Location: Seminole, Florida
Join Date: Jun 2000
Thoughts on Aiki Expo '05 by SeiserL
Thoughts on My Aiki Expo '05 Experience
By Lynn Seiser, Ph.D., Sandan Tenshinkai Aikido
There is almost too much to say about the Aiki Expo '05. The first and last must always be our deepest compliments and appreciation to our host, Stan Pranin Sensei, of Aikido Journal. I can think of no one else with the vision, talent, connections, respect, and courage to pull this off. Pranin Sensei is Aikido at its best, even off the Dojo mats.
I have been at both prior Aiki Expos. The first one, Aiki Expo '02, was exceptional. It was only the second time I had trained off my home Dojo mat. I was nervous to say the least. The place was packed. Yet, I held my own. I was exhausted and overwhelmed when I got home and the experience had forever changed my Aikido. Aiki Expo '03 was another great experience. I still smile when I think about them.
In weeks before the 2005 Expo, I trying to figure and refigure who I wanted to train with. Some times too many choices is like no choice at all. There was no way I was going to see everyone I wanted to, yet I know who ever I saw I could learn something from. Like a kid in a candy store, I anxiously awaited.
I arrived early Friday morning to help put down the mats. There was some apprehension about all the workshops being in the same gymnasium. However, as the mats went down, it became obvious we were in for a great time. Everyone worked well together without words. Everyone was smiling.
I started each training day in a workshop with Sensei Toby Threadgill Sensei of Shindo Yoshin-ryu. The only two things as impressive as Threadgill's technique is his knowledge and his smile. He not only enjoys showing you what he can do, but he appears to get more enjoyment out of watching you get it too. The three classes were interrelated but each focused separately on sword, knife, and hand techniques. Threadgill is a master of subtleties in musubi (connecting) and kuzushi (taking balance) while keeping uke controlled and close enough to deliver that finishing blow or cut.
I finished each day in a workshop by Sensei Dang Thong Phong. Phong Sensei is a master of momentum, sleight of hand, and continuous combinations. His workshops are short on words and explanations, perfectionist corrections, and long on working out. Nothing is more convincing than being on the receiving end of Phong Sensei's technique and smiles. I must admit a biased and humble pride for having trained under him for over a decade.
Christian Tissier, from Paris France, was highly recommended to me by two very well respected sources. Tissier Sensei is the personification of elegance in Aikido. His moves are sharp and crisp. He knows exactly what he is doing.
Hiroshi Ikeda Sensei, from Boulder Aikikai, is always a favorite of mine. I catch him as often as I can. The first time I saw Ikeda Sensei move he said, "Understand?" and I thought to myself, "Understand? I didn't even see what he did." At a recent workshop, I said that each time I see him, I see a little (okay very little) bit more. This workshop was no exception. Ikeda Sensei is a master at connecting and taking balance with his wrist. There is very little motion. It is hard to believe his technique when you observe it, but there is no doubt remaining when you experience it. The only thing as elegant as his techniques are his gentlemanly ways and his smile.
Todd Jones Sensei of American Butokukan conducted a fast-paced, high-intensity workshop. He focused on practicing Aikido off the jab, something we are told we cannot do but Jones Sensei taught us how. His sense of entering (Irimi) to bridge the distance (maia), penetrating deep inside or outside the jab, demonstrated a clear sense of technical and strategic efficiency and martial integrity. We attacked directly, indirectly, and by combinations. Jones Sensei provided a workshop that was instructions, insightful, inspirational, and outright fun.
Molly Hale Sensei did her workshop from her wheel chair and made us do our techniques from a chair. Nothing will make you more humbled or sensitive than not being able to move. Hale Sensei's "just down" will forever by a part of my Aikido.
Pranin Sensei offered two workshops of talk. This was a courageous step on his part, to place mental Aikido into a physical Aikido training format. While not many attended in comparison to the other workshops, it may address a need to directly train the mind that moves the body.
The welcome part of Friday was not well attended but extremely enjoyable by those of us there. Just sitting around on the mat talking with everyone helped connect to just how far reaching Aikido is.
The Saturday night 8th Friendship Demonstration was incredible. This is what happens when 24 highly talented individuals take 5 minutes each to show the world their unique interpretation and perspective of their art. The time just flew by. I am not sure what I saw because I was too impressed. The DVDs should be a sell out. I will order mine early.
I have attended Systema workshops before and seen some tapes, so I was sorry I could not attend this time. At first, it seemed that the Systema people were not mingling with the rest of the crowd. Then I realized they have the founder (Mikhail Ryabko) and the top instructor (Vlasimir Vasiliev) to themselves for 2 ½ days I would do the same if I were in their place. They always seem like good people who train hard. There appears to be a great bridge building between Systema and Aikido.
There were far too many workshops to comment on everyone. Katsuyuki Kondo Sensei, of Daito-ryu, is always a powerful man. His technique leaves no doubt of the power that Aikido came from. I have always appreciated his presence at the Aiki Expo. Hitihiro Saito Sensei, of Iwama Japan, was an unexpected pleasure this year. The power and precision of his weapons work was impressive and inspiring. Koji Yoshida Sensei, Nishio Aikido, always makes the connection that Aikido comes from the sword. Kenji Ushiro, Shindo-ryu Karate, always packs the mat with students and his classes with great techniques. I was glad to see that ground fighting was present and well accepted by the presence of Roger Machado, of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, and Julio Toribio, of Seibukan Jujutsu. The presence of the more traditional arts of Toby Threadgill, of Shindo Yoshin-ryu, Ellis Amdur, of Araki-ryu, and James Williams, of Nami-ryu Heiho, just added greatly to the breadth and dept of the expertise and experience.
I was impressed to see so many familiar and talented southern California instructors including Henry Oshiro, of Orange County Aikikai, James Nakayama, of Chushinkan Dojo, David Dye, of Shuyokan, Dang Thong Phong, of Tenshinkai Aikido, and Haruo Matsuoka of Aikido Doshinokai. One of my all time favorite local talents is Francis Takahashi Sensei, of Temple City. His ability to connect and blend with students of all levels and instructors from all schools and countries is truly impressive. With his gentle sense of humor, he asks us all to step up to a higher standard.
The highlight of the Expo was the event itself. The visual impact of everyone training together, under different instructors, at the same place, at the same time was truly awe inspiring. There was so much quality instruction available with so many people training hard. There is no doubt in my mind that Aikido is a live and well and co-existing with other martial arts.
My only regret is not being able to train with everyone I wanted to. My only complaint is my biggest compliment.
There are several observations or suggestions I could offer. Perhaps if the Expo offered graded classes or tracts (beginners, intermediate, and advanced), maybe the Expo could attract lower belts. I hope the Expo continues to incorporate local talent along with internationally recognized figures, invite and encourage all organization's participation and attendance, include more esoteric talk topics (Omoto, Kotodama, historical O'Sensei, mental training and motivation, and conflict resolution), continue to cross-train with other styles of martial arts, and provide mat space and time for the truth. Perhaps alternating coasts as sites for the Expo would make it more convenient and affordable. I personally liked the first Expo with its 50-minute classes even through lunch provided the opportunity to see more instructors. I hope the Expo edits the seminar tapes (plural) to be instructional so we can get a glimpse of what we missed.
Sign me up for the next one. Wherever and whenever, I will be there. If I can be of any small assistance in the background, I hope I am asked. When the Expo starts, you will find me on the mats.
Pranin Sensei, once again, deepest compliments and appreciation. "Domo Arigato"