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I had the great pleasure of attending a seminar given by Seiichi Sugano Shihan this weekend. The seminar was hosted by the Philadelphia Aikikai dojo of Henry Smith Sensei. There have been some very good threads on the Aikido Journal website about seminars recently, and I think that my experiences at this seminar spoke to some of the points under discussion. I also found this seminar unusual because of Sugano Sensei's recent history. Many of you already know that just less than a year ago (April 2nd, 2003), Sugano Sensei underwent surgery to amputate a foot due to complications from diabetes. He is now teaching with the aid of prosthesis. Seeing a part of this remarkable recovery was probably the most inspirational thing I have seen in my aikido career. I often say that my teacher shows me the true meaning of budo. Now I have another person who has shown this to me as well. I've started to review Sugano Sensei's DVD, and while his recovery is not yet complete, you can see just how far he has come.
I was only able to attend Saturday's classes this time...I will certainly try to make all available sessions the next time Sugano Sensei is in town. Henry Smith Sensei taught the first of the morning classes, and it was an excellent class in which to warm-up, start moving with a partner, and get to know some of the participants through Aikido. I especially enjoyed the warm welcome Smith Sensei, his students and the other participants gave me. Smith Sensei did some very interesting variations of kotegaishi that I hadn't done before. They were particularly useful in light of the more static ushiro waza techniques that I am used to from Daito ryu and Yoshinkan Aikido.
Katate dori, nikyo, yonkyo, ushiro, iriminage
This technique gave an excellent opportunity for us to practice transition from one control to another. It also stressed moving offline, atemi, how to enter without giving your back, keeping your hands in your center...all good aikido basics, but in a flowing manner. Having Smith Sensei take the time to correct me and work with me made all the difference. Even though I am not the most flowing person out there! It began by moving off on the same side of uke as the hand grab, using that movement and an atemi for unbalancing. Then the application of nikyo, and when uke responded by being compressed, yonkyo to keep them unbalanced as shite entered under uke's arm (with atemi if desired, the elbow atemi worked nicely). To end, switch the hand controlling uke's arm, and do iriminage ura.
Katate dori, ushiro kotegaishi nage osae (pardon any mixing of aikikai and yoshinkan nomenclature)
Another chance to work ushiro, a topic that is also current on Aikido Journal, and a technique that is both similar to and completely different from a Yoshinkan variation I know. Here shite used a hand blade from the free hand when moving forward and offline to free the hand and cut it behind to grip for kotegaishi. The ura version of the throw flowed best here, since uke's movement from the initial cut already had them moving in the proper direction. Here ma ai seemed crucial...too close and uke was all over you, too far and it seemed like there was no control. But when the distance was just right...everything fell right into place, even if uke should use the free hand to strike. They found themselves striking right into the throw.
Katate dori, ushiro kokyu nage
And for when uke was too close...kokyu nage. This technique is an excellent partner to the one above, for obvious reasons. I had a real fun time with this one...my partner and I experimented with tossing uke in different ways. My thanks to the unknown uke that tolerated my Aikido!
Sugano Sensei's class had a very different start for me...the focus on breathing exercises was pretty neat. I now have his DVD, Between Heaven and Earth, so I hope to be able to go back and fine-tune my limited understanding of what we were doing. I did recognize several elements of chinkon kishin, and as always, found it both settling and invigorating at the same time.
To watch Sugano Sensei move so soon after his surgery was just plain amazing. While I wouldn't say his recovery is complete yet, to see how far he has come in such a short period of time...unbelievable. The strength of spirit this must have taken is really something to imagine. His movement was smooth, connected, and efficient. The techniques he showed were difficult for me, as there was a flow (ki no nagare, as one participant noted) that I still am working on. But what a great place to learn! Unlike tatami, this was a canvas mat, and I felt like I could glide across the mat. Sometimes on proper tatami, my feet stick a bit.
Katate dori, kokyu nage
We practiced both the exercise and the throw. This is standard enough that I don't really need to describe it.
Shomenuchi, iriminage (ura)
Again, a standard.
Ushiro waza -- ryote dori kokyunage (2 versions)
This technique was a hallmark of the seminar for me. I gained in several ways...cooperation and learning with my partners, having a 5th Dan to help me with the technique, understanding how to flow into ushiro waza without giving my back to uke (I'm used to a more static variant of ushiro waza). What was crucial for me to get was the initial leading of uke to the outside. I've never been comfortable with that lead, but by the end of the class I was at least getting passable. The technique started with an ayate dori meeting of the tegatana, with uke cutting down for the initial grab. Shite would then lead uke out and around, then enter in and turn to offer the other hand. It gave a feeling more like the entry under the arm in kaiten nage, rather than 'letting uke behind you'. When done well, it was beautiful to do, feel, and watch. My partner and I (a mudansha) were able to trade tips, and I think I learned more from him than he from me.
Ushiro waza -- ryote dori shihonage
This was led into from the techniques above...and when uke's other hand went for the grab, shite would use it for shihonage. Very nice, and plenty of opportunity for technically sound ura movements.
I'm not going to try to describe the bokken work we did. Sugano Sensei's style of buki-waza is very different from what I'm used to, and I'm not all that good at what it is I do. But there were some very important lessons in aihamne kamae, ma ai, and the roles of partners in teaching each other while training. Perhaps one of the other participants with more experience in this area will add a note to this thread.
I must take a moment to extend my sincere thanks to a participant, Nizam Taleb Sensei from Mays Landing, NJ. It was my privilege to have him coach me through this seminar (one of the points in the seminar threads was having someone to interpret for you the movement of the shihan). Taleb Sensei worked with me off and on the entire day, both during class and in between classes. His teaching made this seminar such a pleasure and moment of growth for me. I really don't think there's any way to thank him properly (except maybe to show him that I have retained what he taught me the next time we meet). I also saw him receive his Godan at this seminar...well deserved. He took an obstinate klutz like me, and gave me a clue.
Henry Smith Sensei and his dojo put on an excellent seminar, even hiring a jazz band to play afterward Saturday night. Thanks to all who helped prepare the dojo for Sugano Shihan and the participants. My very best wishes to Sugano Sensei as he continues his recovery. I hope I have done some justice to the quality of the seminar, and that my unfamiliarity with the techniques and Aikikai naming conventions is not confusing.