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Billy's Blog


My thoughts and comments on Aikido and your thoughts and comments on Aikido. Please be respectful & polite when using this blog. Thank you.

Relationship, Roles & Responsibilities of Sensei and Students

About Traditional Aikido Posted on Sat, June 10, 2017 12:07:07

I have searched for a published article that best describes what I believe the relationship, roles and responsibilities are between an Aikido sensei and their students and could not find one, so below is my attempt at doing this:

As mentioned in an earlier blog Aikido cannot exist without Uke (attacker/receiver) and Tori (the person who performs the Aiki wasa / Aikido technique):

The sensei’s role is:

To teach Aikido including, but not limited to:

All the basic Aikido techniques (kihon wasa) as described in the Club’s or Association’s grading syllabus, other basics such as proper posture, basic and advanced movements as well as weapons.

Provide a safe and suitable place and environment for the practice of the art of Aikido.

Provide a clear understanding of the responsibilities and roles of both tori and of uke in Aikido training.

Take full responsibility for the care, welfare, growth and development of their students; the Club & the Ryu (group/way/style) in the correct and best way possible.

Pass on the overarching Aikido principles of rei / respect, etiquette & more.

Pass on the philosophy and a clear understanding of the philosophy that underpins the Japanese art of Aikido and that, as Aikidoka, dictates and governs the way we behave and everything that we do within the art of Aikido.

Ensure that the Club / Dojo is set-up and run in a principled, ethical and equitable manner, in line with the Club’s, its Association’s and its Affiliate’s current constitution, rules and regulations and that the Club / Dojo does not bring any form of disrepute to itself, its Association, its Affiliates and/or the art of Aikido.

Any other relationship, roles & responsibilities, suggestions are welcomed!!!

The Student’s role is:

To learn Aikido including, but not limited to:

Train hard and learn in an honest, thoughtful and respectful manner.

Come to training regularly, so that the sensei does not have to continually repeat instruction and class planning and that your fellow student’s progress is not hampered.

Read, understand and observe the principles of rei / respect and etiquette of Aikido.

Be open minded, eager, energetic and honest in their training.

Have pride in the art of Aikido, your fellow club members, your Association, its Affiliates and all other Aikidoka. Avoid self-pride as it is counter-productive to personal development.

Do the best that they can in their training, for the Club, the Ryu, their Association, its Affiliates and for their fellow students both senior and junior (sempai & kohai).

Study correct and effective application of Aikido techniques.

As uke, present at training clean and prepared, ensure that your finger and toe nails are clean and cut short so to avoid injury to others, avoid blocking which is counter-productive to the learning process for both uke and tori and will not be tolerated in an Aikido training environment.

As tori, present at training clean and prepared, ensure that your finger and toe nails are clean and cut short so to avoid injury to others, take care of their uke and use a level of technique and power of technique that promotes their own and their uke’s development and learning but, does not place them at risk of injury.

As Aikidoka, ensure that you behave in a principled, ethical and equitable manner, conduct yourself in line with the Club’s, its Association’s and its Affiliate’s current constitution, rules and regulations and that you do not act in a way that brings any form of disrepute on yourself, your fellow club members, your Club / Dojo, its Association, its Affiliates, fellow Aikidoka and/or the art of Aikido.

Any other relationship, roles & responsibilities, suggestions are welcomed!!!

Relationship between sensei, their uke and students:

In order to teach Aikido (in fact in order for Aikido to exist) the Sensei needs to demonstrate Aikido techniques to the students in the class and to guide them through the correct and effective execution of those techniques. This execution and guidance will result in a lot of repetition, the Japanese word that describes this concept is: ‘Kufuu’ which means ‘to polish the stone’ or ‘to polish your spirit’.

In any demonstration of an Aikido technique the uke is of equal importance in the demonstration as the Sensei and probably, for the safety of students, even more important. In order to demonstrate a technique, Sensei will select their uke from among their student group, usually their uke is one of the students whom the Sensei believes is the best and most capable student to use when demonstrating the Aikido technique to the class as Sensei knows that the selected uke is capable of safely receiving the technique and at varying levels of speed and power. The sensei also believes that the selected student performs the ukemi in the most correct form and in the safest way possible and that the other students will learn from that uke’s execution of their ukemi.

