Te more I spend time in Tokyo, the more I realize that the world of Aikido is indeed very small. The beauty of this is that it is during random encounters and acquaintances that one end up making the most crucial experiences for one's personal development. Such an acquaintance happened once again on the tatami of the Aikikai Hombu Dojo in May 2008 while I was staying in Tokyo and practicing Aikido intensively. Today, I would like to take you for a journey through time, to the discovery of a discipline which is the ancestor of Aikido. Those of you a bit more erudite on the subject know of course that I am talking about the Daito-ryu Aiki-jujutsu.
It is the end of week one; I am training like a lunatic, trying to emulate the dedication of Philippe Gouttard now he has left Tokyo. While I am enjoying the 30 minutes break between the Doshu's and Yokota Sensei's class, I see approaching a tall and well built gentleman who looks kind of familiar. I must admit that this impression is quite common when you practice at the Aikikai because of the numerous famous individuals that roam the premises. Still, the man stepping on the mat that morning looks even more familiar than that... In fact, I will soon realize that the gentleman is in fact Olivier Gaurin, long time student at the Hombu Dojo, author of many books and true martial researcher with whom I had worked via email when he wrote a very interesting article for Aikidoka Magazine. After formally introducing myself to him and talking to him for a while, he proposes that we practice together the following day (traditionally, at the Aikikai, we practice with the same partner for the full hour of the class, even though things are changing a bit lately).
As planned, he is here the following day, waiting for me on the mat. As we start practicing together, I notice the great experience of the man. Beside being physically strong, his postures and distances suggest that he is experienced in different styles of Aiki, and perhaps, as I will learn later, even in other martial arts (kickboxing and Muay Thai amongst other things). During this hour, I will learn a lot, in particular since Olivier has a very deep understanding of Yokota Sensei s Aikido. Once the class is over, Olivier tells me discretely about a Daito-ryu Aiki-jujutsu seminar that will take place the following weekend in Tokyo. As a dedicated student of Aikido and of its history, he is making me the kind of offers I certainly cannot refuse. Of course, I have already heard about this offshoot of Aiki-justu, made famous by the great Sokaku Takeda, the teacher of the founder of Aikido, Morihei Ueshiba, but I have never practiced it. In all fairness, this practice is still pretty confidential today compared to the huge spread of Aikido. I therefore accept wholeheartedly although I don t really know what to expect from these practitioners. To be honest, I even start anticipating the potential injuries following training in this art which is renowned for its efficacy.
During our discussion, I learn that Olivier is in fact the organizer of the seminar. He as regrouped a small number of practitioners, some of which are Aikidoka, who follow the teaching of Kobayashi Kiyohiro Sensei in Tokyo. The man travels regularly from Osaka to Tokyo in order to make sure that the techniques of Daito-ryu Aiki-jujutsu that Sokaku Takeda taught to Takuma Hisa and Morihei Ueshiba live on and to avoid the disappearing of this knowledge and what it has legated to Aikido.
The Takumakai Aiki-jujutsu is an organization established around the teaching of Hisa Takuma, the only student of Takeda to have received a Menkyo Kaiden (the highest martial distinction possible according to the traditional Japanese system, the proof that the student has learned all the secrets of the school) from the master himself. Today, there are about 40 branches (dokokai = groups of study) of the Takumakai in Japan which accounts for about 1000 regular practitioners but practice is also being carried out in the US, Australia and Finland.
One of the particularities of this school is the scrupulous attention dedicated to details and the preservation of ancestral techniques as Sokaku Takeda was teaching them, thanks to, in particular, to a very large and unique photographic archive shot at the Asahi newspaper in Osaka. On the opposite, Morihei Ueshiba, who also studied and taught Daito-ryu Aiki-jujutsu up the beginning of World War II, made many alterations in the Daito-ryu techniques to create his own Aikido. Interestingly, the oldest Takumakai practitioners, who are actual contemporaries of O Sensei, still remember him as a prodigious practitioner.
It is now Sunday and I am boarding the famous Yamanote Line for a 40 minutes ride through the center of Tokyo, traveling from Shinjuku to Kanda. As I enter the Chiyoda-Ku sports complex that is hosting the seminar, I am stroke by the diversity amongst the 15 practitioners present today covering, a wide range of age and morphology. The class is to be given by Kobayashi Kiyohiro, the manager of the Osaka Daito-ryu Honbu and one of the pillars of the Takumakai organization. The man is of a small stature but of course, I have learned not to judge a practitioner solely upon this kind of criteria. The truthfulness about this disposition is of course going to be confirmed to me several times that day by the master, using an incredible sense of placement, timing and control. I remember in particular of a choking technique he did on me with his ankle while I was already his prisoner through an arm-lock.
The style of Aiki of the Takumakai is refined, each detail counts and I quickly understand that during the whole 3 hours of the seminar, I will not manage to do a movement absolutely correctly, however how close I think it is from my own discipline of Aikido. Practice is slow; movements are decomposed into several stages in order to understand correctly angles and positions. For an Aikidoka, it is quite unsettling since we are more used to work in a flowing manner, even at the beginning. Thankfully, Kobayashi Sensei often comes to demonstrate to me the movements he showed and I realize the incredible luck I have to be able to participate to this seminar although being totally foreign to the system. Kobayashi Sensei often smiles at my Aikidoka manners but always takes the time to explain the techniques to me patiently. Thankfully, Olivier is also here to provide me with a simultaneous translation of the points Kobayashi Sensei is making.
The number of techniques showed today is quite consequent and I have trouble remembering of one precisely but I will always remember the economy of motion and the efficacy of everything that is being proposed. Of course, I can clearly see similarities between some of the techniques performed and the Aikido movements I am used to such as Ikkyo or Aiki-otoshi but some subtle differences are there. Contrary to what I had imagined, the techniques of Daito-ryu are not violent or executed in a rough way. Olivier explains to me later that Kobayashi Sensei always insists on the fact that pain should never be the purpose of a joint twist but instead, this type of punctual or maintained locks should only be used to guide the opponent s physiological keys in a secure way, which makes the technique easier to execute and infallible.
Obviously, you cannot learn such a discipline in one class but I would like to say that every now and then, it is very important to go back to the "source" in order to challenge our own practice and also to keep this historical heritage alive and transmit it. The work achieved by this handful of students is an example to follow and I really hope to come back in order to learn more about this system during my next trip to Japan.
Kobayashi Sensei performing a Daito-ryu Aiki-jujutsu technique on Guillaume Erard
I would like to thank Olivier Gaurin for allowing me to widen my martial horizons and to Kobayashi Sensei for accepting me in his dojo, a very rare occurrence in Japan in the close circle of the traditional Ryu.
The group of students around Kobayashi Sensei (first row, from the left, Guillaume Erard, D.J. Lortie, Kobayashi Kiyohiro Sensei and Olivier Gaurin, back row on the left, Frédérique Sarre)
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