Re: It Had to Be Felt #8: Saotome Mitsugi: One Strike
I have very rarely experienced Saotome Sensei's aikido directly, but one time still stands out in my mind, almost 25 years after the experience...
I started aikido in 1982 in Madison, Wisconsin, with John Stone and Robin Cooper who were both long time students of Saotome Sensei. A few years after that, John and Robin were able to have Saotome Sensei come to Madison to teach a weekend seminar. At one point during the seminar, he demonstrated a response to a face punch that involved both "brushing" the punch aside as uke's front foot was swept out (anyone who has seen Saotome Sensei with some frequency knows the general technique that I'm referring to). As we practiced the technique and Sensei walked around the mat observing, he decided to ask me to punch at him (can't remember if he wanted to make a specific point to my part or just wanted to play with a different uke for a moment). I distinctly remember thinking "this attack has to be spot on and I really have to try to hit him...my teachers would be appalled if I did anything less." I stepped forward, absolutely focused on punching Sensei's face...and found myself on the mat lying on my back.
To this day, the only way I can describe what I experienced was that unlike ANY other aikido technique that had been applied to me as uke, the beginning and the end of Saotome Sensei's technique happened simultaneously. Not one right after the other...simultaneously. And the entire middle "part" of the technique felt like it had been compressed to nothing. Not deleted, not rushed through, not ignored...just compressed to the point where there was no gap between the beginning and the end. And somehow that compression had been accomplished without diminishing or destroying the integrity of the technique.
What I experienced was like nothing else in aikido that I had experienced up to that point, or since. To be honest, my immediate reaction was to break out in laughter which fortunately I was able to suppress. Saotome Sensei walked away towards another group, my partner and I both bowed to him in thanks, and I kept trying to wipe the grin off my face. Feeling Saotome Sensei's technique that time was my first experience with a level of timing and subtlety that was far beyond anything I had ever experienced. I came away from that class feeling that I had just encountered a level of aikido that I never knew existed.