Yoshinobu Takeda Shihan Seminar
Fire Forges Aiki Spirit in Nelson BC Canada
"Iron is full of impurities that weaken it; through the forging fire, it becomes steel and is transformed into a razor-sharp sword. Human beings develop in the same fashion."
- O Sensei
Arsonists set fire to the dojo of Kootenay Aikido Kenkyukai in Nelson, British Columbia, on July 3, 2003. Leaving the dojo after the regular Wednesday class, none of the members could have imagined what was to occur later that night when four men broke into the building and set fires in the basement. Training had been taking place at the Nelson dojo for the past 11 years. The space was ideal -- peaceful and spacious, with a waterfall right outside the door. The international seminar with Takeda Yoshinobu Shihan from Yokohama was only weeks away and suddenly the club was without a dojo. In addition, sixty-six rice straw mats and other necessary equipment were ruined.
Within two days after the fire, chief instructor Jean-René Leduc had found a place to hold classes. Fortunately, the club had just been given 150 mats from a high school in Japan and those were set up in the new space. However, the work of finding a suitable location for the seminar was still ahead.
After several weeks of searching, a setting was found and the work of transforming a bare college gymnasium into a traditional dojo space began. Nelson is an exquisite setting for a gasshuku. Participants exclaimed at the beauty of the majestic mountains and pristine lakes and were charmed by their experiences of Canadian hospitality.
About 30 participants gathered for the seminar, coming from Japan, Australia, Germany, and many parts of the U.S. The majority of the students were affiliated with Aikido Kenkyukai International (A.K.I.), an organization that was formed in 1996 by a group of Takeda Shihan's students in Australia, New Zealand, and North America. Students also came from other affiliations to experience Takeda Sensei's unique and inspiring presence first-hand -- his style is dynamic and powerful, yet effortless and flowing.
Takeda Sensei's A.K.I. instructors, including Jean-René Leduc Sensei, 5th dan from British Columbia, Lia Suzuki Sensei, 5th dan from Santa Barbara, California and Pennsylvania, and Paul Rapoza Sensei, 3rd dan from Cape Cod, Massachusetts, taught the early morning classes. They each brought their unique insights and helped us to deepen our understanding of Takeda Sensei's style. Frank Ostoff Sensei, 5th dan, from Dusseldorff, Germany, taught one of the early morning classes and introduced aspects of chi gung into the practice.
Takeda Yoshinobu Shihan, 7th dan, began as a student at Hombu Dojo in Tokyo and trained for many years under the late Yamaguchi Seigo Shihan, 9th dan, a direct student of O-Sensei. He is the director of Aikido Kenkyukai International and a member of the Aikikai Board of Directors of Hombu Dojo. Takeda Sensei is regarded as one of the greatest living masters of Aikido and the seminar was a rare opportunity to spend four days training with him in an intimate and intensive seminar.
Takeda Sensei's approach is high-energy and fast-paced with an emphasis on sensitivity and attunement with the partner's movement. He asks his students to take a creative approach to the study of Aikido. "Kenkyukai" means "study or research group" and Takeda Sensei is constantly challenging students to research the inner feeling. Throughout the seminar, he emphasized the concept of gathering uke into the centre and admonished us to move together with the partner. "Moving together means I must move….Don't move the partner, just stay in the centre and move yourself." He said that the movement should be effortless: "Small changes, big effect." He explained that our movements should be three-dimensional -- not just up and down. He asked us to pay attention to the triangle formed by the relationship between the extension of the horizontal and vertical lines and their meeting place in the hara. We were to draw uke into our own center and use gravity rather than muscle power to throw the partner.
In every class, he circulated amongst the students and worked with everyone -- from beginners to advanced. He often reminds students to relax while he works with them and offers specific pointers. He smiles and laughs spontaneously and readily communicates his joy in the movement.
At the end of each class, there was time for students to approach Takeda Sensei and the other visiting instructors for ukemi. This is a tradition that he has established called atogeiko ("after practice"). Students are thrown repeatedly until they reach their physical limits. Although challenging, the practice develops sensitivity and intuition. The mind lets go and we find ourselves moving with more freedom and relaxation.
Throughout the seminar, Takeda Sensei encouraged us to create an image in our minds to work with and to expand our horizons in all four directions. He emphasized this by having us work intensively with shoto and bokken to help us extend our minds beyond our physical limits. On the last day Takeda Sensei summed up his teaching by sharing the concept of "Zero Point" to refer to the place where everything meets at the centre, beyond space and time. At Zero Point, there is tremendous energy available and everything is possible.
Takeda Sensei has been offering healing treatments in Japan using an orgone ring. Several students attending the seminar were fortunate to receive private healing sessions with him. Orgonomy, developed by Dr. Wilhelm Reich, is the scientific study of life energy. The natural flow of orgone energy (or ki) is vital to a healthy individual as well as to life on earth. The orgone ring that Takeda Sensei uses helps to rebalance the natural flow of ki by releasing blocked energy in the body.
One of the highlights of the gasshuku was a gathering to celebrate the opening of White Pines Dojo in the Slocan Valley, which is situated in a wild flower meadow with a view of the Valhalla Mountains. Two students of Jean-René Sensei, Roland and Marcia Werner, began work on the straw-bale solar-powered building in May 2002. The dojo opening began with a keiko and the dedication of a six-sided peace pole, a gift of Takeda Sensei to the dojo. The peace pole is one of thousands around the world inscribed with the words "May Peace Prevail on Earth" in a different language for each side. At White Pines dojo the hope for peace is expressed in Sanskrit, Japanese, English, German, French and Spanish.
An embukai followed, in which instructors and students demonstrated their skills and spoke about what it means to train in Aikido. Jean-René Sensei spoke with inspiration about the discipline it takes to search for one's own "do" or way. The demonstration was watched attentively by about fifty visitors and evoked many thoughtful questions and comments.
O Sensei advised us to "Be grateful even for hardship, setbacks, and bad people. Dealing with such obstacles is an essential part of training in Aikido." For the members of Kootenay Aikido Kenkyukai, meeting the challenges caused by the fire in the summer of 2003 brought a deeper meaning to these words.
Submitted by Marilyn Wolovick
of Kootenay Aikido Kenkyukai (AKI Canada)
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