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Tada Sensei 15th Special Seminar

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One of the great things about living in Tokyo is the amazing opportunities to learn Aikido from the masters. Today I was lucky enough to attend the 15th Special Seminar by Tada Hiroshi Sensei (9th Dan), held at the Aikikai Hombu Dojo, Tokyo. I also attended the previous seminar in April, but quickly forgot the finer details of what he taught. This time I thought I’d try to record some of what I remember about the seminar in the hope that I’d be able to retain a bit more.

Tada Sensei is 80 years old, but that’s hard to believe given the way he moves, which I’d describe as “spritely”. He is obviously very passionate about Aikido, and he talked a great deal during the seminar. Unfortunately a lot of what he talked about was beyond my level of Japanese, but I think I managed to understand at least most of the main points.

The themes of the seminar listed on the program were the same as those for the April seminar:

  1. Kokyu-ho: Development of “KI” (気)
  2. Basic footwork
  3. Basic techniques and “ma-ai”
  4. Basic techniques for multiple attackers
  5. Image training and practice in reality
  6. unconcious reaction

Tada Sensei started by talking about when he joined Hombu Dojo as a young man, and you could tell he was in awe of O’Sensei. His talk then moved on what I would translate as the “Energy of the Universe”. Interestingly, I don’t recall the word “Ki” being mentioned by Tada Sensei (I could have missed it), but it was listed on the program as such. This is an aspect of Aikido that I haven’t seen taught at Hombu Dojo, at least outside Tada Sensei’s seminars. We performed a series of breathing exercises, taking in a deep breath and then exhaling slowly, making the (Japanese) vowel sounds, and later without the sound. The idea, as I understand it, is to feel the energy “resonating” inside you. Tada Sensei would refer back to this concept often during the seminar, and it seems fundamental to his understanding of Aikido.

The next section of the seminar was about footwork, and this is another area that Tada Sensei places great importance on. Tada Sensei has developed a series of exercises designed to systematically work on correct footwork. The later exercises involve moving in 8 different directions, similar to Happo giri, along with the variation of whether the front or rear foot is moved first. Watching Tada Sensei’s demonstration at the 48th All Japan Aikido Embu, you can get a feeling for how quick his footwork is, and how light on his feet he is. We only got to practice a couple of the exercises.

Setup for Exercise 1 is as follows:

  • start with your feet wider than shoulder width, feet facing forward and parallel (i.e. not hanmi). Knees slightly bent and weight down.
  • feet should not lift up, the front part of your foot in in contact with the mat.
  • you should be light on your feet.

For Exercise 1, one “shuffle” is as follows: 1. movement is from the “leading” foot (the foot on the side you are moving towards), but make sure to push off from the rear foot. 2. after moving the leading foot, the trailing foot moves close to the leading foot. 3. the leading foot takes another small step to return you to a centered position.

The actual Exercise 1 is: 1. shuffle left, shuffle right, shuffle right, shuffle left (back to original position). 2. pivot to left 90 degrees so you are in left hanmi. 3. shuffle forward, shuffle back, shuffle back, shuffle forward (back to original position). 4. pivot to the right 180 degrees so you are in right hanmi. 5. shuffle forward, shuffle back, shuffle back, shuffle forward (back to original position).

Exercise 2 was the same as above, but the “shuffle” is made from the reat foot first, bringing it up to the leading foot, then pushing the leading foot forward, and finally the rear foot moves forward a little to bring you back to a balanced position. Next up we practiced what I believe is exercise 6, with the same general idea but the initial movement off the line. This is an area I would like to incorporate into my Aikido, and I would definitely like to explore more in the future.

It was about this time that Tada Sensei demonstrated “unbendable arm]http://aikidoforbeginners.blogspot.com/2007/06/unbendable-arm.html)”, which he related back to his earlier topics. We paired up and practiced it briefly.

The first technique that we practiced was Katatedori Iriminage, and Tada Sensei’s version is quite different from normal Hombu style. You can get an idea from about 1:09 into the embu video (that’s Shomen Uchi Iriminage but the form is similar). This was followed by Ushiro Ryoutedori Shiho Nage, and Tada Sensei talked about how he does not wait for the Uke move around behind him, but rather it is his intentional movement and turning in front of the Uke. He talked about how this makes sense when you view the encounter as if there are 8 opponents, and he wants to control the direction of movement. This is another technique where Tada Sensei teaches quite different from the normal Hombu style. I like his reasoning, and watching him perform the technique his back was barely exposed to his opponent at all, it reminds me a lot of the Katatedori Uchi Kaiten movement. Definitely another area for me to explore more in the future.

The last 90 minutes or so of the seminar covered sword-taking techniques. For a Shomen Uchi strike, the tori enters to either the left or right side of the uke, and it’s important to get completely off the line of attack, especially the trailing hand. We practiced taking the sword first using Ikkyo (4 variations). The motion is different depending on the side entered and the hand taking the sword. This is probably impossible to understand, but for my own benefit here are the 4 variations:

  • enter to left, grasp with right hand –> grasp from the side near you, ikkyo is up and to the right
  • enter to left, grasp with left hand –> grasp by reaching over, ikkyo is up and to the left, push the back of the blade with your right hand.
  • enter to right, grasp with left hand –> grasp from the side near you, ikkyo is up and to the left
  • enter to right, grasp with right hand –> tenkan and grab behind you from underneath with palm facing up, lift up as tenkan’ing back towards uke, ikkyo is to the right

In all cases you grasp the sword from your little fingers (not index finger), and don’t just grab Uke’s hand (or they can let go of the sword and control it with their other hand). This was followed up with the same basic technique but changing to Sankyo, reaching up from underneath when required. Tada Sensei then demonstrated how ALL the basic techiques could be applied (Irimi Nage, Kotegaeshi, Kokyu Ho, Kokyu Nage, Shiho Nage, etc) for sword-taking. There were far too many variations for me to possibly remember them all, but I hope to at least remember the basic techniques we practiced. After that we briefly paired up for a quick session of Ikkyo/Nikkyo/Sankyo suwariwaza,

The seminar finished with Tada Sensei reiterating some of his points. He also talked briefly about “image training” (imagining the techniques), and in particular the breathing exercises. He suggested that 30 minutes of breathing exercises before going to sleep at night would be well worth the effort.

The seminar covered a lot of material, and I’m sure that there was plenty to learn for everyone attending. As a beginner there was so much that I’m sure I won’t remember half of what I even picked up on. It did jog my memory a bit of the seminar in April, and reinforce some of what I’d learned. I hope to incorporate into my Aikido at least some of the basics that Tada Sensei presented, in particular the footwork. I feel privileged to have been able to attend, and I hope to be lucky enough to attend again in the future!