Every six months, an exceptional Daito-ryu seminar takes place in the Shikoku region. The event is notable because it is placed under the direction of one of the greatest experts of Daito-ryu Aiki-jujutsu still alive, Chiba Sensei Tsugutaka. The opportunity is even greater since many of the great Sensei of the Takumakai religiously entend this course in order to deepen a little more their of the art transmitted by Takeda Sokaku. This weekend was therefore a golden opportunity for travelling, learning, practicing with experts, and sharing.
Shikoku is the smallest and least populated of the four main islands of Japan. Getting there from Tokyo is not necessarily easy and it takes about half a day, whatever means you chose to travel. But in fact, it is perhaps just as well that an effort has to be made to gain access to this knowledge. Saturday morning, Olivier and myself board the All Nippon Airways plane that will take us from Haneda to Tokushima. After a pleasant flight, we are greeted at the airport by Hideaki Sato Sensei, the dojo master of the small town of Wakimachi, who has kindly offered to take us by car to his dojo where we will spend the night.
The group from Tokyo at Tokushima airport with Sato Sensei
It is the second time that I'm attending the course. On my first visit, thanks to the introduction of Olivier Gaurin, I had the honor and opportunity to be received with open arms by practitioners and sensei. They immediately made me feel at ease, asked me many questions, and were quick to show me the principles of Daito-ryu. I feel extremely privileged, because foreigners do not abound here. With Olivier, we were two the first time I came!
Me taking a short nap before Sato Sensei’s class
On Saturday night, we have the chance to participate in a special class by Sato Sensei in the dojo that he has been leading since Onni Sensei stopped teaching. Sato Sensei is a direct student of Chiba Sensei and his Daito-ryu techniques have the advanced aspect that characterizes the practice at Wakimachi. Takeda Tokimune, the son of Takeda Sokaku, would have said about Wakimachi that it was "the Southern Daito-ryu Honbu South" (the Daito-ryu headquarters in the South). Indeed, what Sato Sensei is showing us tonight is a very precise explaination of the fundamental points and techniques of Daito-ryu as I have rarely seen them before.
Takeda Sokaku Sensei
Practitioners from Osaka led by Kobayashi Kiyohiro and Kiyoaki Miki Sensei arrive during the class and everyone gets into the practice with serious and good spirit. After over an hour of practice, it is then time for the children’s class to which we also take part. Sato Sensei pairs me up with one of his black belt of his students who is just fifteen years old. What a surprise when she pins me on the ground after a textbook Ippon-dori (Ikkyo in Aikido) as I loose all possibilities of escaping! For a moment, if I close my eyes, I can almost imagine that it is Oliver who is keeping me immobilized! Sato Sensei’s students are real examples of technical precision and it is quite hard to believe that children can reach such a level.
After the children class, the adults remain for some additional practice, it is 9:00 pm and we have been up since 5:00 am... After that last practice, we finally head for an izakaya (Japanese tavern) in order to eat, drink, and talk... about Daito-ryu of course! Again, I am surprised by the friendliness and kindness of people toward me, despite my low level of Japanese. We spend a great evening until 1:00 am and the group, I jolly mood, heads back to sleep at the dojo in order to get some rest for the course of the next day.
Morning view of the mountains from Wakimachi Dojo
Sunday morning Olivier wakes me up unceremoniously. We have the honor to go with Sato Sensei to pick up Chiba Sensei at the monastery where he lives. Chiba Sensei is indeed the superior of a Buddhist temple and he lives with his family on the premises. There, we have the chance to spend nearly an hour in his company drinking green tea and listening to his stories. He relates them just as if they happened yesterday, with a communicative enthusiasm and not without a good dose of humor. Sensei shows us some old documents from his archives, photos and rolls where the names of the technical syllabus of Daito-ryu are recorded. Proof of the old age of these documents, the techniques are written with old characters rarely used nowadays. In front of this 80 year-old man past and his martial treasures, I feel really tiny and insignificant, but I hang on every word and every image. After a while Sato Sensei reminds us that we have to leave and the four of us board his car and make our way to the dojo.
Scroll recording the 118 basic Daito-ryu techniques
When we get to the dojo, the practitioners are already on the tatami and the course starts straight away. The techniques that Chiba Sensei demonstrates seem very simple, but are actually incredibly precise and refined. Chiba Sensei is a student of Sensei Heizaburo Nakatsu who was once a great Judoka and a direct student of Sokaku Takeda Sensei. Although Chiba Sensei was not a direct student of Takuma Hisa Sensei, he has taught many of the greatest instructors of the Takumakai such as Kawabe Takeshi and Araki Masunori Sensei, among many others. Chiba Sensei demonstrates is techniques without much explanation but with a lot of humor, almost playfully. Fortunately the masters of the Takumakai such as Kobayashi, Abe, Araki, and many others go around and deliver precious advice in a rather informal way.
Chiba Sensei explaining a immobilization technique
It's already time to go to lunch and the practitioners all go together to a restaurant that makes Udon, the large Japanese wheat noodles. Again, we are honored to be invited to have lunch with Chiba, Onni, and Sato Sensei, an opportunity to hear more stories about the good old days!
Olivier Gaurin and me with Chiba Tsugutaka Sensei in front of the Udon restaurant
We resume the class in the afternoon under the same conditions as before. This time, it is Araki sensei who comes to me and asks me, "you are part of the 20% or the 80%? " while laughing. I look Olivier in surprise. Araki-sensei then asks me to hold him as strongly as I can and do everything I can to resist him. He projects me without much difficulty on morotedori or ryotedori and most importantly, without ever getting out of my grab, without surprising, nor hitting me. He then turns around and leaves while saying laughingly: "You, you are in the 80% ... ".
Chiba Sensei applying a pressure point on me (photo by Olivier Gaurin
Olivier then tells me that Araki Sensei previously said to him that the techniques work easily on eight people out of in ten, but for two of them, Olivier being one, it is a bit harder. Very well Araki Sensei, I take note of the lesson. This is one of the great things with Daito-ryu, it is a rational system that either works or does not, without using "tricks" or resorting to "punishment". However, I do intend to work on getting to the 20% category and above, make sure that I let Araki Sensei when I do!
Chiba Sensei explaining techniques to Olivier Gaurin
After five hours of seminar, my head is completely full of details and information and I am physically drained. Once the class is over, we proceed to the traditional group photo and everyone folds his hakama, always in good spirits. Unfortunately, it is already time to return to Tokyo, but we cannot wait to put into practice the techniques that we received today. Of course, we are eagerly looking forward to the next seminar in six months!
The group photo after the seminar
Too go further :