Being selected as your Sensei’s uke is an honour it means that your Sensei respects what you have achieved so far as a student and that they believe in your abilities at being able to accept their uke safely and that your ukemi is the best example of how they believe the ukemi should be performed and should be emulated by the rest of the student body.

Recently, I was pleased to learn a new Japanese word ‘Shuhari’ – しゅはり – 守破離 – The three stages of learning mastery; the fundamentals, breaking with tradition, parting with traditional wisdom: In Japan the traditional method of learning mastery in a traditional art is to ‘steel the art’ from the master. For example an apprentice Sushi chef has to carefully watch what the experienced Sushi chef is doing and gradually over several years ‘steal that art’ from his master. Of course the master is aware of the process and pays keen attention to the progress of his apprentice, corrects them when they make an error and shows them (lets them see) new skills as and when the master believes their student is ready. ‘Shuhari’ sounds like what was happening for me during my time in Japan. The only time I picked up a Jo in Japan was when my teacher, after class came back on the mat holding a Jo and invited me to grab hold. He would then chuck me about for 10 or 15 minutes and would leave the Jo with me and then leave the Dojo. I in turn would ask a fellow student to do some Jo training with me and try to chuck the other student around and be chucked around by them. Also, at the end of training in Japan we had about 20 to 30 minutes of free time, we used this time by approaching a sempai (senior) we admired and asked to receive their uke, this was part of our learning process. We got battered but, we learned a lot.

Another thing my teacher said was “you cannot see real Aikido you can only feel it”. I was fortunate to feel it from him on several occasions but, only when the time was right and I was ready. It was a mystery when I found an eighty year old man that with barely a touch could spin me in the air and then step back so I could land, be completely winded and have him step forward, look down on me and ask “are you ok” to which I gasped, “I will be in about five minutes”. That was a special feeling; that was real Aikido; that was kokyu ryoku, ‘the power of breath’: He got it and I want it, maybe one day!!! When my teacher went to see O Sensei off at the Airport when he was going to Hawaii for the first time, O Sensei took my teacher to one side and said to him, “by all means possible you must get kokyu ryoku”, ‘the power of breath’:

Learning Aikido through Ukemi

About Traditional Aikido Posted on Sat, April 29, 2017 12:09:19

Learning Aikido through Ukemi.

What is Ukemi?


In Aikido Uke is regarded as a partner and is someone you train with, not someone you train on. Uke is the receiver of an Aikido technique while Tori is the person who executes the technique. The better you carry out the role of Uke the better your own Aikido will become. If you are just waiting for your turn to do the technique then it will be very difficult for you to learn Aikido.

Jumping through the air and falling is not what is meant by the term ukemi in Aikido. Ukemi is the receipt of technique – you must be immobilised or thrown to truly receive. In the beginning, learn to go where Tori leads, move lightly, but firm and without any pre-apprehension, don’t second guess Tori’s intentions, learn to trust your Tori, but in particular learn to rely on your own ukemi abilities. Next, get past the stage of knowing where you are going to fall. Skill at being Uke is the single most important factor in determining your personal Aikido potential.

When training in Japan we always asked each other to train together by saying the words, “Yoroshiku Onegai Shimasu” which is a polite way of saying ‘please’, but was often described to me when asking someone to train with you as meaning, ‘I place myself in your caring hands please look after me’. Tori has a responsibility always to have a care for their Uke, to be aware of their environment and never to throw Uke into harm’s way. When we finished training together we said the words “Domo Arigato Gozaimashita’ which is a polite way of saying ‘thank you’ in the past tense, but also implied the meaning ‘thank you for taking good care of me’. When training together we are in essence borrowing each other’s bodies for that purpose, it is always best to return a borrowed item in as good or better shape than it was in when first borrowed.

Uke needs to actively add energy to the attack. Ukes who grab onto Tori’s wrist hard and resist all movement are not learning Aikido they are, in reality, stopping or blocking the learning process. It is possible to practice Aikido that way but, it is not ideal if you want to learn good Aikido. If Uke does grab on hard it is imperative that they press in and contact Tori’s centre and create a real attack. Uke is not dead weight, Uke should not just hang onto Tori, Uke should be alive, energetic, active, re-active, open-minded, participating and learning all of the time. Uke should be like a sponge absorbing and learning Aikido through their own ukemi.

