Issue 31 – Southern Aikido Connection

Time really goes by when you’re having fun with Aikido. It was only a few winks ago that 2008 started and now, we’re looking forward to, and preparing for, our mid-year grading. This time around, it appears that we will have a record number of yudansha grading! All the best!


A few thoughts…

The last few months have not been a vintage time for me. I caught a very persistent form of salmonella food poisoning in mid January from a shopping centre food court. The bouts seem to return every two weeks or so despite treatment and even between bouts I have not felt great. So over the last two and half months, I have skipped a lot of training. On the positive side it has given me time to think about aikido and miss it a lot.

Normally I train most days. I think the aim of training in the technical side of aikido as seeking very gradual improvements to your technique. The more you train the more you have the opportunity to make those small improvements. By not training regularly I realise that I have lost my flow of new ideas which is truly frustrating.

We are extremely lucky in that we have many people here with whom you can train at a high level. We can try out small changes to our technique without being concerned that we will damage our uke. We are also lucky that we have had Masuda Shihan visiting Christchurch for a month at a time for the past 4 years giving us an extended period to gain from his instruction. [As an aside I am really pleased so many people took advantage of his time here in February to train.] You cannot overestimate the knowledge you can gain from Masuda Sensei if you are willing to put the time in and learn.

Ultimately I think the knowledge is there for us to “take” and develop if we wish. Here in Canterbury we have excellent dojos, senior instructors along with many serious students with whom to practice. But I do not think the technical side of aikido will come through some sort of revelation, but rather constant determined practice.

This is a call to practice hard – not superhuman stuff but simply careful, serious practice as often as possible. I am very frustrated that right at this point I cannot do this myself but I hope in the next few weeks, I’ll be back.

Andrew Williamson Sensei

Masuda Shihan in Christchurch 2008

For the third year in a row we have had the good fortune of hosting Masuda Shihan and his wife for the month of February – treated with around three classes per week and plenty of chances to socialise. Masuda Shihan, as you may well know, has over 50 years aikido experience, and is one of the highest ranking teachers still active at the Aikido Hombu Dojo. He is an excellent teacher and technician, and on the mat he is comfortable being both funny and intimidating!

Each time he leaves I hope for a few things:

  1. that he enjoyed himself enough to come back next year;
  2. that in the 11 months before he returns, I can incorporate at least a couple of his ideas into my aikido – or at least that things won’t be worse when he returns; and
  3. that my wife and kids are happy for me to be away this much again next February too!

Beyond hope, I also wish that after next year’s visit I can understand more of what he’s teaching. Unfortunately, I have a sneaking suspicion that the more I understand the more he will be able to confuse me; but that’s part of the fun!
By thinking about next year, I’m getting too far ahead of myself, because now I get to share my experiences of his 2008 visit.

The Teaching and Training

There is not much point in a class-by-class break down, even if I could remember what was covered, it would miss the subtlety of Masuda Shihan’s teachings. More important than the techniques are the points or themes he highlights during the classes.

The main theme that I heard (because I was reminded many, many times) was “MORE GENTLE!” That’s even when I thought I was being gentle – not just more gentle than the uke deserved, but being really gentle! I know he’s serious about it too, because he could move me easily, breaking both my balance and strength, even when he demonstrated from positions that seemed strange and ‘weak’. He would not rely on strength but very simple lines of movement. For example, he demonstrated an effective line for ikkyo ura on me, while sitting in a chair with one leg being massaged. That’s classy.

Even when he covered common aikido themes, for example blending and relaxing, he would often do these humorously and effectively. Here are some points I’m still trying to figure out:

  • Break the uke’s strength and balance by finding an easy line to stretch them out – for example extend their arm to stretch both their arm and torso
  • Use your imagination to move more easily – it seems that ignoring the uke (at the right time) allows you to move nearly effortlessly – for example think of relaxed handshaking or bokken/sword movements
  • Good position and ‘connection’ with the uke requires less effort than excessive force (geek note: even for small values of excessive force) – this applies as much to big things, like your relative body positions, as to small things, like the hand position of a nikkyo wrist lock
  • Look after beginners because clubs tend to stay healthier if they continuously have a good number of beginners staying on – for example be gentle with them and teach them basic forms first, leaving your applied variations for later
  • Don’t move too much – just end up in the right place at the right time!
  • Practice, practice, practice!

