It Had to Be Felt #36: Clyde Takeguchi: Ecce Homo
My favorite book has always been Homer's Iliad. I remember once having a discussion with my major professor in which I was waxing sophomoric about the Heroic Tradition, honor, skill at arms, and of course, the protagonist to end all protagonists, Achilles. Echoing the Trojans, my mentor "unhinged my knees" with the simple comment: "True, Achilles might have been the better warrior, but Hector was the better man."
Most contributions to this series describe the somatic feelings associated with taking ukemi. Beyond that, however, I am going to take "felt" in its original denotation of "aesthetic" (to perceive, sense or feel) and then by implication to include judgments of sentiment and taste).
Why, with so many plenipotentiaries around, do I choose to train with Takeguchi sensei. Simply put, he is the most measured and tasteful aikido teacher I have ever met. Put more complexly, one of the reasons that I believe aikido may have, as martial traditions go, a relatively short shelf life, is that not only did the missionary shihan fail to grasp the inner workings of what made Ueshiba so formidable, (it wasn't really their fault, it was probably indecipherable by the time they were uchideshi), they were not given any andragogy into the essential element of a successful teacher. A teacher is essentially in a custodial position, and with that comes the responsibility to actually teach and transmit. With a few notable exceptions, this mandate has been honored more in the breach than the observance by those who, in their 30's, went out with the hubristic mission to teach the West the error of its ways.
Clyde was not around for the apotheosis of Ueshiba Sensei; he considers himself neither descended from, nor a student of, a deity. As Nisei, he was often the victim of bigotry from Japanese instructors. I believe, rather early on, Clyde chose to practice aikido, for which he needed practice partners, rather than becoming primarily a teacher, for which he needed students. Rather than holding court; he trains, and invites you to train along with him. Not wanting to impress, but rather to improve his own technique, it behooves him to empower those with whom he trains. One implication of this is, the better they get, the better he gets. Put differently, in order to be able to really teach, it is necessary to regularly train. Despite being the rather reluctant titular head of an organization that comprises some thirty-odd dojo, Takeguchi sensei regularly takes classes taught by his senior students. I have on several occasions been at seminars at which he was on the billboard, but he took class from other teachers.
But of course that begs the question as to "of what does his training consist?" A deceptively simple answer it is the curriculum of basic aikido techniques. He reminds one more of Kuroiwa sensei, who maintained that "world peace" would be better served by people practicing more diligently than by the eschatological homilies so common to the missionary shihan. Not only is his kihon infused with the prototypical vigor found in the early days of aikido in Hawaii, but echoing his profession as a researcher, he has drawn upon what he has seen of value in the teachings of others. One finds there elements (spices, not essential ingredients) of karate, judo, and most notably, Katori Shinto-ryu.
Takeguchi sensei's technique is not magical. It is, and this is far more important, technically excellent, understandable, and transmittable. When he is doing ikkyo, it is all timing, angles, and efficiency. It is not what he puts in, it is what he leaves out, which is hubris, muscle, and a need to come out on top. He also leaves out the ineffable.
Ascended is the cloudy flame, the mount of thunder dumb,They have not come to me either. There once was a time when simple proficiency in aikido was the Grail. Half a century later, the fact that simple excellence is rather widespread has blinded us to the fact that this was what many of us wanted in the first place. We spend thousands looking for one-inch punches, one finger pins, and throwing without touching, yet how many of us can do a simple ikkyo? Isn't that, in the end, what a teacher sets out to do: teach the basics? There does not have to be anything more. Takeguchi sensei solicits a very simple commitment: if you wish to learn excellent technique, which can be quantified and explained, then you simply have to show up to practice. To echo Karl Popper's definition of a scientific method: one has a hypothesis, one does the experiment, and others can reproduce it. Here are the basics, do them regularly and you can reproduce what I've done. No need for submission, sycophancy, or the suspension of your own critical faculties. Takeguchi sensei is not, refreshingly, threatened by your own individuality. He does not lecture, and he buys his own beer.
More concretely: one of the things that I have always endorsed about Takeguchi sensei's teaching is the separation of labor between the "connection" with the attacker, and the "execution" of the technique. Too often I have seen nage try to take balance with the technique itself, prior to having it beforehand. To take an example of a technique done uncritically: In tsuki kotegaeshi, uke punches and nage goes for the universal solution to all attacks, (regardless of the context) — he "irimis." Once the entire system has come pretty much to a complete stop, the nage then "tenkans," trying to take uke's balance by twisting him around, finally throwing him by twisting his wrist. I believe this approach evolved from those students of Ueshiba who, like everyone else, when they could not duplicate Ueshiba's skill, tended to rely on timing as a counterfeit substitution. In contrast, Takeguchi sensei's approach reminds me a great deal of the famous Asahi Shinbun video of Ueshiba in the prewar era. A careful viewing of that video shows the old man "loading" or connecting with his uke as a distinct and separate operation from the actual throwing of him (as an aside, this is very reminiscent of how things are done in the taiji world). This, in my opinion, is the converse of the way aikido is usually done. Normally the nage "times" the entry, and then attempts to take the uke's balance with the technique in question. Hence there is a certain ballistic notion to training wherein the nage has a solution in mind PRIOR TO EVEN CONNECTING WITH THE UKE. This is most disastrous in testing where any change in the context of the attack makes the required technique much more difficult to execute.
