Aikido Iwama Uchideshi

This Blog originally tracked a three month period during which time I undertook training in Iwama under the supervision of Nemoto Sensei. We also trained at the Shibu Dojo, O'Sensei's Dojo in Iwama located in the Ibaraki Prefecture of Japan.
I have returned this time for a shorter three week stint in January 2011.

1st Kyu Grading

Tomorrow I take my 1st kyu grading. Although my techniques are not flawless I think that they are of quite a decent standard most likely worthy of a first kyu status. Hopefully my instructor will agree. As this will be my last grading before shodan, this is likely a transition into some serious training building up over the next 6 - 12 months towards that all elusive shodan.

Every dojo, every instructor is different holding up a different standard at different grading levels. Fortunately the world of Iwama Ryu is consistent in both technique and standards. My understanding is that at Shodan level the test participant should demonstrate an understanding of the fundamental principles and techniques, clearly showing the basics.

Much like passing your driving test you only really learn to drive once you have passed the test having gained a basic ability to control the car in a safe manner and can prove you understand the rules of the road.

I am not going to concern myself too much with thinking about it, as I once heard 'with one eye on the next grading that only leaves one eye for the training'. But it is natural to occasional ponder the futures possibilities.

Sayonara Keiko

Tonights class was taught my Watahiki Sensei, I believe that Watahiki Sensei is now in his 80's or at least late 70's. His high falls give us all hope, that A, we still have time to learn, and B: that it is possible to keep going with vigor and enthusiasm.

He has quite a unique way of getting his point across and will grab peoples arms, hands, whatever to get them to do the technique more correctly. I have to say sometimes with absolute beginners you can say, "put your left foot there" and point one inch from the spot, and yet somehow this translates as 'put my right foot somewhere over here'. So the tactic of physically moving their body for them sometimes saves time and frustration. I remember when I trained as a very small child, I think I must have been 5-6, that the instructor had little feet shapes that he used to place on the ground to show us where our feet should go. This was only used once or twice, but as I remember it worked quite well, for small children. You could lay out a pattern, numbering and colouring them, for a technique say katatedori shihonge and get the kids to follow along. I am sure there are better ways to teach kids, and the emphasis is totally different, but its a thought.

Tomorrow I leave for Tokyo, where I will have a couple of days to do a bit of touristy stuff. A few days to relax and ponder over everything that I have learned, I am not talking about techniques as such, more what the overall experience has taught me. Before I leave I will do a big clean up of the house top to bottom, as I have said before Nemoto Sensei doesn't get on the case of his uchideshi but trusts that they will do what is expected of them, what is fair and reasonable.

I have had a great time in Iwama, practiced Saito's Bukiwaza with arguably one of the worlds best exponents, trained in O'Sensei's old dojo, with great supervision. Prayed and chanted at the Aiki-Jinja. Met some great new people, trained quite hard (my feet are pretty sore), I have some new techniques and Bukiwaza practices to take home with me. Overall despite it was a short trip only three weeks, I have learned a lot, a lot about my own motivations, and goals for my Aikido path. I am very lucky to have a supportive partner who positively encourages me to chase my dreams, and make them a reality.

Final Keiko with Nemoto Sensei

It was a the final Keiko with Nemoto Sensei. Nemoto sensei had me go through the 1st kyu grading, ikkyo-gokkyo suwariwaza, and three ways from each group: koshinage, iriminage, kokyunage, kotegaishi, ushiro, hanmi handachi, jo dori, tachi-dori, of tnken-dori. We didn't cover kaiten nage, men-nage, juji garami. Not sure if these are not on the test or whether we were running out of time.

Sensei said if it were a real test I would have needed better kiai, and to have performed the techniques more crisply and with more vigor. It was an unexpected "mock test" and I knew it wasn't a real test so challenged myself a little bit and didn't go for necessarily the easiest choices or put much ki into it. I wouldn't have passed me on the basis of my own performance.

7 Ken Suburi

7 Ken Suburi

This is me doing a little Suburi practice. I can see a few things to work on !!

Final Keiko with Inagaki Sensei

This evening was the last Keiko with Inagaki Sensei for the trip. Every single class that of his that I have been present at he was spent at least 5-10 mins talking about reigi and specifically proper bowing etiquette. Stressing the importance of making eye contact before, and after, not dipping the head so that peripheral vision is lost and making sure the bow is done awase, also bowing, stopping for a couple of seconds at the bottom then coming back up, he also talking about keeping the back straight, and the head in line with the back. Then he discussed from an old Aikido text book, the proper way to stand up and sit down out of seiza. Up, left foot then right foot, down, left foot then right foot.

