Tada sensei was an icy, formidable presence when I trained in the 1970's. He has a face like a blade, with piercing black eyes. To my eyes, he was the purest budoka of any of the Aikikai shihan. From what others have told me, he has close friends, particularly in Italy, and a fine marriage before his wife's untimely death. He is a cultured and well-educated man, by no means an ascetic. All of that aside -- or perhaps, better said, in parallel -- he is utterly focused on his own path. Although he is a meticulous instructor, breaking down techniques in fine detail, somehow one has no sense that he teaches as a vocation: rather, he makes himself available for others to learn from as he pursues his own way.
Tada sensei has developed a solo training regimen, called ki no renma,
a set of exercises coordinated with specific meditation and breathing practices, which he developed from his studies with Nakamura Tempu, the creator of the system called shin shin toitsu.
Nakamura was, as most readers probably know, also the teacher of Tohei Koichi. Tada sensei never taught these methods at the Aikikai -- to the best of my knowledge, he teaches a course once a year in Italy, as well as regularly at his private dojo in a Zen temple in the Kichijoji section of Tokyo. I've never seen this training, but I believe his ability to stay absolutely centered throughout his techniques, even with someone hanging on his arm in ryote-mochi iriminage
, with their feet literally off the ground, can very likely be attributed to his daily practice of these methods.
Tada sensei is one of those slender people whose body is not merely thin; rather, he seems as if all superfluous flesh was pared away. He does not wait to be attacked -- he initiates most techniques, with his arms expansive, and very slightly curved. He moves in a glide in your direction, and one strikes or grabs him as much in self-protection as in a self-initiated attack. In both my memory and in viewing of films, there is always a reciprocal balancing of energies on both sides of his body; you can see it in his legs and how he counter-balances with his arms as well. I never can recall him loading his body weight forwards or leaning back.
He has a very integrated body: whenever I made contact with him, he occupied the space that I attempted to take. He could accept my force and give it back to me so that I was unbalanced on contact. Once contact of any kind was initiated, he continued his glide, uninterrupted, to be at the perfect angle to control and execute the technique he desired, without any collision whatsoever. There was always a sense that he was cutting through me. Many aikidoka try to position themselves advantageously, through "getting to" the right angle. This is a two dimensional tai-sabaki -- as you shift your feet, you angle in to the opponent's weak point. Tada sensei, however, was three-dimensional. In addition to his use of angles, he would also drop his weight, and transmitting that power through the physical connection between us, drop my weight as well.
Consider this the kuzushi ("balance breaking") portion of his technique.
At this point, he would exponentially accelerate. He felt like he was cracking a whip -- me -- and I, like others, would fly quite some distance away. He often reversed directions to throw, so, in iriminage
, for example, I'd be suddenly traveling 180 degrees in reverse to where I'd be heading a moment before. His technique was always clean -- he had so much control, due to his beautiful balance and powerful stance, that he had time to put me in a position that there was no reason to be hurt, as long as I relaxed and stayed aware. He would throw me very hard, but that impact actually felt good, as if all the air in my body exploded out of my pores upon impact.
He was difficult to take ukemi for, because he moved so big and so powerfully. Sometimes I couldn't catch up to him, and sometimes he was "there" before me. For a long time, I thought this was a flaw in his technique, because I then believed that the principle of musubi
-- tori and uke "tying up together," so that we moved as one - was the pinnacle of aikido. I've thought about it over the years, and I must contradict myself. As long as he maintained his own postural integrity, as long as he did not unbalance himself, my inability to catch up or match him was not his problem. I was over-extended -- he was not. Were he to so chose, he was perfectly centered to continue moving inward to attack me in my unbalance at not being unbalanced enough.
To sum up, his attack is much like that of an eagle. He glides in a curving swoop, then grabs with his talons, and explodes in taking his prey. The hare doesn't have much say in how he'll be grabbed, and when the eagle beats his wings, the rabbit has to go, whether he likes it or not.
For those inclined to post, please re-read the introductory column before doing so. The rules for contributors, in short:
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Ellis Amdur is a licensed instructor (shihan) in two koryu: Araki-ryu Torite Kogusoku and Toda-ha Buko-ryu Naginatajutsu. His martial arts career is approximately forty years -- in addition to koryu, he has trained in a number of other combative arts, including muay thai, judo, xingyi and aikido.
A recognized expert in classical and modern Japanese martial traditions, he has authored three books and one instructional DVD on this subject. The most recent is his just released Hidden in Plain Sight: Tracing the Roots of Ueshiba Morihei's Power.
Information regarding his publications on martial arts, as well as other books on crisis intervention can be accessed at his website: www.edgework.info