– To stay connected as long as possible

E&K: Thank you for a very good practice, Sensei!
How has your stay in Norway been?

It’s been great, I’ve had a good time, its the first time here, sofor me its just getting to know everybody, the standard, and thecity is nice, I like it. The training, the people are veryinteresting, you know and enthusiastic. So that’s good, it helpsthe training.

You travel a lot abroad?

Yeah, well.. like every other weekend basically, I am goingsomewhere. My long trips are usually in the summer and the fall,then I am away in two, three weeks. Like this one.

Mostly in America?

South America mostly, now Europe more, Israel, I go to Russia, I’mgoing to Indonesia in December, so its branching out a little bitmore now.

Is it trough your affiliation with Yamada Sensei?

Yeah, Yamada Sensei and the USAF.

Do you see differences in the Aikido in the places yougo?

For me its all Aikido, it’s just that, it’s what their input was,and sometimes the mentality of the people, or the culture of thepeople can also determine the colour of the Aikido. It’s like thecultural differences show when they practice. And the thing is withtravelling, it’s almost like trying to get them out of theircultural habits, so they can actually examine what they are doing.And see how to progress, because sometimes the cultural situationkeeps them in a certain place. But if they can look outside that,they can discover that: “Ah, there is more, there is more!” It goestogether, the instruction and the culture of the people.

Do you have any particular examples?

Well for me, on this side of Europe the weakest thing in thepractice for me, is the Ukemi.
The focus always seems to be on the throw, and not so much on howto recieve it, or what goes on inside the throw. The contact, whichis the connection with your partner, and the actual connection intothe ukemi, so the ukemi is natural and real, is important I think.It shouldn’t be disconnected.

This is something I have been thinking a lot about. When weare training, we sometime say: Now its my turn, or now its yourturn, while in reality its just, now its your turn to be Tore, andmine to be Uke and vice versa right?

Yeah, practice is 50-50 remember? We spend half the time falling aswell as doing the technique. So both sides should be practiced. Andthey need each other. So if you are lacking on one side, you’ll belacking on the other side. So the better quality of your Ukemi, thebetter quality of your Aikido, because it has more connection,better feeling to what your doing. I mean, that is my personalopinion. And that’s how I teach, and I see the difference inpeople, they understand how to fall and then the fear is gone. Whenyou’re doing technique, you have no fear of making the throw real,in the sense of you can go trough it without any preconceived ideathat I have to take care of them, because the person can take careof themselves within the connection of the technique. It allows youto train.

The ukemi you have been teaching throughout the seminar. Isit something you have developed yourself?

Well, people have asked me that. I guess yes, and no. It was byaccident, because that’s how I just used to fall, it wasn’t athought process. When I was uchi deshi with Sensei (Yamada Sensei)we always had visiting Shihan, so I spent a lot of the time takingukemi, so I just used to fall. They threw me, and I fell. And myown personal experience is that, I wanted to learn as much as Icould from them. So the only way to do that, was to stay asconnected as possible, and as long as possible. Feel everythingthat is going on, and then try to interpret when I do thetechnique. For me ukemi was a big part of my input, learning whatis going on. I had to do that, I had to make myself stay connectedto them, and that’s how the ukemi developed. And then one daysomebody asked me,
“How do you do that particular sidefall when Sensei throws you likethat?” and I would go “What fall? He throws me and I fall down.” Sothen you know, I do it, and I go “Oh, you mean this?” and they go”Yeah, yeah that!” and I would say, “Its because of this andthis..” and then “What about the other one?” and then it just brokedown like that. So then I broke it down specifically to give it aprogression, and then people use it as they see fit. Becauseeverybody is moving a little bit different, but the basicinformation is that, and then use it and make it suit you.

Yeah, implement it to your own body. You have been uchideshi (live in student) with Yamada Sensei, I don’t think we haveany in Norway that has your experience of being an uchi deshi, socould you tell us a little bit about how that was?