How learning occurs in Aikido:

Taking ukemi means to receive technique but, in Aikido the role of Uke is far more important than just that. If there is no attack, there can be no technique in Aikido. The ideal scenario for learning to occur is where both Tori and Uke each produce about 50% of the technique between them. Uke’s energy should be active the whole time for good Aikido learning to occur. The secret to learning and progressing your own personal Aikido skills as Tori is to first learn to become a good responsive Uke. It is by being Uke that you will understand how your own energy is being manipulated. It stands to reason then that, an alive, responsive Uke will learn and improve quickly in Aikido. This is the traditional learning process that exists in Japan the student must, is expected, to steal the art from the master.

How to become a good Uke:

When taking ukemi it is important to breathe. Always emphasise breathing out and relaxation when you are practising break-falls. Holding the breath promotes stiffness which is easily detected by Tori, it also results in a loss of energy and ability to continue the practice and can result in injuries. The importance of learning good breathing from the beginning cannot be stressed enough. Good breathing will promote your ability to practice Aikido safely, energetically and for a longer period of time.

During the application of an Aikido technique, Uke should continually try to get up or recover their posture and balance. After being fully immobilised on the mat, on release Uke should get up quickly and energetically. When repeatedly getting up of the mat Uke should maintain composure, kamae (proper posture & attitude with a forward momentum), alertness, energy and motivation. Alertness is very important for Uke due to Tori’s use of Atemi, a punch or hand strike to the face or other vital point, Uke should be ready to defend against an Atemi, the use of Atemi is more to distract Uke rather than hurt Uke. My Sempai, Niall Matthews, always said to me “be alert, Britain needs lerts” it was a really good way for me to remember to be alert when taking ukemi.

How Aikido training should feel:

The responsive Aiki feeling between Tori and Uke also allows for a psychological understanding to exist between them. Instinctively Tori will know if Uke is happy, apprehensive, nervous, or not. This instinct in Aikido becomes keener over time. The Japanese word kimochi translates to feeling, sensation or mood and Yoi-kimochi or I-kimochi describes a good feeling or a nice sensation/mood. I-kimochi should always exist between Tori and Uke during the execution of Aikido techniques, in other words Aikido training and the learning process should be pleasurable for both Uke and Tori not painful. There is no place in good Aikido for physical or psychological bullying. If bullying exists in your Aikido training then you are in the wrong place to learn good Aikido.

Target outcome:

In time, your ukemi skill will improve and this will lead to improved overall skill in Aikido. Also, you will clearly see that your improved skill in ukemi really helps you to learn kaeshi-waza (counter technique) or returning the technique on your partner. Simply, if you go with the flow, you should/will learn to reverse that flow. And later still, you should be able to do your waza against someone who resists, or against someone who is trying to counter you. That requires doing your Aikido without using the power in the upper body, real power in Aikido comes from the hips, the legs the hara (centre just below your belly button) and your intention (your mind and spirit) but, that is a whole other topic for another day.

Being a good Uke does not work by magic, you have to plan your training accordingly. I would like to thank my Sempai, Kisawa san for allowing me to take his uke so many times during free practice after our normal training. He greatly impacted my personal Aikido training in a hugely positive way. He was the tough one, with the kind eyes and friendly smile, the traditional Japanese carpenter, a complex, but very interesting character.

Billy McAuley, Asoryu Aikido
Club, Huddersfield, UK. 29/04/2017.

It must be a Duck!

About Traditional Aikido Posted on Sun, January 15, 2017 12:33:46

It must be a Duck! But, it could be a Swan!!

The most valuable and practical Aikido instruction that new students (all students) of Aikido can participate in are those Aikido secessions that concentrated on kihon (the basics) such as: proper solid posture (kamae) that is always forward in attitude even when reversing; good movement that is connected and level to the mat; how to achieve balance, direction and re-direction; where the source of power in Aikido comes from i.e. the legs and the centre (hara) just below the naval; how to release this power from the hips through the arms, hands and out through the fingers; the importance and execution of proper breathing; suikomu, how to accept, absorb and redirect an attack; how to develop intention in the execution of Aikido wasa (technique) and how to stay safe through correct ukemi and proper breathing.