My experience with Takeguchi sensei reflects more of what I see on that video of Ueshiba. He moves where he needs to be to take balance, and then and only then, will he perform the technique most appropriate to the situation. There are no "cheap shots" (i.e., attempts at supplementing bad timing and ma-ai with lessons brought in from striking arts), since at this point the uke is essentially weightless anyway. And there is no attempt at thaumaturgy. It is simply the application of a very, very refined grammar. Conflict is a gritty business and admits of no perfection for humans. For an Achilles, perhaps, but then, he was only half human. With Takeguchi sensei, one knows what is expected of nage, one gives it his best shot, one fails often, and those who persevere attain a very respectable level of skill. A world full of geniuses is self-contradictory and narcissistic. A world full of people who are good at a measurable skill is not beyond reason.
At the end of the day, effort notwithstanding, I could never have learned from an Achilles, and it makes little difference whether Achilles was in fact a demi-god, or merely had me convinced he was. However, I could -- and can - train with a Hector. Far better than most, he did not have to be the best. But unlike Achilles, who had only subjects, slaves, and perhaps only one friend, Hector had friends, colleagues and was loved. Not a bad legacy that.
For those inclined to post, please re-read the introductory column before doing so. The rules for contributors, in short:
Re: It Had to Be Felt #36: Clyde Takeguchi: Ecce Homo
"Just have fun", are words that ring in my ear constantly. Another is "connect to your-self". Then there's "you have to take the uke". One of my favorites is "LOOKS simple", which usually means we ain't got it yet.
Takeguchi Sensei is a gifted teacher, no make that a gifted individual- in that he knows how to give each person just what they need at a particular time. Another one of his sayings is "time in", meaning that we have to put in more time to understand certain things through the body. There's no rush to get it now. He gives seemingly simple advice. I would say he is very measured. It took me a while to figure out that Sensei actually likes to discuss aikido and things related. At first I didn't want to be a bother. Now I'll even email him a question. Often after class or seminar you can spot him working with someone who may not have taken their first kyu test. Everyone gets the same attention and care.
My impression is that he is always striking but his aikido is not dependent on the strike. Rather he is in position to strike and his ‘intent' displaces you in subtle ways that have an obvious impact on your structure. For me, I don't try to intellectualize this. I have to feel it and fortunate for me Sensei teaches via direct transmission through the body. He is a scientist and he takes a rational approach. I've found that by taking ukemi from Sensei and staying connected as long as possible (not bailing out) I get every bit of the complete "statement" he is making physically. It has also changed my ukemi over the years. Sensei is a very up close and personal martial artist. His aikido to me is close quarters combat. Even when he takes ukemi, he stays close to put himself in position to counter or to protect himself. He is very efficient, a minimalist.
His body is a bit banged up but still he takes ‘the uke'. He has done a lot of solo weapons work over the years and it informs his aikido to a large extent. Because of his Hawaiian roots he employs a lot of Tohei Sensei's methods but it is integrated within the application of his technique. At the same time he is a big fan of Muhammad Ali's use of distance, timing, and body shifting. I don't get the impression he's attached to any particular ryu. He's more interested in finding methodologies that are rational and transferable. He works on principles not rigid kihon waza.
So what does he feel like? I suppose you will get different answers depending on what day it is One way for me to describe his feel would be the stability of Tamura Sensei, the subtlety of Endo Sensei, with the grip of an eagle. Sensei NEVER gives up his posture. His elbows are typically close to his body. His execution is direct. The nature of his technique tends to be up and down as opposed to circular on a horizontal plane. Physical contact is ‘soft' and sucks you in rather than uke struggling to stay connected. Usually when someone pins me, I can find some space at some point in the encounter to slither or find space. I have not been able to find that wiggle room with Sensei yet but he often ‘invites' me to try. Because he is so connected to his self, you become an extension of his movement…like a ken or jo. Sometimes when he applies his technique (even static) there is the feeling of air under my feet. Other times I am pinned in place, immobilized for a moment.
And no matter how fast you are or how quick you attack, he time warps you…sucks you into a hole and your physical assets are not worth much at that point. He does this by connecting to you before physical contact. Once I came at him extremely fast and I thought I had him but in the midst of the interaction we both smiled because we both knew he had me. He just made a subtle shift and I was on my back.
