Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Hard, soft aikido

Ruth Peyser has always been one of my favorite instructors at the NY Aikikai. Her classes are dynamic, fun and instructive. A pretty good combination.

Ruth's aikido has a certain quality to it. It is generally very soft and clear, but there is a power there that can be sensed under the surface. Sort of like a muscle car cruising at 30mph. Though it isn't being utilized at that moment, one can feel the power under the accelerator.

Her ukemi is also first rate. She's not one for flashy break falls or even those super soft rolls that some others have, but she always keeps her center under her and keeps the connection to nage. Of all the things I try to emulate from her technique, her simple ukemi for, say, ikkyo is the biggest challenge.

It must be something with me, but I generally prefer ladies' aikido. I'm not sure exactly why, but I think it has something to do with understated elegance, as opposed to over-the-top force. Of course, this is a generalization which is not close to true in all cases. All the same, the few female instructors at the dojo never disappoint.

The other day, Noriko Oba taught a class. Though she is eminently qualified, she rarely teaches. Well, that was also a treat. I tried to take full advantage of the opportunity by asking a lot of questions, and I'm glad I did. Another class of grace and poise.

It's not that I don't like hard aikido, I do. But sometimes it's very helpful to ease things up a bit and really concentrate on the subtleties of aikido, instead of only "effective technique," which is a misnomer. It's those subtle qualities, refined to a high level, that make the techniques effective.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Simplicity of the "basics"

Well, the aches and pains are easing, if not completely gone. I still am having some trouble with my elbows, but my shoulder/back pain has abated, thank God. I'll make any deal with any devil not to get that back again.

Things at the NY Aikikai are merrily moving along. For the past few months, there have been extra black belt classes held on a few Saturdays. The Aikipenguin couldn't attend those, but I did watch most of them, hoping to see some secret, high-level techniques.

Well, there weren't any. In fact, I can't say they have done anything we all haven't done many times before. I'm sure there is a point to it that I'm not getting.

This month, basic classes were also added to the schedule. This was great news! Yamada-sensei's basic classes are legendary. I eagerly anticipated the class.

Well, I wasn't disappointed! Sensei spent the hour almost totally on footwork and tai sabaki (body positioning.) It was all very simple, but I have to say I think I learned more in that one hour than I have ever learned before. He just has a way of demonstrating and explaining that is very clear.

What does he say that is so different? I don't know. I can't put my finger on anything. Maybe it's the authority he inherently possesses. When sensei says something, one needn't wonder if it's right or not (as sometimes happens...). Perhaps that makes the whole learning process more direct. Just a guess.

A lot of upper class men seem to also understand the value in these classes. I was surprised at the number of black belts who attended the "beginner class." I bet if these continue, there will be more and more of them.

This week, Steve Pimsler will teach another one. I'm very sad to say I won't be able to attend. I have a rare commitment on Saturday. Steve is also a fabulous teacher.