Aikido classes that concentrate on basics for me are the most interesting and rewarding. These are the classes that require the most concentration, that are the most practical and that should be remembered. To become a good Aikidoka concentrate on learning the basics first and you will become an Aikidoka and a good one at that. Remember, if it moves like a duck and quacks like a duck, then it must be a duck. And who knows, in time, with ambition, determination, good guidance and hard training it might even be a swan.

Aikido needs to become instinctive, that is it should exist without thought and that can only come through: shugyo (earnest study in the pursuit of knowledge) and by continuous, regular and honest training and ‘Kufuu’ (polishing the stone and making it your own), all this must be achieved with ‘Mushin’ (having an empty mind with no preconceived perceptions or opinions).

When a sempai or another shows you something, like a kamae for example, although it may well be different to what you have already been shown it is correct at that time. Later and in your own time you can ask your sensei and do some research, you will then find your own way, the way that best suits your own body and your own needs.

I was very closely and very well trained in Japan by Asoh sensei and also by my sempai Niall and Kisawa san. Asoh sensei said that Aikido needs to become instinctive, that it should exist without thought and that can only come through: ‘Shugyo’ (earnest study in the pursuit of knowledge) and by ‘Kufuu’ (to polish the stone or to make it your own), all this must be achieved in ‘Mushin’ (having an empty mind; no preconceived opinions (the verb is ‘mushin ni naru’ meaning to empty your mind):

Billy McAuley, Asoryu Aikido
Club, Huddersfield, UK. 14/01/2017.

What is a Deshi in Aikido?

About Traditional Aikido Posted on Sat, December 10, 2016 16:42:41

Kanazawa Takeshi Sensei 7th Dan Shihan:

A perfect Deshi:

When I was training in Japan, Kanazawa Takeshi was Doshu Ueshiba Moriteru’s Deshi. Every time I saw Doshu or he attended an Enbu (demonstration) and/or function at Minato-Ku Aikikai. Kanazawa Takeshi was always with him. He was very quiet and very kind hearted, you can tell by his face. See links below:

What is a Deshi (‘pupil, apprentice or disciple’.)?

When a teacher finds a student who is serious about the art, consistent in their attendance, has a desire to improve, is modest, has an open mind, understands instruction, tries to emulate what is being taught and has potential for personal future development and study and could carry on the teacher’s work, the teacher may view or choose that student as a person to concentrate on and to pay special attention to when teaching the art.

This is a two-way street! What I have described above is the way the teacher acts. From the student’s point of view, how the student behaves is a matter for each student. I think that at best what the teacher hopes for is respect which should be honest, natural and mutual.

Now respect is a big word, what respect means, well that is what the student (everyone) has to figure out, but whatever it means to the student, it must be honest, it must be natural, it must be without effort and it must clearly be associated with being modest. Being a deshi has nothing to do with fetching the teacher’s slippers or in any way being subservient to the whims, demands and desires of the teacher.

In Japan students often show their teacher respect and gratitude by physically being there and undertaking certain responsibilities, but must never let the teacher down, if they take on a responsibility, never asked of them, they should always be relied upon to continue till that responsibility is passed on to a ‘younger brother/sister’ who wishes to show his/her respect and gratitude to the teacher.

If a student feels that they want to become a deshi and they further feel that they have the right attitude and attributes to become a deshi then a good teacher should guide and ensure that the student fully understand what being a deshi truly means and the student should be advised to do some research into the true meaning of what a deshi is. The student should also be guided to give serious and honest consideration about becoming a club deshi as it is not a position or role that should be taken on lightly in the same way that being a teacher is also not a position or a role that should be taken on lightly.

Being a deshi is not a reward and both the teacher and the deshi should not think of or expect reward. Being a teacher or a deshi is a responsibility, the best that a teacher or a deshi can hope for is the honest advancement of the students in their care.

Thank you to my students; Yusuf Uddin, 1st Dan and Nathan Ingham, 1st Dan for enabling me to put some thought into this topic. I have since done some research as to what being a deshi means, what is expected of a deshi and what a deshi should get in return, I was going to write ‘what a deshi should expect in return’, but the reality is that like a teacher a deshi should never expect a return.

