Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Tales of the Aikido staff

In May of 1974 Hikitsuchi sensei, Aikido 10th degree black belt, visited Northern California for about one month. He stayed at my parents' house in Santa Cruz. I had the possibly unique role of being an uchi deshi(live in student) in my own house. He occupied the guest room. Sugawa sensei accompanied him and took my room. I wound up on the sofa in the living room sleeping in a sleeping bag. I had spent most of 1973 living and training in Shingu Japan at his dojo and my mom felt it was only right that he stay with us during his time in California. She prepared his meals and pretty much took care of him for the entire time. I did most of the driving as he visited various dojos. At the time there was no Aikido of San Jose dojo, although Harv Moscowitz arranged for him to do a demo at San Jose State University.

One afternoon he suddenly appeared in civvies(he obviously didn't wear a gi while at our house) with a bo(5 foot staff) and told me to get mine. He told me that he had just been told by the kami to initiate me into the deeper movements of the staff. He somewhat hinted that this was not his idea and that he himself might not agree to do this on his own.

While in Shingu I had been taught the 30 something movements of bo staff ikkyo. At enbus(demos) Hikitsuchi sensei would sometimes do the spinning type of movements we now associate with Osensei's staff work. But I had never been taught anything past ikkyo. I had no idea what to expect. Hikitsuchi sensei went onto the lawn in our back yard, traced an up down vertical center with his staff, then began to spin the staff in very free movements. When he stopped he motioned for me and my staff to enter the same space in which he had been moving. I moved in and just stood there. He told me to move. Since I didn't know what to do, I stood motionless. Finally, he told me if nothing else, to simply do basic bo ikkyo. I did a very mechanical, stiff, board-up-the-butt version of the long staff set. He said good, that something had been transmitted. I was flabbergasted because I had no conscious knowledge that anything had changed. He seemed to insist that just standing in that space was enough. There was no further explanation or lesson.

Hikitsuchi sensei returned to Shingu at the end of May. I made plans to stop in again in Shingu in August on my way to of all places Monash University in Melbourne Australia to do graduate work for a PhD. However, before I left, I would often go to the space that he had done his movements in. Sometimes the staff would just begin to move on its own, which was both mysteriously wonderful and at the same time frustrating. I was doing movements I could not consciously repeat. I was moving and yet, at the same time, I didn't know how to do the movements I was doing.

I think that that experience might be the basis for a lot of the free form staff that I currently do. Over the years I have found myself increasingly doing things I have never been taught. At first I felt I needed to understand the movements. Now I feel more like I am a channel and that the movements that flow through know themselves. It is a difficult concept to try to teach.

There was one witness to my session with Hikitsuchi sensei that day. My mom. Her observation? "He's a lot better than you, isn''t he?" she said.


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