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Ikeda Sensei Lobster Seminar 2014

by on June 16, 2014

This weekend I attended the annual seminar by Ikeda sensei at Aikido of Maine. I had the event on my calendar last year, but ended up skipping it because my schedule had been so hectic. Having now attended once, I will be prioritizing differently next year.

Everyone at the seminar was very friendly, the dojo itself is excellent, and of course the instruction was world-class.

One of the first things that struck me watching Ikeda sensei was a certain resemblance to Toby Threadgill when finishing techniques. There was a certain angle to the head, and a kind of heaviness, a dynamic deadening in the torso and arms that was common to both. It can sometimes be hard to separate subtle lessons from the irrelevant quirks of an excellent teacher, but when you see one teacher in the movements of another, you know you’re on to something. I hope my mirror neurons were doing their jobs.

Most teachers have favorite topics, and good seminars often feature a reoccurring theme. Ikeda sensei’s overriding theme for this seminar was: it looks fake because you don’t understand how it’s done. Ikeda sensei was insistent that, after a certain point, uke should not be cooperating, but rather tori should be performing so well that it looked like cooperation. This common refrain drew obvious comparisons to Henry Kono, and was food for some interesting musings on my commutes to and from the seminar.

When they really get going, I think the techniques of Ikeda sensei and Kono sensei are very similar, but, in some ways, the paths they present to the pinnacle are quite different, in particular the role they believe that uke should play. Where Henry is always exhorting ukes to get softer and lighter, Ikeda sensei wants ukes to get stronger and heavier.

However, despite the words Ikeda sensei uses, I would argue that both are forms of cooperation.

Ikeda sensei called me up once during the seminar, specifically because he had never seen me before. He had me put a fist up, and told me to be strong. He touched me, telling me to be strong, then stepped away, reminding me to be strong. He then returned, and, with a very light touch, unbalanced me. In this instance, being strong was not a useful form of resistance, in fact it was quite helpful to him.

The first time sensei touched me he got a reading on my balance and shifted me slightly so that I was on what he called a “tightrope”. When he removed his hand from me, I could have shifted subtly to a new internal position, but he requested me to be strong, (which in everyday usage implies maintaining muscular tension) which effectively prevented me from shifting.

When you ask people to be “strong” you are also implicitly asking them to be less dynamic. (Though I’m not saying he would have had any trouble unbalancing me regardless.)

I have no problem with this, training will never quite be the same as fighting, but I think we should call a spade a spade. Each mode of training has a different emphasis and makes different sacrifices.

Henry Kono’s students sacrifice oppositional forces to better study observation and intention. Having a “strong” partner (in the typical sense) sacrifices a dynamic attack to better study optimal use of power. In order to maintain an attack that is both powerful and unpredictable, sports aikido exchanges the mercilessness and finality of actual combat for rules which can be gamed. Training is not fighting, and that’s fine with me. Recognize it and move on.

Through the consistent application of any (or all!) of these methods, practitioners’ budo should improve, and good budo is good budo, no matter how you got there.

In true Japanese fashion Ikeda sensei went through an enormous number of techniques. (From time to time I’ll tell the students at the Midcoast Aikido Club just how slow the pace of classes can seem. Often times at Midcoast practices we’ll only cover two techniques in two hours. Having trained in Japan this seems like an astoundingly long time. Again, different strokes.)

At an earlier point in my career I might have felt some obligation to write down as many as I could remember. That’s not going to happen now, but I’ll try to record some impressions in broad strokes. (This is partly as a personal memory aid, so apologies if some of it sounds cryptic.)

Most obviously, there was connection. By now we’ve played a fair bit with connection, but in general  I’ve always been aiming (or sounding?) for the opponent’s core or feet. By contrast, Ikeda sensei talked most about the tailbone and shoulders, and also mentioned the elbows, head, and even knees. These were often targeted sequentially: shoulder->elbow->shoulder, shoulder->tailbone, head forward->head back->tailbone, shoulder->elbow->hip-turn->tailbone etc…

There were also different ways he achieved connection. One I had not seen before was the reverse punch action. Another method he talked about was raising yourself. I couldn’t understand this method for the longest time, but reflecting on it afterwards, I think it was what we would call back-feeding. Finally there was the see-saw familiar to us as jodan no kuzushi.

Having achieved connection, Ikeda sensei began to sound a lot more like Henry, talking about moving your partner by moving yourself, largely by what I’ve taken to calling “squidding”. Unfortunately he didn’t elaborate too far on the different ways to “squid”. One new way I did pick up from a partner was the movement of the shoulders back (imagining a track running down your back) to better achieve a sinking, heavy, “push” into uke on a certain technique. (My guess as to what’s going on is that the shoulder movement over-extends uke’s yang-side past the range of his feet, trapping him in a weak spot.)

Finally, there was plenty of discussion, especially on Sunday, about sinking your weight. Though the motions were much smaller, these points would have fit perfectly into a typical JAA/Shodokan discussion of idōryoku, but I’ll revisit that in a short post later. I think I’ve written enough for one day already.

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