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George S. Ledyard 06-11-2009 11:20 AM

George's Short Guide to Cross Training
There continues to be a lot of discussion about "internal power" on the Aikido forums. A number of names have come up frequently although I suspect that folks are quietly discovering teachers on their own from whom they can get these principles. But of the ones who seem to be exercising the most influence on the Aikido community in general, I thought I try to help people organize their thoughts on the subject with my take on it.

The major players influencing the Aikido community right now are as follows:

Ushiro Kenji from Japan - Head of Shindo Ryu Karate

Vladimir Vasiliev (Toronto) and Michael Ryabko (Moscow) of the Systema

Akuzawa Minoru - Head of the Aunkai

Dan Harden (USA) - major influence Daito Ryu

Mike Sigman (USA) - Chinese Martial Arts

Howard Popkin (USA) - Daito Ryu Roppokai

Of these teachers I have had some direct experience with all of them except Dan Harden. However, I have good friends training seriously with all of them so I get regular updates and insights.

Let me say, first and foremost that I believe that training with any of these teachers will drastically alter ones take on Aikido in a positive way. I would not voluntarily pass up any opportunity to train with one of them if I could help it.
But what you could expect to get from working with each of these teachers is drastically different even though some of the principles of structural training are shared. I'll try to break it down according to my own experience.

First of all, although ultimately you can't really separate the physical from the mental some of these teachers work far more on the mental or psychic side than others. So I'll start with the physical.

Each of these teachers has some system of exercises which are designed to condition the internal structure of the body, the ligaments, tendons, and fascia. All will focus on replacing strength via muscular tension with strength via proper body structure and muscular relaxation. Most of these exercises are right out of the Inquisition and definitely fall into the no pain, no gain category. The good news is that substantial benefit can be had for most Aikido folks from just moderate commitment to these exercises.

One of the key issues on the physical training side of things is that these teachers all come from backgrounds which have different outer forms than Aikido. So if you train with Mike Sigman, Akuzawa Minoru or Ushiro Kenji you'll get amazing structural training but you will have to do the work to translate what they do back to your Aikido. I have observed that many folks are not very good at making these connections. Because of that they either ignore training that they don't understand or they quit Aikido in order to pursue their new direction. I am hopeful that people will learn to connect what these teachers do to their own Aikido training. Each of the teachers mentioned has made some effort to show those connections to interested Aikido students.

The most radically different training paradigm is the Systema. All of the other systems teach from the standpoint of form. Systema has no form, they don't teach technique. I think it the hardest of all these approaches for an Aikido student to translate back in to basic or even intermediate Aikido. On the other hand, if one has higher level skill in Aikido where one has already started letting go of the strict forms of the basics, then Systema relates directly. Because it has no form itself, each individual can give it whatever outer form he wishes. But for beginners and intermediates I think you'll find that serious Systema training messes up your ability or even desire to do kihon waza. This can be problematical as that is what you are responsible for mastering at the early part of your training.

In my own opinion, because Daito Ryu is the parent art of Aikido, the training one would do with Howard Popkin in the Daito Ryu Roppokai or with Dan Harden in his system would require the least effort to translate back in to ones Aikido. One can easily see how the principles apply in Aikido waza even though the Daito Ryu is more direct and has far less movement than what we normally do.

Mike Sigman has some Aikido background and this makes it much easier to connect what he does to what we do since he can show you directly. Akuzawa Minoru and Ushiro Kenji are the farthest from what we do in outer form and so it requires a bit of skill at making connections between principles to benefit as much from training with them.

Whereas all of these teachers will teach you how to develop a structure capable of generating internal power there are some differences when it comes to elements like the breath or kokyu. Akuzawa Sensei doesn't really do much with breath as opposed to the Systema folks whose training is pretty much all about the breath, right from the start of your training. Most of the structural and breath training in Ushiro Kenji's system is done through kata work. These forms would be recognizable to any student of Okinawan Karate but Ushiro Sensei's take on them is often quite different from what one would get in a typical karate school. It takes some effort to see how these forms contain principles we would utilize in Aikido technique. The other teachers would have a varying mix of the physical along with breath training. Mike Sigman and Dan Harden have written extensively on this so I won't attempt to summarize their approaches. I know that in the Daito Ryu Roppokai achieving proper physical relaxation via various forms or exercises seems to take precedence at the beginning (my only level of experience) over trying to connect the principles to any complex system of breathing.

Where these systems really start to distinguish themselves is in the are of the relationship of the physical to the non-physical. The aspect of the Mind and what we might call psychic energy is a main component of the training one would do in the Systema or in Ushiro Sensei's system. It is no accident that Michael Ryabko and Ushiro Kenji became friends after meeting at the Aiki Expo. I think they recognized in each other a person operating at an entirely different level from most other folks.

This aspect of developing extreme levels of sensitivity on a psychic level really distinguishes these two systems. I think this is the level at which training in either of these systems would most easily benefit the average Aikido practitioner since the sensitivity side of things is beyond form so you don't have any trouble connecting it toyour Aikido.

This is not to say that the other teachers or systems mentioned don't have an energetic aspect to their training. It's just a matter of emphasis. The Systema and Shindo Ryu Karate systems place the greatest emphasis on this training right from the start of any system in have seen.

So, let me sum up here:

Physical Training for Internal Power - every one of these teachers or systems contains this aspect of training; they might have different approaches but after some substantial effort with any of these teachers, one would experience a drastically different sense of using ones body and an entirely different way of thinking about body mechanics.

Training most easily digested for Aikido folks:
Here I would have to say that Dan Harden's system or Howard Popkin's Daito Ryu Roppokai system are the easiest for the average Aikido student to relate to what he already does. However, that said, I would not hesitate to take advantage of any of these teachings as they were available.

Training the non-physical:
Here I would say that the Systema and the Shindo Ryu Karate systems offer training I have not seen anywhere else. However, this is totally dependent on the teacher. There are tons of folks doing systema in little study groups around the country and these are not the folks who can give you much of a take on this. Vladimir Vasiliev or one of his senior students can. And if you can catch a seminar with Michael Ryabko when he comes from Russia, he is the O-Sensei of their system.

Ushiro Sensei has a couple of American students who are working with him seriously but they are relatively new. To really get the goods one needs to train directly with Ushiro Kenji. This might take some effort because he isn't really inclined to teach Aikido folks so one would have to start seriously training in his system. On the other hand, someone like Hiroshi Ikeda Sensei has gone out of his way to work on many of the principles Ushiro Sensei taught when he was in the states and has, in a sense, predigested them for us. It may be the best way for most aikido folks to get access to Ushiro's work.

I think that in terms of pure accessibility Dan Harden and Mike Sigman may be the best to connect with in the sense that each has his own system, neither is beholden to anyone and can teach whatever and whomever he wishes, both are native English speakers and are extremely accomplished at offering systematic explanation of complex principles.

This is a very simplistic synopsis. Each of these teachers offers enough to keep any serious Aikido student busy for years. Each teaches things that are either absent from most Aikido or at least are not taught in any systematic form. The exposure to these teachers and systems is transforming Aikido in a positive manner and I eagerly await the time in a few more years when this exposure has had time to turn into something really deep.


Nicholas Eschenbruch 06-11-2009 12:36 PM

Re: George's Short Guide to Cross Training
Ledyard Sensei,
thank you very much, that is a really useful orientation, even after all that browsing through pages and pages of IS discussions - or even more so after that ... thanks for the effort!


Kevin Leavitt 06-11-2009 02:42 PM

Re: George's Short Guide to Cross Training
Thanks for the summary. Very helpful!

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