Re: It Had to Be Felt #59: Matsuoka Haruo: "A Commitment to Breaking Through Barriers"
For a number of years before I began training in aikido I had watched the old Segal movies and read about Matsuoka Sensei doing all the stunt work in the fight scenes. After reading about specific scenes, I remember watching the film again and being terribly impressed with Matsuoka Sensei's ability to handle those devastating attacks. I understood that it was all "Hollywood", but some of the falls were still obviously incredibly dangerous.
I finally moved to a community where I could start studying aikido and there were times when I saw another rerun and was even more amazed at his ability after learning a little about ukemi. I wondered if I would ever be able to do anything close to what he did in the films and on the various TV demonstrations he did with Segal Sensei.
Then in 2005 I attended Stanley Pranin's great Aiki Exp at Dominguez Hills. There were a host of incredible instructors there - many that were famous and well known, along with a number that I had never heard of before. That shouldn't have been much of a surprise because I think I was just a 6th kyu student at the time. One instructor stood out for me though.....Matsuoka Sensei would be teaching !!! I couldn't wait to attend his class.
I don't recall for sure, but there were about 25 students that bowed in for his class. At the same time there were at least five other classes being taught and students were pretty well distributed on all the mats. When Sensei bowed in the class, he stood up and began speaking to us in sort of a lecture format. He began by explaining that he had been practicing aikido for forty years and that he had decided that he didn't like his aikido at all. He said that he was trying to find new ways of performing techniques and that he wasn't going to teach a formal class, but wanted us to all join him in experimenting and trying new and different things. I hardly expected such a renowned teacher and practitioner to take such a position.
He began "not teaching" by showing a classic kihon waza technique while using just any student who was on the mat. He did not demonstrate by using one of his own students as Uke, if one of his students was even on the mat with us all. After demonstrating the classic technique, we went ahead and did what he showed us as well as each of us could based on our levels of training. After a few moments, Matsuoka Sensei then would demonstrate the same technique with variations and then direct us to try the variations he showed and any other we could develop on our own. I had no idea of what the foundation was that he was showing at the time because of my beginning student status, but now I recognize that he was playing with internal power movements.
He never called me up to take falls while demonstrating, but he did move around the mat and work with each and every one of us. I was training with a Tomiki shodan when Matsuoka Sensei joined us. We basically were working with sumi otoshi movements from katate dori attacks. Again, we were simply experimenting with various movements like he showed us and what we could find on our own. When he joined us, he watched closely and then tried the movements that he didn't show before. When I grasped his wrist, I recognized that he was moving quite slowly and smoothly and I had no sense of strength on his part. I found it almost impossible to let loose of his wrist and then found myself flat on the mat. I knew what he did, but I had no idea at all how I ended up falling to the mat. I was also surprised that the fall was light and gentle even though it might be a breakfall and might be a simpler yoko ukemi. When he threw my partner, he threw faster, but was apparently just as smooth and gentle. My partner and I were each thrown five or six times apiece and then Sensei moved on to others. I noticed at the time that he showed them at least one of the movements that my partner had developed.
I don't recall for sure, but as best I remember, Sensei only did perhaps four demonstrations and spent most of the class working with each of us. The absolute beauty of what he was doing (as I see today) was his sense of interest and invention. While he was incredibly humble in his presentation and relationship with us all, his movement and actions were very powerful, but controlled and fluid. That was the greatest hour of the Aiki Expo for me and a time and experience I will never forget. Twelve years later I'm finally starting to learn what I experienced that day, and remain grateful for that class.