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.

Saturday, 12 September 2015

Koryu – Legacies of Learning (by Colin Jowett)

Following Jules Robson and Filip Maric would be a hard ask on a good day.  Let alone being asked to write a follow up piece on Koryu – something that both of the aforementioned gentlemen have a deep passion for, and understanding of. Nevertheless, I foolishly said yes – so here we go.

I’ve been studying Aikido for a little over 15 years now – at least that was the first time I put on a Keikogi.  I’ve had a bit of a hit and miss relationship with my chosen art over the years but I’ve probably been studying in earnest for the last 8 years – give or take.I am also fortunate enough to have somehow stumbled across a Koryu Kenjutsu art along the way.  I first picked up a sword in earnest under the auspices of Kashima Shin-ryu (KSR)  at a small dojo in a renovated church in North London called ‘Moving East’ in the early 00’s (naughties).  I freely admit to not having stayed long at that particular dojo (though not for want of trying), but sometimes life does that to you and things half touched upon somehow find you later. So it is that I have now been fortunate enough to continue my studies in KSR at the Jikishin Dojo Auckland that coincidentally follows the same instruction as Moving East in London, that is, the Kashima-no-Tachi taught by Inaba Minoru Sensei, the former director of the Shiseikan Budojo in Meiji Jingu Tokyo, and his students and successors.