George Ledyard Sensei's Randori Intensive
UNLV Aikido Club
Las Vegas, Nevada
April 4-6, 2003
by Alex Loglia
Having traveled a lot this year, I was happy to have this seminar come to me. This seminar was held at the UNLV Aikido club at the McDermott Physical Education Complex on the UNLV campus, an ASU affiliated dojo where Jim Noriega is the Chief instructor, and where I happen to train and teach. This also happens to be the location where Aikido Journal mastermind and editor Stanley Pranin will be holding the 6th Friendship Demonstration and Aiki Expo in September 2003. As usual, Vegas is a great seminar location, since there is never a shortage of entertainment and distractions for the time spent off the mat.
This seminar was particularly enjoyable for me, since I got to spend some time with George Ledyard Sensei, 6th Dan, Chief Instructor of Aikido Eastside in Bellevue, Washington, and my old friend Kevin Lam, 3rd dan, the assistant chief instructor at the same dojo. When I lived in New York, I had trained directly with Shizuo Imaizumi Shihan of Shin Budo Kai for about 10 years, and Kevin was a fellow student there during that time. Kevin and I both left New York several years ago, and coincidentally, both settled into eventual teaching positions in ASU dojos. The open and accepting attitude fostered by Mistugi Saotome Shihan is something for which both Kevin and I grateful for, and have taken good advantage of. Ledyard Sensei hosted Imaizumi Sensei last year at his Bellevue dojo, which gave me the opportunity to train there and see the high quality of his students.
I'll borrow a brief summary of Ledyard Sensei's Bio from the Aikido Eastside website (www.aikieast.com
). George Ledyard Sensei started his aikido training in 1977 under Mitsugi Saotome, Shihan, Aikido Schools of Ueshiba. After relocating to Seattle, Washington he trained at the Seattle School of Aikido under Mary Heiny and was also a member of the Seattle Aikikai under Bruce Bookman. In 1986, Ledyard succeeded Mary Heiny as Chief Instructor of the Seattle School of Aikido. In 1989, he established Aikido Eastside within the Aikido Schools of Ueshiba organization where he has been ever since continuing his training under the guidance of Mitsugi Saotome and Hiroshi Ikeda. In addition to the teachers mentioned above, important inspiration in his training has come from Tom Read, William Gleason, and Ellis Amdur. Ledyard Sensei holds a 6th Dan in Aikido, and has trained in Jiu Jutsu, Classical Japanese Kobudo, Iaido, and Filipino martial arts, and his aikido incorporates elements from this training. Ledyard is a Certified Defensive Tactics Master Instructor and the Founder of Defensive Tactics Options™ through which he teaches Defensive Tactics to various police departments. He also teaches Defensive Tactics at the local community college level for aspiring security professionals. In addition, he has taught Aikido seminars all over the United States and Canada.
Being that this was a Randori Seminar, and our space is under 1,000 square feet, we kept the number of participants below twenty, and we had a lot of locals with a few out of towners from neighboring states thrown in. As it turns out, this worked out to be a perfect size, giving everyone time to get plenty of training, but also allowing for participants to rotate off the mat and catch their breath.
This particular seminar was a watered down version of Ledyard Sensei's Randori Intensives, which usually encompass four full days of training at his Bellevue, Washington dojo.
Ledyard Sensei's approach to teaching Randori technique and strategy is unique to my experience in the aikido world, in the sense that he has developed a systematized and understandable structure from which to teach this particular advanced type of Aikido training. He also possesses a wonderful ability to actually convey these ideas, to the point where by the end of the weekend, everyone could actually see their Randori improve.
The Friday evening session began with Ledyard Sensei covering several basic kokyu nage throws to make sure everyone had the basic set of tool to operate with. These included both irimi and tenkan techniques, which was extremely important, since these basic throws allowed nage to have the choice of where to place uke during Randori. For those of you familiar with the Shin Budo Kai terminology, these included:
Ude kiri oroshi (irimi and tenkan)
zenpo ude tori nage
This provided a good unification among the participants so that everyone could then focus on the strategy that was to comprise the bulk of the remaining seminar time. We ended with a bit of actual Randori practice to set the benchmark each of us would compare our skills with at the end of the seminar.