We then continued with the theme Katate-dori Kokyu-nage. Completing the series 21-23.
21 Using kokyu to take the balance up stepping forward and use kokyu on inside elbow step forward and throw. This is the version if the nage blocks the atemi to their face
22 Step forward to atemi face, then grab lapel and pull back going down onto back knees, front knee up at right angles, hips remain forwards
23 ki no nagare, as uke steps in to grab, nage step back a draws up like a wave then projects towards nage's centre with the wrist bent forwards and the arm and hand relaxed.

After class I requested a photo and everybody was kind enough to placate me !!

Morning Keiko

This morning we went over the entire Jo syllabus, as well as the Ken-Tai-Jo, Sensei permitted me to bring a note book and make notes. Which will prove to be very useful. I was also able to clarify the the couple of 'missing' kumitachi-henka.

I am now quite confident that I understand the differences between Peter Sensei teaching and Nemoto Sensei's. I dont think one is right and one is wrong, I doubt it is a simple as that, especially knowing that at different times things were taught in slightly different ways. But is useful that I can now at least be clear about where the distinctions are. I am going to record myself doing the solo bukiwaza practices more out for nostalgia so that in future I can look back and see how my weapons have improved. It's hard to do because if I can see even the slightest mistake, even one foot get dragged along the floor, I will be tempted to do it again. I will have to make a good effort to do it right and be happy that, thats it, at least for now.

6 more Kokyu-nage

Last night at the Shibu Dojo we continued with the theme katate-dori kokyu-nage, and completed a further six variations taking the count up to 20. This series is shihonage based.

15 (shihonage based) same as basic
16 (shihonage based) arm break
17 (shihonage based) head lock
18 (shihonage based) tenkan right angle arm
19 (shihonage based) half tenkan arm break over shoulder
20 (shihonage based) reverse ikkyo nasty lock

I guess technically you could argue that some of these are actually pins and not throws so should they really be called kokyunage, perhaps not but that's semantics.

This morning Nemoto and I went over the Ken-Tai-Jo, so in effect that completes the entire weapons syllabus, which has taken about 20 days, at 1.5 hours per day, or 30 hours. It is easy to see why if you only train bukiwaza once a week it takes so long to get through the syllabus, and by the time you get back round to the beginning you have forgotten at least some of it.. Which is why I am so lucky to get the chance to come out and train intensively like this, especially one on one with one of Saito's top deshi. Which means I am one step closer to having the kumi-jo and kumi-tachi well cemented in my brain and body so that I can make the most of the training when we do cover it.

I have found that videoing myself has been a really useful way of seeing what is happening, its just as easy to criticize yourself on camera as it is to criticize somebody else. Which I definitely want to do more of, well at least until I cant see anything which I don't like, and that could take a while, which is good, because a while is all I have got. It is really useful way of seeing where you are going wrong, and picking up your own mistakes. I think that the ability to self correct is paramount to successful development. It's mostly little things, like slight hip mis-position, bad foot alignment, stuff like that, but these all add up.

It think it would be good for some of the other people back home to give it a try too, once you see yourself from a third person perspective that critical eye can be put to good use, rather than wasting it on other peoples form.

Not sure what bukiwaza we will do from now on, if I get the chance I'd like to go over the kumitachi-henka again, but will be happy to do anything. Only 6-7 more sessions to go !!! Then back to reality, the old grindstone.

Fairwell Party

Last night, being my last wednesday was my fairwell party. Just Nemoto Sensei and myself were in attendance. Nemoto Sensei presented me with the certificate of attendance, which is a nice keepsake.

We chatted about some specific Aikido techniques, as well as Aikido in general. We also talked a fair bit about the political situation in Iwama, and what the future might hold for the Shibu Dojo once this generation of teachers has passed. I suggested that they could move it piece by piece to Europe, which made Sensei laugh quite a lot. Although I think that I remember hearing a story a while back when the future of the dojo looked grim, that there was actually a serious suggestion of this, made my the French I think. Sensei suggests it is likely to become a museum. Sure that the Aikikai wouldn't let that happen, although as for the Iwama techniques and Bukiwaza.

Speaking of Iwama techniques this morning we covered kumitachi henka. In total there were 20, Four for each Kumitachi, two ken-henka and two nage-henka. I attempted to write down a description of all 20 and perhaps got 15. I am crossing my fingers that we will go over it again tomorrow, or else I may ask Sensei to help me clarify them. Most of them are covered in the Saito Aiki-ken DVD but quite a few aren't. I am sure that Peter-sensei knows them all anyway, as we have covered them, and sure that we will get to that.

