My favorite book has always been Homer's Iliad
. I remember once having a discussion with my major professor in which I was waxing sophomoric about the Heroic Tradition, honor, skill at arms, and of course, the protagonist to end all protagonists, Achilles. Echoing the Trojans, my mentor "unhinged my knees" with the simple comment: "True, Achilles might have been the better warrior, but Hector was the better man."
Most contributions to this series describe the somatic feelings associated with taking ukemi. Beyond that, however, I am going to take "felt" in its original denotation of "aesthetic" (to perceive, sense or feel) and then by implication to include judgments of sentiment and taste).
Why, with so many plenipotentiaries around, do I choose to train with Takeguchi sensei. Simply put, he is the most measured and tasteful aikido teacher I have ever met. Put more complexly, one of the reasons that I believe aikido may have, as martial traditions go, a relatively short shelf life, is that not only did the missionary shihan fail to grasp the inner workings of what made Ueshiba so formidable, (it wasn't really their fault, it was probably indecipherable by the time they were uchideshi
), they were not given any andragogy into the essential element of a successful teacher. A teacher is essentially in a custodial position, and with that comes the responsibility to actually teach and transmit. With a few notable exceptions, this mandate has been honored more in the breach than the observance by those who, in their 30's, went out with the hubristic mission to teach the West the error of its ways.
Clyde was not around for the apotheosis of Ueshiba Sensei; he considers himself neither descended from, nor a student of, a deity. As Nisei, he was often the victim of bigotry from Japanese instructors. I believe, rather early on, Clyde chose to practice aikido, for which he needed practice partners
, rather than becoming primarily a teacher, for which he needed students. Rather than holding court; he trains, and invites you to train along with him. Not wanting to impress, but rather to improve his own technique, it behooves him to empower those with whom he trains. One implication of this is, the better they get, the better he gets. Put differently, in order to be able to really teach, it is necessary to regularly train. Despite being the rather reluctant titular head of an organization that comprises some thirty-odd dojo, Takeguchi sensei regularly takes classes taught by his senior students. I have on several occasions been at seminars at which he was on the billboard, but he took class from other teachers.
But of course that begs the question as to "of what does his training consist?" A deceptively simple answer it is the curriculum of basic aikido techniques. He reminds one more of Kuroiwa sensei, who maintained that "world peace" would be better served by people practicing more diligently than by the eschatological homilies so common to the missionary shihan. Not only is his kihon
infused with the prototypical vigor found in the early days of aikido in Hawaii, but echoing his profession as a researcher, he has drawn upon what he has seen of value in the teachings of others. One finds there elements (spices, not essential ingredients) of karate, judo, and most notably, Katori Shinto-ryu.
Takeguchi sensei's technique is not magical. It is, and this is far more important, technically excellent, understandable, and transmittable. When he is doing ikkyo
, it is all timing, angles, and efficiency. It is not what he puts in, it is what he leaves out, which is hubris, muscle, and a need to come out on top. He also leaves out the ineffable.
Ascended is the cloudy flame, the mount of thunder dumb,
The tokens to which Israel came, to me they have not come.
A. E. Housman
They have not come to me either. There once was a time when simple proficiency in aikido was the Grail. Half a century later, the fact that simple excellence is rather widespread has blinded us to the fact that this was what many of us wanted in the first place. We spend thousands looking for one-inch punches, one finger pins, and throwing without touching, yet how many of us can do a simple ikkyo? Isn't that, in the end, what a teacher sets out to do: teach the basics? There does not have to be anything more. Takeguchi sensei solicits a very simple commitment: if you wish to learn excellent technique, which can be quantified and explained, then you simply have to show up to practice. To echo Karl Popper's definition of a scientific method: one has a hypothesis, one does the experiment, and others can reproduce it. Here are the basics, do them regularly and you can reproduce what I've done. No need for submission, sycophancy, or the suspension of your own critical faculties. Takeguchi sensei is not, refreshingly, threatened by your own individuality. He does not lecture, and he buys his own beer.
