Issue 28 – Southern Aikido Connection

2007 has come on real quick and we’re already into the second quarter of the year, with our mid-year grading coming up in about 5 weeks’ time. Whoa! So for all who are grading, check to ensure that you have more-than-enough training sessions for your respective grades and strut your stuff on the mat. And enjoy your Aikido at the same time.

A few thoughts…… On grading

In my first few years of training I thought gradings were not important — I wanted to “just train”. Now nearly 30 years later I hold the view that in the first 10 years of training, gradings are crucially important and I want to make both a plug for grading and give you some idea of what I look for in those preparing to grade.

In medieval Japan, martial arts were taught to the samurai. Gradings would not have been so important — the true “grading” was of course when you fought. There was a major incentive to develop your skill as your very life could well depend on it. Nowadays we no longer have that incentive but gradings provide mini objectives to be achieved as we develop our training.

Gradings force students to learn what they need to know rather than what they want to learn. In the first 5 or more years of training students need to gain basic knowledge on which they build for the rest of their aikido training. The various grading level requirements force the student to understand a “package” of knowledge at each level. Someone who does not grade may train for the same period of time but they will not be “forced” to ensure that they understand the “package” of knowledge; there will be gaps in their knowledge that will stop them progressing.

It is my experience that those who decide not to grade in fact do not “move on” from where they are. They do not test their knowledge to the same degree as someone facing a grading. Almost always they quit as they stop learning & become frustrated.

In the past I have drawn the analogy of the various kyu & dan grades and the knowledge we gain at each as a succession of growing hills. Until we climb the first one we cannot see the slightly larger hill behind it. Thus someone who does not put the time and effort into achieving a grade cannot “scale the hill” and see what lies beyond. Gradings are thus, I believe, critical to our development.

We have emphasised the gradings even more by running proficiency testing most months for the last 5 or more years. These clearly point out deficiencies in knowledge to both the student and instructor and thus provide a focus of what the student needs to know/achieve before they can proceed to grade. The proficiency testing has helped to improve our standards.

To proceed to a grading you need the approval of your instructor. The key things I look for is that the student has completed the minimum training times required in the syllabus. In fact I prefer that the student has far more than the minimum and because we currently hold around 24 training sessions per week I see no reason why a student should not easily exceed the minimum.

Secondly in relation to minimum training times they need to be completed in a timely fashion. For example if as for 3rd kyu the minimum time is 75 days of training and the student takes 18 months to achieve this [ie averaging only once per week] then in my view the student will probably not be ready to grade. The student should perhaps take another 6 months and try to train more intensively.

Thirdly, in relation to minimum times, the classes need to be taken in the right classes. Again, say for a third kyu, if his/her classes are mostly in the Basics classes [where we mostly deal with 6th and 5th kyu syllabus] then the student is unlikely to have sufficient knowledge or skill level to handle the 3rd kyu grading.

Finally, the student needs to demonstrate sufficient knowledge and proficiency appropriate to the grade level they are seeking. For some students I do not have any reservation of the ability to achieve a certain grade. Almost always these are students who train regularly and whose training times by grading far exceed the minimum required.

If I do have reservations, then for us the easiest way that we determine whether a student is ready is through the proficiency testing process, but the tests are not compulsory. For some students I simply watch their training and decide whether they are ready.

If I am unsure you are ready I will probably ask you to sit a proficiency test or ask you to wait another 6 months. This can feel like a “knock back” but it shouldn’t be taken as such. I need to ensure, as an instructor, that you have the knowledge to move up to a higher level if and when you do grade. The reverse also holds — if you proceed to grade, then I am very confident you will pass and that you have the knowledge to keep on developing.

Andrew Williamson Sensei

News – upgrade to our website

Our website is currently being upgraded and we are developing a slightly different layout. New features include a permanent photograph album with hundreds of photos and small named video clips of basic techniques etc necessary for beginner students to know for their first grading. Please enjoy.

Masuda Shihan’s visit: February 2007

It’s February again (just like it is every twelve months, I suppose) and for a second year in a row, Masuda Shihan has come to visit along with his wife. For those of you who have not met Masuda Shihan before, he is a shihan from Tokyo, who teaches at Hombu (World Aikido Headquarters) and at several other dojos in Tokyo.

