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Old 04-20-2012, 07:50 PM   #3
Peter Goldsbury
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Dojo: Hiroshima Kokusai Dojo
Location: Hiroshima, Japan
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Re: It Had to Be Felt #7: Yamaguchi Seigo: Suburi with People

I took ukemi for Yamaguchi Seigo Shihan for a period of around fifteen years, from the time I first came to Japan in 1980 until what turned out to be his final visit to Hiroshima late in 1995. Yamaguchi Shihan conducted seminars in Hiroshima and on these occasions he rarely used university students as uke. He had a small group of three or four regular uke from the main Hiroshima dojo and I was a member of this group. On my visits to Tokyo I usually attended his classes at the Hombu Dojo and sometimes took ukemi.

At the time, my understanding of the role of uke was that it is much more than simply ‘attacking' (however this is conceived: I have used apostrophes to suggest that it is somehow artificial, especially in Yamaguchi Shihan's case) and ukemi is more than simply being thrown or pinned. [NOTE: In aikido, with both uke and ukemi, you enter into a kind of unwritten agreement with the one whom you are attacking. The unwritten agreement is based on a further unwritten assumption that the ‘attack' will take place in a certain fashion and will be followed by something called waza. The ‘attack' and waza usually end in ukemi, in the form of a projection, a pin, or manipulation of certain joints. The role of uke and ukemi were both used as a teaching tool by Sokaku Takeda and Morihei Ueshiba, who appear not to have been uke and taken ukemi for their own students. Considered as learning or research tools, being uke and taking ukemi are very difficult to do well, easily as difficult as the waza that the ukemi are intended to match. My contemporary understanding is of some relevance for the way in which I considered I should take ukemi for Yamaguchi Shihan.]

With Yamaguchi Shihan you (= uke) entered into a relationship that was intended to be mutually beneficial. The roles were rigidly defined: you were ‘attacking' in a closely prescribed manner; he was responding to—as well as sometimes initiating—the attacks, also in the closely prescribed manner that had become his trademark. For him the benefit presumably lay in displaying a perfectly executed response to an attack that followed the preferred pattern. If the attack did not follow the preferred pattern, the option was to accept more attacks in the hope that the preferred pattern would be discovered, or to choose another uke. Thus I was told that the population of the Hombu Dojo could be classified into Believers, Agnostics and Atheists, according to the attitude you had about Yamaguchi Shihan's way of training. The classification had no relevance for some other Hombu instructors, such as Hiroshi Tada or Sadateru Arikawa: they did not allow one the luxury of having an attitude.

Another major feature of Yamaguchi Shihan's aikido practice was the continuous sequence of waza. With suwari-waza shoumen uchi ikkyou, for example, you ‘attacked'; he put you down, but kept himself ready for you to rise and make another attack, usually with the other arm. With tachi-waza there were more possibilities, but the result was a cat-and-mouse type of activity, where the cat gave the mouse an opening, which the mouse was always supposed to take. On many occasions there was no other choice, short of stopping ‘attacking' altogether.

I have a striking recollection of Yamnaguchi Shihan's aikido. We had just finished a meeting and were walking from the meeting room into the hotel lobby. Yamaguchi Shihan came up behind me and gently grasped the back of my neck, just as one would for irimi-nage. I was holding a pile of files and documents, but was taken off balance just sufficiently to be rendered quite helpless, for I did not want to drop the files. It was like being unbalanced by--nothing. All the time he was talking about the meeting. (I am aware, of course, that with many people a conversation with Yamaguchi Shihan was largely a monologue on his part and some took exception to his enormous ego. I myself never found this. He seemed to quite happy to discuss philosophy, even was he was using me as uke.)

Last edited by Peter Goldsbury : 04-20-2012 at 07:55 PM.

P A Goldsbury
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Hiroshima, Japan
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