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Old 01-29-2011, 04:54 PM   #162
George S. Ledyard
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Dojo: Aikido Eastside
Location: Bellevue, WA
Join Date: Jun 2000
Posts: 2,670
Re: Ikeda Sensei Demos of Ki

Jeff Sodeman wrote: View Post
I started Aikido under Ikeda sensei almost 20 years ago and he has been my teacher ever since. In hindsight I see several general phases to what he has focused on in his teaching.

At the time I started he was in a generating/amplifying power phase, mostly through hip/body movement "koshi power". Back then you really got an appreciation for just how hard sensei can throw when he feels like it.
Of course that was also when his knees seemed immortal. I never saw anyone go lower than he did... often his butt seemed about six inches off the floor. Huge power anf relatively large movement, compared to what he does now. On the other hand, when compared to standard Aikikai technique, Saotome Sensei and Ikeda Sensei have always been smaller.

Looking back and remembering his "instruction", such as it was, I call this his "no escape" period.

As he began doing more and more seminars his teaching focused on connecting to and manipulating the uke through complex spiral movements. Basically combining koshi power with balance breaking.
This was a fairly long period in which his predominant instruction, at seminars anyway, seemed to be "just catch it". He focused on showing how he gave direction, externally, to the energy of the connection. His way of showing this was misleading, I think. Most of us did not get it. What he showed you was changing hand angles largely. Then you'd try it and it wouldn't work. We were all looking at the wrong thing and he didn't know how to explain it.

Upon meeting Ushiro sensei, Ikeda sensei undertook a deep and focused study of internal work. The earlier balance breaking was something done to the uke, where the internal balance breaking is something done within the nage, making it more subtle (hidden even) and difficult to resist. Removing the uke's power rather than generating nage power. I would guess 4 years or so were spent in this stage.
The Aiki Expos changed things for a number of us, none more than Ikeda Sensei. He trained in everyone's classes. He formed a special relationship with Ushiro Sensei although I know he found Systema quite amazing and has continued to look for input from that source i his spare time, such as it is.

Ushiro gave him a principle based vocabulary to understand this stuff. Once he began organizing his thinking about what is really going on in "aiki" his progress has been continuous and accelerating. While wonderful to see and inspiring to watch, it is frustrating to see how he's left folks "eating his dust" so to speak. Kevin Choate Sensei described it as feeling like the Coyote as he watches Road Runner zoom off into the distance.

The thing that is totally amazing about Ikeda Sensei is that he simply does not care whom he gets stuff from. He is constantly looking for ways to either get better or explain what he knows more clearly. His explanations are light years more complete than the "just catch it" days. I know of two occasions in which I found him using explanations that he had seen me use in class. He doesn't care one wit that I am far junior.

My take on what sensei has been doing for the last year is taking the internal work and now applying it back to the earlier stages. So a lot more application of internal into familiar techniques, internal combined with koshi power, basically folding the new stuff back into old. Also I think through the laboratory of his seminars he has been adjusting and refining how to transmit the internal work.
Both he and Saotome Sensei have started offering drastically more detailed explanations. I am absolutely sure that this is due to their exposure to Ushiro Kenji. Saotome Sensei in particular never explained much at all. I have been in classes with him lately when he broke things down in a way that I only dreamed of back inthe day. I want to shake people and say "do you know what a gift that guy just gave you? I worked on that for ten years and he just put it on a plate for you." It's the same with Ikeda Sensei except that his Aikido is changing constantly while he's doing this.

I think one of the more common problems people have in picking up what he is showing is that they don't take him literally when they should. Between the language barrier, and just a lack of a common vocabulary when discussing concept I think it's tempting to think that he's talking in metaphor when sometimes he is not.

When he was first talking about "change your insides" I was baffled as to what that meant. Then at a break during a seminar we were having some coffee and in response to one of my questions he asked me to put a hand on his shoulder. Because he was wearing a t-shirt instead of a loose fitting dogi I was able to see his abdomen actually moving around as he took my stability away. So when he says change your insides, he actually means (at least in part) to move your abdominal organs into a different position.