The only thing left on the Bukiwaza syllabus is the Ken-tai-jo then we will have covered the lot. I would say that I am getting on with all the weapons quite well really, especially for a 2nd kyu. I am under no delusion about my own standing, but compared to some of the dodgy looking attempts you seen on You-tube and the likes, even by yundsha, I'd say I am doing okay. Guess the key is keeping good company, and I am lucky here and in Aus, which is always going to help !!

The weather has really warmed up, I could almost pour the olive oil out of the jar this afternoon!!

Iwama hombu style

So I had another run in with my favorite uke. This time we were practicing one of the forms of Yokomen-uchi irimi-nage. It was going well, happy smiling faces. At some point, he decided that the way I was doing the yokomen attack was incorrect, and got those angry eyes as he tried to explain how to do it correctly. "Side of the head" he said, to which I replied in my mind, "that is the side of your head", "right along that line in your skull". I know that I do yokomenuchi attack pretty well in an Iwama way, from the top of head, letting the hips do the turning, the same as yokomen-uchi with a bokken.

He continued to explain, getting more frustrated as I got confused as to what exactly how he wanted me to do it, Sensei was watching carefully. Eventually he gave up trying to explain and thought that maybe I would understand better if he had the mat tell me. I am not saying he was trying to hurt me, I doubt that, but his frustration did turn into what I would call over zealous behavior. I grabbed his back as he threw me. Later I thought it was lucky didn't grab the back of his head as it would have pulled he face right into the back of my head. I landed without a sound.

After class, I asked a couple of the deshi and they basically said he gets angry mostly with the foreigners, never the nationals. One deshi told me on their very first day he got really angry and went off at them. This placated me a little as at least it confirms that it is not just me, being a bad uke. I realize now all he wanted was a very sidewards yokomen and have me move off the line and around to the side and keep nice and loose and follow through smoothly so he could do the technique more ki-no-nagare Aiki-hombu style.

After class he came and spoke to me in the change room, asked me where I was from, how long I was staying, (I can hold down this sort of conversation in Japanese okay). Seemed to be a genuine attempt at being friendly. I think he just has a short fuse and cannot control his frustration when his training partner doesn't do it how he wants them them to. Although it is a little concerning that he only gets angry with the foreigners and couldn't really tell if he was being genuine or not, which is a shame. I always copy my senpai even if they do it in a way which is alien or seems illogical. Although as I said before, I came to Iwama for Iwama Aikido and I didn't choose to go to Hombu-dojo.

Kotegaishi Series

This morning Robin-Jinks came to the morning training as he normally does every tuesday, this provides a great opportunity to do some Taijitsu. So as always, got up around 4.45am, into the dark and the cold and had a cup of tea.

We practiced Kote-gaishi, in all we practiced 13 variations as follows:

1 Muna-dori (Static)
2 Muna-dori (Kihon)
3 Kosa-dori (1 - lead with the thumb)
4 Kosa-dori (2 - rotate hand out)
5 Katate-dori (Stepping across with the rear foot)
6 Kata-dori (push hand in face and punch then step back as uke steps forward)
7 Yokomen-uchi (stepping around with uke)
8 Shomen-uchi
9 Ushiro-ryokata (1 - stepping to the side, arms in the air 'banzai' then rotate)
10 Ushiro-ryokata (2 - hand on top of the head rooster style)
11 Ushiro-ryokatate (1 - normal grip)
12 Ushiro-ryokatate (2 - pulling arms together, twisting wrist out)
13 Ushiro-ryokata Ki no Nagare (move one way then then other - airplane feel)

Pretty sure that Nemoto Sensei follows a set pattern for each technique although I am sure that he knows a lot more variations. His kotegaishi is obviously very strong, he uses the hips and a fast movement at the end to throw, moving kinda diagonally backwards, to be clear of a punch in the face from uke. I also got shown a slightly different way to turn uke over which was interesting. Although I always feel this is a bit of a mute point from a martial perspective as they are already lying flat on their back with you standing over the top of them !!

We then, as usual, did 30 mins of sit ups, squats, press ups etc.. Robin made much easier work of it than he had last week. I also feel that I have also improved a great deal in such a short space of time, I even got a 'subarashi' from Nemoto Sensei when I was doing the body raises, because they were consistently so much higher than before when I could hardly even finish the reps.