Issue 36 – Southern Aikido Connection

2009 has come and almost gone, and ASC has seen another wonderful Aikido year. We’ve had good growth in members and 12 yudansha grades – all this is possible only through YOU, the members of ASC – keep it up guys, and we will look forward to an even greater 2010. Happy holidays and let’s see how many of you guys are on the mat when we start up again on 5 January 🙂
Editor – Terry Mah

A Few Thoughts

Actually just two:

  1. 2010 should be a great year and includes: Masuda Shihan here in February, Takase Shihan’s 40th Anniversary [I hope more of ASC will go to this], and a trip to Japan as part of our 20th anniversary celebrations for ASC.
  2. Basics, basics, basics!

Andrew Williamson, Christchurch

Event report: Rosso’s 10th Anniversary seminar

If you asked me why I started Aikido, I doubt any answer I’d give now would accurately reflect whatever moment of madness first led me to a dojo. But one of the primary reasons I continue to train is the sheer diversity of style and technique that Aikido offers. The more you progress, the more unique your own Aikido becomes. As your experience grows, you find new techniques, movements and concepts as you train with new partners and Sensei. With that in mind, I’m always eager to train with new people and the Auckland Aikikai 10th anniversary seminar was too good an opportunity to pass up.

A little background info: Auckland Aikikai is run by Rosso Fernandez Sensei (Rokudan). Rosso Sensei began training under Takase Shihan around the same time as Andrew Sensei (cue jokes about clearing the dinosaurs off the mat!) and was the first westerner to train as an Uchi-Deshi (a student that lives at the dojo) at Aikido Hombu Dojo in Japan.

I have to admit I was a little apprehensive about this seminar. I’d never trained with Rosso Sensei before and the stories I heard were somewhat scary. After training at his dojo, I learned a few things:

  1. Rosso Sensei’s technique is clean, quick and amazingly powerful.
  2. He believes in training with intensity.
  3. Don’t be late for his classes!

But primarily, I learned that both he and his students are great fun to train with!

Anyway, I had a point here when I started writing this… oh yeah, diversity! Well, if you wanted a range of styles, you’d be hard pressed to find a better example than this seminar. Rosso Sensei started the seminar, and his technique is devastating. After that, our own Andrew Sensei took the next class and if you’ve been paying attention in recent weeks, it should come as no surprise that Andrew spoke about extending from the centre and keeping uke off balance. Next up, Alan Wade Sensei gave a class, focusing on the importance of dealing with uke in your “work area” (your centre). Alan Sensei’s classes are always really interesting* and he made a great point:

“Deal with one attacker as if there are 100 more behind him. At the same time, if you’re attacked by 100 people, deal to them one at a time.”

Next up Takase Shihan took a class. It’s always great to watch Takase Shihan. His Aikido seems so effortless and I’m constantly amazed at the depth of his knowledge. He focused on creating a connection with uke and drawing him in, using ikkyo as an example.

Rosso Sensei took the last class. Rosso Sensei’s style is quite different to what I’m used to. The same techniques are there, and the underlying principles are the same, but he trains in a more intense manner. Several times he repeated that we’d come to the end of the day and there was no point “leaving gas in the tank”. That was what I took from his classes, to train with intent. Aikido at it’s core, is budo.

And since I’ve already paid for this soapbox….
It’s great to see so many people from ASC heading up to the national gasshuku. Seminars are a great opportunity to train with new people, see new techniques and they’re generally just great fun. My point, (and there is a point buried here somewhere) is that unless you have a damn good reason not to**, you should be going to as many as you can!

* err, not that the other Sensei’s classes weren’t interesting…
** James spent his 10th wedding anniversary at a seminar. This is the kind of commitment we should all aspire to 🙂 (and guts!! Ed:-D )

Colin Grealy, Christchurch

Miria’s road to shodan

6th Kyu
I can’t roll. What does that word mean? How do I tie my belt? I’ll never learn all this. I rolled!! Nope, fluke, I can’t roll. I know what ikkyo is. I rolled again!!
5th Kyu
This is fun. I’ve graded. I know my footwork. I have to do what? You’re going to throw me off your hip how? That hurt. Ooooh that nikkyo was good, I can do it!! Hmmm why can’t I do nikkyo on her? Phew, two gradings done.
4th Kyu
Suwariwaza sankyo what? I can’t punch someone in the face! What do you mean I’m too nice? Ha, there, that iriminage put you where you belong. Ouch, ok, fair enough, I asked for that. I like yonkyu, it’s safe wearing a white belt.
3rd Kyu
Uh oh, brown belt now, scary. Oooh I like this belt, looks smart! Yep, I can do jiyuwaza, no proble…. Wait, wait, don’t attack me so fast! Shomenuchi shihonage, I can’t do that it’s too hard, suwariwaza ikkyo is good though, I can move fast. Oh, so I have to move fast while doing shikko, well that’s another story.
2nd Kyu
I think I’m getting the hang of this, yes I can go to Japan and train… ahhhh help, I can’t do any of this! Yay, Andrew called me up as uke. Ouch, his nikkyo hurt. I like Aikido, I’m going to train lots.
1st Kyu
Why do I have to train more, talk less? How do I hold this bokken? Oh, it’s a jo not a bokken. I knew that. Wow, I know the names of a lot of techniques. I’m scared for shodan grading. No, I think I’m ready. I’m tired. I’ve trained lots. Wow, I’m fit. Proficiency test: oops, not so fit after all. Gokyo, koshi, weapons – how do you do them again?
Nervous at home, calm once in dojo. My turn. Try to punish my ukes. Red face. VERY red face. Bruises. Nearly there. It’s happening very fast. Relax. Breathe. Be mean. Fire in my belly. Jiyu waza. Justin and Lui look tired. Good. Ahhhh, done. Phew. Elation. Exhaustion. Beer and pizza. Sleep. Hakama! You tie it how? Oooh, kinda cool. Hot waist under this thing. I like it “oops, ouch. Back to start” I can’t roll!!

