On Watching Osensei on Video
1. What's he doing? He doesn't look like my sensei?
2. When is he going to show me some technique?
3. Boy he's soft. I wonder if it's real?
4. He is so spiritual. Maybe if I meditate and pray I can walk through people like he does.
So I thought it might be important to highlight what I notice when I watch him. I started my Osensei watching almost from the beginning of my aikido career. Robert Frager and Robert Nadeau senseis were both direct students of the Founder. In 1969 they would once a month co-teach a weekend where they would combine aikido classes with energy work which was inspired by their contact with Osensei. There was a lot of meditation, chanting/sound work, and in those days there were no videos. So we would watch Osensei on 8mm and Super8mm home movies. And these were for me the highlight of the weekend.. I had started with another martial art, but upon reading about him I definitely decided aikido was what I wanted and I got my with when Robert Frager sensei started an Aikido club on the University of California Santa Cruz campus my senior year. And in the movies it seemed like he was working a form of magic. And it seemed as if the key to doing what he was doing was not in the technique but in something else. We did a lot of practices to become more aware of the energy/ki.. These were also tied to practices we could do on our own such as walking from center and playing with fields of energy. After my senior year, one academic year of aikido, I went to UC Davis for 2 years of graduate work. Since there was only aikido there in a club for once or twice a week, I had a lot of time to practice what I had learned in the workshops on my own. Energy work. Moving from center. Being present and aware. In 1973 I made the first of 3 major trips to Japan to study at the Shingu dojo. I was fortunate to go to a place where Osensei's spiritual message was recognized and stressed. So my perspective from Frager and Nadeau senseis was then balanced on the other end by Hikitsuchi, Anno, Yanase, and Tojima senseis. So what might I point out now about what I see when I watch Osensei now on video?
1. How naturally he moves. He seems to have no mental, physical, or spiritual set points as he demonstrates his aikido. He seems to avoid long deep stances( although you definitely see those in 1935 in the Osaka film) He is very free. Frager sensei showed films of Osensei to Moshe Feldenkrais, founder of the Feldenkrais method. Feldenkrais's response was he had never seen a human body in a gravitational field move that freely and perfectly. He did not reference the martial aspect of what was going on. He referenced only that whatever Osensei called aikido, when he was demonstrating it, his accomplishment was that his body moved perfectly. By comparison Feldenkrais once met Julius Erving(Dr J of basketball fame). Watching Erving move Feldenkrais correctly diagnosed this was one very advanced system of movement in human form . But he told Erving, correctly at that stage of his career, that thou;gh he had once been a 'god', that is was at this point not something Erving could do on demand anymore. . He noticed several sublte things in Erving's movement in response to gravity and posture that clued him in. Yet this same man said Osensei, and at a very advanced age, moved to in his opinion the ultimate potential of the human body in motion.
2.He is outwardly very empty/yin/receptive. When he touches his uke that person seems to be drawn into Osensei's gravitational field, much like a planet orbiting a sun. And Osensei's touch would appear to be very easy and deep. There appears to be no attempt on his part to control the attacker 'out there'.......He gives no weight to the attacker by trying to twist, jerk, pull, or leverage . And by being so fully receptive or yin, the postive or yang seems to kick in on its own as needed.
3.He understood very deeply the difference between strength and power and obviously chose the latter..Strength is a form of power, but his has a set point. Power is fluid. Just flip and switch and the lights go on. Or turn the faucet and water flows. Many people would see what Osensei did as soft. I would say he was fluid. One student who watched the recent video made an observation. He had seen a video of an elephant attacking people. The elephant would make little moves and people would go flying. He said even though Osensei's body was that of an aged man, he saw an elephant when Osensei moved. Is an elephant soft? I tend to see a dragon sweeping people with inivisible wings and a tail when I watch Osensei from a similar perspective. Power is the ability to affect change and may have little to do with putting strength into technique. Now I believe one can have ki strength as opposed to ki power. Mary Heiny sensei once said during a class in which she was present, Osensei stopped the class and berated the men for 'ude kurabe'...just a testing of arm strength in technique. And he said the women were much closer to doing aikido as he did than the men. So he is hinting that power is something that is not gender specific or in his case something that diminishes with age. He was once asked by Shioda sensei when he was the strongest, in his forties, fifites, etc. And Osensei answered him by saying he, Osensei, would be at his most 'powerful' his last day on this earth. I guess the larger question for all of us is how did Osensei 'flip the switch' or 'turn the faucet' and how can that apply to what we do?
4. He seems to have a sense for what the attacker does before the attacker moves. Having not set point of his own, perhaps he is able to 'read' the set point of the attacker? The other thing is that he often seems to insert in the mind of the attacker what the attack should be by gesturing or shifting his posture. We chould get a little Star Wars here and say this may be a little of ' These are not the droids you are looking for'.......I heard a story once where a karate club visiting Hombu dojo asked what he would do against a kick. They were then told they could train their best kicker, come back in a month, and see. Well their best kicker trained his best kick, mae geri(front thrust kick) for one month. On the fated day he faced Osensei and.......Osensei offered his wrist, the kicker went to grab it and took a flip. When asked after why he didn't kick, especially after all this prep, he simply said, "He offered his wrist...". So something more than we can at present explain I'm afraid.
And what I'm about to say means no disrespect to any person or teacher. But there is the very real possiblity that as good as your teacher is or my teachers are/were(some are now deceased)., the distance between them and Osensei might be virtually the same as the distance between us and Osensei. Just a thought. Hope this has helped. And here is the first video: