Tatoian Sensei's voice had a low, slightly menacing quality. He said, "I'm going to let you slide this time (after I attempted a flowing variation of Shomen-Uchi Ikkyo), but next time don't stop in the middle."
He had started class asking me if I had begun getting ready for an upcoming test. While it's still a long way off, I had been putting together a structural outline of things to practice in preparation, so I said, "yes."
"Are you going to show the differences between static, flexible, and flowing techniques?" he asked. Again I replied, "yes." He nodded and then began class with three variations of Tai No Henko, static, flexible, and flowing.
This is exactly one of the reasons I love Tatoian Sensei. He will invent a class on the fly in order to help a student. It's a way he has of being exceedingly generous, and I've seen him do it for a lot of people. Yesterday morning he did it for me.
Right away I saw that my usual practice of inserting micro-pauses in the middle of techniques, so that I could check feet and hips, wasn't going to work. He had set me and Julian to work with flowing Shomen-Uchi Ikkyo Omote and Ura variations in which you let the strike fall, stepping just back and offline to capture the striking hand at the end of it's arc, picking up it's momentum and leading the attacking arm back over for Ikkyo.
Tatoian Sensei scolded me as I inserted a tiny pause at the moment of the initial capture. My pause had allowed Julian's energy to stall, and sure enough he had become heavy.
Julian struck again and I thought to myself, "don't go fast, just keep moving." I struck as he did and moved through the capture into the Ikkyo feeling his body move around an axis that formed as the technique unfolded. Julian's body folded lightly through the technique and into the pin. Sensei said, "that's better."
The implied message Sensei was giving me was: there is no place for certain bad habits (like stopping in the middle of a technique) at the level of Aikido you aspire to, so weed them out now. I spent the rest of the class focusing more on the body dynamics, energy, and momentum of my uke, simply trusting that my feet and hips were doing the right things. Of course I knew right away if feet and hips were wrong; the technique just broke down.
A few hours later and 35 miles to the south Goto Sensei stopped a crowded noon class to scold us for getting too caught up in where our feet are, and letting the energetic interplay between nage and uke break down. At first these episodes of synchronicity between two senior American students of Saito Sensei astonished me, but lately they've become so commonplace I have grown actually to expect them.
Goto Sensei did a little mock dance with his feet showing how easy it is to get wrapped around the axle fretting about foot placement and forgetting that an attack on you is in progress. He said, "just turn your hips, and you will find the right spot." He demonstrated this a few times with Paul, moving and blending with the attack. His hips turned, his feet found hanmi, all in one fluid motion. In the photo you can see Goto Sensei moving through the capture just before the right hip comes through for Shiho-Nage.
Neither teacher was advocating the abandonment of fundamentals; a reliable aspect of Iwama Style Aikido is the steady focus on fundamentals of extension, spacing, body position, hips, and hanmi. But I think they both were sending a message to some of us that a perverse obsession with such things can lead to bad habits and hold us back.
Sometimes you just have to take off the training wheels and ride.
technorati tag aikido