More concretely: one of the things that I have always endorsed about Takeguchi sensei's teaching is the separation of labor between the "connection" with the attacker, and the "execution" of the technique. Too often I have seen nage try to take balance with the technique itself, prior to having it beforehand. To take an example of a technique done uncritically: In tsuki kotegaeshi
punches and nage
goes for the universal solution to all attacks, (regardless of the context) — he "irimis." Once the entire system has come pretty much to a complete stop, the nage then "tenkans," trying to take uke's balance by twisting him around, finally throwing him by twisting his wrist. I believe this approach evolved from those students of Ueshiba who, like everyone else, when they could not duplicate Ueshiba's skill, tended to rely on timing as a counterfeit substitution. In contrast, Takeguchi sensei's approach reminds me a great deal of the famous Asahi Shinbun video of Ueshiba in the prewar era. A careful viewing of that video shows the old man "loading" or connecting with his uke as a distinct and separate operation from the actual throwing of him (as an aside, this is very reminiscent of how things are done in the taiji world). This, in my opinion, is the converse of the way aikido is usually done. Normally the nage "times" the entry, and then attempts to take the uke's balance with the technique in question. Hence there is a certain ballistic notion to training wherein the nage has a solution in mind PRIOR TO EVEN CONNECTING WITH THE UKE. This is most disastrous in testing where any change in the context of the attack makes the required technique much more difficult to execute.
My experience with Takeguchi sensei reflects more of what I see on that video of Ueshiba. He moves where he needs to be to take balance, and then and only then, will he perform the technique most appropriate to the situation. There are no "cheap shots" (i.e., attempts at supplementing bad timing and ma-ai with lessons brought in from striking arts), since at this point the uke is essentially weightless anyway. And there is no attempt at thaumaturgy. It is simply the application of a very, very refined grammar. Conflict is a gritty business and admits of no perfection for humans. For an Achilles, perhaps, but then, he was only half human. With Takeguchi sensei, one knows what is expected of nage, one gives it his best shot, one fails often, and those who persevere attain a very respectable level of skill. A world full of geniuses is self-contradictory and narcissistic. A world full of people who are good at a measurable skill is not beyond reason.
At the end of the day, effort notwithstanding, I could never have learned from an Achilles, and it makes little difference whether Achilles was in fact a demi-god, or merely had me convinced he was. However, I could -- and can - train with a Hector. Far better than most, he did not have to be the best. But unlike Achilles, who had only subjects, slaves, and perhaps only one friend, Hector had friends, colleagues and was loved. Not a bad legacy that.
For those inclined to post, please re-read the introductory column before doing so. The rules for contributors, in short:
Robert Galeone began martial arts in 1963 as a student of Okinawan Uechi-ryu Karate and was awarded his godan (5th degree) in 1987. He began aikido in 1966 under Kanai Mitsunari in Boston, and then again in 1979 under Saotome Mitsugi in Washington, DC, under whose auspices he was promoted to godan by Aikido Hombu in 1995. No longer associated with Saotome sensei, Mr. Galeone trains and teaches aikido at Capital Aikikai under Clyde Takeguchi, sensei. In 1993 he began training in Doce Pares Escrima under several teachers, was promoted to instructor status in 1997, and still trains in and teaches escrima. He was first exposed to Sugawara Tetsutaka sensei and Katori Shinto-ryu in 2004, and this beautiful 600 year old tradition had him at "hello". He trains daily and was honored to have received his mokoroku from Sugawara sensei in 2009.He is currently the administrator for Capital Katori Shinto-ryu. Another art in which Mr. Galeone trains daily and now teaches, is Wu Style Taiji. In 2005 he began studying this style under Shifu Paul Cote. Through Shifu Cote, Mr. Galeone was introduced to Shifu Zhang Yun. Mr. Galeone was extended the honor of becoming an "indoor disciple" of Shifu Zhang Yun in 2012. He currently teaches a small group of students on a private basis. Mr. Galeone has a M.A. in philosophy. He worked in corporate and diplomatic security for many years, and is currently a firearms instructor at a D.C. Metro Area Police Training Academy.
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