Monday, April 7, 2008

Impression from the 8th Annual Aikido Summit at the Denver Buddhist Temple in Denver, Colorado – March 22nd 2008

Edgar Johannsen Sensei's personality and drive is, perhaps, the only reason that the Colorado Aikido Summit has come to fruition once again. It is only because of Edgar's amiable, easy going disposition that he is able to successfully blend with all the diverse personalities in the Colorado Aikido community and bring us all together each year to share in our similarities and learn from our differences. The Aikido Summit is a great place for younger Aikido students to experience a wide array of Aikido styles once they have attained their black belt and created a foundation from which to build. It is also an opportunity for more veteran black belts to get refocused on their own training and decide what aspects to develop on in the coming year.

Having attended several previous Colorado Aikido Summits, this year's was in many ways very much the same as years past. Therefore, it was my responsibility to be sure that I took away from it something new and different. The Aikido styles represented included Ki Society, Tomiki Aikido, Shindo Yoshin Ryu Aikijujutsu, Aikikai, represented by Kei Izawa Sensei of Aikikai Tanshinjuku, and Aikido Schools of Ueshiba represented by Hiroshi Ikeda Sensei.

As I thought about how I'd like my Aikido to evolve this year, and what I want my students to have as a foundation, I chose to focus my training at last week's Aikido Summit on the teachings of Izawa Sensei and Ikeda Sensei. These two instructors' unique styles have both been profoundly influential in my recent Aikido growth.

Over the past several decades, Kei Izawa Sensei has had the opportunity to train with several masters at the Aikikai Hombu Dojo in Japan. He even had the pleasure of training as 'uke' for Doshu himself in the past. Izawa Sensei also trained with Mitsunari Kanai Shihan, which must have contributed to the development of Izawa's incredible power and dynamic style rooted in the fundamentals of body movement in relationship to uke. If you have ever had the pleasure of being thrown about by Izawa Sensei, you already know that he possesses both tremendous control and power in his technique.

When I trained with Sasaki Sensei in Japan, he would often tell the story of how Osensei would give private lessons on the secrets of Aikido. One day Sasaki Sensei had the opportunity to peak into the training area through a shoji (sliding door) and noticed that what was being taught was, in fact, exactly the same as in the basic classes!

Sasaki Sensei asked about this, to which Osensei shouted, "BAKAMON!" – loosely translated as, "You Fool!" Osensei scolded young Sasaki and said, "all the 'secrets' lie in the basics and fundamentals." Izawa Sensei is an inspiring instructor who emphasizes Aikido's fundamentals to his students in Louisville, Colorado. Izawa Sensei's power originates in the hips and, in Kanai Sensei fashion, is used to forge elliptical power at various angles. As uke, these angles when applied – whether horizontal, vertical, or a combination thereof – are what project you through the air. It may sound odd, but you actually feel a wonderful sense of control and awe over the distance that you travel as Izawa Sensei completes the technique.

The class led by Ikeda Sensei at the Summit was much more focused on the internal aspects of the art. His movement reminded me of some of the more esoteric, metaphysical, and spiritual training that I received while studying with such instructors as Sasaki, Endo, Shiragami Senseis in Japan. Musubi, or connection, is a somewhat ethereal experience that, when applied, can truly develop internal power. Ikeda Sensei regularly teaches an entire class dedicated to this very subject at his dojo, Boulder Aikikai in Boulder, Colorado.

The internal power derived from connection or musubi is quite an advanced concept for many Aikido beginners and can take a long time for beginners to acquire. Ikeda Sensei demonstrated one particular path that Aikido students may choose to walk, and to develop from within, once they have firmly trained and ingrained the fundamentals into natural reflexes.

Having trained Aikido for many years, it is exciting to see what others are focused on, and the Colorado Aikido Summit is a great place for all to do just that. It is a nice, fun social gathering and a time to catch up with friends made in years past. The Summit always causes me to re-evaluate and to renew my personal commitment to Aikido training. It is a great way to be exposed to the vast variety that exists in the "art" of Aikido. Seeing these tremendous differences in style at the Summit reminded me that Aikido truly is much more an "art" than a science with perhaps as many different "styles" as practitioners.

Thank you, Edgar Sensei, for bringing us all together, once again. I very much look forward to attending in years to come.

Review of the Colorado Aikido Summit

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