One of the more telling things about Takeguchi Sensei in my opinion is that whenever one of my students or I visit a dojo and the dojo-cho finds out that we are affiliated with Sensei, the first words are ALWAYS, "Clyde is such a great guy"…before any mention of his aikido it is always about Sensei the person. I think that says a lot. Nice people also gravitate around him. I think all of us who have access to Sensei or have been affiliated with him for some time feel quite fortunate and protective. I do envy my seniors who've been with Sensei for many many years. In my case I started at Capital when I moved to Virginia, then spent a few years training a different dojo, then found my way back. So I have a very good idea of how fortunate I am to be JUST one of his students. In the 16 years that I've been affiliated with Sensei, he has been the model (Shihan) that I aspire to as martial artist and as a person.
Re: It Had to Be Felt #36: Clyde Takeguchi: Ecce Homo
The first thing I noticed about Takeguchi Sensei was his smile and the positive energy surrounding him. I first met Sensei through an interesting coincidence in working on my Aikido in Hawaii project. He was very forthcoming with information and gave me a great deal of help in my project. We are very fortunate to have Takeguchi Sensei visit our dojo in the last couple of years due to the fact he has family on our island.
The first thing I noticed about Sensei's technique was that he has meticulously worked on every detail about body movement and positioning. When teaching class he often goes over minor details often left unexplained or unnoticed by other teachers. His movements are small and minimalistic but with very effective results. We are often scratching our heads trying to reproduce the same waza usually to no avail. Takeguchi Sensei's approach seems to be a very detailed pedagogical approach to Aikido.
Another interesting aspect I learned from Takeguchi Sensei was every movement was Kokyu. This may seem obvious to many but for me it "clicked" in seeing his movements. Whether in tenkan or subtle body movement, Takeguchi Sensei's integrated kokyu in his movement has you off balance before you even really touch him.
I have three memories that stand out from my experiences with Takeguchi Sensei. The first was a technique from tsuki. I punched him, he avoided my punch, he positioned one hand over another in a kokyu movement ( Kinda like crossing your arms but with a space between for your hand), caught my arm between his, he shifted his weight subtly and dropped me. Sensei barely moved yet shifted my weight to my back corner to which I fell.
The Second was a nikkyo technique. I felt some painful nikko from many people before but this was a different feeling. When he applied it to me my entire body locked up and I could not even say a word. It felt as if he was crushing me down through my feet past the floor. Later I jokingly said to Sensei that I think my descendants felt the pain from that nikkyo.
The last was a kotegaeshi technique. As Sensei avoided my tsuki he grabbed my hand with his last two fingers and his thumb (The infamous eagle grip!!), then pinned my arm between his elbow and knee. He than said with a smile " That doesn't feel good does it!" to which I painfully agreed. He then threw me with ease with a smile on his face.
One of the early pioneers of Aikido in Hawaii, Takeguchi Sensei is truly an inspirational person and a phenomenal teacher. He was here in Hilo when O Sensei visited the Big Island and took part in the demos also. Even though he is a senior teacher he still takes ukemi. At Aikido Celebration 2011 and our 2012 Winter camp in Hilo, Takeguchi Sensei was there taking ukemi and training with all of us on the mat. Takeguchi Sensei is one person I would consider to be the definition of Shihan.
Re: It Had to Be Felt #36: Clyde Takeguchi: Ecce Homo
I wouldn't be studying Aikido if I hadn't encountered Takeguchi Sensei.
I had been studying Hapkido for about 10 years and a couple years of Judo and always had a curiosity about Aikido. I was simultaneously attracted to and put off by the philosophy. I liked the idea of controlling without trying to cause injury but also had adopted a hard nosed mindset about what was effective. I showed up at Capital with a semi-open mind. I was familiar with the outward appearances of the waza as Hapkido has similar techniques but done with a different goal.
After practicing with some of the yudansha over a couple of days I was still intrigued but not convinced. I still thought I could power through most of what was being offered. Then at the end of class where we were working on kotegaeshi Clyde came over to offer some advice.
I had a kotegaeshi applied to me many times in my years in Hapkido the constant characteristic in my past experience was that it was supposed to hurt. After a little bit of discussion back and forth he offered up his wrist which I grabbed. Very casually I was then handed a ton of bricks and saw Clyde standing over me smiling. No pain, I wasn't slammed or jerked I was completely and gently overwhelmed. I didn't feel like I could have used brute force to get out of it despite out weighing him by maybe 50 pounds. This was something different. I was hooked.
One of his mantras is "connect yourself." This can take on a variety of meanings in Clyde speak depending on what he is addressing but in the most general sense he is talking about having an integrated structure, your parts moving in conjunction and harmony in your own space. Easier said than done. That's what you feel. He's grounded and you are going for a ride along the gears and falling in the holes created. Never rushed or brutal just solid. It's a lot of fun.
Beside his technical expertise the most striking thing about Takeguchi Sensei is his approachability and the sense that he is having as much fun as you are. He has time for everyone and is usually wearing a smile. He carries the Aloha spirt of his native Hawaii. He seems to enjoy everyone he meets on his path, if he can help them he will, taking ukemi for a newbie or discussing minutia with the advanced. Another Clydism " Looks easy but…it's hard" As mentioned earlier Takeguchi Sensei is a great guy and makes it look easy.
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