Training was lighthearted and impressive. Masuda Shihan covered a lot of the same concepts as in his last visit, but showed different applications or used different analogies for describing them. I’m still fascinated that many of the things he talked about are such simple things, but they make a big difference to the feeling and effectiveness of the technique. Examples of this would be “rolling tape over the arm” and “shaking hands”. He also demonstrated that big power does not necessarily come from big movements; small movements can generate power as well. Personally, I find it encouraging to see that as I get not-younger, mature like a fine wine so to speak, there are and will be many more things to learn, and I won’t have to stop training. It was also good to see Mrs. Masuda on the mat training. Training with her was an enlightening experience, as she’s had 30 to 40 years of seeing aikido from Masuda Shihan. Additionally, Masuda Shihan would often come and demonstrate with his wife and her partner.

As could be expected there were a lot of dinners after training, and significant amounts of beer consumed. It was good to see Masuda Shihan and his wife outside of the dojo, and the dinners were always good value — trying to eat peanuts with chopsticks in my left hand was a bit of a challenge, but how can you say no to a Shihan? If you didn’t attend any of the dinners, I’m afraid you missed out. Good food (roast duck being a staple), beer and even some non-aikido conversation, what’s not to like? In all, it was a very busy and tiring month for many people, with a lot of training (Masuda Shihan’s classes in addition to the usual classes), dinners and life in general. Even so, I didn’t particularly want to say farewell at the airport; the month had been enormously enjoyable as well as fun. Still, looking on the bright side, now we’ve got a year to train and understand what Masuda Shihan has taught before he hopefully/maybe/crossed-fingers visits again. Who knows, I might even be a little more fine-wine like by then.

Shane Goodwin Christchurch

PS: Many thanks to Bruce Scott for his translating. It would have been very difficult to understand a lot of the more intricate concepts that Masuda Shihan wished to demonstrate without Bruce’s efforts. Domo arigato gozaimashita.

Our Bensei in Aussie


Cooool man!

For those of you who don’t know, I’ve moved over the Melbourne for a year to work on a new freeway project. When I was told by the company that I was going to Melbourne, I instantly thought of the big city, good Italian food (eh Kevin…I have been back!), coffee, Barossa Valley reds and beaches. But… turns out that I’m writing this article in a porta-com office in Elphinstone (population: 200) with the air con cranking, road dust blowing everywhere, a fair dinkum 42 degrees outside and miles from Metro-Melbourne itself. To give you an idea of what type of place I’m staying in, the “big town” about 25 minutes from where I live is Castlemaine where they used to film Blue Heelers. Get the picture?

But having said this….there is an Aikido club here and a good one at that.

I’m training at the Woodend Aikido Club which is affiliated to Aiki-Kai Australia and run by Paul Pavichievac Sensei. The dojo is set up in the local sports stadium which means setting up the mats at the beginning of each session (a novelty that wears off very quickly). On a typical day we would have around 10 people training ranging from 6th kyu to 2nd kyu.

Paul Sensei’s technique is very smooth and he often emphasises openings for atemi or technique changes/transitions. The open hand techniques are obviously very similar to what I’m used to since the club is Aikikai based and draws its influence from Sugano Shihan. However, the weapons work is a totally different story. Most sessions Paul Sensei will work through one of Sugano Shihan’s weapons patterns which involve one person acting as the teacher and their partner acting as the student. A typical pattern will involve around 8-10 strikes and defences where the teacher attacks and the student responds. Many of the techniques are quite different to what I have seen before and it’s great to be totally in the dark again.

Anyway, time to go…I’m taking the class tomorrow so I need to think of some new things to show. Din’s sankyo thumb technique and Chris’ head throw from irimi nage are definitely starters. See you guys for coffee and training (in the correct order) in mid June. Good luck to those grading in May…it sounds like it’s going to be action packed, and train hard…Chris I heard you’ve been slacking (may or may not have come from Terry).

Till next time,

Bensei in Aussie, aka Ben Hayward

National Gasshuku: Auckland 9-11 March 2007

ASC team with our honoured guestsASC team with our honoured guests

We had all been looking forward to the annual gasshuku and the chance to travel up and participate in a weekend frenzy of training, technique, and camaraderie.

Unfortunately however I arrived in Auckland on the Friday with a burning throat and running nose. Not a good start for a weekend of concentrated Aikido…

After promising to hold my breath while training so as not to spread my germs to training partners, I had to renege on my honourable offer as Takase Shihan encouraged us to use only one breath per technique; “breathe in — digest – (“…exactly what are we digesting?” Miria asks Andrew quietly over lunch!!), and exhale”, accepting and spitting out your opponent a secondary thought it seems.

Sawada Shihan of Kimori dojo in Nagoya was the guest instructor this year, travelling over with students Masayo san, Meuri san and Aaron (prodigal ASC student). I knew what to expect of Sawada Shihan having participated in his classes at the 35th Anniversary in 2005 and a mini seminar in June ‘04, as well as training at Kimori dojo in 2002 and 2003 whilst living in Japan.