Knowing that and doing it are of course two different things. I know I could wiggle my ears but I haven't worked out quite how to do it even though they say 15 minutes in front on a mirror will do it. I think for a lot of people they don't have a system for learning how to move their insides around. I have exercises that I've picked up from Systema for working internally with strikes that I have found work very well. It sounds like the Daito Ryu folks and others have their own approaches as well (check out some belly dancing tutorials on YouTube, impressive stuff). The comments from several people about schools' teachers needing to prep their students for Ikeda sensei's work are spot on in my opinion.
Because I had started with Saotome Sensei, it was easier for me to get what Ushiro was doing because, despite not understanding what Sensei was doing, I had always been aware that some o0ther paradigm was operating than what we could see with our uneducated eyes. Even Ikeda Sensei said, "Saotome Sensei was always doing this stuff, we were just to stupid to understand it." Folks who have never had that advantage are at a disadvantage because what they have always felt from their teachers and seniors really was different from what these Shihan are doing.

I think, more than anything anyone could say, this should make the case for principle based instruction against the "steal the technique" model. Saotome Sensei did not have a more devoted student than Ikeda Sensei and yet it took Ushiro and others to supply the missing connections to what Saotome Sensei had been doing.

Ikeda sensei already had the physical ability and control that he could apply to Ushiro sensei's approach, so he was able to skip over a phase that many of us require. He not just doing advanced work, he's doing advanced-advanced work. I think we'll see more exercises from him to address the development of internal coordination as part of his presentation in the future.
I think this is definitely true... As he sees how breaking down skills into discrete elements before combining those elements into more complex waza is the most effective way to reprogram our minds and bodies, I think he'll keep moving in that direction. The questions for many of the rest of us is whether we can start training our own students that way... can I take a few years to prep the skills before I start teaching a lot of waza? Our standards in the ASU state that it takes about 4.5 - 5.0 years to work through the requirements for Shodan (training three times a week). Would students be patient with slower progress towards something tangible? Would the organization be supportive of a give teacher totally changing the guidelines for his or her students?

Finally, a comment on the title of this thread. Ikeda sensei has always intentionally avoided using the word "ki" in his teaching and discussions of Aikido. I think I finally heard it for the first time last year, and it was a surprise to me. In it's place he always used the word "energy" - I believe because he wanted to distance what he's doing from any kind of mysticism or magic. Even when something can't be explained, I think he would assert that there's some combination of subtle physical and psychological principles at play.
Ki is s term, like any other. You can use other terminology to describe the same thing... Personally, I don't think use of other terminology makes it any more clear. You still have to teach people what any term means in the context of our "aiki" work. The reason the term "ki" has been so misused is that people read and heard the term but didn't really understand any more than the simplest rudiments of what it meant. So it became a term associated with New Age, wishful thinking Aikido. That wasn't the fault of the term itself but of the practitioners who didn't understand what the term really meant.

Any time there are non-Aikido people at a seminar, like some Karate students who sat in on some of his classes at the Expo, he has used them for ukemi as much as possible. He knows that there are people skeptical of the internal work, that seeing it looks fake, and that feeling it is the only way to really get an appreciation for it. Luckily he is very receptive to questions and letting people feel his work first hand.
He is definitely a show me guy himself... And he respects that in others. He'll get the biggest, stiffest, most resistant guy in the place and let him feel hit, just so everyone knows he can really do it.

To pass along one comment, my own internal movement was originally tied to my breathing. I think it's easier to pick up that way, but in discussing it with sensei he clearly stated that the internal work is independent of breath. So kokyu might start you down the path, but it's something you should eventually be able to drop.
I think there is a natural progression one can follow that will eventually get one to the level that Ikeda Sensei has attained and beyond. Fisrt we find physical, body movement / posture based ways of accomplishing a desired result with our partner

Then, you can play with how the breath can accomplish many of those same things without the larger body movements. Finally, you move everything "inside" and play with how the Intent can create internal movement which can move the partner. Once you start making these connections, the sky is the limit... Sagawa kept going into his eighties and just kept getting better. Of course he trained like a maniac. But he clearly was able to take the paradigm he had been given by Takeda and run with it, going into areas he had never been taught by another teacher.

That is almost the entire focus of what Ikeda Sensei is showing these days. He is demoing how to change the paradigm. Once you do that, you can become your own teacher to a large extent and it's simply a matter of how hard you choose to train. This is crucial because without an understanding of the paradigm shift, another twenty years of working in the old way will still not magically yield understanding of what these teachers are doing. It sure didn't in my case.

George S. Ledyard
Aikido Eastside
Bellevue, WA
Aikido Eastside