It Had to Be Felt #1: Chasing Doshu
I started training at the Aikikai Honbu Dojo in January of 1976. I stood out for three reasons: I am 2 meters tall, and at that time, at least, was the tallest person training there; I was personally introduced to Doshu (Ueshiba Kisshomaru) by my instructor, Kuwamori Yasunori, who came to the one hour class with me, twenty minutes late, and Doshu stopped the class to ask what he was doing there, because he knew he never got up early; and I was introduced to Doshu as a student of Saotome Mitsugi, who was, at that time, on the outs with the Aikikai and not my teacher anyway. Doshu looked at me "consideringly," and then I piped up in really broken Japanese to correct (!) my teacher and say that I wasn't Saotome sensei's student, he was, in fact a friend of mine, but I was Terry Dobson's student (Terry considered even more of a problem at the time -- and how about that "he's a friend of mine?" It was true in those days, in what was a strangely complex manner, but unbelievable for a young kid, an ikkyu, to say). Doshu pursed his lips, looked me up and down and called over Shibata Ichiro, "introduced" me as Terry Dobson's student. Shibata knew this was one of those special moments, and then it was one of those Bug's Bunny cartoons, when there's a whirlwind of arms and legs and the unsuspecting character is suddenly snatched up, spit out, snatched up again. And at the end of that class, Kuwamori said to me he was going home to go back to sleep (laughing up his sleeve, no doubt), but I should take the next class. And I see Shibata-san talking to Miyamoto-san, and the next class starts (I have no memory of who was teaching at that point -- it sort of felt like I was in an extended automobile wreck) and Miyamoto runs over, asks me to practice and even though that teacher called for a change of partner at the end of each waza, Miyamoto kept me like a bulldog with a favorite bone, and chewed on me the entire hour. The next morning, it was Seki-san, and I thus met the top three uchi-deshi, with Yasuno-san, the fourth, a student of Yamaguchi Seigo, not really in the mix. I will write about these younger shihan at some future time.
I came back. Every day I came back. In the evenings, I was either at the Kuwamori Dojo or another dojo (Kuroiwa sensei's, Nishio sensei's), but in the morning, two classes, and in the mid-afternoon, one class, I was at the Aikikai.
I had several attributes that made me of interest to teachers, so that I was soon called out to demonstrate techniques upon.
Two things leavened this impression, both of which made me smile.
I think he liked what he saw because he'd call me out one time, every class I attended. It was always one of two responses to my attack: wakigatame, on the one hand, and shomen-uchi irimi nage, on the other. Doshu's irimi-nage was, I believe, a hallmark of his effect on modern aikido, because it is perhaps the most common way the technique is now done. First of all, he was hard to catch: I felt like I was chasing thistledown. This begs a question, because, for his technique to work, one had to "throw oneself" at him, to some degree. He would do an irimi move to the outside, and put his lead hand on your shoulder, sometimes on the back of your neck, or rarely, grab your collar. Continuing to move towards your back corner, he'd pull down on that shoulder/neck, bending his knees a little. Here are some examples of him executing this technique, perhaps in a little less demanding form than he did when he was younger. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TZ6Dv7h8DC4&feature=fvst
Honestly, I do not recall "having" to fall at this point. I did not have the sense that he was using his whole body weight (sometimes called aiki-sage in Daito-ryu, I think), directly through his arm and hand, his body one unit, so to speak, so that I, somewhat off-balance to be sure, was forced to fall. Instead, I felt I was signaled to fall, and once I got to a certain point, I had to. I would hit the ground halfway between a side ukemi and a front ukemi (on my forearm), and Doshu would continue to move to my rear quadrant. It was my task to scramble after him, trying to regain my feet and, in theory, attack him again, while he placed just enough pressure on my shoulder/back of my neck and maybe my lead arm, to make that difficult, but not impossible. I was essentially, scrambling like I was chasing my own tail, but "over" my back shoulder, not as a dog does in a forward curve. Just as I regained my feet, up would come his other arm under my chin and with the aid of the arm still on my shoulder/neck, down I'd go.
It was a lot of work! Four of those and I'd be winded. The hallmark of his technique is that he tried to be always moving. He avoided collision, the ideal being that he was not where you wanted him to be. Therefore, you were overextended, or off-balance, trying to reach him or strike him.
If anyone wonders, I never once tried to trick him, resist him, stalk him slowly, clamp down on his arm, or tackle him. If I wanted to test the efficacy of aikido techniques, there were lots of young guys to do that with. He was a gentleman, and I acted like one too.
I never exchanged words with him after that initial introduction. I once came to 6:30 class with one of Kobayashi Yasuo's students, both of us still drunk, as we'd left off at three in the morning. Doshu came close to make a correction, smelled the two of us, backed up, started chuckling and shook a finger and walked off.
On another night, during a meal with a couple of the uchi-deshi at a nearby tonkatsu-ya (breaded and deep-fried pork cutlets), it was "wondered" whether I'd ever want to be an uchi-deshi myself. I was already training in Araki-ryu at the time, moving away from aikido into another world, so I demurred. I'm sure the subject would never have come up, however, had there not been some approving things said about me at the dojo. It means much to me that I found some small favor in Doshu's eyes, because I found him so admirable. He survived an upbringing with a remarkable man, without becoming as so many such sons do, either trivial or a mere echo of his father. He negotiated an incredibly difficult situation, with any number of prima donna, many of whom were more powerful than he, and others who believed that they were. He maintained himself, not at the top, but at the center. And in retrospect, I think that irimi-nage and wakigatame (held in reserve) exemplified his style of leadership as well as his style on the mat. He was, in this sense, of one piece. Most of the time, he simply maintained himself where those, who'd agreed to be in his aikido "system" couldn't fully reach him. But he did have a wicked armbar, which, very rarely, he could crack down on an offending limb.
For those inclined to post, please re-read the introductory column before doing so. The rules for contributors, in short:
Ellis Amdur is a licensed instructor (shihan) in two koryu: Araki-ryu Torite Kogusoku and Toda-ha Buko-ryu Naginatajutsu. His martial arts career is approximately forty years -- in addition to koryu, he has trained in a number of other combative arts, including muay thai, judo, xingyi and aikido.
In Memory of Second Doshu - Maurice Gauthier
Maurice Gauthier was a frequent training partner of mine at the Aikikai, and has remained a good friend. He wrote this beautiful memoir after Nidai Doshu's death, which captures not only the man, but the milieu.
Maurice has kindly given me permission to post his essay (an attachment) within this thread.
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