What is a deshi?

A look at the kanji for deshi. The word consists of two kanji, TEI, DAI, DE, which mean “younger brother,” and SHI, SU, KO, which mean “child.” In Kanji & Kana the meaning of deshi is ‘pupil, apprentice or disciple’.

Our club is called; Asoryu or Asô ryû or Asoh sensei’s ‘way’, ‘path’ or ‘style’ of teaching Aikido (that is; Traditional Aikido or Aikikai style of Aikido): The Ryû is a ‘way’, ‘path’ or a ‘style’ passed on by Asoh Kinjo sensei and which we follow and pass on:

The purpose of a ryû is not to teach a martial art. The purpose of the ryû is the continuation of the ryû, in this instance, the ryû teaches a martial art. A true deshi is someone the ryû considers worthwhile, rather than someone who thinks they have something to offer the ryû.

From the perspective of the needs of the ryû, the ryû needs members who will work for the continuation of the ryû and not for their own fame or personal success. This is in keeping with the Japanese concept of what is good for the group takes precedence. In this case the group is the ryû. In other words, ego is bad for the ryû. A shift in perspective, a deshi is someone the ryû considers as a potential carrier of the ryû. Being a deshi then engenders some responsibility. You can’t simply go around just being a “martial artist,” but are a representative of the ryû.

A deshi can only exist in a school that is a ryû. To truly be a deshi you must give yourself over to the needs of the ryû.

Uchi Deshi System:

Uchi-deshi (内弟子 “inside student”) is a Japanese term for a live-in student/apprentice who trains under and assists a sensei on a full-time basis. The system exists in kabuki, rakugo, shogi, igo, aikido, sumo, karate and other modern Japanese martial arts. I don’t have first-hand experience of the uchi deshi system other than knowing of it and having met many uchi deshi in Japan and in the US. It is worth some research on your part.

Final Thoughts:

The above might be helpful to understand what being a deshi really means, it has helped me to understand this better. Although, I took on certain responsibilities for my teacher Asoh sensei while I was his student in Japan I never had the privilege of being his deshi. I think, at that time, I was possibly lacking some maturity, was definitely far too wild and was undoubtedly far too quick to react without thought. I did however have the privilege of being close to the Dojo-cho (manager) and two of Asoh sensei’s deshi and to a point close to Asoh sensei as well. The role of deshi takes a huge commitment and responsibility which, at that time and up until Asoh sensei passed away, I was far from being ready to assume.

When I visited Asoh sensei in hospital prior to his passing I gave him a letter of thanks and my commitment to continue Aikido in his name throughout my life. I have tried to stay true to this promise although at times it has been very difficult to do so. Knowing some of the difficulties that Asoh sensei and one of his deshi have had to face and overcome has kept me going and to them I am and remain truly grateful.

Billy McAuley, Asoryu Aikido Club,
Huddersfield, UK. 10/12/2016.

What is a Hakama in Aikido and Who Wears One?

About Traditional Aikido Posted on Sat, November 19, 2016 08:14:28

A hakama is the skirt-like pants that some Aikidoka wear. It is a traditional piece of samurai clothing. The standard Gi worn in Aikido as well as in other martial arts such as Judo or Karate was originally underclothes. The wearing of the hakama is part of the tradition of (most schools of) Aikido.

The hakama was originally meant to protect a horseman’s legs from brush, etc., not unlike a cowboy’s leather ‘chaps’. Leather was hard to come by in Japan, so heavy cloth was used instead. After the samurai as a class dismounted and became more like foot-soldiers, they persisted in wearing horseman’s garb because it set them apart and made them easily identifiable.

There were and are many different styles and colours of hakama though. The type worn by today’s martial artists – with “legs” is called a Joba hakama, (roughly meaning, horse-riding thing into which one steps). A second type of hakama that was worn was kind of like a tube skirt, no legs and a third type was a very long version of the second. It was worn on visits to the Shogun or Emperor. This type of hakama was about 12-15 feet long and was folded repeatedly and placed between the feet and posterior of the visitor. This necessitated their shikko (“knee walking”) for their audience and made it extremely unlikely that they could hide a weapon (retainers suited them up) or rise quickly to make an attack.

