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5/20/03 -- review of seminar with Donovan Waite Sensei
This past Saturday I had the pleasure of training with the Lower Providence Aikido dojo when they hosted Donovan Waite Sensei. Jeff Bowden Sensei was an excellent host (as always), and it was great to get to train with him again. I first trained with him when he was a brown belt many years ago, and it is always a pleasure to feel his technique again.
Waite Sensei is probably one of the most flexible men of my age I've ever met. His warm-ups had a very large stretching component. I believe his flexibility adds a lot to the power of his technique; his throws have a whip like tensile power that is strongly focused and controlled. Flexibility always being a weakness of mine, the warm-ups stressed the importance of working on improving in this area. Since Waite sensei did not hurry through the stretching portion, even someone as tight as I am was able to feel significant improvement just from that relatively brief session. Combined with this were many breathing exercises, some of which strongly reminded me of the Eight Brocade breathing exercises from the Chinese arts. The standard aikido warm-ups were not neglected either.
A highlight for me in this seminar was the ukemi. So much has been said about Waite Sensei's system of ukemi, that I don't know how much I can add. Although the style of ukemi I practice is quite different, it was easy to see the advantages to Waite Sensei's style. It was very relaxed, and stressed moving across the shoulders, along the side down to the hips, and then brought uke up in a very ready position to move or attack again. While it was difficult at first to do, repeated sincere efforts did yield some progress, and I would definitely consider purchasing Waite Sensei's tapes now to study these ukemi some more. I think they provide a dynamic, safe method for responding to the throws we practice in aikido. While I might not adopt this style myself (I have another style of ukemi very engrained in my mind and body now), for anyone having trouble with their ukemi or especially anyone just starting out, I would highly recommend it.
As a Yoshinkan Aikido practitioner, it was gratifying to see Waite Sensei's strong commitment to basics. During the seminar, it took a little while to adjust to the slightly different format of the class, the different naming conventions, and the different composition and timing of some of the techniques, but once I settled down enough to pay close attention, the same basics stressed in Yoshinkan schools were readily apparent. Cross-step in body change, shuffle step in body change, 45 degree pivot, 180 degree pivot, elbow power one and two...all were there in Waite Sensei's technique, and in the technique of his uke as well. The use of the kaiten movement is a little different from our taihenko (body change), but it was an easy adaptation to make. While the nature of the basics might have been a little different here and there, or while the way they were put together to form technique might have been slightly unfamiliar, their presence was as clear as day. This is what made it possible for me to relax and pay attention to the details taught. I was able to let my body move as its been trained, watch Sensei and the other students closely, and adopt the details they used to make the techniques efficient.
Waite Sensei stressed not opposing uke's power (kind of a "duh" you would think), but it was surprising (as always) how subtle changes in movement and position made a major difference in whether or not the technique would work on Waite Sensei's rather large uke. I believe the first technique taught was katate dori, kokyunage omote [one hand grasp, breath throw, number one]. At first I found the movement used to enter a little unusual. But within minutes, I recognized a slightly different focus from the Yoshinkan basic technique of katate mochi, sokumen iriminage ichi. One of the things Waite Sensei repeated often was "back foot moves first", and this was one of those times. From katate mochi, gyakuhamne stance, Waite Sensei entered with the back foot to uke's inside, while turning the front hand palm down and into his center to bring uke off balance and lower him. He then used a classic cross-step in body change to throw his uke, but with an almost whip like movement that hurled uke quite a distance. It was *very* impressive. The Yoshinkan method for this technique has always been described to me as making a "T" with uke's forward foot, but Waite Sensei seemed to be using slightly different principles in where he would move with the initial step. Perhaps after practicing this version of the technique a little more, it will be more obvious why the technique works so well the way he taught it.
This was just one example of many techniques that were easily recognizable. There were also some variations that were completely new to me, and not just an adjustment to waza I was already familiar with. In particular, there was a very interesting version of kaiten nage ni (pivoting) that I really liked. Shomenuchi was the attack, and shite entered cutting with two hands in standard ikkajo fashion. The hand closest to uke cut uke's elbow into his body, with uke kind of rolled up into himself. The hand furthest from uke came to shite's hip during the initial cut, and then did atemi to uke's neck (exposed from being bent over and kind of folded into himself from the initial cut). Then shite's back foot moved behind uke's back foot, and a pivot and shuffle threw uke into a tight, very controlled yet forceful throw. I was actually tossed into a wall on this throw by a slightly enthusiastic partner (I was ok; the wall lost, my apologies to Lower Providence Aikido about the needed repair work).
Another fascinating topic covered was hand deflections of both grabbing and striking attacks. These ranged from the fairly standard 45-degree pivot, front hand (palm down) leads grabbing hand just past you, back hand cuts it away, then iriminage, to some very interesting deflections I don't remember seeing before. One of these was from a yokomenuchi attack in gyakuhamne off of uke's front hand. Shite did a 45-degree pivot (back foot moves first again), and shite's lead arm cut out in a parry to uke's strike. But instead of blocking the strike, once contact was made the strike was brought in front of shite, where the back hand could cross over the attacking arm, control it, and lead uke into a nice snug position against shite's body. From there, kaiten, then body change, and kokyunage was sitting in shite's lap. It was a wonderful version of kokyunage (step in throw), with a fairly sophisticated use of a parry. Of course, being from the Yoshinkan mindset, I think I almost broke my uke's arm with a strong block the first time I tried it. Fortunately, all of my uke were very patient with me as I adjusted to new or different material.
Each session of the seminar ended in kokyu-ho dosa, which gave everyone a chance to relax (even more), and calm down a little after an invigorating keiko. Then Waite Sensei led the class in an even longer session of breathing exercises than in the beginning. I really felt the affects of this, as my back was feeling the ukemi and some of the unfamiliar methods of throwing. I strongly believe that these breathing exercises were responsible for how good I felt the next day, even after such a fantastic 4 hours of throwing and being thrown. I would like to thank Waite Sensei for the time and effort he invested in us on Saturday. I learned a lot, made a lot of connections, trained with old friends, and had a wonderful time. And thanks again to Jeff Bowden Sensei and Lower Providence Aikido for hosting the event.
List of techniques (as best as I can remember in the aikikai naming conventions):
Katate dori kokyunage omote
Ryokatate dori kokyunage ura
Katate dori kokyunage combination with shiho on one side and with shiho only
Shomenuchi Kaiten nage ura
Katate dori kaiten nage omote
Katate dori Sumi Otoshi omote
Many variations of Tenshinage
Shomenuchi kokyu nage
Yokomenuchi kokyu nage
I am sure there were many other techniques that I have already forgotten.