The few times I understood what he was teaching were awesome – I moved both myself and my uke effortlessly. At the time these glorious “Aha!” revelations seem so obvious they should be easily remembered and easily applied forever (requiring me to be promoted to grand master), but unfortunately they fade away. Some last for one or two throws and some for a couple of weeks. On the upside, now that I’ve been training a while I’m confident some of them come back slowly over the days/weeks/months/years, but not as vividly.

The Social Scene

The social scene was mostly broken down into dinning, golf, and the odd job running around and helping out.

After each training class there was a small dinner at one of the local Chinese restaurants. While Masuda Shihan’s spoken English is pretty good, small-talk can still be a challenge. It is made easier by the numerous Chinese dishes and New Zealand drinks. Thankfully, Masuda Shihan doesn’t wear his dogi to dinner, so it’s easy to forget how scary he can be – but not so easy that you actually forget – and the next class is never far away!

The rules for organising the dinners are pretty easy: make sure there is roast duck on the menu (his favourite) and a few drinks for Mrs Masuda (her favourite). Oh, then make sure some people turn up to the right address.

Although most of my report is on aikido, it’s worth saying that Masuda Shihan is actually here for the golf. I think he only takes classes when the golf courses are closed. I’m not a golf player (and my wife reminds me that I’m not going to start any time soon) but he does love the game and enjoys company, but be prepared for an early start. I hear he hits the ball straight and he plays fast – only stopping long enough to line up the shot and then he’s off again.

Of course the social scene and the training are closely linked: If Masuda Shihan knows you, he seems happy to keep an extra eye on you, stop and have a friendly chat (the outcome of which is not normally clear), and he will remind you more often to be “MORE GENTLE!” He may even emphasise the last point with a smile and a nikkyo you just know could split your wrist in two.

Closing Thoughts

The cost for training in Masuda Shihan’s classes is an extra $40 for the month. It’s hard to imagine getting better value aikido training anywhere. I happily paid another $150 for his four day seminar in Auckland (although anything you hear about me on that trip is a lie).

If Masuda Shihan comes back next year then don’t let the cost put you off the training, even if you’re reading this in 2009 and have only been training for a few weeks! If you enjoy aikido, you’ll get more value than that in each class. At the national gasshuku I talked with numerous national and international participants who were very envious of our opportunity.

A huge thanks goes to Andrew Sensei for making this happen again and for managing to keep the training fee so low. A special thanks to Bruce Scott for translating the classes when he could – giving Masuda Shihan more chance to elaborate his descriptions. Thank you to Masuda Shihan and his wife for choosing Christchurch for their holiday and agreeing to train us. And, finally, a thank you to everyone who trained enthusiastically, to everyone who let us train enthusiastically, and to those that helped out.

James McNeill – Christchurch

New Caledonian Aikido – French Hospitality!

I thought I might pen a few lines about our trip to New Caledonia in August last year (2007). What fun! If you haven’t had a chance to experience the hospitality shown by the “Nouevelle Caledonies”, you are really missing out on meeting some lovely people, some of whom come to the National Gasshuku in Auckland, but these are only a handful of the nice people you will meet in NC.

The highlights of this trip for me, were actually teaching a couple Aikido lessons and the trip out in the lagoon with Serge and his magnificent 44 ft. / 14 metre catamaran “Captain Cherie”. (If I only had a couple of hundred thousand dollars to spare, I swear, I would buy one of these!!!! ….. then get someone to teach me how it all works!!!! )

Teaching was a blast, really. Takase Sensei asked Colin Pearson, Alan Wade, and myself to take a lesson each at a huge Judo Dojo in Noumea. We all taught for approx 50 minutes to an hour each, and we showed our NC hosts our own particular brand of Aikido. My lesson consisted of techniques that they, hopefully, had not seen before, plus getting a few laughs out of everybody, which I think I succeeded in doing. If anybody remembers me at our last Annual Seminar a few months back, I had everybody performing techniques – as Uke. Yep! Interesting, to say the least! If you haven’t tried this and you have a spare minute one day whilst on the mat, try doing Shomen Uchi Nikkyo Ura, by yourself, as the attacker. It’s hard to do!…… and a lot of fun (by the way, thanks to Shane for “volunteering” again to be my helper!)