My first three and a half years of aikido have been a whirlwind of thoughts and feelings for me, as you can see above. Having never done a martial art before, it has been a great experience. I have made some wonderful new friends, gained a lot of bruises, learned a lot of new words and techniques, and in the last six months, put in a lot of hours on the mat. But it has been well and truly worth it – aikido has taught me a lot about myself and life in general. The concepts behind and intertwined in aikido really fascinate me, and have changed my opinion of ‘martial arts’. I’ve learned to both feel proud of myself for persevering, and very much aware of all the things I can’t yet do. I think that’s a nice place to be and I’m one happy shodan. My heartfelt thanks to all of my fellow aikido ‘trainees’ for making it so enjoyable, to our committed, friendly and good-humored teachers, to Lui and Justin my Shodan ukes and to Irene and Andrew for absolutely everything. My inspiration and enthusiasm for aikido has been especially well ‘groomed’ by Shane and Susi; you both mean the world to me.

Miria Lange, Christchurch

A video clip from the Nidan gradings

Andrew’s Road to Shodan

Having recently only recently achieved the grade of Shodan I was somewhat surprised when I received the e-mail asking me to write a piece on grading for Shodan, I guess I am still adjusting to the pleasing new colour my belt has taken on. Truth be told the process of grading for black belt went by very quickly for me and only a few things really stuck in my head (aside from techniques obviously) that would constitute helpful (well I believe it to be helpful) advice. These are as follows:

Anxiety: going for your black belt is a fairly big deal, this naturally causes a varying amount of stress. Now if you are like me (I practically wet myself grading for Rokyu) then I would probably suggest some sort of potent prescription medication on top of a lot of preparation. For those of you more normal, then my best advice is to practice. Practice of course is where you learn and refine those all important techniques and skills but it also makes you feel a lot better in the face of your upcoming grading. Also I recommend you get your ukes sorted out at least a couple of months prior so as to avoid any unnecessary panic on grading day. Finally just try not to worry too much; the fact that you’re allowed to grade means that they are confident that you will pass (so) just don’t go attacking your uke… On a side note one of the most stressful things I found (though it was not part of the grading) was the process of ordering embroidery for your hakama on; I suggest you do not attempt this without a person who has done it before and knows what they are doing (and even then, as long as it’s not Miko) it will save you several kilopascals of blood pressure.

Ability: obviously enough! You are required to know something before you sit your Shodan grading. Now the fact that you’re in the position to grade for Shodan would suggest that you either do know something, or are the world’s best improviser. I can’t give any advice to you if you fall into the second variety, except to consider a career in politics. If, however, you passed your previous gradings for legitimate reasons then you should be ok. You just need to be able to do any technique off the Shodan proficiency sheet blindfolded while your opponent is armed with a bokken. You also need to be able to tell when the dan grade who is “giving you advice” is simply exaggerating for the sake of trying to scare you (rest assured no matter how many people tell you that you have to kill a man as part of the test, it isn’t true). It happens more than you might think. But the best advice that can be given in this area is to practice regularly and attend your advanced classes. Practice a lot with your ukes too so that they can get used to your style and can learn when best to employ their (not inconsiderable) acting abilities.

So essentially what I am trying to say is practice, ask questions and make sure you have the right ukes. Also when you pass remember to thank your ukes and your instructors (your ukes just agreed to go through 40 minutes or so of vigorous assault while your instructors have spent years correcting your techniques). Also do try to enjoy it, it’s one of the few times where a ‘grueling exam’ consists of you hurting someone for near on an hour and getting marked on how well you do it. And just keep thinking; once you pass you will be able to truthfully tell people that you have a black belt in a Japanese martial art!

Andrew Bowman, Christchurch

Slideshow from the grading

Ben’s Road to Shodan

The best bit of advice I got before grading was to enjoy it (thanks James). I took that to heart and spent the two weeks before grading looking forward to the day and wishing that the two weeks were already past. I had planned to get to at least 120 classes before grading, but unfortunately, things kept coming up, classes kept getting missed for one reason or another, and I finally got my 105th class in at the seminar on Saturday. It’s surprisingly stressful to be one week away from grading and to not have enough classes.

Grading day itself was very enjoyable. I had a nice warm up as uke (thanks Annette), and settled in quickly to throw my two ukes around (many thanks Alex and Steve). Everything seemed to work well for me, and I managed a good balance between simply enjoying what I was doing and maintaining a good intensity in my techniques. I was surprised that Takase Shihan asked for Jiyu waza before the weapons takings, but they were still fun.

Many thanks to Takase Shihan for taking the grading and to Andrew Sensei for all the training and advice he’s given me over the years. And many thanks to everyone else for the training and advice you’ve given me too.

Ben Schmidt, Christchurch