Can you find the Other Corners?
By Michael Rowe
Last year I visited Japan for duty with the Navy Reserve Component. I had other plans as well I wanted to experience some more martial arts training in Japan. I have been training in Hapkido for almost 30 years and I wanted to spend some time with its sister art in Japan, Aikido. In 2016 I had a chance to spend a few hours training at the Aikido Hombu Dojo and meet with the current Doshu Moriteru Ueshiba. I was hoping to get a greater level of training this year.
When I arrived in Japan I checked into the base recieved my housing assignement and checked into the job. As I expected there was going to be an amazing amount of time that I could travel from Yokosuka to Tokyo to visit the Hombu Dojo. After checking in at the Aikiki Dojo I changed into my gi and placed my white belt around my waist. The sensei of the Dojo did remember me from my previous visit from last year and recongized I was not a total beginner but they wanted to go through the paces. Being that I know that Aikido and Hapkido both have the same root there are some simliarities but there are going to be major differences. I was give the task of demonstrating and practicing Ik Kyu the first fundamental teaching of Aikido. We call it simply the straight arm bar.
While I felt that I had done an satisfactory job presenting the teaching from the variety of attacks presented, but the Doshu thought differently. He told me to work on one particular movement of the technique – it was a bit too much muscle and needed move relaxation. I bowed and then prepared to continue with the technique.
I worked on the technique very hard against many variations of attacks: same side wrist grabs, cross wrist grabs, lapel grabs. double wrist grabs from the front and rear, and punch as wel. I practiced what was presented to me for correction for about ten minutes when I noticed that Doshu was on the other side of the dojo, giving instruction to another student.
I chose to continue to to practice the technique even though I have been practing the technique for almost 30 years already. I did it for almost an half hour, my gi was was soaked with sweat. After more than an hour’s worth of repeating the same fundamental technique, one of the senpai (senior students) came over and told me to demonstrate Ni Kyu - the second teaching.
So this is how it went for the basic 5 teachings of Aikido that we covered that day. My arms were lead, my legs were shaking, I could barely change and get down the stairs, walk to the train and get back to base. But I was back in the Dojo training the next day. Something about the intensitiy appealed to me.
Now, I will walk away from my students while they are working on a particular form or technique – just to see what they’ll do. Most of them will continue to practice what they were told. A few will walk over to me to ask what they should do and some discontinue practicing as they begin to talk and socialize with their classmates. This seems to happen regardless if the students are children, teens, or adults.
It has been said that if a teacher shows the student one corner, the student should be able to find the other three. If he cannot (or will not), then the teacher should leave him alone because he’s simply a waste of time.
Grandmaster Pak and Grandmaster Pellegrini both would often show me a particular technique or an aspect of a technique or form and then see what I did with it. Would I simply forgot whatever it was that was shown to me? Would I practice it on my own time, striving to improve my performance? Would I simply fool around and play with the technique, perhaps ask for constant guidance on if I was doing it right? Or would I train at the school, and at home in my free time the teaching presented? Would I refine it and make it my personal expression of movement?
One thing I figured out was that the teacher was always watching and evaluating. Oh sure they would talk with us and joke now and then but they were always calculating. Would I be one that they would teach the real material too? Could I find not only the four corners of the room, but all the entrances and exits? Was I worth teaching the real methods to?
So what are you gong to do to find the corners?