Monday, 4 March 2013

'Kill your power' - Tuesday 5 March 2013

    Shiho nage by Sawada Shihan. (Uke: Filip Maric)

Chikara o nuku, kill your power, or simply relax (particularly your arms) was the overarching topic of last weekends truly great seminar with Sawada Shihan from Kimori Dojo in Nagoya, Japan. Sawada Shihan repeatedly and tirelessly emphasized and beautifully demonstrated this point across Jo, Ken, and Taijutsu work.

I must say I really enjoyed the seminar through and through. Having experienced Sawada Shihan for a few years now on his visits to New Zealand I am appreciating his technique and interpretation more and more. Particularly nice for me was also, that despite minor differences in outward appearance of forms, the majority of highly skilled Aikido and Budo teachers that I have encountered ultimately research and practice the same intrinsic principles. Amongst these chikara o nuku is certainly very high up there and I am always excited to feel how much I can still improve on this point. Taking ukemi for Sawada Shihan, on grabs/holds especially was definitely impressive in this regard as I could really not feeling him using any force in his arms whatsoever.

Much of this he seemed to accomplish via his very sharp and precise body movements. In regards to these he emphasized two things in particular: Firstly, using the term koshi, that all movement should come from, that is be initiated by and focussed on the center. Although koshi is frequently translated with ‘hip’, like the terms jodan, chudan, gedan, and also hara, it actually refers to a larger region around the hip, front and back, inside and outside, below and above – a good thing to keep in mind. Second, chu shin sen or working on one’s center line is extremely sophisticated in Sawada Shihan’s movements and very nice to watch.

In the same way, it seemed to me that it is not just his own center line that he was staying on, but also the center line of the action, or direction of the incoming attack, or better put his reluctance to go off-line much in any type of big, evading motions. This is both visible in his weapons work, like for example his basic ‘guard’ position, which stays completely on the line whilst using hip rotation for both deflection and counter-technique; as well as in all his taijutsu forms. The only off-line movement that he taught about was the extremely minimalistic and therewith sharp hito emi movement/stance, again linked to the same rotational work of the koshi region.

In regards to weapons, Sawada Shihan’s kesa gamae with the Jo is a really great posture that reflects a deep understanding of openings and their antipode. The same is true for his basic opening with the sword, that very closely resembles the mugamae of Kashima Shinryu, even though Sawada Shihan never calls it that (or hasn’t so far when I was there). Overall, without the shadow of a doubt, Sawada Shihan has a great understanding of weapons and it is more than obvious how much all of his open hand movements are based on his weapons work, which to me is a quintessential component of good Aikido.

The last principle that stood out to me and I loved seeing and practicing within Sawada Shihan’s framework was the principle of kanjiru – feeling the connection or contact to the partner – and responding to it with the whole body. Though he didn’t use the term musubi, but referred to kanjiru instead, it seemed to me that the principle was nevertheless the same. I really enjoyed seeing and feeling the finesse with which he stayed in contact, both within different sword kata, as well as Aikido forms, and developing techniques from there as he felt for openings and possibilities of movement. Just like in our Kashima-no-Tachi practice, this principle is what actually makes up ‘the fight’ and either necessitates movements of a pre-set kata, or else, necessitates diversion from it into other forms and variations, or kaeshi and henka waza.

Obvioulsy there was a lot more and a lot more detail to it all, upright posture, etc etc., but enough for now. With all of these good vibes from Sawada Shihan’s teachings, I am now all the more looking forward to Orban Sensei’s seminar in our Dojo at the end of April, who on his last visit here, instructed us on all of these exact same principles: chikara o nuku – relax your arms (or kill your power), move from the center, working on your center line, hito emi and (hip) rotation on the central axis, as well as somewhat more explicit instruction on kokyu (breathing). Different teacher, same principles and (scary) proficiency – hard work, good fun.