It could be hard. Because it’s training every day, I mean, theminimum of training was usually 5 to 6 hours everyday. Its morningclass, 2 classes in the afternoon, 3 in the evening, and at thattime I was also teaching private lessons, and taking class andteaching. So I was probably on the mat something between 4 to 7hours everyday. And that was for years, I was uchi deshi for 13years.
I lived in the dojo, you know being a uchi deshi is living with theSensei. You learn how to take care of the dojo, and how to takecare of him. And as for the Aikido, it’s through osmosis, becauseyou do it so much that it becomes ingrained. No thought process.And it’s good! Because that way you get to a point where you canactually examine what you´re doing, not like doing something youdid last week, or once or twice a week. It’s every day. So certainphysical movements become natural. And then because they comenatural, you start going “Ah well, I can do this.” So it gives youtime to examine it, its study. Not just coming somewhere, and justrepeating something over and over again. It’s studying. But youknow, Sensei is there, and you’re taking ukemi, and sometimes heisn’t in a good mood, BANG, BANG, BANG BANG, haha. And sometimeshe’s in a good mood, and you have a really good time, you know. Butthat is all part of the whole thing. And I am glad I went throughthe experience. I wanted to do Aikido for life and fulltime. So forme the only way to do it, was to immerse myself.

And that was all at New York Aikikai, right?

Yeah, before that I was training in England. And then I leftEngland in 1984, and then moved into the dojo in the end of 84.And then 13 years of uchi deshi, and then 10 years in my own dojo.

How was it starting your own dojo?

Well, it was difficult. It’s not easy.

Did you start from scratch or did you have help?

There where students there. There was 5-8 students there that wassort of training, in Philadelphia. And It was like a dance studio,come dojo. And they asked for some more instruction, because it wasonly a kyu ranked that was teaching there. So I would go back andforth, I would go to Philadelphia on Thursdays and Fridays toteach. And then go back to New York. And then after a couple ofyears the dance studio closed down. Then there was only Aikidothere, and they decided that they wanted to do Aikido moreseriously, and asked me if I would think about moving toPhiladelphia. And then I spoke to Sensei, and he said yes, becausehe always wanted a major dojo in Philadelphia. So he encouraged meto go and do that, and then I moved.

And I understand that it’s your 10th yearanniversary?

Yeah, next year is going to be my 10th year.

Are there going to have a big celebration or aseminar?

Yes, that’s the plan. We are going to have a big seminar, andYamada Sensei will hopefully be there. And a few of the othersenior Shihan’s, so it should be good.

I was told that you have been awarded 7th dan.

Yes, just recently. It will become official in the next year. Iguess it will be announced in the end of December, when we have ourChristmas seminar. He usually put’s it up for the new yearspromotions.

Ok, so.. how does it feel? Hehe

Well, it feels like more work. HAHAHA. You know, I have to stillkeep working on getting better, trying to improve. Because there isso many students coming up, or following and using me as anexample. And I want to help them as much as possible. It’s anobligation. And as a foreigner, because there is very fewnon-japanese with that status, 7th dan and Shihan, it’s a bigresponsibility. There is a few of us now, in the USAF, and we alsohave some input as well. We are the next generation, after ourteachers, that have thought us so well for a long time now.

You are also a Shihan, what responsibilities comes withthat?

It’s a title, it just means you are a master teacher, and you arerecognized by USAF and Japan as a professional instructor. It’s astatus. That’s as far as you get in any kind of recognition. Afterthat it’s still important to continue improving, just keep growing.

Do you have any personal thoughts about aikido, or anythingyou would like to emphasize?

Well here, like I said it’s ukemi. Be more attentive to the ukemi,that the movement actually responds to what is going on, notsomething that is disconnected. Its not like you are falling byyourself, you should be falling with the technique. It has to beconnected to the technique. Which is vice versa, it means that theperson doing the technique has to really pay attention to what theyare doing. So that they realize that, the response Uke is givingthem, is the Tore’s creation. That way, you can understand how tomake that happen. Not just doing something, without having aconnection to it. Paying a lot of attention to the basics, not thefancies. How you use your hands, the posture, extension. The basicikkyo, nikkyo, sankyo’s, kotegaeshi, iriminage in good form. Cleanform, never rush. Take the time to make sure the movement is doneclearly. Speed is something you acquire as you progress. Don’t tryto do it fast.

Thank you Sensei, and we hope to see you again in Norwaysoon.

Yes, definitely, I am making plans already for same time next year,that will be good.

Thank you very much Sensei.

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