Colin and I were also invited to take a one hour class each, in the Joctuer Dojo, which is right in the middle of Noumea (great Dojo too!!). Once again Colin and I showed our hosts our own way of performing Aikido, and once again, we had great success!! Mind you, the temperature in Noumea during August was a bit warm for me – I felt damp the whole one hour lesson from perspiration – and I wasn’t even training; I was teaching! Coming from single digit temperatures in Christchurch, to the twenty six plus degree days, really took a toll on me. The Auckland guys would have faired better than me for sure as it’s always warmer up there! – well, I think so anyway.

We trained in five different Dojos in the New Caledonia capital, Noumea, and one Dojo in a small town north of Noumea called Kumac – about 5 hours’ drive on a real bumpy major highway! I’m not sure if I’d like to do that trip again, but staying with friends and training in Kumac was worth the bumps. Special thanks to Lionel, Xuanmarie and John Paul Sensei up in Kumac for a great time!

One really scary part of the trip north to Kumac was the return journey. Debbie and I travelled back in a car which cruised in excess of 180 kilometres an hour – kinda nerve racking, to say the least! I kept thinking what sort of ukemi would get me out of this if we crashed? And, could I grab Debbie on the way past, in mid air!!?? But as luck would have it, we made it back to Noumea safely. Never again – I think I’ll take the bus next time!

Speaking of Kumac, we had a dinner party after class one night, and one of the local delicacies was a meat dish called Rousette (I think), This dish consisted of a large local bat, which we all know as “Flying Fox “(it looks like a small Chihuahua with wings – it has a face like a dog and big membrane wings about 600mm. from tip to tip). Anyway, I wouldn’t eat any of it – no way! I do know a couple of people who did – no names of course, but two of my fellow Cantabrians could probably tell you what it tasted like. Other than that rare delicacy, food with a French flavour was the dished up at most meals, which is wonderful cuisine! And I must say, I could quite easily live on that particular diet.

Training with the locals in New Caledonia certainly opens your eyes about how all the different people train around the world. For example, I believe, there are two major Aikido groups in New Caledonia – one loyal to Tamura Shihan in France, and the other loyal to Tissier Shihan, also in France. I also hear there is one “diverse” group who have a Sensei , whom I have met, but not seen in action. Perhaps on my next trip I’ll get a chance to train with him. I’m keen to see his technique, and see how strong it is, He’s also got a couple of students I’m keen to train with as well. Anyway, these three groups are very different in their training methods, and technique. Perhaps a little softer to what we are used to in Christchurch but all the same, great fun to train with.

All in all, we were spoiled rotten by our hosts – French food, wine, and a luxurious island holiday. I’m already thinking about the next Seminar in New Caledonia I go to – I wonder what’s in store for us!!

Kevin Allen – Christchurch

Our Man in West Island

Well, by the time this gets printed I’ll probably only be a week or so away from coming home. A year and a half goes quickly but you still miss a lot – two Masuda Shihan visits, the importance of yet another world cup loss when you live in a town obsessed with Aussie Rules, and an estimated $728 saving in coffees that would have been bought at Trattorie after training, to name a few.

But there are things I’m going to miss over here too, like my local pub where dogs are as welcome inside as people, not having to decide what to wear each day because road worker orange is the height of fashion and continually getting email updates from Terry about how Chris’ “No-Touch Ki Extension” techniques have reached a deadly level.

On that note, although we’re perhaps not quite as enlightened as Chris, Aikido in Central Victoria is also going well. Our club finally made the move from Woodend to New Gisborne about two months ago. We’re now renting half a dojo in conjunction with a local Taekwondo club which means that our mats stay down permanently which is a pleasant change. There’s nothing quite like training in 40 degree heat and then having to lug 30 mats back to storage.

Over the past six months some of our members have passed their kyu grade tests down in the city and Anthon, my good training partner, is preparing for his Shodan later on this year. Training this year has been great; Paul Sensei’s teaching is always good with a lot of emphasis on atemi openings and combination techniques. I also had the opportunity to train with Sugano Shihan at a Victorian training day down in Melbourne.

As I write this, cars are rolling down the new freeway for the first time. We opened yesterday afternoon which was a good feeling after working for so long on one project, although it’s a little disappointing that I can’t drive at whatever speed I like on a totally empty 4 lane 23km freeway ever again. Let’s just say I’ve performance-tested a few car models quite well in the last 2 months – top gear would be proud.

