The like when there is an alike opens to a link

Voigtlander-Vitomatic-II.Web.051When there is a liking, there is a linking. Photography by Nguyen Thanh Thien © 2017

Last week-end, I was in Brunssum, Netherlands, sharing Ringenkai Aikido with John Luijten’s students and friends.

We went through many techniques, got to the principles which organise movements with a logical access. We explored Jo extensions of technique. I stressed the importance of strong stances and how it allows the upper body to concentrate on its most vital function, breathing.

We shared understanding of how Ikkyo, Nikyo and Sankyo are one within different distances, how Shiho Nage bears Kote Gaeshi and how Kote Gaeshi delivers Irimi Nage. In the approach which is mine, learning One opens to Two and Two leads to Three. The like when there is an alike opens to a link. I like to see this manner of studying as searching for a path. There is a link between the elements of our study. It is as important to look out for the elements as it is to walk the path from one to his neighbour.

Within each elements there is a liking for the follower, an invitation for each of us to the next step, an urge to move ahead. This linking sews Aihanmi to Men Uchi, Katate Dori to Yokomen.

It is a linking which binds us to the dojo. It is a linking which brought us together this year and hopefully will bring us to meet again next year in Brussum and … maybe in France.

I wish you all a fruitful study.

Eyes wide open

contax.167MT.Web.024Photography by Nguyen Thanh Thien © 2017

Practising is opening the eye of the body. Shiho Nage or Ikkyo are movements, steps, journeys along a road, a way, a manner. In the manner of our masters, we put our steps in their own steps, unveiling new landscapes. This is how I understand that Aikido techniques lead to a vision of Aiki.

Lets journey eyes wide open, with the eyes of our body. Lets journey within our body, within the link to our counterpart, within the dojo.

See tomorrow at John Luijten’s dojo in Brunssum for a 2 days workshop. I will teach there once a year, should we share the road together.

On the move

2017.03.15.005.WebAt one time, a teaching has to get on the move. Quai des Grands Augustins from the Place Saint-Michel, Paris, France. Photography by Nguyen Thanh Thien © 2017

I will be teaching in Brunssum at John Luijten’s dojo, Netherlands, this coming Saturday and Sunday.

It is an unusual thing for me to do. These last years, I have chosen to stay in my dojo(s) at home and study. This as enabled me to dig deeper in the teaching of my masters.

In the past, I have been to workshops here and there, in France, in Japan, sometimes in neighbour countries. Each time, I rushed back home to study what had been learnt and shared.

John invited me a few years ago, maybe in 2007. I came each year to his dojo but at one time I needed to concentrate on deepening the understanding, my understanding of the movements and the structures of Aikido. Yet, I had spent great time in his dojo with his students, children and adults. Time to unfold what I had grasped. Time to meet their enthusiasm and eagerness to walk the Aiki Way.

Saturday, I will be opening paths to the 6 manners (structural work), Tori and Uke no kata (inner movements), 1st and 2nd forms (binding of structure and movements). Sunday, we will go into Taïso as essential teaching, Jo and Bokken in the Aiki forms as taught by Noro Masamichi senseï  and his free work preparing for Taninzu Dori.

This program is quite extensive so please have a good night’s rest before. 😉

Very happy to be back among you.

Feel free to attend next workshop at John Luijten’s dojo in Brunssum. I will teach there once a year, should we share the road together.

True study of martial arts

Jardin japonais Albert KahnPhotography by Antonin Borgeaud © 2007

One always complains of what one has received. Did the master teach the true art, the true technique, the true spirit? Did he keep the essential for himself? Did he understand his own master? I read and hear these complaints since the beginning of my study of martial arts in 1970.

I have never joined this choral.

One hears that the students are of lower quality and are not able to grasp the secrets of their master. I hear that the mould of ancient masters has been broken. I read that our time weakens the heart and bones of today’s beginners.

I have never joined this choral.

True study is my aim. I have to take up practise, choose the best teacher available and keep making efforts. This opening of trail is the access to mastery. Complaint is no such road.

I hear that Ueshiba Morihei sensei was the only one to be able to realize Aikido. By realizing, I mean understanding, and doing. I read that Musashi was the only one to realize his teaching. This path leads to despair.

I do not join this choral neither.

