Sunday, 1 December 2013

Roots Research: Takamura Ha Shindo Yoshin Ryu

Hi all, sorry for my somewhat longer than usual absence, but things have been pretty full on this last month and a half and are likely unfortunately to continue to be so for the next wee while, so I might be more irregular with my posts here than I have been thus far. 

Anyhow, yesterday I was fortunate enough to attend another day of training with Toby Threadgill, Menkyo Kaiden and Kaicho of Takamura Ha Shindo Yoshin Ryu, organised by the friendly and humble Robbie Smith of Wado Kai Karate in Hamilton. This was the third time that I had the pleasure of attending these seminars and I must say that I have truly enjoyed it yet again. Toby Threadgill is to my feeling someone who has genuinely understood Koryu Budo and is actually able to pass this knowledge on in a clear manner.

Threadgill Sensei with happy camper Filip, Auckland, August '13
In terms of the work that we have done I can only share a few somewhat unprocessed notes and thoughts with you that I took away from the day. So to begin with Threadgill Sensei yet again emphasised the importance of pulling from the front foot when walking (instead of pushing from the back leg) and showed us how to use this pulling motion to move our partner in a front shoulder grab encounter. Sounds easy, but is anything but that I can say, at least for me. Then, using single hand grabs, we added finding and turning around Jiko - the rotational axis of the movement - with the use of force, so as to not give our opponent anything to read our intention from (see some previous posts for more on this topic). 

The second session began with a review of two of the eight (or sixteen if you include the ira versions) Nairiki, TSYR's very own body development exercises. This year particularly I have really become very curious in understanding the notion of body development in martial arts afresh, but I am only at the beginning of this thought and exploration process so I can't really share much with you yet. The only thing that I can say is that I believe that they are absolutely central, fundamental and indispensable and that unfortunately, we do not have clear enough transmission of them in Aikido as I have experienced it thus far. But this is a situation that can hopefully be remedied. The two exercises that we practiced here were Tekyaku ('iron legs') and Banjaku ('stable trunk', I think..) and revolved (not only)  around firstly, the ability to squat and lower the body whilst keeping good structure/form or a completely straight spine, and secondly, maintaining dynamic balance under let's say, difficult circumstances. The fundamental of both of these skills, qualities or abilities is hard to argue with in the martial arts and I especially find this confirmed by the fact that they seem to be 'unspecific', that is, they reach across martial arts and so I have seen and practiced similar things in Kashima Shinryu, Sumo and Systema alike. To me at least, this overlap points at something more than just coincidence.

I might be out of order here, but the third session included TSYR's work of Tenchijin ('heaven and earth man'). This is likewise and exercise that I have played with and seen practiced elsewhere and is essentially a test/training to maintain one's balance despite an incoming force, or better yet, by diffusing an incoming force both downwards and upwards through one's body. Amazing work, very very difficult I must say, but again, I think it is absolutely fundamental to any possibility of kuzushi (balance taking) of an opponent that comes in with some sort of (directed/directional) force or tension. Related to this I was pleased to learn the terms anteiho and fuanteiho, the stable and unstable line which are relevant for unbalancing and then throwing one's opponent. 

Much of the feel of the resulting techniques and throws, some of which we worked on during the last session (Ikkyo, Kote gaeshi, Hiji kime osae, and idori reikiho) reminded of things I have felt before and with other Aikido teachers. But what is so important to point out, see and understand, even though it is somewhat of a hard pill to swallow even for myself) is that the (re-)discovery of this in Aikido is somewhat arbitrary due to unclear transmission that goes quite far back. This is not the case in Koryu/traditional martial arts, where all principles and even names for them like e.g. the above have been very clearly preserved in the often lengthy and complex curricula, exercises and kata. And Threadgill Sensei very clearly confirmed that this is what kata are actually about, not to represent real fighting, but to serve as a vessel which carries principles and training opportunities for essential skills that can then be freely applied in fighting (without form). I mean, this is a huge topic and I am only brushing over it yet again, but as I have said before, I couldn't believe anymore strongly in the value of studying Koryu Budo, whether it be Kashima Shinryu, TSYR, or whichever else you fancy. Having said that, Koryu are also not perfect, and their teaching methodology, just like Aikido's teaching methodology also has its own pitfalls, for example the risk of becoming too rigid (Koryu), versus the risk of being far too individualised and arbitrary (Aikido). Some of my interest certainly lies in here, in how to find the best way through all this and include the form (shu), the variation (ha), and the freeform or applied principles (ri) element in our training, but it's hard to build the second or third without the first (which is often Aikido's problematic path), as it is risky to get caught up in either one of them and never move into any of the others.

Anyhow, before I ramble on more, here's a video of Threadgill Sensei demonstrating a number of TSYR's kata, hope you enjoy watching them and I am already looking forward to Threadgill Sensei's next visits to New Zealand next year. There's more to be learned, as well as the same to be practiced over and over again..

Cheers and until next time,