Thoughts, notes, and updates by our Sensei Elliot Freeman.
As a teacher of Aikido for over thirty-five years I am always amazed at what experiences individual students take away from their dojo. I have noticed that depending on the age, gender and outlook of any particular pupil, each student walks away from each teacher and/or class with clearly different lessons, even though they all attended the same class. Whether we are observing O Sensei’s archived films, reading his writings or appreciating his calligraphy, the one constant element that all Aikido students experience is, a very compassionate yet powerful teaching. One without the other would be looked at by traditional Japanese aesthetics to be completely decadent, if not as useless as a Japanese sword that cannot cut. Even if a samurai sword had hundreds of hours of labor pored into it, (even if it would have the most beautiful tsugata (shape), hada (folding patterns), hamon (tempered edge), with all of the tsunegashi, ashi and other subtle beauty marks that a connoisseur of Japanese swords looks for) if it still could not cut accurately, it would be considered a worthless piece of metal.
One of my dojo’s mottos is, “Practice Makes Permanent”. Inside all good randori, a skilled aikidoka needs to practice constantly to create a playing field that is totally proactive and on the nage’s own terms. Throughout this book we will be minimizing the dangerous paradigm of training to be reactive as a response to being attacked. Instead we will work on developing an infrastructure to our proactive approach.If the nage chooses to “react” when faced with multiple attackers, the nage is hampered with two basic problems: the first problem concerns Hick’s Law, ‘which states that a response time will be dangerously slow, given the problems of multiple decision making processes’ ( i.e. combination attacks and multiple attackers). The second is the problem of time itself: the time it takes to “react” simply takes too much time!
People throughout the world study Aikido for many different reasons. Every organization, every school, and even every Sensei has their own particular focus and emphasis of what they bring to their class and students. Some emphasize the spiritual or technical, while others emphasize slower, faster or more acrobatic training. Each instructor’s particular teaching curriculum reveals that Sensei’s distinct focus and interests in Aikido. This healthy diversity allows Aikido to take on many different expressions within O Sensei’s vision.
Dear Students and Friends of Three Rivers Aikido,
Considering we have had technical difficulties with our web servers, I feel it’s time to fill you in on the recent news of what’s going on around the dojo. In October I was invited for my first trip to Japan. Dan Woods (2nd Dan), acted as my deshi on this trip as we visited Hombu Dojo and met with the Doshu and several instructors. The training was so interesting and in many ways different to the classes that we traditionally teach in St. Louis. The Doshu’s emphasis of basic posture and technique will be something I will remember and study for a long time to come. The meeting and photos with the Doshu will always be a highlight of my trip to Japan. His comfortable and personable manner and his inquiry as to how Seagal Sensei is doing made us feel very much at home.
After classes, Dan and I, along with Dan’s significant other, Emily, visited every city and national museum we could find, spending great time looking at national treasure samurai swords that were on display. I have been collecting samurai swords for over thirty years and to see the national treasures up close, in perfect polish with great lighting to see all of the intricacies of these incredible swords was like being in the presence of the Mona Lisa (but better). Emily, Dan and I also visited many shops that carried polishing equipment and stones for my new apprenticeship in sword polishing. My interest in dating, evaluating and restoring old traditional samurai swords has never been greater in the last thirty years of my collecting.
After we left Tokyo on the bullet train, we traveled to Kyoto and then to Osaka. In Kyoto we met up with my student, Eric Six (1st Dan), who came to visit from his home in Hiroshima. His two years of living in Japan really helped us in seeing Japan in a more intimate way. His constant outpouring of Japanese culture, folk tales and history were so important to Dan, Emily and me that I would like to thank him here in front of the rest of my students and friends.
Climbing the mountains to visit the Shinto shrines was incredibly moving for our group. At the end of the day we had to find an appropriate restaurant where we could actually figure out what we were ordering and not be too surprised. Dan, during one of the excursions, insisted on visiting this particular restaurant. Nobody spoke English and there were no pictures to point at on the menu. Still… Dan insisted on eating there. After all, we had already taken off our shoes and were sitting on the floor. So, there was no graceful way to leave anyway. I had to admire Dan. When the waitress came over and said everything in Japanese (and we couldn’t understand one word); to Dan’s credit, he figured out she was probably asking for our order in as polite a manner as she could to us poor “Western Barbarians”. As I was saying, to Dan’s credit, he proudly opened the menu, pointed to one of the lines of Japanese text and smiled. With that, Emily and I asked Dan to order for us also. Dinner was great and even recognizable, but dessert was another adventure.
One of the great highlights of our trip was to meet and train with Abe Sensei (10th Dan for the last forty years and O Sensei’s great friend). Training with Abe Sensei is truly getting a lesson in what the ki in Aikido really is all about. His amazing vitality and ninety-four years of age and his ability to throw and train with every single person in the dojo is just beyond belief. His approach, I suspect, must have been very near to O Sensei’s in O Sensei’s final years. What struck me was his student’s attentiveness to his every teaching and their constant respect for this magnificent man.
After Abe Sensei’s Aikido class, Abe Sensei invited Eric, Dan and me into his office where he presented all three of us with a calligraphy. Abe Sensei, to my knowledge, is a living national cultural treasure and the top calligrapher in all of Japan. I met Abe Sensei at an invitation by one of my old students at the University of Iowa. It was obvious that after he had thrown all one hundred of us that he was an incredibly special human being. I was very humbled and thrilled to take ukeme from him and enjoyed his constant smiles and twinkling eyes as we laughed with each other the whole seminar. Abe Sensei, at the end of the seminar, demonstrated his calligraphy for all to see and appreciate. He tried to make the connection of breathing and body motion in calligraphy and Aikido as being the same. At the end of the demonstration, he took out an extremely large brush and made one last eight and a half foot calligraphy and presented it surprisingly enough to me. In a smaller brush-stroke he wrote in Japanese “Made with my ninety year old little arms.” After this experience, Dan and I were sure we had to visit this great teacher in his dojo. I will always be appreciative. I also want to express my thanks to all of his students in Japan and the U.S. for setting this training up for Dan, Eric and me.
After our whirl-wind tour, I am more determined than ever to create a better Aikido for the world.
In Aiki Spirit,
Elliot Freeman Sensei