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After finally getting my head clear, by being thrown around by Pacific Ocean waves, rather than Aikidoka, I begin Blog #6. This is my most interesting one to date (for me, anyway).
After a relatively short drive along the coast from Santa Barbara, I finally made Interstate 10 in Santa Monica, which took me to the mid Wilshire district of the city of LA. I was there to meet Corky Quakenbush, who I had wanted to meet, since Graham Christian had sent me a Youtube link of him, over 18 months ago. I had found the videos very interesting, and wrote to Corky to tell him so. We exchanged a couple of emails, and I said I would see him, when I made it down this way.
I remember speaking to Allister Gillies (a UK aikidoka and occasional contributor to aikiweb) at one of Dan's Seminars in London. He had trained with Corky in Japan when Sunadomari Sensei was still alive. Allister was a student of my teacher (Ken Williams) for a number of years, until around Nidan/Yondan I think. He said that Sunadomari was one teacher that he felt, who was even softer with more power than Sensei Williams. Personally, I would have loved to have felt that for myself.
Anyway, back in LA, I found Corky's place, and within a short time of my arrival, was on the mat training with him and Joyce, one of his students.
Now, it is going to be quite difficult for me to give a proper account, of what occurred in the following hour or so, that we practised. One of the qualities I feel I have, is the ability to adapt to what is being trained on the mat, very quickly. But Corky's method of training took me a little by surprise. I knew from his video's and from his website, that he is doing something that does not involve practising formal waza. Rather, he is operating a lab/experimental practice, that is fully focussed on the spiritual tenets of O'Sensei's teaching. This is why I wanted to meet him in the first place. What I fairly quickly found out was that, my 'training' in particular techniques, was often the thing that got in the way of the effortlessness of Corky's method. He is pursuing the formless (hence, no waza) resolution of conflict, in a way that I have not encountered elsewhere.
Anyone who has practiced with me will know that I will follow a technique with ease, however, I wont take a fall unless the technique is applied cleanly. We practised with attacks fully focussed on dominating tori's centre, often with unorthodox grabs applied to the whole arm, or sometimes even grabs to the throat.
The big difference between what I am used to, and what Corky is doing, is in that I was wanting to 'do' something to uke (which sometimes met with failure), and he was wanting let uke know that he was there, full of 'compassion' helping him to find a way back to themselves. Which as long as uke continued their attack on tori's centre, usually ended up on the mat. Rarely was there a recognisable aikido technique used, only connection and a correct mental/spiritual feeling extending to uke. There is much more to say about what is being done, but I am going to leave my attempt to explain more fully, once I have spent more time in the LA lab/dojo
Now, this may all sound a bit baffling, and it is, at least to me. I thought I was soft in .my application of aikido. But after a few minutes with Corky, I realised that if my limbic system is triggered (which it almost never is, in my regular practice) I can be as 'pushy' as the next man.
We sat up late into the night talking and drinking tea. I was glad that my instinct had brought me to this meeting. I know I may learn some profound lessons from this very interesting fellow.
We practised more of the same and many more variations, the following morning when there were a few more students present.
I left in plenty of time to make it down to Seal Beach and Dan's informal Friday night beach practice. 'In plenty of time' has a whole new meaning in LA, it was only about 20 or so miles down to Seal beach, but LA freeway driving is worse than the M25 London's orbital motorway. 2 hours of stop start driving...yuck!
It was good to see Dan again and good to meet Gary as well. The beach session was fun and not too taxing, a nice start to the weekend.
The seminar itself was the same but different, from those I had experienced in London. As has been pointed out on the form thread, there was much more focus on detailed explanation, lead by questions from the floor. This suited many if not most of the participants. Personally, I would have preferred a bit more paired training, but that is a minor gripe, I was happy to soak up the detail along with the rest of the folk there.
In some ways it was a difficult weekend for me. I was pretty exhausted from the previous almost two weeks of daily aikido practice and travelling. Plus I had just encountered a method of practice that had really piqued my curiosity. And while not completely completely different, the two methods were creating a mental tension, My mind was pretty occupied and Dan's formidable knowledge was was wanting to find it's way in as well.
Dan is a formidable fellow, a more consummate martial artist I have not yet met. He has an excellent model for achieving the aiki body and a great way of teaching, plenty of humour and a total focus on transmission of what is needed to be done to achieve progress.
Anyone reading this, who may be considering the possibility of going to see Dan, I suggest you beg, borrow or steal the time and money and go and get some hands on time with him. He may be the closest you ever get to Ueshiba's aiki.
Having said that, I am looking forward to my return to spend more time with Corky in his lab, to explore the more spiritual/philosophical approach. So I'll write up what occurs, once it has.
Anyway, a special thanks to Gary Welbourn for being such a great host for Dan's weekend and for insisting that I sample some of his fine Tequilas. Absolutely superb, up there alongside the best single malts, mmm...
So after all of that focus on training, I definitely needed to take some time to decompress and spend some me time.
Fate, in the shape of a set of broken points on my bus, washed me up on the beaches of San Clemente, where I write this blog. It is a neat little town (the Spanish Village by the Sea), where I managed to kit myself out with a bodyboard and some fins. So a few days of surfing and reading are doing a great job of restoring me back to relative sanity.
I did nip down the freeway to Oceanside on wednesday evening, to visit Micheal Hackett's home dojo (Aikido of North County). Unfortunately the head teacher was unable to make it, but the class was ably lead in his place by Sensei 'Ron' one of the senior students there. This was the first AAA dojo that I have attended. This was also the first dojo to run through a similar set of aiki taiso exercises during the warm up, that I have been doing for many years. The class itself was all focussed on Jo exercises. All of which were new to me, so I am happy to add those to the ever growing grab bag of new variations that I have picked up on this trip.
So, as I sit on the beach, watching the pelicans, dolphins, surfers and the bikini clad californian girls go by. I am left pondering the dilemma, "to waza or not to waza?" that is the question. Where this aikido journey will lead me I am not quite sure. It certainly is interesting. My focus will remain on searching for the truth in both the practice and myself.