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Stefan Stenudd
03-19-2009, 11:31 PM
Nishio sensei was the fastest aikido teacher I have ever seen. This was particularly true for his weapons techniques. When he moved the katana in his own Toho iai, or the bokken or the jo, it was almost impossible to see exactly what happened. Like magic -- the hand is quicker than the eye.

When he had his first seminar in Sweden, and we were supposed to copy his movements, we just gaped. Nobody could even begin to repeat his movements.

He seemed unable to do his techniques in a tempo slow enough for our eyes to follow. I often got the impression that he actually did slow down considerably, but to us it was still way too fast. We were even unable to notice the difference. Not until he reached his seventies did he manage to show his techniques in some kind of slow motion, step by step, so that we had a chance of tracing the ABC of it.

Speed is a splendid thing, which should not be underestimated in the martial arts. It's also great fun. The fragments of Nishio sensei's sword and jo techniques that I imagined to have learned, I enjoyed tremendously to do as fast as I ever could -- and pretend that it was just business as usual. Well, I still do that, more than occasionally.

Nishio sensei's aikido techniques were certainly quick, too. But when you have an uke to move around, there's another limit to the speed possible than when working with a dead object. You had to be his uke to experience just how fast he was in his aikido.

Oh, I almost forget about his atemi. They were even faster than his sword and jo movements. He made a series of three or four atemi at the time it took me to do one -- on a good day. And that was just as visible (or invisible) to the bystanders as it was to uke.

Slow motion karate

A friend of mine back in the 1970's, who was very accomplished in karatedo, had found a method of teaching his students fast techniques -- by practicing them in slow motion. His classes were done in slow motion, from start to finish, whatever the technique. Even high kicks like jodan mawashigeri were done in slow motion. That's no piece of cake.

We were so used to seeing him and his students practice in slow motion that we almost forgot how quick they could be. But of course he could shift to full speed at any time, and that speed was very impressive. By slow motion training he had taught his body the most efficient and precise way of doing the techniques, so it was well prepared for explosive speed and force.

The time consuming sword cut

When I was a very young aikido student, our teacher Ichimura sensei told me about another karatedo teacher, one that he praised highly, who also occasionally practiced very slowly, indeed. This karate teacher would make one complete cut with the sword or the bokken, lifting it from chudankamae to jodankamae, and back again in the cutting move -- in 45 minutes. One cut.

Ichimura told me this with a voice full of awe. He explained how advanced that was. "I can only do 30 minutes," he confessed.

I tried it a few times the following months. I didn't manage more than ten minutes or so. But it was very rewarding. To draw the sword that slowly, I had to do it by breath alone, using my breathing as sort of a pump, and focusing sharply on my intention.

And cutting as slowly as I was able was sensational. The cut felt like it was traveling a great distance in a speed approaching that of light. In my experience of it, the slowest and the fastest were the same.

On a more practical note, I also noticed how slow motion polished the precision of my sword cut. In normal speed bokken suburi, I had great trouble cutting with any stability. It felt like the bokken was wobbling on its way down, no matter how I tried to fix its trajectory. Actually, the more I tried to stop it from wobbling, the more it wobbled. But in slow motion it sort of found its own track and stuck to it. Not the first few times, certainly, but when I had given in to the exercise fully.

No hurry in aikido

It's funny how we use speed in practice. I frequently notice with aikido students that they speed up the movements they are unsure of, as if that would help. Of course it's the other way around. Only by slowing down at moments of uncertainty are you able to correct them. So that's a very good way of discovering weaknesses in your technique, which you would be unaware of if only rushing through them.

And it goes on. Slowing down in practice allows for all kinds of sophisticated discoveries. Not only is it the way to learn how to move very fast, but it's also the path toward perfection. When done very slowly, your technique reveals the smallest errors of directions and the tiniest unnecessary steps. You sort of clean up your act.

Doing aikido slowly is more difficult than doing it fast, so it's a more rewarding way of practicing.

I've found my delight in slow practice increasing through the years, and I have a tendency to devote more and more of my classes to it. Sometimes it may very well get kind of boring to my students, especially the young and eager ones. But I keep coming back to slow practice with a gradually stronger conviction of this being the superior way.

Can it be so that my aikido actually improves, the slower I do it? If that's the case, will it mean that I have reached perfection when I stop completely?
Or am I just getting old?

