It Had to Be Felt #32: Seishiro Endo: Practice Basics - Be as Free as Nature
The tatami was overcrowded, far too many people, all of us sitting elbow to elbow, waiting for class to begin. Everybody was glad to have found some space at all while sitting in seiza. I was a little bit excited, this being my first time to practice with Endo Seishiro sensei.
I heard his voice from behind my back before I even saw him, scolding us for sitting too close together, with far too little space between us. How would we be able to meditate while touching our neighbours' elbows? How would we be able to bow properly without enough space in front of us?
I didn't know it then, but this, my very start with Endo sensei, was typical. I've often heard him asking this type of question since then. We were just waiting for class to begin - he wanted us to prepare. We were just glad to have found some space - he wanted us to meditate. He was not scolding us. He was teaching, right from the beginning, about our state of mind, abouthow to nurture it through sitting and bowing in a proper way.
We didn't do any waza during the whole seminar, although sensei did demonstrate some at the end. Rather, he made us do exercises nobody understood, strange things none of the uke I worked with could explain or had ever done before. We pushed each other on our hips, our shoulder blades from behind or our forehead. We tried to push up our partners arm or pull down his upheld fist. This first seminar was terrible! There was not one thing that reminded me to anything I had ever practised before. I didn't know then, but these silly "exercises" would become the core of my practice over the next years.
What I brought home, however, was a new image of what aikido could be. When Endo sensei demonstrated at the end of the seminar, I didn't understand what he did and how he did it. I had seen a lot of aikido before, sometimes presented by very high level practitioners and teachers , but I had never seen something like what he was doing. It was not only a variation of what I already knew, nor was it just one step further. It was different. I had no clue why his uke had to move the way they did; it seemed to be magic. As far as I was concerned, it was the first time I saw what aikido really is.
I met Endo sensei "for the first time" on a second occasion, one year later, when I actually got a chance to feel him. We were standing in ai hanmi. Only the tiny hairs on the skin of our forearms were touching. Not more: no grab, no hold whatever. Just that. It was a feeling more than actual contact. Suddenly, out of the blue, I went head over heels . I was lying exactly where I had been standing a split second before. Sensei kept on talking to my partner. I had been rammed into the ground just as part of an explanation.
How he did this went beyond my experience and -- what's more -- even beyond what I could have imagined then. I did not feel Endo sensei touching me. I didn't feel any sort of real contact. I didn't feel anything at all! No sense of up or down, no feeling of my movement during the fall, no awareness of what was going on. Just a kind of blankness. I didn't know it then, but I have often experienced this same sensation since. I don't take ukemi when Endo sensei throws me. I just go blank.
Later on during this seminar, sensei applied nikyo to me. I am very sensitive to pain. But sensei smiled at me, and said, "No pain!" Indeed: I didn't feel any pain. Actually I didn't feel his technique at all. This time I didn't go blank, but I only sensed myself. It was miraculous, as if I was doing the nikyo to myself, as if what was going on was only happening within me, within my own body.
When Endo sensei is working on contact, researching the relation between tori and uke, I don't really sense him or what he is doing. It is more as if I only feel myself. As if I myself am doing what he makes me do. I try to push against him or to get free, but I don't reach him even though he is there. I feel no resistance, not even of the "softest" variety. I feel no lead, even of the smoothest, most subtle kind. It feels as if I am doing within my own body what I am doing, as if I am struggling only with myself, instead of trying to get free from another persons control.
Over time, I realized that his "silly" exercises are not at all random, but very precise, clear and didactically structured. They are designed to research inside one's own body and also to explore the relation between tori and uke. For quite a long time, sensei did not teach any waza during seminars, but only these foundations of kihon, which leads to the development of a body that can move freely, in a soft and relaxed way. This set of exercises helps to develop a change of one's body structure, posture, and the way to move. Furthermore, through them, one learns about "the basics of the basics:" deai (first encounter), atari (engagement), musubi (connection), sabaki (movement).
I believe that in Endo sensei's view, natural movement spontaneously springs from an inner state of stillness within a relaxed body. Therefore, he practices in a way, that leads to calming oneself, to quieting one's mind. One of Endo sensei's instructional DVDs is named: "Stillness and Movement as One," something sensei emphasis this a lot. Working on one's heart-mind is, to him, as important as developing one's body. He teaches exercises, therefore, that are as simple as sitting down and standing up, or passing through shomen uchi. These are often done at the beginning of his classes to help in becoming calm, to stop thinking, reaching a certain state of mind.
What I experience as going blank or struggling with myself results from this certain way of practice. Although sensei is not getting out of the way, there isn't any resistance at all. Although uke is free to move, it is sensei who moves him. Although sensei is not evading the attack but going to meet it, there is no confrontation at all. All this is done within sensei's body. One signature of his aikido is that he does not grab, he does not take hold, he does not hook or anything of that nature. He doesn't need to. He just moves, as he puts it そのまま (sono mama) - just so. Natural.
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Re: It Had to Be Felt #32: Seishiro Endo: Practice Basics - Be as Free as Nature
In 1992 I was a nidan, and in Japan briefly (performing as a musician) and decided on my one day off to go to Hombu while the rest of the guys went shopping.
I went when I had time and, having no idea who Endo sensei was, took his class. He seemed to like me and used me for ukemi several times (which seemed to annoy some of the regulars...mostly Europeans). At one point I was standing holding his wrist during a katatori attack, not when demonstrating in front of the class, and I decided to really try not only resist him, but keep my balance, center and not respond with my body. it was very interesting! I tried not to, but somehow felt like I was falling into a void and ...there I was leaning forward off balance.
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