Once Noro Masamichi sensei asked me how I saw the coming year. I answered: “Full of great expectations.” He considered my answer and said then: “Hope is a great treasure for men.”

I join his choral.

Once when an old age illness caught Noro Masamichi sensei, he was on the phone listening to a suffering old friend and Aiki companion. He told his mate: “You cannot despair, you are the student of Ueshiba Morihei sensei.”

I join his choral.

Aikido is about technique led by spirit. Technique is the cobblestone on which we walk; spirit is the sight which urges us to move on, one cobble after the other, from one horizon to the next and beyond.

I join this companionship.

Feel free to attend next workshop at John Luijten’s dojo in Brunssum. I will teach there once a year, should we share the road together.

Why do masters tell stories?

2017.03.15.007.WebThis picture tells me of Irimi Nage. We are earthly bound, yet we are promised to higher dwellings. Though it is rooted on one island, Notre-Dame shifts its light to the darkest corners of the human heart. Photography by Nguyen Thanh Thien © 2016

Noro Masamichi sensei’s relation to his master’s technique was quite unique. Many tried to stick to the model or on the opposite quit the model as quickly as they can. Noro sensei did this differently. In appearance his movements are distinctively Noro sensei’s. They have this way of shifting the weight to the back leg or emphasizing on the stance. Yet more deeply, Noro sensei was moving forward, ever, towards his counterpart. In the form, I see difference. In depth, I see a meeting with his master at each move. He would stop a movement, saying: “This I do not understand but my master did it this way, so I do it this way.” His techniques were a means of meeting Ueshiba Morihei sensei. For my master, they were a step “through the looking glass”, a step beyond, in French an “outrepas”.

They had to be in time and in space. In time, I mean in the rhythm of the counterpart. In space, I mean gathering the space from one horizon to the other, the finger pointing at the far horizon, not as a limit of one’s arm’s reach.

I remember meeting with Eliane Boulongne sensei, who brought Sogetsu Ikebana to France. She said many were feeding on Ikebana to do sculpture or painting or else but what she really wanted to stick to was balance, equilibrium. In Noro sensei’s art, there is a constant return to this equilibrium, this unique quality which is the sign of long lasting construction.

I remember Noro sensei one day came to me and did Irimi Nage. The way he did it, slowly and gently lifting me, pointing at the horizon, through my spine, catching my heels, this way was his teaching, his memory of his master’s Irimi nage, his study of it. Ever flowing and never leaving the spring.

I now understand Orpheus as his beloved was walking out of darkness. He did not have to turn back, to turn his back to light. It is darkness which is to ride the way to light. Noro sensei’s art was centred on his master’s art, calling it to light, not stepping back to darkness.

This is what went through my mind as I was sitting in the dojo when Noro sensei was teaching. This is what I do in the dojo. I hear Noro sensei talking again and again of Ueshiba Morihei’s Irimi Nage. I listen to him as I practise.

The questions are “Why do masters tell stories?” and “Why do we listen to them?”

Feel free to attend next workshop at John Luijten’s dojo in Brunssum. I will teach there once a year, should we share the road together.

Through the gate of despair

CANON-FT-QL029.WebProgress is to be found among tremendous hardship. Photography by Nguyen Thanh Thien © 2016

When Noro san entered Ueshiba Morihei sensei’s dojo, Tamura Nobuyoshi san acted as his sempai, elder student. They soon became best friends. This I have written earlier.

Tamura san was the son of a sword master, maybe a kendo master, I do not recall. When Tamura san and Noro san had a friendly bout, Tamura san with a bokken and Noro san with a jo, Tamura san would win.

As Noro san had turned to the wooden staff at the recommendation of Ueshiba Morohei sensei, he worked hard and harder at perfecting his technique. One day, the unexpected happened. Tamura san took his favorite stance with his bokken while Noro san took a Chudan stance with the jo. The two friends were facing one another, motionless. Noro san remembers: “The jo in my hands just moved forward as I entered the distance between the two of us. It struck Tamura sensei to the eyebrow. This brought the bout to an end. From time to time, Tamura sensei would have a headache starting at this eyebrow. I wonder if he remembers my strike that day.” This brought their bouts to an end.

