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?

Friday, January 23, 2009

assorted stuff

This photo of Anno sensei receiving his award was forwarded to me by Linda Holiday sensei. For more information on the award, please see the previous blog entry. I believe it is great for Anno sensei that he receive the award. But I also feel that it is great for aikido to have someone who is as dedicated and developped on a personal level as Anno sensei is. I think it is a beautiful photo. I am also including another video of Anno sensei's July 2005 visit to aikido of San Jose. It shows him interacting beautifully with a non-yudansha and demonstrating one of Aikido's greatest koans: katate dori kokyu ho.

I also want to say a few words about the Presidential inauguration. I was very moved on a personal level. I thought it was very significant that in taking the oath of office for vice-president it was"preserve, protect defend the constitution of the United States against enemies" and that for the presidential oath "enemies" was left out. We are facing a time when the concept of an enemy must be outmoded. The problems that we all face can only be solved by a uniting together of not just this nation but also the world. We are all one family. Period. There may be disagreements and conflicts within that family, but there are no enemies. I think that is a crucial shift in paradigms. And a very necessary one.

In Japan we were taught to realize openings or weak points in our movements and techniques. To train with our partners to mutually help each other to close those openings. There can be vigilance and awareness within a nurturing and protective framework as opposed to militaristic and national. So despite the immense problems that we face as a nation and a world, I hope the Obama presidency can issue in a new era where we can all collectively work together to solve our problems. It will not be easy. But the ultimate "opening" is to see only problems and weaknesses. The most precious thing of all is hope, and, right now, we have that.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Happy New Year & an Award for Anno sensei

Happy New Year. Let us all look forward to an rewarding year of training in 2009. We had our special New year's day class, which was very well attended. We are back on our regular schedule. It is nice to see the energy gathering again in the dojo for the coming year.

I was informed by Linda Holiday sensei that on Monday January the 12th Anno sensei will be receiving a distinguished service award in martial arts at the Tokyo Budokan(Martial Arts Palace). Apparently there is one award given each year for each of nine martial arts, and aikido is one of those. I remember Hikitsuchi sensei receiving the same award in the early '90's. It honors an individual who has practiced and given time, energy, and excellence over a very long period of time. A few years ago, Anno sensei celebrated his 50th year in aikido. He is currently the chief instructor of the Kumano juku dojo in Shingu, Japan.

I find Anno sensei to be unique in martial arts and aikido in particular because of his emphasis on developing the heart through aikido practice. His elegance and humility are also very refreshing. We have had
the honor of having him come to our dojo and teach many times. He is the only one of my original teachers in Japan who is still active. Tojima sensei and Hikitsuchi sensei have passed over. Yanase sensei is hopefully physically active and doing well but no longer is formally connected with the Shingu dojo.

So I am very happy for him. And I am very proud of our connection which has endured over the years. In 2006 I took a small group in the summer to the Kumano area. We were greeted at the Tanabe train station by Anno sensei. We all stayed over at an inn and very vivid still was that evening. We were in the hot springs bath and Anno sensei very graciously interacted with us and answered questions on Aikido deep into the night. The next day he went with us to visit Osensei's grave. Then in Shingu he took us to Hikitsuchi sensei's grave and finally to Tojima sensei's grave. That night he taught a very memorable class at the Shingu dojo. When it was time for our group to depart, he, along with Yanase sensei, were at the train station to see us off.

The following video is from a class Anno sensei taught at the San Jose dojo in 2005: