A week of Aikido in Shenzhen

20 11 2012

Luxury week, the past one, when comparing to my first 2.5 years in China.

If considering only the Aikido related aspects, and not the iPhone troubles and slow steps in learning the job and finding my role here in Longgang, it has been a quite good week!!

3 sessions (!), almost back to “normal” times, uhm? This included also a 1 hour wepaon class on Sunday (preceeded by 1 hour Aikido).

This is probably the only “official” Aikikai Aikido club in Shenzhen and 2 friends from Shanghai recommended it to me. The teacher, Alan (4.dan), lives in Hong Kong and comes to Shenzhen for teaching these 3 sessions per week. His closest teacher was Ken Cottier, that I met quite a few times in England for the summer school with Kanetsuka sensei.. in ancient times!

The club is relatively small and at a relatively beginner level. But as found before in China, the people all have good motivations and good spirit. That is what I need anyway to get back my stamina and practice condition!

Aikido practice
I certainly joined the club, but at the same time I will not change my aikido in order to fully join their style. This is clear to me and soon I will also discuss it with the trainer. This does not mean I will do “my way”on the mats: I will do my best to perform the way the technique is explained, especially I will try to not confuse the beginners and certainly I will never show them, during practice, “my way” to do stuff (different from their teacher).

I hope the teacher will understand.

For my side, I will certainly find also something new and interesting to integrate or fit in the Aikido I like now.. besides being thrown around as much as possible.. again!

Practice and condition and basic training it is anyway what I need the most now, focusing maybe more to the teachers I am interested in and trying to get some of their seminars.

About the practice here, they got a quite fast warming up (good!) with several taisabaki and ushiro ukemi exercises from migi and hidari hanmi.

One funny difference: for the normal ushiro ukemi, without rolling, from standing, they turn the upper body for hitting the mats at once with the opposite hand respect to the side of the foot that is going backward, the opposite from what I am used, except when hitting with both hands in ushiro ukemi, but always first the one on the same side of the foot!

Also for every warming up they do a sort of “catch me if you can” game in shikko with the teacher calling the different names (everybody!) and this one “running” around trying to avoid to be touched. The first time, to slip past 2 people I took mae ukemi, and from their faces they were very surprised!

Practice then is a good mix of real basics and a little more advanced techniques, with the people level, except me, ranging from extremely beginners to maybe one 1.kyu and a few 2.kyu. On Sunday there are a few black belts, but they usually do not practice in weekdays because of work. Quite common over here.

Besides the condition work (trying to push for good ukemi and high intensity during the full practice keeping good awareness of my being uke and mind focused on the way the technique is performed), the technique in itself is of course different from my teachers’.

Here and there I noticed some old habits I keep trying to avoid in my practice, like the infamous Trondheim-time “un-bent arm“, that is not the more famous Ki-Aikido concept of unbendable arm: “our” was more a stiffness result!

In all throws, from kokyunage to iriminage, my “throwing arm” is never fully out-stretched but always (..trying at least) bent, as the result, as Philippe Orban sensei brilliantly put it long time ago, of the passage from the verticality of taking uke balance to the horizontality of the throw. Brilliant indeed! So the throw cannot happen, for me, with the out-stretched arm (in iriminage I think it would result in sort of “pushing” uke, as many schools do, but I have never liked).

Bokken practice

bokken practice

Sunday, after 1 hour Aikido, bokken got out!

We were 9 people, but one slightly injured, so 8 doing the suburi cutting warming up and the “big bokken brother” (BBB), 4kg of thick wood, came out. Starting from migi hanmi and normal stance in holding the sword (right hand to tsuba) we did a round of counting to 50 cuts, each of us, with the BBB passing from person to another every 50 cuts. Then, when all had counted and had fun with BBB, reverse stance and hands (yes, left hand to tsuba in hidari hanmi.. so awkward for me and my years of Iaido!!) and then again, 50 each passing BBB around.

