Last weekend, I participated in a seminar with Ellis Amdur at the Itten Dojo (http://www.ittendojo.org/
) near Harrisburg, PA. I have attended many aikido seminars since I began training in 1984, and this was one of the best I have ever experienced. The teaching was first-rate. Mr. Amdur (who insists that students not address him as 'Sensei' off the mat) is talented, skillful, and knowlegeable. He worked at least as hard as the thirty or so participants. He taught for six hours on Saturday and five hours on Sunday. At the end of the seminar, he demonstrated some Araki-ryu, and with Meik Skoss, he did a powerful and dramatic demonstration of naginata kata from Toda-ha Buko-ryu.
For those of you who have enjoyed his articles in Aiki News (now Aikido Journal) over the years, he teaches as well as he writes, with passion, insight, and humor. His respect and care for the participants came through in his every movement.
Mr. Amdur stated his intention for the seminar in the Itten Dojo flyer as follows:
"I will be teaching aikido, with a particular focus on countering techniques, how to apply atemi without disrupting the movement patterns and organization of aikido, and executing effective technique while maintaining the ideal of aikido as an attempt at the resolution of conflict. To accomplish this, particular attention will be paid to the ability to take ukemi with integrity, rather than either collusion with a partner's ineffective movements or simple resistance.
Another very important aspect of training is one's psychological organization and how it affects the psychological and physical organization of the opponent. This can be referred to as kiai — or aiki — and is relevant to any martial art in which one trains."
Mr. Amdur succeeded well on all counts. Participants spent the first 2 1/2 hours practicing ukemi exercises with the goal of developing suitable ukemi for use outside the dojo, or inside the dojo with a malevolent nage. He presented forward rolling and backward falling or rolling as luxuries, rather than necessities, with a forward fall/breakfall (without slapping) being the default ukemi. The notable exception to this approach was the ukemi from a proper irimi-nage, which immobilizes uke's head.
Mr. Amdur spent the Saturday afternoon session (4 hours) deconstructing and reassembling irimi-nage from the perspective of being able to take uke's balance and use atemi at any point in the technique. He devoted most of Sunday's practice to ikkyo, counters for shihonage and nikkyo (again with a focus on atemi and kuzushi), and exploration of questions from seminar participants.
I must also compliment the students and instructor of the Itten Dojo on their exemplary hospitality, as well as the organization of the seminar. It was professional.
Whether you are interested in aikido as a martial art or a physical discipline with spiritual implications, I urge you to take advantage of any opportunity to train with Mr. Amdur. It's a valuable experience.