The Saturday morning session introduced a concept Ledyard Sensei called "working the spaces." He focused on throws where nage lead uke by moving backwards, and where uke was thrown generally back and away from nage. Ledyard Sensei then demonstrated various leading methods where nage could place uke almost anywhere on the mat, even back where uke started! To help us grasp this concept, Ledyard Sensei had four uke's start in the corner's of the mat with nage in the center. He would then direct a certain uke to attack, and direct nage where that attacking uke had to end up, which could be anywhere on the mat. Each thrown uke would stop exactly where they ended up, and these directions would continue until we all got a sense of the exercise. This was a fantastic practice, as it showed us all the huge variety of direction nage could lead and throw an attacking uke. By directing us to have uke end up in a specific location, we all began to get a sense of movement imprinted into us, where our minds started to think strategically about where to purposefully throw uke while leading uke backwards, which later was integrated into the overall strategy of either opening up a tight group of uke's, or sending uke into the path of other attacking uke's. This session really drove home the fact that Randori training need not be approached as a willy-nilly tossing around of ukes, but rather could be refined to be far more strategic, and much more under the control of nage. Ledyard Sensei gave a great description when he said that Randori was less three ukes attacking a nage, than a nage attacking three ukes. He also very clearly described how an uke thrown behind nage would take a maximum of 4 seconds to get back to nage, while an uke that was dropped in place might only take two seconds to reach nage again. Ledyard Sensei explained that time and space are interchangeable in the context of Randori, i.e., that more distance from an uke equals more time for uke to reach nage, etc. He also used a gravitational analogy to demonstrate the relationship of nage and ukes, which made a lot of sense.
After a nice break and some arabic coffee to perk us up at our favorite mediterranean lunch spot, Ledyard Sensei introduced the idea of "working the centers". This practice consisted of irimi techniques where nage could drop uke right in front of him, or slightly to the front or rear of him depending on his direction of movement. The most useful concept I got out of this training was clearly seeing how to drop an approaching uke with an irimi throw so that he will consistently end up nearby and in the way of nearby attacking ukes, thereby creating useful barriers wherever they might be convenient. Many interesting realizations came out of the participants executing these irimi techniques. In particular, many people were somewhat shy about getting their hands up under uke's chin or in uke's face, and this lack of intent showed up clearly, usually in uke not being able to respond well to the throw. Ledyard Sensei pointed out that far from being a harsh method of throwing, this throw was already a soft version of what would be an all out strike to the vital areas on the face and body, and he stressed the fact that good strong intent was needed to properly direct uke and get him to drop when and where you wanted. As the participants got more used to each other and the high level of intensity, everyone's attacks improved, as did the throws and the ukemi.
The final session on Saturday stressed a practice Ledyard Sensei called "working the edges." This set of exercise focused on the times when the ukes get bunched together in a group near nage. For those of you with some experience, this is often the time where mistakes are made, and when a uke or two get hands on nage under these conditions, the next frame is a picture of a pile four people, with nage grabbed from all directions on the bottom. Ledyard Sensei demonstrated a method to approach these tightly grouped uke's from the edges and showed how nage could push and circulate these ukes into each other as they kept attacking, to the point where this particularly difficult Randori situation could actually be used to nage's advantage. He explained that nage could use this method to work a tight group of approaching ukes, and then when and small opening presented itself, an uke could be thrown away from the rest and the group could be opened up. This was a real revelation to all the participants.
Ledyard Sensei took advantage of the latter part of this last session on Saturday to explain how he had gleaned some very important concepts about atemi from Saotome Sensei. He explained and demonstrated very clearly and plainly that virtually all application of technique originates from the intention of atemi, from constant aggressive pressure applied at uke's center. He then demonstrated how most of our throws, and uke's method of taking ukemi, are simply the nicer and more polite way for the interaction to conclude, whereas the real intention of the techniques themselves were atemi, and could conclude, at nages discretion, in simple and debilitating kill shots to uke. He demonstrated several different ways this concept applied, and then deftly used this example to show how uke needed to approach ukemi, especially in these Randori situations. This idea of atemi meant that ukes needs to constantly protect themselves from the approaching energy of nage, to the point where I understood that uke, even when grabbing wrists, for example, needed to try to control those wrist, or else those hands would quickly approach vital areas on the face and body.
To bring these idea together at the end of Saturday's session, Ledyard Sensei had us practice a slow speed Randori with tanto in small areas of the mat, stressing the concept of working the edges and using atemi to sense the openings in uke's movement, as well as having the tantos give us a more real sensitivity for space and timing.
The Sunday morning session was a real treat that I specifically requested from Ledyard Sensei after seeing his introduction to Defensive Tactics at ASU summer camp last year. He gave us a three hour introduction to the basics of his level one Defensive Tactics program, which dealt with a resistant, noncooperative, but non aggressive subject. This was a real departure for everyone present, since we rarely deal with this sort of situation in our aikido training. Ledyard Sensei then showed us how the level of applied force would escalate once the subject became aggressive. The beauty of Ledyard Sensei's Defensive Tactics system is that is included a chain of responses to each of the methods the subject might use to defeat each applied technique, so it encompassed all possible contingencies for each situation. The techniques themselves included much that would be familiar to Aikidoka, including modified applications of Ikkyo, Sankyo, and controlled kokyu nage throws. The takedowns and cuffing techniques Ledyard Sensei demonstrated were very effective and made complete and logical sense in the context of a law enforcement restraint situation. It is no accident that Ledyard Sensei is sought out in the Seattle area to teach these methods to local police and law enforcement personnel.