The Joba hakama has 7 folds or pleats (5 in the front and 2 in the back). The 7 folds of a Joba hakama are said to have the following symbolic meanings:

1. Yuki, (courage, valour, bravery).

2. Jin, (humanity, charity, benevolence).

3. Gi, (justice, righteousness, integrity).

4. Rei, (etiquette, courtesy, civility, also means bow/obeisance).

5. Makoto, (sincerity, honesty, reality).

6. Chugi, (loyalty, fidelity, devotion).

7. Meiyo, (honour, credit, glory; also reputation, dignity, prestige).

In many martial art schools, only the black belts wear hakama, in others everyone does. In some schools women can start wearing the hakama earlier than men (generally, the modesty of women was the explanation, remember, a martial art’s Gi was originally considered as underwear). Currently at the Aikikai Hombu Dojo in Tokyo, men are permitted to wear a hakama from Shodan and women from 3rd Kyu (their third grading).

Ueshiba Morihei O Sensei was rather emphatic that everyone should wear the hakama, but he came from a time/culture not too far from when wearing a hakama was standard formal wear.

Morihiro Saito Sensei, about hakama in O Sensei’s dojo in the old days:

“Most of the students were too poor to buy a hakama, but it was required to wear one. If they couldn’t get one from an older relative, they would take the cover off an old futon, cut it, dye it, and give it to a seamstress to make into a hakama.

Since the students had to use a cheap dye, however, after a while the colourful pattern of the futon would start to show through and the fluff from the futon would start to work its way out of the material”.

Okumura Shigenobu Sensei, “Aikido Today Magazine” #41:

“In post-war Japan many things were hard to get, including cloth. Because of the shortages, we trained without hakama. We tried to make hakama from air-raid blackout curtains, but because the curtains had been hanging in the sun for years, the knees turned to dust as soon as we started doing suwari waza. We were constantly patching these hakama. It was under those conditions that someone came up with a suggestion: “Why don’t we just say that it’s okay not to wear a hakama until you’re shodan?” This idea was put forward as a temporary policy to avoid expense. The idea behind accepting the suggestion had nothing to do with the hakama being a symbol for Dan ranking”.

Saotome Mitsugi Sensei, “The Principles of Aikido”:

“When I was an uchi deshi to O Sensei, everyone was required to wear a hakama for practice, beginning with the first time they stepped on the mat. There were no restrictions on the type of hakama you could wear then, so the dojo was a very colourful place. One saw hakama of all sorts, all colours and all qualities, from kendo hakama, to the striped hakama used in Japanese dance, to the costly silk hakama called Sendai-hira. I imagine that some beginning student caught the devil for borrowing their grandfather’s expensive hakama, meant to be worn only for special occasions and ceremonies and for wearing out its knees from suwari waza practice.

I vividly remember the day that I forgot my hakama. I was preparing to step on the mat for practice, wearing only my Dogi, when O Sensei stopped me. “Where is your hakama?” he demanded sternly. “What makes you think you can receive your teacher’s instruction wearing nothing, but your underwear? Have you no sense of propriety? You are obviously lacking the attitude and the etiquette necessary in one who pursues budo training. Go sit on the side and watch the class!”

This was only the first of many scoldings I was to receive from O Sensei. However, my ignorance on this occasion prompted O Sensei to lecture his uchi deshi after class on the meaning of the hakama. He told us that the hakama was traditional garb for kobudo (ancient/old martial arts) students and asked if any of us knew the reason for the seven folds or pleats in the hakama.

“They symbolize the seven virtues of budo,” O Sensei said. “These are jin (benevolence), gi (honour or justice), rei (courtesy and etiquette), chi (wisdom, intelligence), shin (sincerity), chu (loyalty), and koh (piety). We find these qualities in the distinguished samurai of the past. The hakama prompts us to reflect on the nature of true bushido. Wearing it symbolizes traditions that have been passed down to us from generation to generation. Aikido is born of the bushido spirit of Japan and in our practice we must strive to polish the seven traditional virtues”.