Anyway, my work here is done….. catch you on mat very soon. Chris….. I’ll be waiting!

Ben Hayward (a.k.a. Bensei)

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 put a plug in for our very own Rangiora Dojo, which has seen tremendous growth in recent times.

Aikido Shinryukan Canterbury – Rangiora Dojo

Well, as of early 2008 Aikido in North Canterbury celebrates its 10th Anniversary!

I started training in Rangiora in early 2000, and as I’m one of the few original crew and because of my “superb” memory (let’s see…what did I have for tea last night????), I thought it would be a great opportunity to give you a little “history” about the Dojo. So please bear with me as we stroll down memory lane.

Back in 2000 we were training in what is now a Billiard/Pool Hall, right next door to the Kaiapoi Workingman’s Club (that was convenient!). Some of the other people that I can remember training back then were Gert jan Hendricks, Justin Galbraith, Sarah Wheaton, Tony Campbell, the “mighty” Oats, Din Mamat and Alex “Freddo”. One of my most vivid memories of that dojo was my 5th or 6th training class when Kevin was demonstrating Kata Dori Sankyo; as he finally worked his way around the room to me, I grabbed hold of his gi and he put the Sankyo on. Well obviously, being the new guy he went really easy on me and didn’t put it on hard….and of course being me, I had to go and open my mouth and say “Well that wasn’t much, I could just pull out of that!” That’s when Kevin gets that look on his face, the tight little smile, the eyebrows that go up, the one we all now know means “this is really going to hurt”….and needless to say, the next one really made a believer out of me!

About a year or so later the Pool Hall people bought the place and we had to move on. With not many choices at that time, Kevin managed to get us the use of the gym at the Kaiapoi High School. This was an “interesting” time to say the least because we were sharing the gym with the school, which meant putting down and picking up the mats every class. After a while the numbers started to drop off. Justin went away to Antarctica, Alex moved in to the city, Din’s wife had their baby, and so on. For quite awhile there was about four of us who were consistently training and things were pretty quiet.

Then in 2003/04, I went with Kevin over to the Northbrook Studios to look at the “empty” Judo building in which we now reside. What a sight that was! You could have filmed a disaster movie in there; even the rats were terrified to go in!

Well once again, thanks to Kevin’s great people skills, he managed to get the building. Then he and his wife, Debbie, scrubbed and cleaned that place out – they really put a major effort into it. With some additional carpentry skills and carpet from myself and painting by Kev, the place really scrubbed up great, and is now the Dojo that regular members see today.

Things have really improved since the old days at the gym. We now have 16 adults training most nights (four just joined on our last Open Night). We have four Yudansha, namely Kev, Gert, myself and Kyle, and two more to come with Justin and Logan’s gradings; we know these guys will do it! Go hard!. We will also have Rangiora’s first woman to reach brown belt – Jo van der Lann.

Another big step for the Rangiora branch was the introduction of kids classes, headed up by Kyle. It has really taken off and usually around 12-14 kids attend per class. Huge praise to Kyle that he can manage that many hyper kids on a Saturday morning (after lots of coffee!!), and the parents get to be entertained by the resident comedian!

We are at the moment training on the Tuesday and Friday nights for adults, Saturday mornings for the kids….but who knows maybe we can get another adult class up and going in the near future.

A big thank you to everyone who has taken the time to come out and train with us in the “country”. We look forward to seeing you again soon for some hard throwing and ‘banjo picking‘; not to mention the great social get-togethers at the Local, and the family BBQs that have become a regular addition to our programme.

Big thanks to Andrew Sensei for taking the time to come out and teach, we look forward to seeing more of him this year.

To the other students out here at Rangiora; it is you that make this Dojo the great place it is today!

To Kevin; the last eight years have been amazing. Your vision, support and encouragement; not to mention your world class training, have been the foundation of everything that is great about Rangiora Dojo today.

See you all on the Mat!

Erick Haynes – Rangiora

Aikido Shinryukan Canterbury

Aikido Shinryukan Canterbury (ASC), under the stewardship of Andrew Williamson Sensei (Rokudan), comprises 3 dojos viz: Burnside, Rangiora, and Linwood. At present, we are enjoying a record growth in membership in terms of both adults and juniors, and it is likely that we will present in excess of 100 members (adults and juniors) for grading come this June, with a record number of yudansha.

