I was introduced to Kinoshita sensei by a couple of friends of mine whom I met on an online manga/anime mailing list. They asked if I would come and train with them. That first encounter with Kinoshita Takekisa sensei, however, was not just a normal training session. The class was held at Kinoshita sensei's apartment every Sunday. We arrived a bit late that first session, and I saw that there were tatami arranged around the apartment. Some students were already there. We changed into our gi, and joined the class sitting in seiza.
I was not really aware what lineage of aikido they followed. I was wearing my brown belt from Aikikai at the time, and I was a third kyu, if I remember correctly. From the moment that I asked permission to join the class, I could feel Kinoshita sensei observing me.
It was only later that I realized that this was Tohei Koichi's Ki no Kenkyukai
. It was definitely a different experience for me. All we did was learn how to sit and how to stand, something that remains unchanged to this day. Kinoshita sensei guided me through the exercises in the first class. I was surprised that I'd been taking sitting and standing for granted all my life. I had never been aware of my center.
Kinoshita sensei emphasized, following Ki no Kenkyukai principles, that they have "4 Principles" that we have to keep when doing anything.
- Keep one-point.
- Relax completely.
- Keep weight underside.
- Extend Ki.
This was a new experience for me. I had learned techniques but never before had I learned the concept of the unity of mind and body, that one should spend every single moment practicing these principles, not just at the dojo.
There was a girl in the class not wearing a gi, just training wear. I could see that she had difficulty sitting and standing. She had been ill a few years back, and Kinoshita sensei helped her heal through kiatsu
(Ki no Kenkyukai mind-body therapeutic techniques) and exercises. Before she met him, she couldn't sit down by herself, let alone stand. Over the years, we continued to improve, sitting and walking better.
Afterwards, Kinoshita sensei explained a bit about how he started the class in Indonesia. It was a closed session, not for the public. Anybody who was there had been referred by someone else. Aside from myself, the students there had no affiliation with any other martial arts organization, let alone aikido. I was from an Aikikai branch. I only found out later that there is a rift between the two organizations, and cross-training was something that very rarely happened. Most people ended up choosing one or the other. Kinoshita sensei, however, didn't make me choose. He just made me aware of the situation, so I could decide what was best for me to do, fully informed. In fact, I had my instructor's full blessing when I joined the class.
Years passed, and I continued to participate in the Sunday classes. Kinoshita sensei was kind and very sincere in sharing his knowledge. At the end of every class, he would see us off. When he moved from an apartment into a house, he would come outside after class and watch us drive away. I could always see him in my rear view mirror. Even after I turned the corner, I could still feel him. He did this for everyone, seeing us off one by one.
With Kinoshita sensei, teaching was tough love. Everything you do must be 100%. You either do it or you don't. Your mind must be dedicated to the one task you are doing, and not get distracted by other thoughts. Only when you accomplish a task should you move on to other things.
One time he made a student leave training because he deemed that she was not serious. Although harsh, we understood why he did it, but nonetheless, we all stared at the floor at the time.
We rarely practiced techniques in the class; it was mostly about exercising the unity of mind and body Occasionally when he wanted to demonstrate techniques, he would at times call me up to be his uke. He scolded me once for being a ‘dive bunny.' He said that whenever I fell, it should be because I lost my balance, not to please him.
When I took ukemi for Kinoshita sensei, the first thing he would observe was my posture and my attitude. "Extend Ki," he would say. I did what I understood about this concept at the time. "Softer," he would say. "Mmm, better." Only when he was satisfied with my posture and attitude would he let me continue and proceed to grab his hand. His stance was solid yet supple—not rigid. He did his techniques slowly, focusing on the extension of Ki rather than felling the uke.
Sometimes, he would purposely do the technique wrong, to check if the reaction of the uke was honest. If the uke fell down when he did this (like I did), he would point out that the uke fell down only out of a desire to comply with what he or she thought sensei wanted. That it is not good for training. If the uke didn't fall down, he would then ask him what he was feeling at the time. After the first time I took ukemi for him, I understood that I was supposed to feel nage—feel his energy. If his energy stopped moving or if there was negative energy, I did not need to follow through—I could just stand there and hold my position or move away. His point was that while doing technique, one must have good positive energy and that Ki extension must not stop. Uke and nage must have the same mindset.
When he showed the correct way, I always felt like I cannot not stop following him. He was mindful of uke's position and would even let the uke to try to regain his balance. His application was different than Kubota Ikuhiro sensei's techniques, whom I discussed in another essay. If Kubota sensei is like a whirlwind that powerfully draws you inwards, I would describe Kinoshita sensei like a gentle breeze that makes you move in its direction. Both of these applications hold merit, and have had a significant influence in my training.
Compared to Kubota sensei, Kinoshita sensei's teaching was less (or even not) martial. He used the techniques as training tools of the four principles. He focused in teaching people to have a good and positive attitude, away from negative energy. A good mindset was quite central to his instructions, and he was aware if someone did not have good intentions. To this day I make an effort, though intermittently, I confess, to apply his teachings in daily life.
One day, after all of the other students had left, only Kinoshita sensei, his senior student, and I remained. I don't remember why I was still there, because I was usually among the first ones to leave. We were casually talking and suddenly he asked, "If your sensei and I were hanging from the edge of the cliff, and you could only save one, who would you save?"
This question threw me off guard. I was speechless. There was silence. Kinoshita sensei followed up, "Go on. I will not be angry with any answer you give me."
I was still silent. I did not know what to make of his question. Finally he answered it for me, "You must save your own sensei. It is alright if you let me go."
I finally understood what he was trying to tell me, and it is also something that I keep with his other teachings.
My sensei and Kinoshita sensei had a very good relationship. Unfortunately for us, Kinoshita sensei returned to Japan, and we have not been able to keep in touch with him since. Nonetheless, we still have a good relationship with the Ki no Kenkyukai Indonesia. Kinoshita sensei taught me many things both implicitly and explicitly, and he has had a profound impact in the way I perceive training.
For those inclined to post, please re-read the introductory column before doing so. The rules for contributors, in short:
My name is Iriawan Kamal Thalib. Everyone calls me Kamal. Like any other kids down here, my first experience in martial arts were karate and taekwondo (WTF). After injuring my knee, tearing my ligament, I was not able to do the things that I used to do. I explored other martial arts, but my main was still taekwondo (though I switched to ITF), until I dislocated my injured knee again. I decided then that I needed to change.
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A friend of mine introduced me to aikido, but I did not join right away. In 1998 I finally joined a dojo that is affiliated with Indonesia Aikikai Foundation in a university under the guidance of Imanul Hakim sensei, who is still my teacher to this day. Hakim sensei is a scholar. He researches other martial arts, but not necessarily integrating it into his aikido. His good demeanor has made him lots of friends with many aikidoka around the world as well as other martial artists, some of whom I was fortunate to meet as well. The way I research aikido and other martial arts has always been influenced by his guidance.
Aikido has positively influenced how I perceive things, not only martial arts, but everything else in daily life.