Thursday, January 29, 2009

Aikido and Aging

I remember when I first found out about aikido. I was practicing karate in 1968. I read an article about Osensei in Black Belt Magazine. I was struck by the fact that even though he appeared old in the photos, there was a power and energy there that seemed to transcend aging. The article then went on to describe the many things he could do that no one else of any age in aikido could do. So I took this to heart.

I realized yesteday that this fall will be my 40th year in aikido. I started fall of 1969 at UC Santa Cruz with Robert Frager. At that time he was very closely associated with Robert Nadeau, so I view them as my first teachers. So what is my perspective now that I am no longer 21 years old? There are many things I can do now that I couldn't do in '69. There are many things I could do in '69 I can't do now. Overall, I am definitely 60 years old. Outside of being diabetic, my health and body are doing well. I feel, however, that I am no closer today to understanding Osensei's aikido than I was in '69. It is a very deep path.

One thing about Youtube aikido videos is that you can see instructors at very different stages of their life cycles. Some seem to improve with age, some I reserve judgement on. I recently watched a couple of videos in my channel. Anno sensei in 1973 and Anno sensei in 2007. It is interesting that I am uke in both. When you are 25 years old there is a certain athleticism you can fall back on. At59 that is no longer there. But I see that my presence in receiving the techniques from Anno sensei I believe are better. And in the later video I actually get to be the nage. How many people get to have an uke who is an 8th dan?

I feel Anno sensei has made a quantum leap in those 35 years. In '73 he has a youthfulness to his movements. 35 years later though there is much more energy and depth to his movements.Below is the video from 1973:

And here is the more recent video from 2007:

One thing to take into account is that between the videos the uke has aged 34 years. In my early 50's I was taking ukemi for Anno sensei during his visits. From 55 on the aging process increases for ukes exponentially(my own observation). I receive techniques from my students as part of my teaching. I don't think I can take the ukemi I did in 2007 anymore. But in watching the 2 videos, what do you see? What do you think?


Blogger Joe Sarti said...

Wada Sensei, I find that you 2 have a different dance. It is as if the 35 years of training has brought to a true flow with the youth is in the energy and wisdom of time and experience. Thank you for sharing! Joe Sarti

10:38 PM  
Blogger Joel said...

Wada Sensei, I came across your blog incidentally, and while neither one of us has met the other, and your experiences in life and in aikido are greatly more extensive than mine, please be assured of the respect with which I approach my brief analysis of your videos. I will address specifically only the more recent video, and with particular regard to ukemi.
In the second video, I see Anno Sensei demonstrating a gentle and highly adaptable rearward ukemi, which contrasts itself with your vigorously athletic aerial zempo-kaiten ukemi. Either version of ukemi may work under a given situation, and my experience with ukemi reminds me that the kind of rearward ukemi performed by Anno Sensei is quite comfortable and relaxing to perform, while aerial zempo-kaiten is rather invigorating and exciting.
Individuals will differ, but as we age, most will tend toward valuing comfort over invigoration. Having viewed both videos, I feel confident that, unless you have been seriously injured, you would still be able to perform today the kinds of ukemi you were taking in 2007, but I suspect that your disposition toward taking those kinds of falls has quite understandably changed. Aerial ukemi is fun, but it quickly makes us ache. Young people don't usually ache much with aerial ukemi, they only have fun. Older people seek comfortable fun.

Best Regards,

Joel Vonnahme

3:52 PM  
Blogger Devin said...

I you're almost as modest as Anno Sensei.

5:32 PM  
Blogger lucid55 said...

Wada Sensei, I will turn 56 next week and am hoping the exponential decline at 56 of which you speak is not universal. So far, what I've discovered is that I can still do all the stuff that I could do before -- just not as much.

My observation of the two videos shows the earlier 1973 ukemi demonstration as someone wanting to be technically proficient [aside from the youthful athleticism] and not to disappoint the Sensei.

In the later video, I see what happens to us all as we mature in the art -- that is, that uke seems to be exploring the connection, instead of the technique. In the later video, there appears to me to be less of a nage-uke division and more of a demonstration of the movement as 'one thing' comprised of both nage and uke.

Last month, one of my fellow deshi made an apt statement about progress in Aikido. There don't seem to be any huge flashes of insight or stepping stones as you train over the years . . .you don't see your own progress until one day you notice that you now get pissed off at how other people move who haven't trained as much.

9:48 AM  

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