A good warming up with 400+400 cuts, reminding again Iaido practice, thousand cuts in seiza. I remember what a fellow Iaido practitioner said: for him the thousand cut in seiza were.. boring! For me at that time it was a pain.. but I completely shared the thought at this practice! True the BBB was heavy, but I did manage to relax completely and did not feel any particular pain during suburi, neither for the large amount of cuts nor for the weight. So the repetition became boring. And I think it was actually a good result for my practice.

On the other hand, most of toher people were cutting very strnagely, using shoulders and turning the whole upper body (it was a normal straight “shomen” cut – properly called “kirioroshi/kiriotoshi”). The teacher seemed not interested in correcting the cut. I think then the exercise is more for the mind. Useful as well.

The rest of the practice for the last 30 minutes involved some easy bokken kata, not sure from which Aikiken form. It could have been anything. After some time they all look the same. A reason in Hangzhou I have sometimes made up kata, just mixing different cuts and different movements. Good for a few practice, never formalized!

The good thing is that today, 2 days past this tough practice, I do feel only a little my pectorals and a tiny stiffness in my upper body: another proof I did not forget too much from past Iaido and bokken sessions!

FUNNY THING OF THE DAY – I can get to the dojo for Aikido practice in the weekdays in about 1.5 hours (mixing subway and walknig time), for Sunday practice it is more on the 2 hours side. Part of mind training! One thing I feel funny here in Shenzhen: it seems I have become even more Chinese and forgot the difference between East and West! More than once I mixed the two directions and ended up losing much time…

Long time no…

24 08 2012

..see such a strong lightning storm, rain storm, wind storm.. typical summer storm! Like a few nights ago here in Hefei, perfect counterbalance of the return of high humidity and hot weather since the end of last week! Sitting at my pc writing this and doing some work on the side, even working with a laptop, I often save!! 😉 From time to time the reflection of the lightning on the screen is making me blink!

..see Horii sensei, and again I enjoyed very much his seminar! The club organizing, Aikido Seidojuku in Beijing, has been very nice allowing other people from around China to take part to the seminar. So besides me, also Aikido friends from Tianjin, Guangzhou, Shenyang and of course other clubs in Beijing!

..perform torifune and furitama during warming up: movements I always enjoyed practicing (in warm up) and then using as applications, as my first sensei, Kanetsuka Minoru sensei, was often doing. Always going back to the basics, and what it is more basic than what you do for warming up?

..practice jo!!! That was really ages! And I had to miss the Sunday session with bokken, but another good aspect of Horii sensei is is bukiwaza, quite a lot of weapon practice and parallel between Aikido body movement (taisabaki) and the same during weapon practice. About the jo session, I must thank the practice long ago with Anne Ducouret sensei, in Trondheim: many aspects of Horii sensei jo practice reminded me those sessions. Also the way to remove fast the fingers to avoid getting them smashed by your partner stick!! (These reminded more Mathias face when his fingers got smashed.. every session a couple of times!)

..practice ushiro tenkan, the stepping backward movement equivalent to a reversed irimi, but not moving only on the line and pulling the backward step more out of the line, more circularly (from this the tenkan part). Typical movement done for fast avoidance of straight attacks as they can be shomenuchi or tsuki. The rotation in the backward step gives an angle toward uke that becomes extremely advantageous for techniques. The same taisabaki was applied in the jo practice.

..work thoroughly on tesabaki, the way to use the hands in Aikido. From katatedori gyaku hanmi  and ai hanmi, we worked through several techniques and movements. All basics, techniques everybody studies mostly during the first graduation tests. But then many think it is boring practicing kokyuo ho or katadori nikyo but both these techniques contain so many basic key points for building up a good Aikido.

..eating a good okonomiyaki ((お好み焼き)!! So called Japanese pizza, it is a special omelette that I love!! And the one at the dinner party was made by sensei!!!

Horii sensei cooking okonomiyaki!

Horii sensei cooking okonomiyaki!