Here at ASC, although there are 3 dojos, we work as one unit. Most senior instructors and many students train across the dojos, and we have our own “internal” mini-seminars several times each year. Hence, our members get to know each other personally, instructors and students alike.

Our members here in the Mainland also enjoy a very dynamic style of training, as this story is told in the following pictures.

National Gasshuku Auckland 6-9 March 2008

Short version:

Shane, James and I went to Auckland and got ever so slightly drunk. There was some aikido and we threw people in a pool. It was awesome. 

Long version:

Sometimes it’s really hard to describe Aikido to “outsiders” (you know, those weird people who have lives and don’t like throwing their mates around). For instance, I recently explained to a friend how lucky we were to have one of the world’s top instructors here for a whole month. He was suitably impressed, and remarked that after a month of hard training, my Aikido must have improved significantly. “Well, erm, not really” I sheepishly replied. “In fact, I think he destroyed several of my fundamental techniques… Stop looking at me like that!” So there was really only one thing for it, I was going to have to go to Auckland and see if the Gashukku would bring enlightenment. (I really wasn’t kidding when I said make the most of Masuda Shihan’s classes, was I?)

So I rounded up my sidekicks South-Island-Handsome-Man (SIHM) and Christchurch-No.1-Auckland-Number-Very-Low (ANVL) aka James and Shane (respectively), and headed to the North Island for 4 more days of training. I arrived on Thursday evening just in time to celebrate Shane-is-old day with a few beers. In my mind I can clearly recall going to bed early so we’d be bright and breezy for the seminar the next day. This is a good example of how age and alcohol can play tricks on you.

The seminar itself was held over 4 days with Masuda Shihan as guest instructor and Takase Shihan, Alan Wade Sensei and Andrew Williamson Sensei taking the classes. Masuda Shihan continued to work on the themes he had taught in Christchurch, speaking about our (Aikidoka) approach and attitude to people starting Aikido and the importance of bringing new people into the dojo. To illustrate this he used Ikkyo as an example, breaking it down into how it should be taught to a beginner using basic principles of hanmi, position, cutting, etc. His lines for Ura in particular were fascinating. James and I (being diligent students) felt this was something we should have a look at over lunch break. At this point I have to set a big ‘Domo Arigato Gozaimashita’ to Sensei for his patience and an equally big ‘Gomen Nasai’ for our utter inability to get it right! I’m still working on it (I think I’ll be still working on it when I’m 70!).

Sensei also demonstrated how a simple kokyu throw can be changed to accommodate ukes’ abilities just by changing the angle of the throw. Again this gets back to working WITH your uke to improve. So Shane, James and I took his advice to heart and ran a special extra class on Saturday afternoon of “extreme ukemi”.

I believe we actually invented a whole new branch of Aikido that day: Misu-waza. I think it’s a good candidate for inclusion on the syllabus for Sankyu and above! 🙂

Masuda Shihan’s presence strongly influenced the other instructors. Takase Shihan took 2 classes of Jo and used the weapons work to illustrate some of the same principles that Masuda Shihan focused on. Under Sensei’s watchful eye, Andrew Sensei’s classes built on these foundations, working with the concept of the chu-sen line (if that term doesn’t mean anything to you, you’re not attending enough of Andrew Sensei’s classes!!). Alan Wade Sensei applied the same concept to Kaiten Nage, focusing on keeping the upraised arm in your centre.

After all this technical but fascinating Aikido, Takase Shihan’s last class was a bit more energetic, as he illustrated a more dynamic Aikido than we had been training with in the seminar so far. Apparently, if you time your throw correctly you can use uke to take out several innocent bystanders (at least that’s how Shane “explained” it to me ). It was great fun, and a good way to end the seminar.

So, my first national gashukku! Thanks to my sidekicks, the other ASC Aikidoka who made the trip, the Auckland people for organising it and most of all to Masuda Shihan and Mrs. Masuda. I trained hard, met new people, had a few beers with them and threw them around the mat (although not in that order). Will I be back next year? In the words of Masuda Shihan…I hope so

Colin Grealy – Christchurch

Some lighter moments

New Caledonian Jo Waza

French kissing, New Caledonian style!!

C’mon! Bring it on man!