Currently, most Aikido dojo do not follow O Sensei’s strict policy about wearing the hakama. Its meaning has degenerated from a symbol of traditional virtue to that of a status symbol for yudansha. I have travelled to many dojo in many parts of the world. In many of the places where only the yudansha wear hakama, the yudansha, to me, appear to have lost their humility. They think of the hakama as a prize for display, as the visible symbol of their superiority. This type of attitude makes the ceremony of bowing to O Sensei, with which we begin and end each class, a mockery of his memory and his art.

Worse still, in some dojo, women of kyu rank (and only the women) are required to wear hakama, supposedly to preserve their modesty. To me this is insulting and discriminatory to women Aikidoka. It is also insulting to male Aikidoka, for it assumes a low-mindedness on their part that has no place on the Aikido mat.

To see the hakama put to such petty use saddens me. It may seem a trivial issue to some people, but I remember very well the great importance that O Sensei placed on the wearing of the hakama. I cannot dismiss the significance of this garment, and no one, I think, can dispute the great value of the virtues it symbolizes. In my dojo and its associated schools I encourage all students to wear hakama regardless of their rank or grade. (I do not require it before they have achieved their first grading, since beginners in the United States do not generally have Japanese grandfathers whose hakama they can borrow). I feel that wearing the hakama and knowing its meaning, helps students to be aware of the spirit of O Sensei and keep alive his vision.

If we can allow the importance of the hakama to fade, perhaps we will begin to allow things fundamental to the spirit of Aikido to slip into oblivion as well. If, on the other hand, we are faithful to O Sensei’s wishes regarding our practice dress, our spirits may be more faithful to the dream to which he dedicated his life.”

Billy McAuley, Asoryu Aikido
Club, Huddersfield, UK. 19/11/2016.

Eyes to See

About Traditional Aikido Posted on Sun, October 30, 2016 14:14:18

I first saw an Aikido class in the UK in late 1983 and was immediately fascinated by the Art. I was returning to Japan from Los Angeles where I had been on a two week training course with Berlitz Translation Services. I had been given the task of setting up Berlitz Translation Services in Tokyo as a division of Berlitz Schools of Languages in Japan. Not bad for a guy who did not speak any Japanese, which would have been helpful, but in no way did that stop me from doing the task I was assigned.

When interviewing freelance interpreters I met a rather big American guy who was a 3rd Dan in Aikido, following the interview he and I spoke about Aikido and he invited me to come to the dojo and watch the class. I was very keen and as arranged I met him at the Dojo where he gave me a rather large Dogi and told me to put it on. I was then taken into the Dojo where I was introduced to Asoh Kinjo sensei, a 7th Dan Aikikai Shihan teaching at Minato-ku Aikikai in Tamachi chi, Tokyo. Asoh sensei was 76 at the time and had started Aikido when he was 53 years old. Although Asoh sensei spoke English fluently, the Aikido training was all in Japanese and as mentioned above I could not speak Japanese. You might think this was a bit of a disadvantage, I certainly did at first, but soon changed my mind. Throughout that first class all I did, under the direction of Akasaka sensei, the Dojo Cho (manager), was to fall down and stand up again occasionally leaving the Dojo to throw up in the changing room.

Because I could not learn through my ears I had no option but to learn through my eyes, by carefully watching what Asoh sensei was doing and trying my best to mimic what he and my Sempai were doing. Because I could not understand what was being said I had to pay much closer attention in class than the students who spoke and understood Japanese. This turned out to be a huge advantage for me, not least because when the teacher told me off I could not understand what he was saying and could not therefore take any offence. My Sempai would later, in a more polite manner, show me what I was doing wrong and help me to correct my errors.

Through my close observation I was also able to see which of the students most closely resemble the way the teacher was doing Aikido and tried wherever possible to train with them. At the end of the class the teacher allowed the students about 30 minutes of free time to practice Aikido. Later he would come out to observe and give some informal advice, at that time he would speak in both Japanese and English.

In Japan one of the traditional ways in which the student learns from the master is to ‘steal the art’. The master does not formally teach, but allows the student (apprentice) to work alongside him and allows the student to ‘steal’ the art, when the student has picked up something in a ‘wrong way’ that is when the master will correct him.

