"And Then, Putting the Weight on It."
"It felt like he dropped a house in the palm of my hand." This was how one long-time student of Ikeda Hiroshi Sensei described his experience as uke
when he grabbed Ikeda Sensei's wrist. And so it was for me, when I first took ukemi
for him in the late 1980s. I'd seen Ikeda sensei several times, either when I visited his dojo
in Boulder, Colorado, or when he visited the Washington, DC Aikikai (now known as Aikido Shobukan Dojo
) to lead seminars alongside his own teacher Mitsugi Saotome Sensei. Unlike Saotome Sensei, who seemed to vanish at the last moment before contact (see It Had to Be Felt #8
), Ikeda sensei would wait patiently, allowing me to latch on to his wrist like a blood-starved tick. Suddenly, with no visible preparatory movement, I felt all his weight concentrated in that one small area of contact, and his intention, whether to move or remain still, completely overwhelmed me. This happened again and again.
"Aikido Works -- Your Aikido Doesn't Work!"
This is something that Ikeda Sensei always applies to himself. Over the years, Ikeda Sensei has intensely pursued different training methods to enhance his aikido
. He has explored suwari-waza
, suburi, and internal martial arts practice with a single-minded zeal, sometimes to the detriment of his own health. As I would grab him or attempt to strike him, or as I faced him with a weapon, the physical interaction itself would impress on me that his experience and accompanying depth of understanding far outweighed mine. And yet, every time, he transmitted his understanding in a way that spurred me to work harder to improve, rather than discouraging me, or worse, injuring me.
Ikeda Sensei is quite open about his own training. At a post-seminar dinner several years ago, I asked him what he does to develop and refine his skill. He replied that his busy travel schedule often required him to wait in an airport for an hour or two between flights. While waiting, he would find a place with a handrail. He would stand near the rail and casually take hold of it with one hand. He would then push and pull against the rail in different directions, feeling the effect it would have on his body -- and he would do this until it was time to board his next flight. Ikeda sensei emphasized that he would do this practice in a casual, unremarkable way, appearing to read or listen to music. He believes that there are always opportunities to study and train if one is willing to look.
For many years, Ikeda sensei has repeatedly used three phrases to describe his approach to internal martial arts training:
- Make Unity: Ikeda sensei always encourages his uke to attempt to stop his movement, rather than colluding with him and falling for no reason. Yet when I attack Ikeda Sensei, it does not seem to me that I am fighting with him. Instead, I experience a sense of psychological and physical joining, even as I am trying to prevent him from moving me. It's similar to knowing that my training partner is not malevolently trying to hurt me, even as we are both pushing ourselves and each other to the edge of our ability. Ikeda Sensei maintains physical and psychological contact, rather than either breaking free or even partially disconnecting from my attack.
- The Tail-bone Place: Ikeda sensei continually urges us to be aware of the coccyx as we move, both our own and our partner's. This helps develop a structurally sound posture, capable of moving freely while maintaining stability, as well as an ability to sense weaknesses in the position and posture of our training partners. Several years ago, I was taking ukemi for Ikeda sensei at a seminar. The attack was katate-tori, and as I grabbed him and grounded myself, I felt a solid connection with him that did not seem easily breakable. Suddenly, there was a barely perceptible tremor around Ikeda Sensei's pelvis, and I felt a powerful jolt through my grip, all the way to the soles of my feet. It was so sharp and strong that I was surprised there was no accompanying sound -- and it emanated from Ikeda Sensei's coccyx. Kuzushi was instantaneous, and I staggered. The only similar sensation I have experienced has been when I shift my motorcycle, an 850-pound Indian Springfield with a 111-cubic inch engine, into first gear from a stopped position. A small motion with my foot engages the transmission with a palpable thud that I feel through the bike and my whole frame.
- Make a line: With this phrase, Ikeda sensei urges us into the psycho-physical realm, in which we simultaneously visualize where we direct our power, and physically express our intent. It's not enough to unify with one's training partner while maintaining structurally sound posture if you don't have the clear intent to move where you will, changing your own mind rather than struggling with someone else's body. By focusing on a simple (but not easy) act of intent -- making a line -- Ikeda Sensei's aikido transcends technique and expresses itself with the clarity and spontaneity of a conversation with a friend.
In 1990, at the dinner celebrating the tenth Boulder Aikikai Summer Intensive, Saotome Sensei recognized Ikeda Sensei's devotion and loyalty, noting that Ikeda sensei followed him from Japan to America without a second thought. But what was more important was Ikeda Sensei's attitude. At the end of his toast, Saotome Sensei said, "Of all that I have achieved in aikido, the thing I am most proud of is Hiroshi's smile."
And this brings me to one more phrase that embodies the aesthetic of Ikeda Sensei's aikido: "Get together."
A long as he has been teaching, Ikeda sensei has brought practitioners and teachers from many different aikido
organizations, and even different martial arts, together to train and enrich each other's study. This insatiable curiosity and openness, coupled with a friendly, unpretentious spirit of inquiry, pervades every class he teaches and every seminar he organizes, inspiring all who take the chance and get on the mat. At the 25th Summer Intensive, surrounded by students and teachers from all over the world, Ikeda Sensei thanked us all, struggling to contain his emotions. Finally, he said there was only one way for him to express why he kept striving over the years to bring everyone together: beautifully, hauntingly, he whistled "Somewhere Over the Rainbow." We cried, smiled, and raised a glass, knowing that the next day we would all get together and train again.
Jim Sorrentino began his martial arts training in 1977 with Uechi-ryu Karate-do under Robert Galeone-sensei in Annapolis, MD. In 1984, he started his study of aikido with Mitsugi Saotome-sensei at the Washington, DC Aikikai (now known as Aikido Shobukan Dojo). He practiced both arts actively until the early 1990's, when aikido ate his life. He is the Chief Instructor of Aikido of Northern Virginia, and a Senior Policy Adviser at the US Department of Housing and Urban Development.
[i]For those inclined to post, please re-read the introductory column before doing so. The rules for contributors, in short:
- Only people who have actually taken ukemi the teacher who is the subject of this thread, may post
- Simply post your direct experience of taking ukemi. This can include the nature of your relationship with them, as ukemi is more than merely taking falls.
- Do not engage in back-and-forth with other posters, disputing their experience, or trying to prove why yours is more real. Just post your own experience. Trust your readers to take in each writer's account on its own merits.
- If, for any reason, you find something to praise or condemn in anyone's description or wish to amplify your insights and perceptions, do so elsewhere. Start a thread about that subject in the appropriate section of Aikiweb.
- Follow-up posts should be substantive, striving to equal the depth of the original essay. Simply agreeing with the writer, or a brief comment that, yes, the teacher in question was really powerful or had a wonderful shihonage or the like, are not congruent with the purpose of thisarchive.