More Aikido seminar updates

18 04 2012

Continue with using in a blog profitable way some free evening time: updates of the 2 single session I could have this year with Nakao sensei and Irie sensei in Shanghai.

And this weekend I’ll be in Shanghai for practice with Philip Lee sensei, 6.dan from Shinjukai Aikido Singapore. The seminar is organized by Aiki Club Shanghai.

Aikido seminar update

8 04 2012

I finally posted about the seminar in Italy with Martufi sensei.

It completed a very nice Aikido week in my hometown Biella, where I managed to practice in other 2 dojos, Aikikai Biella dojo and Ken Kyu Sei dojo, and meet lots of very nice people.

And even if it was not a seminar, I had a 3 days practice a few days ago for the Qingming holidays: a good way to spend a festivity, reminding me of better “Aikido times” before I moved to China.. 🙂

Aikido holidays

5 04 2012

Back from the three days holidays for Qingming festivity, three days I spent in Shanghai catching one Aikido session per day! A short “seminar-like” holiday for me, little proof that my condition is not that good, since I did feel aching in different part of my body, even if the sessions were far from demanding! Still I tried to push a little during practice attempting break-falls when ever possible, also to test my skills, too long time unused!

Monday night session at Xijiao dojo, Tuesday morning with the International Aikido dojo and Wednesday night I have been teaching at Xijiao dojo again. Both Monday and Wednesday I had the chance to practice with some people coming from a third dojo in Shanghai: a new entry on my list, Shanghai Aikido dojo. This dojo belongs to the Aikido Shijukai organization, based in Singapore under the guide of Philip Lee sensei (6.dan Aikikai), who will come to Shanghai a little later this month, and I will be able to practice with him! Shijukai is indeed a vast organization assembling together several dojos. I look forward to practice with Lee sensei (also one extra unexpected seminar for this new year in China!)!

Monday session has been focused on aihanmi basics, and I enjoyed break-falls especially from shihonage and kotegaeshi.

For the session I taught, on Wednesday, I focused on one of my favorite attacks: morotedori, presenting techniques from jodan and gedan, all after starting with a good effective tenkan. Asking for a solid attack, static, not pulling or pushing just holding with a strong grip, tori had to work his way to good arm relaxation in order to manage a fluid tenkan without giving to uke any chance to take over tori‘s center.

For closing, after a series of basic and advanced variations from this attack, I proposed one of the best exercises I have ever practiced for morotedori, movement that emphasizes the importance of position, center, contact and relaxation. I saw this exercise/technique from Kanetsuka sensei ages ago: 2 uke holding tori‘s arm with morotedori. Tori has to move on the side of the closest opponent, relaxing completely the attacked arm, extending it to the ground, lowering the shoulders and then perform kokyuo ho adn taking both uke centers, unbalancing them. The key point is how to take their center: not different from one attacker situation, but with 2 tori stability is more important and critical. Lowering the whole body, performing the typical kokuo ho – “drink your beer” movement, then raising the whole body (not trying to lift the arm with the weight of 2 people ) is the way to execute the technique.

A great practice for kokuo ho!!!

As for ikkyo, my favorite to work on Aikido basics!!!

One session with Irie sensei, 6.dan

5 03 2012

Only one session, never used as uke, but I still enjoyed this year “seminar” in Shanghai with Irie sensei!

Sensei came to Shanghai with about 10 young students from an university in Tokyo where he is teaching Aikido: a seminar and a cultural international exchange for the kids with other Aikidokas in China. Quite a nice experience for all I think.

Of course, having only a tiny chance to practice, I focused more on the practice than in the socialization. The level of his students was quite various, ranging from a couple of young, energetic, supple, extremely good ones to normal beginner level or so, as it should be!