During those free practice periods I tended to take uke from a Japanese Sempai called Kisawa san, a 3rd Dan, he was a Japanese traditional carpenter, he looked and behaved very much like a Japanese Yakuza (mafia) and did not seem to be very keen on foreigners, but he could not refuse if I asked him to practice with me. As uke you learn a lot from your Sempai, but you have to first learn to be a good uke. I tended to go before I was thrown. Kisawa san had a word with Akasaka sensei who told me what I was doing wrong, gradually I corrected this and the relationship between Sempai and his uke grew. I am very grateful to Kisawa san for his guidance and his patience. Kisawa san had very kind eyes and smile when he smiled which was not a lot at first.

We students had the privilege two or three times a week to share food, drinks and great conversation with Asoh sensei. He said three things to us about training two of which sound contradictory, but were not when you understood the point he was making.

He said ‘you cannot see Aikido you can only feel it’ what he meant was that the power of an Aikidoka cannot be seen, but can only be felt, this power is known as Kokyu Ryoku (the power of breath) moving from the centre and lower body, with the arms soft and free of strength and using one breath through the movement.

He also talked about the power of Aikido coming from the legs, the turning of the hips, while maintaining your centre. What he was saying was that when looking at Aikido you have to have the “eyes to see” to know what to look at and what to emulate, this is the power that is generated from the lower body movements. Asoh sensei often spoke fondly about his favourite Sumo Wrestler at that time a Yokozuna (highest sumo rank) named Chiyonofuji Mitsugu who died at the age of 61. See links:

Asoh Sensei always said he was not the biggest Sumo, but he had the most amazing lower body power and that was why he was such a successful Yokozuna.

Asoh sensei also talked about Miru Keiko (to see practice). When you are injured and cannot train you can always come and watch the training which can often be very beneficial for an Aikidoka as long as you know what to watch.

Billy McAuley, Asoryu Aikido
Club, Huddersfield, UK. 30/10/2016.

Pieces of paper!

About Traditional Aikido Posted on Fri, October 21, 2016 11:49:26

Besides the regular uncomfortable scolding I got from my Aikido teacher, Asoh Kinjo Shihan, 7th Dan so Hombu Dojo (now passed on), such as “are you a cat or a human being, cut your fingernails” or “that’s not how I taught you that wasa, where are you learning that?” I was also privileged to be the recipient of his many words of wisdom and the odd smile. On the scolding, I once said to my sempai “Sensei was very strict with me tonight” his reply, which I have never forgotten, was “you should be pleased he noticed you”.

Once or twice a week we went with Sensei for drinks, food, to listen and to learn. For me, being a foreigner with plenty of attitude and opinions, my first lesson was to learn to listen. The same sempai said “Sensei has been training and studying Aikido for 35 years, he is not particularly interested in what you think Aikido is, he is more interested in you listening and learning”. My sempai sounds harsh but, think about it, if you are not guided by your sempai you could very easily and blissfully unaware continue being an idiot. My sempai and I, at my request, made an agreement, if I was talking too much he would kick me under the table, the bruising over time reduced.

Asoh Sensei, when explaining how Aikido training should be approached and undertaken, described every Aikido training secession as being like “a piece of paper” which can without any effort be very easily torn-up and discarded. Yet, 50 pieces of paper together are very difficult to tear-up, 100 pieces of paper are even more difficult to tear-up, 1,000 pieces of paper are impossible to tear-apart. Sensei went on to describe the continuity of training as being like “the binding of a book”. Aikido training undertaken from time to time over a long period is like a poorly bound book and can come apart but, that Aikido training undertaken with regularity over a long period is like a well bound book, very solid, sturdy and something worth acquiring.

Sensei often talked about ‘Kokishin’ (ignore any bad spelling or poor recollection), this he described as meaning “to win over your own mind”. What he was saying is that “there are times when you feel that you just can’t face training tonight but, that those are the times when you really need to go and train because those are the times that you get the most out of a training secession”. Sometimes you build up ‘baggage’ throughout the day, you leave that ‘baggage’ at the Dojo door when entering, you train honestly and with some vigour and leave the Dojo feeling refreshed and elated and with any luck you leave the ‘baggage’ behind you.

Billy McAuley, Asoryu Aikido Club,
Huddersfield, UK. 21/10/2016.