Sunday, November 24, 2013

Fundraiser Training

Yesterday we held our annual 'Keep the Lights On' fundraiser training to help us pay our power bill. We had a great turnout so those of you who supported the event, thank you very much. The emphasis this year was on the aikido staff. For the past  two years Nadeau sensei has had me do some staff work as a part of his 'Osensei Revisted' weekend held annually in May at Occidental, California. My connection and work with the staff began many years ago.

As a new student in fall of 1969 I would go with Robert Frager sensei   to workshops  he co-taught with Robert Nadeau sensei held at Nadeau sensei's dojo in Mt View. They had both been personal students of Osensei and would hold weekends once a month where we would do energy work and aikido. The highlight of those for me was when they would show a movie of Osensei. This was well before the sophisticated video equipment of today, so we were watching 8mm and super 8 home movies ,basically ,of the founder. And I loved the ones that showed him moving with the staff. It was as if he were in a spirally, double helixing field of energy and the field was as responsible for moving the staff as he was. It was inspiring to me that someone of his age (or any age for that matter) could move that dynamically.

Flash forward a bit. In the next couple of years I was introduced to a 21 movement staff form and a 31 movement staff from, both coming from top students of Osensei. Yet neither of these satisfied my urge to be able to do the staff like Osensei did. I went to Japan in 1973 and was taught the ikkyo bojitsu form by Hikitsuchi sensei. This was 35 movements. And Hikitsuchi sensei would also demonstrate nikyo, sankyo, and yonkyo, which contained more circular movements. But well good, this still left me unsatisfied. In 1974 Hikitsuchi sensei visited Northern California for most of the month of May, teaching at the various dojos that had sprung up in Oakland, San Francisco, Stanford University, and Monterey. But he was based in Santa Cruz and stayed with me at my parents' house on 41st Avenue. One thing he brought from Japan for me was a bo. Though most aikido stresses the shorter jo, the bo is what is taught in Shingu at the Kumano Juku Dojo. One day in the afternoon(there were no classes going on so we were at home) he suddenly emerged with a very serious expression and said, " Bo o motte koi!"....(Get your staff!)....So I ran and got mine. He said something to me that was a bit on the mysterious side. He told me that the Kami sama(the divine spirits) had ordered him to initiate me into the deeper and even hidden secrets of the staff. And in no uncertain terms he let it be known it was not something he himself wanted to do. So we went out on the lawn and he started to do the movements we associate with Osensei. He extended the staff upward forming a center, then started to make circular spiral movements around that center up and down.....Then he started to move in a very free but focused way alternating circular sweeps and spins with thrusting movements. I sort of got the feeling he might be opening up a space or gateway. Then he motioned for me to stand in that space he had opened. So I went in and just stood there, not knowing what I was supposed to do. Then he yelled at me to start moving. But I told him I didn't know the movements he did. He said just move. So I went through the 35 movements of the ikkyo form, probably in a very rigid and wooden manner. Then he said something like:"Yoosh!!! dekimashita!!!" (It's done!!!). And when I inquired what was done or taught he was mysteriously silent. So I pretty much put that out of mind for awhile because the visit was pretty much all-consuming. Wherever he went I drove. I would park and then rush into class to be on call to be his uke and to take a lot of falls. Mary Heiny sensei was there, but she had contracted a very bad case of poison oak, had an allergic reaction, and pretty much could just translate. So I was doing double duty as chauffeur and uke. So after one month of this ended, it was decided I would hit Japan and Shingu one more time on my way to going to Australia of all places(Melbourne, Monash University) to pursue a PhD. A story in itself for another day. But in that interim when I was still at home I would take my staff outside to that spot where everything had taken place, and it would just begin to move. And after awhile I could go anywhere and the staff would begin to move. So even though I have been introduced to a number of systems, that experience in the 'gateway' has been my real teacher.

So more recently I have been interested in passing on what I have gotten from that experience. Since it took place in 1974, I have been working on this stuff for 39 years. Hard to believe that much time has passed. So I have taken the 5 changes, (4 I learned from Hikitsuchi sensei and the last one in the nineties from Kato sensei), formatted them into a basic sequence, added two transition movements, and here we go. One other thing I have done is postulate that the circular movements of Osensei result from the fact that his staff movements came from spear. Even though you can use a staff with a spear concept, the staff has one very yang end(the cutting/piercing end) and the other more yin(wooden) one. Extending the point outward gives you an extended control over what is in front of you. But other attackers from other angles can get inside that. So the turning movements of the staff and also the turning movements of the body may on some level result from the spear being used to cover a variety of angles fluidly and swiftly. In Linda Holiday sensei's excellent book "Journey to the Heart of Aikido" Anno sensei shares that Osensei had a 3 sided spear point fashioned out of a staff and that especially in his later years, would always bring that with him when he traveled to Shingu. I recently had Glen Kimoto sensei carve two of those, one for myself and one for Nadeau sensei, just to see what the energy of such a construct would be like. This was also recommended to me many years ago by Koichi Barrish sensei, who told me he got an incredible ki flow from working with the 3 sided spear. I must agree. So the feel of my new set is based on the spear rather than just the staff.

Of course Osensei's use of the spear was much more than just martial. I believe it was alchemical and shamanistic. My recent work with Nadeau sensei researching Osensei's work has led me to believe that implicit in Osensei's staff work were such things as center circle and fire water steam. And of course the kototama or sound work would be there as well. In the following video I have put together a beginning set of movements that actually go through all the five changes. I have a second half where I will go through some set movement to get people to move a bit more Osensei-like with the staff. But the ultimate thing will be for those holding the staff will be to let go and allow the changes to come freely and naturally of their own accord.

I believe Osensei's use of the staff was like a great jazz player with a great classical background. And that aikido's use of staff has drifted more into pop, country western, pop, or rock. Again wonderful forms of expression but not what I'm looking for. And hope to be able to pass on. I was listening recently to some of Chet Baker's early work in Paris. It's amazing how closely he follows the chord patterns through the bass. And yet at the same time how free and original his own sound and playing are off that structure. I hope to be able to pass on some of that.