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Old 04-05-2009, 09:59 AM   #1
Mike Sigman
Location: Durango, CO
Join Date: Feb 2005
Posts: 4,123
Progress at Itten Dojo, DC, etc.

I thought it would be a good idea to say something about my personal view of some of the progress I see/saw in Aikido recently, if nothing else to promote further discussion.

I just did two workshops on back-to-back weekends, on in DC and one at the Itten Dojo in Pennsylvania. Generally I don't do many workshops at all (I don't do this stuff for a living and there's not a lot of money in it anyway), but I enjoyed these last two. The workshop in DC had people from karate, Aikido, Taiji, Bagua, etc., and I enjoy a very generic approach that I can do in these workshops. There was a very good atmosphere. It was interesting to watch some of the first-time Aikido people versus some Aikido people who had more experience. Seeing how much improvement people can make (sometimes in only a few months) actually quashed a lot of the pessimist in me. Often I see so few results from people that I meet later on that I get the feeling only few people will ever really progress... the DC workshop is giving me reason to re-think that perspective.

I went to the Itten Dojo as a follow-up to a beginner's workshop a year ago, ostensibly to teach more advanced things (which I did, of course), but in reality I mainly wanted to see what would happen when a full dojo under the leadership of the sensei (Bob Wolfe, in this case) worked together for a year, trying to meld internal-strength skills into an Aikido curriculum. Frankly, I expected one guy to have a fair amount of stuff, maybe a limited amount from one or two others, and then "not so much" from the rest. I was wrong. The whole dojo had moved forward to the point that I was impressed. So after one year, it's possible for an Aikido dojo to move forward (if they do it as a group) dramatically. That's worth noting and archiving.

I told Sensei Wolfe that I don't see any logical reason for me to come back to the dojo after this because I think they have the principles of how to do these things (sure, they need a lot more work and I'll be happy to advise long-distance on physical development, etc.), but from here on out they'll be trying to get these things back into Aikido and I can't help them since I have no real expertise in Aikido. So I'm out of the picture on this one.... but other people in the Aikido community should meet up with and keep in touch with the people in Itten Dojo. Have discussions about progress, problems, perceived issues, and so on.

From a personal perspective, I have a curiosity about how various western takes on Japanese martial-arts are going to ever recover these skills. In the cases of many arts from Japan, these skills have "fallen into disuse", as Shioda so diplomatically put it. If westerners train at Japanese dojos where information was restricted to only a few or if the skills had already "fallen into disuse", then it's going to be very hard to convince people to try to recover these skills, in many cases. But for the ones who want to make the effort to see the "jewel" of Aiki that Ueshiba was talking about, I'd have to say that it's still possible to do it, using Itten Dojo as a reference for my observation.


Mike Sigman
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Old 04-05-2009, 02:57 PM   #2
Kevin Leavitt
Kevin Leavitt's Avatar
Dojo: Team Combat USA
Location: Olympia, Washington
Join Date: Jul 2002
Posts: 4,376
Re: Progress at Itten Dojo, DC, etc.

Thanks for the feedback Mike! I am sorry I could not make it to either one of those events. It is encouraging to see that this is working for sure! Appreciate all you have done for many of us.

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Old 04-05-2009, 07:29 PM   #3
thisisnotreal's Avatar
Join Date: May 2003
Posts: 695
Re: Progress at Itten Dojo, DC, etc.

Hi Mike,

Other than, say, consistency and a critical-density of like-minded individuals, what factors would/could you attribute the success to?

One of the things I am looking for are (potent) specific drills that you would recommend?

It was really nice to read this review, btw. Nice to hear others can get it from a distance. With. Hard. work.

Josh P.
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Old 04-05-2009, 09:22 PM   #4
Mike Sigman
Location: Durango, CO
Join Date: Feb 2005
Posts: 4,123
Re: Progress at Itten Dojo, DC, etc.

Josh Phillipson wrote: View Post
Other than, say, consistency and a critical-density of like-minded individuals, what factors would/could you attribute the success to?
Hi Josh:

Well, I think they got the general idea from hands-on, discussion, a feel for the logic, etc. Then too, it was an entire dojo, not just someone working by himself on something that the rest of the school was not doing. I also think (this is an opinion) that having access to the QiJin forum from which to read and glean ideas, ask questions if need be, etc., all helped. As more resources are available, it's easier than it was back in the days when I was frustratedly looking for information about something I *knew* was there (because I'd felt it), but about which no one seemed to know, etc.
One of the things I am looking for are (potent) specific drills that you would recommend?

It was really nice to read this review, btw. Nice to hear others can get it from a distance. With. Hard. work.
Well, bear in mind that although they worked on things from a distance, they had an idea from personal contact exactly *what* to look for. Doing drills without knowing exactly how to do them is usually not very productive, IMO.

Also bear in mind that this will still take some time for them to develop and condition and work things into their Aikido... it's a long process. What I was trying to indicate was that I was surprised to see good results. They focused a lot on a specific approach to training and they didn't "hop around" whimsically trying various rote exercises. I think that understanding the basics and then slowly, deliberately working upward from there is more important that doing the latest fad, going to all available workshops every month, etc. Just plain work on the basics.


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Old 04-12-2009, 07:22 PM   #5
Robert Wolfe
Dojo: Itten Dojo
Location: Mechanicsburg, PA
Join Date: Nov 2004
Posts: 18
Re: Progress at Itten Dojo, DC, etc.

I really appreciate Mike's kind words, and I know he would like us to chime in with our perspective on how this exploration of internal strength has unfolded for us, so I thought I might describe some of the circumstances and attributes that have facilitated our practice.

As an independent dojo, we've had the freedom to adapt and incorporate the study of internal strength, in a way that might be difficult for a dojo with a strictly defined curriculum. Too, the technical syllabus created for us by Ellis Amdur was designed from the start with the intention we pursue these skills. We're careful not to violate the paradigm Ellis established, but we've always had considerable latitude within and upon the framework he constructed to expand or refine our practice.

We're a small dojo, so it's somewhat easier to keep everyone pointing the same direction as we evolve. The persons who become integral members of the group may be quite diverse in many respects, but they share a deep commitment to all members of the dojo advancing together. Members of this group also tend to have a "prove it" mentality, as well as the ability to critique themselves reasonably honestly, two factors I believe critical to progressing in the study of internal strength. Given the nature of training internal strength, particularly the subtlety of forces and effects involved at the foundation-level of training, it's plenty easy to delude oneself with regard to one's progress, and I can readily imagine a group less inclined to criticize themselves or each other engaging in a collective fantasy.

For dojo considering whether a pursuit and incorporation of internal strength is feasible, I would offer the following:

1. As has been said many times already, you must get hands-on instruction from a qualified teacher, someone sincerely interested in your success.

2. At least one person in the dojo must be fanatically dedicated to the project, investing a huge amount of personal practice outside of formal classes, in order to lead the study. If the head of the dojo isn't in the position to make that commitment, he or she must delegate the responsibility. In our case, Budd Yuhasz has primary responsibility for acquiring the raw material, and we collaborate within the instructor cadre to determine what, how, and when we incorporate to the curriculum the insights and skills we're acquiring.

3. Even though I'd been exposed to bits and pieces of these skills in the past, everyone in our group, including me, is a beginner. Consequently, we view ourselves as a research group, recognizing that no one person is going to be the best at everything. As one person makes progress in a particular skill or application, we analyze what that person seems to be doing more correctly than the rest of us, and imitate.

4. If you're not willing to have your practice turned on its head, don't take off down this path. Things will change, dramatically, as the internal skills begin to infuse your techniques and approach to training. Trying to accommodate the changes within a rigidly standardized practice would doubtless be very frustrating.

5. Being able to balance cooperation and competition is absolutely necessary. I don't mean "competition" in the sense of sport, but rather in the sense of mutual testing. At some times during training the only way to make progress is to provide an optimized circumstance for one's partner; at other times making progress requires the opportunity to fail.

6. With multiple people pursuing what are at heart individual skills, the group needs to find a way to be consistent for the sake of the dojo as a whole. Not everyone's going to progress at the same rate, so how group training is conducted becomes its own challenge. One thing we try to do is agree on fundamental forms of exercises, so that regardless of what the seniors do in their personal training we have common ground on which to build when we're together.

7. Follow up with the people further down the path. Whether it's by means of attending or hosting seminars, or by sending a dojo representative to the teacher, continue to acquire additional training. This is a very long-term endeavor, and it would be kind of a waste to be satisfied with just the results gained in the first couple years.

8. In the beginning, pick a single source for internal training. The researchers/teachers now making this information available have differing methodologies, and trying to mix and match might be counterproductive. Once a strong foundation is laid, however, seeing more of what's out there would probably be a good thing.

Having been involved in this study for a bit more than one year, I can recommend it whole-heartedly. In addition to being utterly fascinating and very deeply challenging, the study of internal strength is a heck of a lot of fun.
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