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This past weekend I had the great pleasure of attending an Aikido seminar at Bucks County Aikido with George Lyons Sensei (Bucks County Aikido), Juba Nour Sensei (Aikido of Manhattan), and Michael Sidebottom Sensei (Connecticut Aikikai). It was an all day Saturday seminar, and there was a fantastic (and large) group of students to train with from all three locations, plus some others as well, I believe. All three teachers are members of the USAF Western Region, and all are students of T.K. Chiba Shihan. I believe that Chiba Shihan is often mentioned as an Aikido instructor who emphasizes the martial aspects of Aikido, and that is certainly what I experienced Saturday. While the practice was very safe (I am unaware of any real injuries), it was certainly very vigorous, correct, and martial. Having heard so much on the net about Chiba Shihan and his students, I had been very eager to have an opportunity to train with them.
George Lyons Sensei opened with warm-ups that concentrated on more stretching than I'm used to (but not quite as much as I remember with Donovan Waite Sensei). Since I haven't been able to train as much lately, due to a knee injury, the extra stretching was much appreciated. Many of Aikido's standards were part of his sessions that day, including Ikkyo, Nikyo, Shiho and Irimi. The Tenkan exercises that he started off with gave me a little of the feeling of the differences between the USAF West, East, and the Yoshinkan style that I am used to. I was very lucky in that throughout the day, Lyons Sensei moved around and trained with many different students, myself included. This gave me an excellent opportunity to feel his movement, how he connected with me, and to try to pattern my own movement during technique. His poise and grace combined so well with his ability to control me in both basic movement and technique, that I came away very impressed. I would not have been as successful trying to emulate their technique without his kind assistance.
Juba Nour Sensei seemed to concentrate on the martial aspects in a lot of his technique, stressing the need for strong, sincere attacks as well as strong Atemi. He even tricked his Uke into popping him on the head once to stress his point, and remarked that if we don't know how to attack, we should work outside of class to build up skills in hitting, and getting hit! The look on his Uke's face was priceless, as was the lesson Nour Sensei was imparting. So many Aikidoka, as well as other martial artists look askance at some of the attacks in Aikido. It is a popular (yet contentious) topic on almost every Aikido discussion site on the Internet. I think Nour Sensei's approach goes a long way to bringing some much-needed vitality into our training. While many of us do pick up this experience in one way or another, I sometimes find myself forgetting the need to really focus on the attack as Uke. Correct and vigorous attacks lead to correct and vigorous technique. I shouldn't neglect offering my partner my best effort. Nour Sensei's focus on this seemed to push the whole class to a higher level of commitment. I know that it did this for me. I also liked the focus on Suwari Waza in Nour Sensei's class. Even though kneeling is still very hard for me due to an injury, I felt a strong difference in my balance and my overall technique when doing Tachi Waza afterwards. I'd actually forgotten just how much I like suwari waza, and its benefits to my technique.
Michael Sidebottom Sensei also demonstrated very strong technique, and selected a range of shoulder grasp techniques to teach. He was also very helpful to me during an earlier class, especially on an Ikkyo variation that I wasn't as familiar with. He also used some of Chiba Sensei's Buki Waza to illustrate a shoulder grasp Kokyunage technique that I had not seen before. The Buki Waza technique was a cross-step back cut, cross-step in thrust, body change, cross-step in cut, and his form made his dedication to the weapons portion of Chiba Shihan's syllabus obvious. The technique (from a should grasp, gyakuhamne), was cross-step back, atemi to the face, cross-step in under Uke's arm, body change, place the close hand against Uke's ribs, and shuffle thrust for the throw. I was amazed at the amount of power generated on this throw. Uke was so unbalanced by the movement when done correctly that even a small shuffle produced an enormous amount of power. It was good to see the relation of the precise movements of Buki Waza applied to technique, and to see the direct benefits of that association.
As a Yoshinkan practitioner, I am always glad to see precise movement and technique, and I had loads of it this past Saturday. On top of this, in a dojo where strong technique is obviously the norm, I did not see any bullying or inappropriate throws. All of my partners knew I was not familiar with the style in which we were training, and all helped me to figure out any things I was unsure of, from the highest ranked instructor (6th Dan) to the lowest Kyu rank. I was able to take Ukemi at some point from each of the instructors, and learned a great deal. If anyone were looking for strong technique and a good instructor in Bucks County, Manhattan, or Connecticut, I would highly recommend any these instructors. My one regret is that my knee had enough before the classes ended, so I wasn't able to train for two of the sessions. I would like to extend my sincere thanks to Bucks County Aikido and Lyons Sensei for hosting a fantastic seminar!