Stefan StenuddStefan Stenudd is a 6 dan Aikikai aikido instructor, member of the International Aikido Federation Directing Committee, the Swedish Aikikai Grading Committee, and the Swedish Budo Federation Board. He has practiced aikido since 1972. Presently he teaches aikido and iaido at his dojo Enighet in Malmo, Sweden, and at seminars in Sweden and abroad. He is also an author, artist, and historian of ideas. He has published a number of books in Swedish and English, both fiction and non-fiction. Among the latter are books about aikido and aikibatto, also a guide to the lifeforce qi, and a Life Energy Encyclopedia. He has written a Swedish interpretation of the Chinese classic Tao Te Ching, and of the Japanese samurai classic Book of Five Rings. In the history of ideas he studies the thought patterns of creation myths, as well as Aristotle's Poetics. He has his own extensive aikido website: http://www.stenudd.com/aikido

Alex Megann
03-20-2009, 06:21 AM
A nice article, Stefan.

It reminded me of a story about Sergei Rachmaninov, one of the greatest pianists of the 20th Century, and renowned for his incredible technique.

He slowly learned the pieces he played, detail by detail. Abram Chasins told about visiting Rachmaninoff one day and stopping outside. Rachmaninoff "was practicing Chopin's Étude in thirds but at such a snail's pace that it took me a while to recognize it because so much time elapsed between each finger stroke and the next. Fascinated, I clocked this remarkable exhibition: 20 seconds per bar was his pace for almost an hour while I waited riveted to the spot, quite unable to ring the bell." Paradoxically, Rachmaninoff often sounded like he was improvising, though he actually was not. While his interpretations were comprised of mosaics of tiny details, when those mosaics came together in performance, they might, according to the tempo of the piece being played, fly past at great speed, giving the impression of instant thought.


Bob Blackburn
03-20-2009, 06:47 AM
I agree it is a valuable tool. It helps work on proper body mechanics and removed momentum that can hide small issues.

I think I have a long way to go before I get to a 45 minute sword cut.

Stefan Stenudd
03-20-2009, 09:05 AM
I think I have a long way to go before I get to a 45 minute sword cut.
So do I, alas, so do I.

Stefan Stenudd
03-20-2009, 09:15 AM

What's good enough for Rachmaninoff is good enough for me :)
Wonderful anecdote. I believe that something similar is true for many performing artists.
Also for athletes. I remember looking at slalom superstar Ingemar Stenmark back in the 1970's. He looked so slow, sliding down the ski slope, I was sure he was going to be last - but he made record times.
Perfection looks slow, because of its effortlessness.

03-20-2009, 09:23 AM
All things in life should be practiced slowly.


03-20-2009, 01:01 PM
Life should be lived slowly.


03-21-2009, 09:20 AM
Thanks for sharing.

Janet Rosen
03-21-2009, 01:23 PM
I have been a proponent of slow training to work on details, but it never occurred to me to that the draw and cut could be done so slowly. Thank you for keen insight and a very very good new thing to work on!

03-21-2009, 04:00 PM
Good words. Compliment.

I have heard the fastest way to progress is slowly.

Slow and smooth, smooth and fast.

Stefan Stenudd
03-22-2009, 03:42 AM
All things in life should be practiced slowly.
Indeed. That's the door to the sublime.

My friends joke about how long it takes for me to finish a meal. It might be because I talk too much between bites, or because I was a restaurant critic for twelve years - but I'd like to think it's because that's the way to truly enjoy food.
On the other hand, Champagne should be enjoyed in quick and big gulps...

03-27-2009, 10:49 PM
Confucius say,

“It does not matter how slowly you go as long as you do not stop.”


Chuck Clark
03-28-2009, 12:33 PM
The trick when training s l o w l y or even more s l o w l y is to continue to be appropriate in your intent, movement, fitting, connection, timing, etc. It is wonderful solitary training to test your intent filled movement as well as training with partner/s while understanding exactly what's happening and why, etc. As everyone has stated, this sort of training is very difficult to learn and do while keeping real action/reaction in both uke and tori.

I've found over the years that when we can do this slow training appropriately it's possible to seemingly change the appearance of the relationship of time in this relationship between uke and tori. As the saying goes... slow is smooth and smooth is fast. It's all relative and that's where real timing and strategy carries the day.

Great posts in this thread.. and I think old "slow hand" himself (Eric Clapton) would agree.

Best regards,

Chuck Clark
03-28-2009, 12:37 PM
I intended four spaces between the letters in the second word slowly in the post above and I noticed the system didn't allow that. Too bad.