After lunch and more coffee, the final session on Sunday was used to give everyone time and opportunity to integrate what we learned into the context of the actual Randori situation. I was really impressed as to how carefully Ledyard Sensei had analyzed the Randori environment. He began with a clear demonstration and analysis of the fact that how close or far uke sits from the line of ukes effects nages decisions about what opening techniques and strategy to use. Far from being a random occurrence, we were shown time and again how the possibilities of how the ukes will attack at the start is actually limited, and that nage can use this fact very much to his advantage to control the opening moments of the Randori. He showed several possibilities that accounted for various contingencies, including changes to be made depending on many variables, such as nages distance from the ukes, nages estimate of speed and size of ukes, ukes that move faster than the others, etc.
In the ideal situation of the the line of ukes and nage sitting forming an equilateral triangle, the basic start concept dictated moving to one edge or the other, since they would take longer to get to uke than the center uke. Once nage dropped the end uke and the other nearest uke approached, the second uke could be dropped in place, and the third approaching uke could be thrown away from the other two to keep the group open.
The situation of starting too far from the line of ukes was also covered. In this situation, the ukes have too much time to reach nage, and so they bunch together and reach nage in a dangerous mass. The strategy here dictated nage moving backwards and then making a sharp hook to one side or the other to reach the edge of the group, where nage could then work the edge of the lined up group of ukes and eventually open it up. In each of these scenarios, Ledyard Sensei clearly showed how uke was to be used as both barrier and weapon against other ukes.
This last session was extremely valuable for everyone, and I am not exaggerating in saying that we all saw our Randori improve over the Randori we did at the earlier sessions in the seminar. The lower ranking students benefited greatly, and showed the most improvement. I also noticed that using this time in which we must have run about 40-50 short Randori interactions as we each took turns as nage, we all learned as much or more watching than we did throwing. Having absorbed a bit of Ledyard Sensei's perspective on movement, technique and strategy by this time, we could clearly see these strategies proven out in real life as we took our turns. The beauty of this sort of concentrated training was that we were able to clearly see why certain interactions were unsuccessful, and also what properly applied principals made other interactions beautiful, simple, elegant, and effective.
During this last session, Ledyard Sensei was able to cover a lot of things NOT TO DO in Randori, and these no-nos were pointed out as they were demonstrated on the mat in our practice. Some of them are:
1. Do not repeat a technique more than 3 times
2. Do not stand in one spot
3. Do not use or rely on too much physical power in your throws.
4. Don't lose your center and rise up into your upper body and shoulders.
5. Do not use two or three beat techniques (use up too much time)
6. Do not try to reach with your hands to keep uke at a distance.
7. Do not get overly excited and move too suddenly to hit uke(s) (they can't respond quickly enough, stop, and/or become very hard to throw).
8. Don't turn to meet uke.
9. Don't give up!
Ledyard Sensei was very adept during his own demonstrations as nage, being able to show at will specific concepts of movement and strategy while having us ukes run around helplessly, being directed like puppets on a string. Kevin, having trained with Ledyard Sensei for several years and having participated in many of his Randori intensives, showed everyone present that Ledyard Sensei's teaching methodology was no fluke, since Kevin's beautiful Randori clearly embodied each of Ledyard Sensei's Randori principles, and Kevin could work his ukes many different ways depending on what concept Ledyard Sensei wanted him to show us. Due to our shortened schedule, Ledyard Sensei was only able to introduce us to part of his Randori curriculum. The Randori intensives at his Bellevue dojo are more than twice as long. We were therefore not able to get into may very important area covered at the full intensives, such as "dribbling" ukes, bail out moves when you get caught, more detail on the ukemi of Randori, Randori against striking, Randori against shinai, and Randori against multiple length weapons (jo, bokken and tanto at the same time), etc.
Everyone present was incredibly impressed with the seminar and universally gushed about how much they got from it, myself included. I am going to do my best to get to Ledyard Sensei next Randori intensive, at is Bellevue dojo, which will be this coming Labor Day weekend, August 29th - September 1st 2003. See http://www.aikieast.com/intensiv.htm#Summer
for more information. Ledyard Sensei will also be conducting a workshop on his Defensive Tactics system at the 2003 Aiki Expo this coming September.
Ledyard Sensei's Randori intensive is truly unique. I was really glad to see that someone finally has treated this subject analytically and developed an effective methodology to teach its fundamental concepts. This is especially important, since Randori is usually a subject treated as an afterthought in the aikido curriculum, with the unfortunate side effect that most students don't get enough real training in it, and end up fearing it. At the end of this seminar, we all wanted more!
The opinions and views shared in this article are solely those of the authors. None of the statements contained herein are the views of the UNLV Aikido Club, Aikido Schools of Ueshiba, Shin-Budo Kai, or Jim Noriega Sensei, and are the sole responsibility of the author.