I recently wrote a column that will be posted on the Aikiweb forum in which I spoke about my experiences with my teacher, Imaizumi Sensei. This student-teacher relationship dates back to 1988 and continues to this day. My teacher has displayed a remarkable degree of consistency that has been mirrored by the remarkable degree of change in his Aikido. In many respects, Imaizumi Sensei is a living embodiment of Shu-Ha-Ri.
Shu: Imaizumi Sensei began training in Aikido in 1959 at the Aikikai Hombu Dojo. He stated in an interview that his initial training was mostly under the guidance of Tada Sensei and Tamura Sensei. He quit his job at the end of 1964 and became a shidoin at the Hombu Dojo in January of 1965. When O’Sensei was in Tokyo, Imaizumi Sensei often attended to helping O’Sensei do his personal exercises, besides the normal otomo duties. Tohei Sensei was the chief instructor at the Hombu dojo during that period of time and became a major influence in the Aikido development of my teacher. Imaizumi Sensei followed Tohei Sensei when he split away from Aikikai to focus on his organization, Ki Society. Tohei Sensei dispatched Imaizumi Sensei to open a dojo in New York and oversee Ki Society in the United States in 1975. Imaizumi Sensei resigned from Ki Society in 1987 and formed Shin-Budo Kai in 1988.
Ha: Imaizumi Sensei began to develop a curriculum that represented all of the major teachers who influenced him. He was always very open about telling us which teacher taught him certain things. In watching video clips of those teachers, one could not only see the foundations of Sensei’s knowledge base, but also see how Sensei had adapted that knowledge to be expressed through his manner of teaching and executing techniques. Sensei’s curriculum became ever increasing in size and scope. His Shodan and Nidan shinsa were real events, because anybody who learned and could do all of the requirements had put an awful lot of time and sweat into getting to that point in time. The tests were awesome to watch. The process of training and taking those exams were grueling and life-altering.
Ri: Imaizumi Sensei began a whole other level of transformation around the time of his 60th birthday. He began to develop a way of executing and teaching techniques that was unique to him. He has become so much more subtle in his movements. His movements use to be remarkably precise in a manner that could be easily seen. That must be quite a challenge for beginning students who do not know exactly what to look for. His curriculum has become more compact as he has integrated a lot of things into a smaller, but deeper pool of requirements.
The continuity in Imaizumi Sensei and in Shin-Budo Kai Aikido is seen in the remarkably powerful and effective manner in which his Aikido has always been expressed. His emphasis has always been on Kihon Waza. This ever-deepening foundation is the basis for everything else. This foundation has always been rock-solid and yet the expression of this foundation has changed. There have been major changes in how his Aikido has been expressed. He is so much more subtle and ghost-like in his movements, yet they remain as effective and as powerful as always.
I opened my dojo over five years ago because I knew that in order to make some serious growth in my own Aikido, I needed to be practicing and teaching on an almost daily basis. I thought that my goal was to try and be like where I thought Sensei was. I am beginning to recognize that I am on a similar path (shu-ha-ri). I cannot be a faithful replication of someone who I am not. I can represent Shin-Budo Kai through my own execution of his curriculum that is modeled upon the correct martial principles that are reflected in his Aikido. The manifestation of this process will be unique to my own being. I will always work hard to see to it that I represent as honestly as possible, the Aikido of my teacher as expressed through me. I hope that this can be seen as a valuable legacy at some future point in time.
Marc Abrams Sensei
(Original blog post may be found here