Having been fortunate enough to attend Ellis' one evening mini-seminar at NJIT this past Monday, June 2, I can strongly recommend that anyone who has the chance to do so take advantage of the opportunity to get in two full days of training with him this coming weekend in Pittsburgh.
The seminar at NJIT, part of a series of classes by notable Bond Street Dojo Alumni (Bond Street co-founder Ken Nisson came out to visit the previous week), was piggy-backed on the previous weekend's Bond Street Dojo 30th anniversary. A shift in campus building schedules that forced us to move the start time up from the originally scheduled 6:30 to 5:30 pm caused a small dip in attendance below the number of pre-registrants; it seems that a number of folks who had intended to come play discovered that their employers actually expected them to work a full day on the first day of the workweek. Imagine that.....
In any case, Ellis taught a two hour class in which he initially presented an alternative approach to ukemi which emphasizes consistently reversible movement as a means for uke to both maximize personal safety and increase the likelihood of sound application of kaeshi-waza.
Building on that premise, he then focused on a method of atemi favored by his long-time aikido teacher Yoshio Kuroiwa Sensei. Kuroiwa Sensei, who came to aikido as an experienced professional boxer with somewhere in the neighborhood of 300 bouts, developed a unique understanding and presentation of aikido movement that incorporates strong use of punches, particularly the upper-cut and hook. Ellis' presentation of this approach was direct and to the point, which staying well within the bounds of standard aikido taijutsu.
Emphasizing not only the necessary center-to-center orientation of both uke and nage for the execution of effective technique, but also a stance that is, at least at times, somewhat lower with a more open foot position than the relatively narrow uni-directional hanmi most common in aikido practice, Ellis worked his way through the mechanics of upper-cut and hook punches as well as their relationship to the standard basic techniques of shiho-nage, ikkyo, nikyo, irimi-nage and a variation that he calls "irimi otoshi."
Along the way, he also presented a series of alternative ukemi for these basic techniques, most of which minimized the likelihood of one or more hyperextensions or counter-rotations of uke's joints that might lead to bad results in the hands of a nage who is either malicious or -- as is more commonly and dangerously the case in my experience -- somewhat clumsy and unaware, and maximized the possibility of escape or counter, as appropriate.
He closed with an impromptu presentation of basic kamae and movement characteristics of taijutsu, as well as sword, spear, and naginata handling in Araki-Ryu and Toda-ha Buko Ryu respectively.
Afterwards, eight of us made our way down to Ferry Street in the Ironbound District of Newark, near Penn Station. When a straw poll of the group revealed a near-unanimous preference for meat over fish, we wandered into Iberia for a Rodizio sit-down, a single-price trencherman's delight that consists of a number of side dishes for the table (salad, bread, white rice, black beans, sauteed greens, french fries, fried bananas, and potato fritters) and a stream of waiters stopping by the table bearing skewers chock-a-block full of roasted meats that continues until the diners concede defeat in the face of plenitude. Washed down with a good three or four pitchers of water and a couple of bottles of vinho verde, the meal was a convivial conclusion to a wonderful evening, and I'm guessing that I'm not the only one who may not need any protein for a few days.
Both during the class and afterward at dinner, Ellis' technically solid instruction was leavened with well-chosen anecdotes that added just the sense of lightness necessary to emphasize the equally important martial (and dare I say it, human) qualities of relaxed fluidity and quickness.
All in all, a first-rate class by fine budoka.
If my schedule permitted, I would be booking a plane ticket to Pittsburgh right now. If you're in the area, sign up now rather than kick yourself later when your friends who did sign up tell you what you missed.