northcote dojo to invite them to come to support and attend the seminar we were organising and both Mike and Craig came along and practiced with us for the entire weekend. This is also where Mike left his deepest impression on me..

I don't actually know exactly how old Mike was back then, but I believe he was 70+, and this is already the first part of the impression. Mike actually embodied something that I have always loved about Aikido and that I aspire to very much myself, that is, to practice Aikido until such an age and beyond, thus truly making it a lifelong practice and a Way of Life. For someone over 70 to come to a weekend seminar/gasshuku and participate in the entirety of the thing as a normal attendant, rolling, falling, being throw and throwing around people, as if age was not a matter at all is itself a very special thing deserving respect and admiration I think, and it truly inspires me to keep going on this path for as long as I possibly can. When I had first read about Aikido, I remember very well reading how one could do Aikido well into old age and for the rest of ones life. I thought that sounded just amazing and it was actually one of the things that got me to try Aikido initially as I had suffered a number of injuries (with subsequent surgeries) that made me unsure of what, if and how I could continue being my very physical self after that. Consequently, whenever I see someone like Mike, I see someone who is living what I had only read about. It's almost like a story coming true right in front of my eyes and I always feel very much inspired by it.

Mike Stanford (far left) in Seiza with everyone else

What is more than this, I've experienced Mike as simply and truly a gentleman, he was very  friendly, kind, humble, not scrambling for the center of attention, but rather keeping very much of a gentleman-like 'after you' attitude about him, joking around and treating everyone this very way. I felt that this was also perfectly expressed in his attendance at our seminar back then. At the time Mike already had his 7th Dan, so he had been in Aikido for a considerable time already, and yet he came to a seminar from another group (!), by a teacher he did not know (!), and who was graded lower than himself (!), and simply became a student, almost disappearing into the crowd and learning alongside everybody else. I only have a very few photos of Mike and they are not 'good photos' in any traditional sense of the term, but I think they are actually great in that they exactly show to what extent Mike simply became 'one of us students' on the mat.

Mike Stanford (left) practicing Funakogi
To me, for someone in his age and of his standing to come to a seminar, have such an open heart and mind, be that humble and studious, is pretty much as good as it gets. It's not just talking about these things, but actually doing them, and doing them for one's entire life that truly matters and makes a difference and on that occasion Mike clearly embodied all these things, shining a light for all of us that we can only hope to follow. 

Am I getting across what inspired me so much, I'm not sure... I mean, first there was his age, but even more importantly, the proof that he never stopped learning and studying the Martial Way, thus in fact truly embodying what the title Shihan is meant to be, someone who 'continues to search'. Given that he was at Shihan level, there is also the fact that he would go study under someone whom at least by level he should probably be teaching and that he would simply become part of a group and be 'just like everyone else' and treat everyone so kindly, without any remote sign of arrogance or stuck-upness, not placing any importance on one's own grade over any others, but quite the contrary was and is just truly inspiring. It's what this all is about and the best that Aikido can be. 

There are really only three more pictures that I have and they continue to underscore the very same topic, Mike studying alongside us all....

listening attentively....

... and simply being a great person to be around, spend time and laugh with. I am sorely aware of the fact that I have not seen much of Mike, but what I have seen was without exception the best I could imagine. I know that Mike has inspired many, both within and outside of Aikido/Budo and I wish to express my condolences to all those that have been much closer to him than I have. It is without a doubt a great loss, but if it means anything at all, he will never be forgotten. I mean how could he when he left such a lasting impression on somebody whom he has met only so very briefly, how much more must he have touched the lives of so many others. 

With a big bow, thank you Mike, thank you so very much.

Structure & Balance Systema Seminar - 21 October 2014

This Sunday we had the first seminar in a series of three to be run by Dan Miles & Les Hayes of Systema Waikato. With Loren being away, I took the usual morning class and focussed it on some basic ground movement to limber up the body, rolling over obstacles and a few short rounds of wrestling on the ground. Movements aside, the underlying focus of the class was an in-depth exploration of the principle of breathing sufficiency.

After that Dan & Miles took us through a brilliant day of exploring structure breaking and taking balance. I've already almost gotten used to both of their really good step-by-step teaching approach which allowed everyone to work through all the bits and pieces that we covered. It was really visible and palpable how, thanks to the available amount of time and the great teaching, everyone not just understood, but was able to put into practice this very core principle that is so relevant to all martial arts practice.

I have really thoroughly enjoyed myself and would like to thank all the participants - how amazing to have people from Wellington, New Plymouth, Hamilton, Napier, Auckland and even Tahiti come together for a day of shared training and growing!

Next up, we have Loren from Auckland teaching a day-seminar in Wellington on 1 November. Then, only a few weeks later, we have our two sold out events with Akuzawa Sensei in Christchurch and here at Jikishin Dojo Auckland and then in the new year the Progressive Series with Dan & Les continues, alongside many other seminars. Connect on Facebook if you want to receive invites there, or check on our events page to stay updated!

Budo Kenshu Seminar in Hastings, NZ: a review by Bryan Bell - 17 September 2014

'The two days were a great success, for me at least, and I know the others enjoyed it and
found it profitable. It will change the way our club trains henceforth.

The key show-stopping ideas for me were that: 
1) Uke shapes the attack so that Nage must respond with the technique being practice (no more 'what if I do this...'). Uke us no longer tempted to try and win against Nage with strength or trickery - Uke is successful if Nage finds another technique besides the one being practiced clumsy. If he is being needlessly strong, Nage can interpret that another technique is called for by uke. Hope that makes sense.

2) The first years of a budo art are traditionally devoted to learning how to inflict significant harm on another as quickly and effectively as possible. However after many years, in general the desire to permanently damage someone seems to wane, and the development of techniques that allow a non-destructive approach is introduced. This is the point where Aikido starts. This explanation is information dense and handy for Aikido apologists.

Both idea were floating about 'loose' in my head, and needed cohesion that Filip's well turned phrasing provided. It is rare to have two great ideas in a weekend, so I am feeling grateful.

Other highlights:
In addition, I particularly enjoyed the exploration of the diagonal sword cut created through a body/sword connectivity exercise. It grew by stages from a small to a larger spiral and then into sword cuts and the into Aikido techniques. It improves flow and hip use.

One of the key emphasis of the weekend was breathing, and in particular, managing one's breath so it serves you and not the other way round. Filip provided good breathing exercises that I for one can take away and practice other times.

Iterations of body relaxation techniques (not a new idea, but always good to hear again. Practicing exercises that aid the body be relaxed...).

Handmade Tanto 'Baroque' gifted to Filip Marić
by Paul Roberts & the Hawke's Bay Dojo

Performing with a deliberately stressed body, so that it can perform better when needed.

In summary, it was a well-rounded, full weekend. On the first day my brain was sloshing over an hour before we were to finish. Having said that, it provided the seeds of ideas we can incorporate into our own training, so we will keep benefiting into the future.' 

Bryan Bell, Hawke's Bay