Sunday, October 03, 2010

In memoriam

Today was the Seiichi Sugano Sensei Memorial Seminar at the New York Aikikai with Yoshimitsu Yamada Sensei, Donovan Waite Sensei, and Jikou Sugano Sensei (Sugano sensei's son).

With relatively short notice, over 150 aikidoka came out to honor Sugano sensei in the best possible way -- the joyful practice of aikido.

During the seminar, I could almost feel the spirit of sensei in the dojo -- particularly during Jikou sensei's class. His teaching was very reminiscent of sensei, both in method and manner. Jikou is every bit the soft-spoken, modest gentleman his father was.

As I'm sure most of you reading this know, Sugano sensei died August 29 from complications of a long illness.

He was surrounded by his senior-most students from New York and Australia, as well as, of course his family, including his son, Jikou.

There was a very touching memorial service the following week, led by Tony Smibert, Sugano sensei's senior student and head of the Australia Aikikai.

Smibert sensei's eulogy was very heart-felt and touching, as were remarks by Harvey Konigsberg and Yamada sensei.

In the days and weeks following these events, it seemed everyone had a story or recollection of Sugano sensei. I was glad to realize sensei meant so much to so many people.

Aikido is a Way
There is commitment and there is obligation
Do not abuse or misuse the art of Aikido
Study carefully, honestly and humbly
Respect your seniors and look after your juniors
-- Seichi Sugano Sensei
He meant more to me than I even realized when he was alive, but that's what always happens after a person dies, isn't it? We suddenly realize we loved the person we lost.

If even I, a relative new student, who was hardly on intimate terms with sensei, felt that way, I can only imagine how so many others must feel.

But that was Sugano sensei. He was able to make each student feel he cared. It is only natural that we should care back.

Sensei's ashes will be scattered on Mt. Banks in the Blue Mountains near Sydney during Australia’s Winter School in July.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Bringing on the heat

As the summer heat drags on, time seems to stand still at the dojo, at least for this penguin.

In some strange way, the ability to deal with the heat seems to mirror a person's martial ability. It seems the very experienced just don't sweat that much! I on the other hand, will look like I've taken a shower on the mat on a humid day.

I've been thinking a lot lately about basic principles and really trying to apply them on the mat. Things like relaxation, keeping centered, keeping weight down, etc. Tohei sensei called this sort of thing "mind-body unification," or "energetic coherence," as my friend and tai chi instructor Rick Barrett would call it.

At an aikikai dojo, we don't talk much about Tohei sensei, yet I have to say his four principles are very handy to keep in mind. They are not any different than what all aikidoka teach, but they are clearly and concisely articulated.

They are:

Four Basic Principles of Mind and Body Unification

  • Keep One Point
  • Relax Completely
  • Keep Weight Underside
  • Extend Ki
An interesting point Tohei makes about these principles is that if you are really doing one of them, you are doing them all at the same time. Therefore if I can remember one at an appropriate moment, the mind and body should be coherent.

The question is, will it help me to stop sweating so much?

Thursday, May 20, 2010

The art of falling

 OK, so I've never had the most graceful ukemi. Over the years, it's become functional, but not the smooth, noiseless variety a few of the (younger) folks have developed.

The other day, I was taking a sankyo, when Ruth told me to keep my center even when my balance is compromised. She took ukemi from me, first like I was doing. This seemed to be like the ukemi everyone else does at that moment when nage is unbalancing uke in a typical sankyo. Then she showed me how she can relax. Even though I still had control of her, I was suddenly connected to her center. She felt like a coiled spring, ready to unleash into a reversal if I tensed up. Her shoulder, her footwork, everything became unified. It was kind of amazing.

Among other things, this showed me the Aikido ideal. One should retain that relaxed awareness, even when being thrown around. A lot to play around with...