Dojo: Aikido in the Fan
Location: Richmond, VA
Join Date: Sep 2003
Re: Akuzawa Sensei Seminar in the DC Area/Aunkai
First I'll chime in with Jeremy and Kevin on thanking Ark, Rob, Hunter & co for putting on the seminar. Like Kevin said, the materials available online (Aunkai website, Rob's posts here, articles on AJ, and videos on youtube) do pretty much cover what we did, so I could theoretically have gotten started from there. I'm sure I'll be revisiting those in light of the weekend's experience, but being able to get such immediate feedback on my form and my experience within the frames was a valuable way to get started working with these training methods.
Here are some more specific things I got out of attending, my attempt at more of a "good seminar review" but really just a somewhat disorganized collection of observations:
Seeing and feeling Ark was a real treat! I've felt a small handful of aikido folks who seem to have "gotten" this internal stuff to some degree, but none as palpably so as Ark. He manifests power and grace outside of forms, with every movement (whereas the aforementioned aikido folks seem only to manifest it within aikido-related forms, in my limited experience). Ark moves remarkably efficiently, and he looks like he could easily do what he does with a beer in the other hand (yes, Jeremy, you're still welcome to steal that one, but figured I'd stake my own claim to it too ;-D)
Also unlike those aikido folks, Ark has a clear system of pedagogy for what he's "got," and his students are evidence that the system does bring results, even with only sporadic direct contact with the man himself.
I thought it was interesting that he remarked and demonstrated several times, on the application side, that "it's not about timing, it's not about vectors, it's not about technique", much like O Sensei said, much like Dan is saying.
I got a clearer idea that these exercises are about conditioning the body by inducing (or emphasizing) opposing forces (up/down, forward/backward, left/right), bringing about a tendency toward balance, stability, and conservation of energy in the body. Being a bit overly inclined toward the philosophical and abstract, these unifying ideas appeal to me, and I now have clear and specific examples of how they apply to the hard work of daily training.
All around, Ark is a really engaging, entertaining guy, on and off the mat. For me, Ikeda sensei has been the gold standard for setting a positive tone at a seminar, and now I can say that Ark is right up there with him on that standard.
The generosity of the folks who have been doing this for a while was remarkable: Rob, Hunter, Tim, Takeo, Jeremy, Carmen, and probably others I'm sorry to be forgetting at the moment. These guys shared their experience and gave suggestions and feedback freely, earnestly and without a single note of arrogance or condescension that one sometimes encounters on the mat (especially when one is "just not getting it").
I do think there were tips on how to train, specific tips on the exercises that aren't as obvious (to me) from material online, but I'll be interested to go back over that material and see what more I pick up from it now; it's likely I just missed them on the first read-through.
The personal feedback is also obviously not available online: I didn't notice my arms weren't straight there, or that my hands weren't rotated enough here, or that I was leaning forward at this or that point. Realtime reminders that "at this point you should be feeling tension in this direction" are much easier for me to process than written reminders referred to in between repetitions.
I had at least one "aha" moment linking the classic aikido rowing exercise to the aunkai exercise we were doing (punching while maintaining the lower-body arch and connection between lower and upper body), where I think I learned something specific and valuable about aikido training.
Never before have I come away from a seminar with such a clear impression of what I'm taking away from it to work on "at home". Coming away from aikido seminars, I usually have an idea or three that I want to try to remember to apply to my on-mat training, maybe, if I can, if it fits what my own teacher is doing, if my training partners are willing to work on it with me, etc. Coming away from this seminar, I feel like I have a very clear set of building blocks for a solo program of body conditioning and personal research, and the confidence that hard work on those building blocks yields results.
I was lucky to have a relatively short (2hr) drive to this seminar, but if this sort of thing were to happen every six months, I would be there, even assuming there were an alternation between east coast and west coast (which would make sense, given the number of folks who flew in from points west for this one).