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Old 05-27-2014, 09:53 AM   #2
Alex Megann
Dojo: Southampton Aikikai
Location: Southampton
Join Date: Sep 2004
Posts: 346
Re: It Had To Be Felt #50: Masatake Fujita: When is a Hombu Deshi Not a Deshi? When He's the Secreta

As Peter mentioned in his excellent article, Fujita Sensei was for many years the Technical Advisor to the British Aikido Federation. From the mid-1980s until his abrupt and unfortunate retirement from aikido in 2008 he was a regular visitor to the UK for BAF Summer Schools, and indeed was the examiner for most of my grading examinations all the way from sankyu to yondan. In one sense this meant he was simply continuing in his role as Kanetsuka Sensei's sempai from their university days, and the closeness of this relationship was clear to us -- I think Fujita Sensei was one of the few visiting instructors with whom Kanetsuka Sensei was completely relaxed. Their banter often provided some entertaining light relief: I remember one class where Kanetsuka was leading some stretching, and Fujita took part in the class (for whatever reason -- I suppose his presence there in itself was a sign of their relationship!), and Kanetsuka joked that Fujita was almost as supple as him, but his generously proportioned belly was too big for him to perform the seated forward stretch with the legs together.

He always taught "from the ground" up, stressing that aikido was built primarily on shisei (posture), then tai-sabaki (body movement), then waza (technique). He also always started a class with four basic tai-sabaki: soto-irimi; tenkan; uchi-irimi and uchi-kaiten, each of which he could demonstrate with perfect timing against the most direct and speedy shomenuchi, despite his ample frame. These then led into partner practice of the same four movements, which became the usual irimi and tenkan tai-no-henko, as well as the familiar soto-kaiten and uchi-kaiten movements.

His aikido was, in contrast to that of many of the visiting shihan we had seen, refreshingly, if alarmingly, direct. There was no surplus body movement, just prompt talking of balance followed by a rapid downward spiral to the mat. In my experience his throws were never brutal, but tailored closely to uke's abilities -- receiving iriminage or kokyunage from him could be bone-jarring and could inspire visions of whole constellations of stars, but I never felt in danger of injury and was always able to get straight back up to take the next ukemi. He could actually speak quite good English (and certainly understood English much better than some people assumed), but he taught mainly in Japanese, with a few idiosyncratic English expressions thrown in. One of his favourites was "D-style", which aptly described his way of delivering iriminage: he raised his hand, with uke's chin nestled on his forearm, in a curved arc (the curved part of the letter D), and then the decisive downward stroke of the ‘D' urgently engaged you with the nearest planet. Similarly, "Nike-mark" referred to the "tick" trademark of the famous sportswear manufacturer, and corresponded to a cutting movement of the hand-blade where the initial change of direction of his hand went along with a decisive break in uke's balance.

I mentioned his timing earlier, and I think this, along with other aspects of his aikido, was deceptive. I gather that his classes at Hombu Dojo were not popular as a rule, partly because of his near-lethal downward projections, but also because his aikido was not aesthetically attractive: he always taught the same, quite narrow, range of techniques, without the fluidity and -- dare I say it -- flashiness of some of his colleagues. After being a little nonplussed on my first exposure to him, I found myself becoming more and more impressed by his aikido year on year, admiring the simplicity, long-term consistency and sheer effectiveness of his approach. Practising shomenuchi ikkyo, he had a characteristic soft grip with uke's elbow snuggled between his forefinger and thumb (which he likened to the "notch" on an arrow where it is held on the bowstring). Regardless of how strongly you attacked him, his timing was perfect each time: there was no feeling of clash at the moment of contact, his body was in exactly the right place and his connection was just "there". Speaking of shomenuchi ikkyo, he had a way of teaching this to beginners that involved starting from this contact and letting uke's elbow go up and down in a wave, as you simply walked forward with no special steps. He told us that O-Sensei used to say that aikido was "as natural as walking". This resonated with what Yamaguchi Sensei said about his own aikido ("nothing special"). I found this was a lovely approach to practising this technique, and still teach it this way occasionally.

Fujita Sensei's aikido was, as Peter points out, based on kihon, but he also regularly demonstrated some fascinating applied techniques that I haven't seen any other Aikikai shihan teach. One was the notorious "goose neck", where a nikyo-like grip presses uke's thumb uncomfortably against their own forearm. Another was a variant of soto-kaitennage that somehow mutated into something like the end of iriminage, but with uke's arm trapped in half-nelson style up their back, which made the required rapid rear ukemi even more demanding. In retrospect, I can't help wondering whether these were old Daito Ryu techniques that had been discarded by the Aikikai orthodoxy, or whether they were simply his favourite hand-downs from his father, who had studied with O-Sensei alongside Kenji Tomiki.

One personal reminiscence of Fujita Sensei was of my yondan grading in 2000. I was feeling very apprehensive after a rigorous and exhausting sandan grading five years earlier, as a result of which I ended up in A&E with debilitating kidney stones. This time, I was five years older and certainly less physically fit, and I had serious concerns about my ability to endure another gruelling experience like the previous one (not under Fujita Sensei, by the way). He started the afternoon working through fairly standard examinations for ikkyu, shodan, nidan and sandan, and then it was the turn of the four yondan candidates. We knelt in a line on the tatami facing shomen, with two appointed ukes behind each of us. We bowed to shomen and to one another, and Fujita said "Anything!". We looked at him blankly, and after brief consultation with Kanetsuka Sensei and the BAF shidoin, it was explained that what was required was a demonstration of basic technique, but the particular choice was up to us. I started with tachiwaza, thinking that I would do some suwariwaza and hanmi-handachiwaza later, but didn't want to tire myself out too early on. After about ten minutes he clapped and said "Finish". When we looked puzzled, he said "That's it!", and we all sat down again. It seems that Fujita's knees, not suited to long periods in seiza, had finally had enough, and we were saved by the bell.

Last edited by Alex Megann : 05-27-2014 at 09:59 AM.
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