As a budo ka, having chosen Aikido as your discipline of life, your do -, how do you put your practice of form to the test? How do you progress beyond basic training, stepping out of the concept of kata, one on one, pre destined technique or attack, fixed angles, alignment and, most of all, plenty of time to perform? Do you ever create an arena where you get to approach your practice in a more free and playful manner? Where you get to test your ability to improvise and be creative, seizing what the moment gives you rather than deciding beforehand what the moment should look like?
The annual Gothenburg seminars with Matt Hill have grown into such an arena. Attracting aikido practitioners who are curious and willing to step ‘out of the box’ in order to become more flexible in their Aikido and more confident and skilled as martial artists. For two full days of practice they get plenty of opportunities to improvise, to learn how to stay calm and receptive under more stressful conditions and to try and find and identify the right moments to act in an ever ongoing flood of attacks and distractions.
The 2015 edition of the Takemusu Aikido Seminars saw some 25 participants from 9 different dojos come together for a weekend in search for Takemusu. This was the fourth edition of the seminar and the weekend included empty handed work as well as staff, sword and knife work. The theme of the seminar was working with multiple opponents to explore creativity, spontaneity and improvisation. As always with Matt’s seminars the weekend was built around the core principals of Breath, Relaxation, Movement and Body Structure, being the very fundamentals that we should try and keep intact no matter the circumstances. Without the correct breath work you will be unable to relax which will restrict your ability to move and make it harder to maintain your body structure. Breath, kokyu, is the key to unlocking most secrets within the martial arts, as well as in life.
One of Matt’s great skills is the way he constructs his seminars: Always starting off with pre-parational work, focusing on breathwork and relaxation. Continuing with a multitude of in-ventive physical exercises that often are both challenging and great fun. Before slowly working your way into simple movement drills and then building from there into a vast range of drills that increase in complexity and difficulty. In my opinion, the lay out of the seminars make them accessible to anyone, no matter what kind of martial discipline they usually train or anything else for that matter. In fact, you don’t really have to be in any particular training to take part in these seminars and gain greatly from them.
Day 1 focused on empty handed work and took us through all of the above, ending the day with everyone in a big circle, taking turn in the middle with two attackers for 30 seconds. A really challenging but fun movement/take-down exercise, where everyone got to work for a short while under a little bit more pressure than usual. Lots of laughter and plenty of cheering and encouragement from the others helped build the confidence in everyone and create the environment necessary for everyone to step out of there comfort zone. Day 2 took us through a lot of similar exercises but with weapons, with an immediate increase of difficulty and the level of awareness acquired.
Matt’s seminars are almost always built around movement as a key to martial effectiveness. Through movement you find the time to explore, time to create and stay relatively safely out of harms way. The pressure of constant movement and constant attacks can sometimes be overwhelming, but one key phrase that kept coming up during the weekend was to try and identify the moment, i.e. the moment to act! By staying in motion, through our stream of free flow, we can find the right moment to act: to strike, to break the structure of the attackers, to apply a technique or a take-down. The moment will present itself, we don’t have to force it or create it. We just have to stay in the rhythm and learn to identify the moment.
For me personally, movement is the key to find Takemusu – the playful, creative, spontaneous and infinite Aikido where the magic happens, where your training is put to intuitive problem solving tests again and again. These seminars, through Matt’s careful and inspiring guidance, offer an opportunity to put your ability to move to the test, for hours and hours. You will try and fail, try and fall and then get back up, try and succeed but get hit and thrown over a lot of time in the process. But by constantly getting back in there, working to stay in movement, to find your way back into the flow and the rhythm, you will learn to get it right more times then you get it wrong. And bit by bit you will learn to identify the moment!
I would like to express my warmest thanks to Matt Hill for another truly inspiring seminar. Also many thanks to everyone who came and shared the weekend, providing energy, spirit, laughter and a really good time. It is my hope that more people in Aikido will try and incorporate a broad spectrum of movement drills into their training. It is my strong personal belief that the Iwama Aikido community as a whole would benefit greatly and evolve from it.
Thanks people! I am already looking forward to the next time and am hoping to see you all there again.
In Takemusu Aiki – Mats