It Had to Be Felt #45: Kubota Ikuhiro: The Power of Ki no Renma
Kubota Ikuhiro sensei of the Nara Aikikai is a prominent student of Tada Hiroshi sensei. He is a good friend of Jozef Poetiray, head of the board of instructors of the Yayasan Indonesia Aikikai (YIA). Kubota sensei frequently offers seminars in Indonesia.
I first encountered Kubota sensei during a seminar organized by YIA, when I'd been in Aikido for only 3 or 4 years. As aikido in Indonesia has always been a bit eclectic, it is always refreshing to have a shihan visit and give us a bit of direction. An Aikikai instructor usually visits each year, but Kubota sensei comes on his own.
Kubota sensei is shorter than I am, probably only going up to my shoulder (I'm around 5'11"), with forearms like a tree trunk. Perhaps I am exaggerating a little, but I cannot wrap my hand around his wrist. He moves like a whirlwind, very fast and generating a lot of energy. You need to be aware at all times and keep up with him, no matter what size you are. I see people that are taller than me get out of breath just trying to grab him.
He is not merely fast. He shows your openings, not by telling you, but by throwing a kick or an atemi. People observing this might be shocked, but he is totally in control, and as his uke, I've felt absolutely safe. I've been firmly, undeniable "tapped" a number of times, but never injured. Instead, he's taught me to be in the correct position at all times, not leaving any openings, and most importantly, to always be aware. After all, aikido is a martial art.
Every time he calls me as uke, I strive to feel what he is doing. Trying to catch him is hard enough—he moves either in a rotating motion or in a big circle, leaving his uke confused as to where he is supposed to be. When you succeed in catching him, however, you cannot just put your guard down and become a dive bunny; an atemi may come out of nowhere, and if you're not careful, you might walk right into it.
Kubota sensei is a cheerful man. He is always genki (full of energy). At the end of his seminars, he likes to do jumping rolls over a few people in the bowing position. Sometimes he does handstands, putting people far younger to shame.
Kubota sensei has shown me some of the essence of his training in arm wrestling, of all things. I confess that even if he used physical power, he would still beat me. He is quite solid and muscular. But he doesn't do arm-wrestling in the conventional manner. With his right hand wrapped around mine, his left arm and left leg extended straight out towards the ground, I couldn't stop his arm, it continually moves towards the table. I could only describe it as an extension of energy.
Some years ago, Kubota sensei got cancer. He has since healed. The first time I went to Japan, in the company of my sensei, Imanul Hakim and a fellow student, we went to Nara to stay for a few days with Kubota sensei. Kubota sensei was kind enough to provide us with accommodations, even though he was just recovering from his illness. He was thinner than the first time I saw him.
Kubota sensei told us that when he was in the hospital, Tada sensei would call him up, asking whether or not he has done his breathing exercise (which I would later find out were his ki no renma). Kubota sensei stated that these exercises contributed to his healing.
While in Nara, we saw another side of Kubota sensei. Beyond his being someone who would establish that aikido is still a powerful martial art, he has a great system for teaching children. He showed sets of exercises for kids that require good focus and coordination. I could barely follow them then, and I don't think I remember the sequences now. There were some new students present that day, children whom came with their parents. Kubota sensei called out both parents and children, and had the parents stand beside their children as he explained what aikido is all about, and did a few sets of these exercises and movements. Kubota sensei said that it is very important for the parents to understand what their children were learning. We never thought of that—in Indonesia, parents usually just drop off their children at the dojo and drive away.
Now, post-cancer, whenever Kubota sensei comes to Indonesia, he always begins with a set of Tada sensei's ki no renma. I do not remember all of them yet, but I am integrating what I do recall into my training.
Kubota sensei loves to show principles of what he's saying anywhere. He will do tai sabaki in a parking lot, and kote-gaeshi after dinner. A few years ago, while sitting beside Hakim sensei, he showed that when you lock somebody, you lock them in the hara. He called me over, and took my hand, and slowly did a kote-gaeshi. There was no significant pain on my wrist, but I felt something heavy within my hara and could not move easily. Movement in his aikido is from hara to hara, a concept that I will remember whenever I'm training.
After recovering from cancer, Kubota sensei is as fast as ever. His techniques are softer, but just as powerful. He still does jumping ukemi and hand stands, and he takes ukemi for students. I can perceive no difference between before and after his cancer. I would even say that he is even better than before. What is most humbling is that he reminds us that he came here not to teach, but to practice together with us.
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A friend of mine introduced me to aikido, but I did not join right away. In 1998 I finally joined a dojo that is affiliated with Indonesia Aikikai Foundation in a university under the guidance of Imanul Hakim sensei, who is still my teacher to this day. Hakim sensei is a scholar. He researches other martial arts, but not necessarily integrating it into his aikido. His good demeanor has made him lots of friends with many aikidoka around the world as well as other martial artists, some of whom I was fortunate to meet as well. The way I research aikido and other martial arts has always been influenced by his guidance.
Aikido has positively influenced how I perceive things, not only martial arts, but everything else in daily life.
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