Somebody (like me sometime ago) has the strange notion that since Aikido is Japanese, all Japanese that practice Aikido are extremely good. Now I can smile with some reasons at it, after having been a few times in Japan h\and having met lots of average or worse Japanese Aikidokas and amazing good not-Japanese ones!! It’s all in the practice.. and in the motivations and of course a little in the inborn skills of a person.

Back to practice, I admit I really like Irie sensei. Almost unconditionally!

Most of technical points from his practice focused on keeping the elbows along the body, inside the volume defined by the shoulders, and not outside.

The first technique he showed was a sort of  tenchinage ura version where tori was not doing a tenkan, but moving uke using the contact established by the ryote dori grip, kokyu ho wrist rotation (lower hand as for tenkan, upper hand as for tenchinage) and kaiten. From a complete contact and good kokyu, moving uke becomes effortless, as long as tori‘s elbows keep along the body: if the elbows stick out, it is very easy to test that any force applied by uke would result in shoulder contraction and strengthening in tori, making the technique a pure result of trying to forcibly pull uke along with you.. that would work only with a large weight difference (ie. me with any tiny Chinese boy/girl!!). Sensei applied the technique also on me when he walked around the dojo, and I felt how natural and easy was his throw!

Looking back we worked on several really basic techniques (thing I always enjoy): morotedori kokyu hosuwariwaza katadori nikyoushiro ryote dori and then some more advanced contact application, from an anticipated movement on the grip of tachiwaza katadori.

In the ushiro ryote dori, for uke side, sensei always shows the proper way to grip: a solid grip on both hands, lowering the body behind tori in order to keep a low center of gravity while attacking and especially avoid having your head too close to tori‘s back of the head. This happens when uke grips not fully and stands behind tori, that then could just head backward and more often than not be able to hit uke‘s face!! With a full low grip it is then possible to work the contact toward uke‘s center and unbalance him/her. With a standing uke behind you, you would not be able to do this technique (uke would feel very little from the grip contact) – but other techniques would apply well, if you decide to not hit uke straight in his/her face, I mean!!

Like in this technique, as in the last more advanced one (anticipating katadori attack) tori focus the control toward uke‘s center, usually through the contact with arms. Lowering the contact, therefore your partner, it is much easier to gain his/her control and therefore perform any technique.

Anyway, let’s close with Irie sensei in action:

One session with Nakao sensei, 6.dan

27 02 2012

My Sunday of practice in Shanghai with Nakao sensei, went ok. Sensei came again with wife and 2 more students this year. Together with the usual amount of people of Shanghai dojo made all together a nice group.

It was an ok session, something interesting but we did not spend enough time to work on that: it might have been sensei focused on that in the previous sessions or he just wanted to cover more techniques and situations as he actually did. In fact in 2 hours practice with a break we worked an quite a few techniques from katatedorimorotedorishomenuchikatadori for ending in ryotedori.

From my point of view, the too short beginning in katatedori was actually the most interesting part. It was not a full katatedori grip, rather just a contact, requiring more work from tori to transmit the intention of movements to uke.  Sensei showed a tenkan movement first and the challenge was in not losing the contact exchange between partners during the rotation and then using this contact for moving uke. Not the first time practicing like this, but I admit I was looking forward to feel the technique from sensei, but for that technique he never came around in the place where my partner and I were practicing. One of the most difficult things for uke is, I think, to not move too much. It perfect applies to an exercise like this, where often tori is not able to transmit a clean contact and then uke “abstracts” the intentions and move without a clear logic. And then the same “misunderstanding” of intentions become recurrent in every technique, where often it is easy to see uke moving without reasons.

After the first tenkan  movement exercise we worked a few other techniques with the same “contact”, but then sensei moved to completely different applications. More traditional shomenuchi and morotedori applications followed by much less traditional katadori kubinage (head throw) variations. This last part was indeed funny, but I admit I tried to get an advanced partner, to avoid unnecessary risks with beginners! I practiced with a Japanese woman traveling from Nakao sensei dojo and it was nice.

All in all, a good session.

I wonder if I will have more next year with him!! 😉