Takase Shihan & Sawada ShihanTakase Shihan & Sawada Shihan

A dynamic and powerful teacher (and genuinely all round nice guy) many essential points were communicated via Aaron (translator) to the 60 or so present, about footwork, body positioning and posture.

There are two points he kept coming back to that I thought I’d share my thoughts on:

  1. Opening and rotation of hips and shoulders to generate power

    Sawada Shihan emphasised the importance of body movement by opening out and rotating the hips and then shoulders where possible during a technique. The resulting force generated from swinging your torso back to your partner as you apply the technique is great.

    I remember Andrew at one point using the analogy of one of those rotating metal signs that you see out on the street, spinning endlessly around with the wind. Your spine or middle line (chusen) vertically through the body, is the core and your hips and shoulders open to spin out away from your partner, expanding your chest, (and as the wind changes) you make use of your body’s natural power to spin back towards your partner.

    You can imagine this through kotegaishi-nage, as you take hold of the hand, opening your shoulders out before turning back in to throw.

    Sawada Shihan repeatedly asked us to look at his footwork and body positioning, reinforcing that he was not using his arm power, but power from his hips.

  2. Pivoting around a central point (one point – ‘ii-ten’) to create speed and generate power.

    Sawada Shihan demonstrated this often; through empty handed waza and jo/ken work. He brought his feet together in the initial movement, receiving the attack and sucking his partner into him, before settling into his stance and finally throwing.

    I had seen him use this before with weapons work, crossing the one foot directly behind the other and settling into his knees, loading his weight to allow himself to irimi forward like a coiled spring.

    An example of this with empty handed waza was shihonage; for ura, instead of scribing a large arc using the tenkan movement, you step your feet together and then slide the outer leg back before the tenshin and throw.

    The result is a quicker footwork movement as you rotate around a central point, generating more power than from having your stance open/legs spread in normal hanmi, splitting your power between the two points.

Both of these two ideas were repeated through weapons work where Sensei systematically worked through each movement in partner practice with a third of the group so we were able to fine-tune our positioning and footwork.

In retrospect you could liken Sawada Shihan’s ‘one point’ to the subsequent power generated by all these Aikidoka converging on the central point of Howick Recreation Centre, coming together to further develop their power through the focussed training and instruction of Takase Shihan and Sawada Shihan. All these bodies spinning and rotating around the mat, before returning to spread their power around their respective dojo in Japan, NZ, Malaysia, Indonesia and New Caledonia.

I think we can all say it was a weekend well worth the effort; culminating in a lot of sweat released, water consumed, and smiles witnessed, as we strived for one-ness. In fact you could say that there was so much ki force generated at the 2007 gasshuku through our central rotations, concentrated footwork, and power-laden hips that we managed to throw Alex all the way to Brisbane. And what better send off could he ask for?

Susi Batterbury Christchurch

Familial dojo – part of our close Aikido family.

Each edition of SAC magazine we try to feature a Familial dojo i.e. one that is part of our close aikido family. In this issue, we feature Aikido Shinryukan Canterbury.

We thought for this issue we would feature ourselves and explain a little of how Aikido Shinryukan Canterbury works.

Aikido Shinryukan Canterbury operates three dojos:

Burnside dojo
Burnside HQ We are on the corner of Clyde Road and Morley Street, Burnside. This dojo operates as the HQ for Canterbury with training every day. The dojo was dveloped by ASC in 1996 after moving from premises on Fitzgerald Ave.
Linwood dojo
Pages Road Shuttle Drive Cuthberts Green, Pages Road, Linwood. This dojo was developed in 2002 and currently trains 4 days of the week.
Rangiora dojo
RangioraNorthbrook Studios, Northbrook Road, Rangiora. This dojo was developed in 2001 after moving from Kaiapoi.

ASC operates as one group. Students, on joining ASC, have an automatic right and are encouraged to attend other dojos to maximise training. The philosophy behind this is to ensure that students train with the largest range of partners possible and allows attendance at specialised Basics, Weapons and Advanced classes. In addition by working as a large group ASC is able to offer a regular program of seminars and instruction by senior national Sensei and various visiting Shihans.

ASC currently offers 24 classes per week including 4 Kids classes, 2 Weapons classes, 5 Basics classes, and an Advanced class. Currently ASC consists of over 90 adult members and 80 children. There are 9 regular instructors including: Andrew Williamson [Rokudan], Irene Williamson [Godan], Kevin Allen [Yondan], Gary Crooks [Sandan].