At one time, Noro sensei would come to a feeling of self-dissatisfaction. He had the feeling of not being able to improve his Aikido. In the evening, he discussed the matter with his master. He thought it was useless for him to go on practising, he felt at a dead end. Ueshiba sensei looked onto to his student with no surprise as he knew him well and had seen the discontent grow, day after day. He told him to do from now on Ikkyo. It lasted at least one year. Noro sensei was doing only Ikkyo when others studied all the other movements. He even earned Ikkyo as a nickname. He would tell us how he appreciated the help of Kobayashi Hirokasu sensei who acted as Uke for him during that entire year. Morning, Ikkyo. Afternoon, Ikkyo. Evening, Ikkyo. This unabled Noro sensei to get through the gate of despair which awaits all serious martial artists at one time.

Later while in Paris, he would study Shiho Nage for one year. His students were to become known for their Shiho Nage. He did loose many students that year, through boredom. He also studied Irimi Nage for a long period of time, questioning the Irimi Nage he had felt in the hands of Ueshiba Morihei sensei. He would recall that one day as he was greatly injured by a car accident, he brought together all his energy to step on the tatami and do Irimi Nage. Amidst terrible weakness, he awoke to Irimi Nage as he had felt it when he was Uke to Ueshiba Morihei sensei. “It was the movement of a lifetime”, said he.”It was it.” I guess his Uke was Asai Katsuaki sensei but I am not sure.

Noro sensei has always kept open the flow of teaching coming down from Ueshiba Morihei sensei. It is studied by my students and I within Ringenkai Aikido. It is also studied by Asai Katsuaki sensei and his students and, of course, by Noro Masamichi sensei’s successor and son, Noro Takeharu sensei. Some of us keep open the path of our master. Please feel free to join the dojos close to your home.

Young deshi

pierresThe will of a beginner is not second to the strength of rocks. Photography by Nguyen Thanh Thien © 2016

Noro Masamichi was Otomo to Ueshiba Morihei sensei, Otomo meaning serving disciple, the closest one. It was not an easy task. He had to care at all time, night and day. In the beginning, he lacked sleep as Ueshiba sensei would burst into his room in the middle of the night yelling. It was his way to train young Noro to react and even foresee his attack. One night, he opened quietly the sliding panel to find Noro ready for his master. From then on, he stopped this training, being sure Noro Masamichi was ready to care for his safety at any time.

He also asked Noro Masamichi to massage his back. There was no explanation nor theory prior to this request. Noro san was to move up and down his back tirelesly. The morning following this first experience, Noro san had swollen thumbs. Yet, in the evening, Ueshiba sensei call onto him to massage him. Little by little, Noro san was able to massage his master correctly, understanding the needs of his master without explanation.

He also had to accompany his master along trips throughout Japan, carrying his luggage and caring for his safety. He did not really appreciate the experiment as Ueshiba sensei was all the time talking to other travellers, lecturing them on Aikido. Young Noro felt embarrassed. Later when he was to promote Aikido in Europe and Africa, he would reconsider his master’s attitude.

Sometimes, Noro san was unhappy with his master. Those days, he would add garlic to the food. His master had a dislike for garlic. Ueshiba sensei would enter the room, smell the food and with a frown of discontent, leave and get back to his room. Yet, Noro san learnt much from him as he did not let the situation in a poor state. One day, Noro san was very unhappy and to mark his position, lit a cigarette in front of a distinguished visitor. The visitor then asked the master who was this person in the room. Ueshiba sensei replied: “He is my son.” Noro san was abashed at such an honour, such recognition in the words of his master that he stopped smoking and changed his attitude in gratitude for the public acknowledgement his master had bestowed upon him.

One day, Ueshiba sensei called Noro san to his room and told him to come with a bokken. Noro san rushed to fetch a bokken and run back hoping to learn the sword directly from Ueshiba Morihei sensei. Ueshiba sensei told him to take a stance. In a split of a second, he hit the wooden sword of his student, thrusting it out of his grip. With a frown of surprise at the weakness of his student, he left the room without a word. This did leave a wound in the heart of Noro san. Later, he would tell us to beware of our words and our attitude for, with a little frown, we can deeply hurt our students.

Since this event, Noro san concentrated on the wooden staff, the jo. He would train and train. One day, he had travelled to Iwama with his master. Ueshiba sensei, sitting by the keiko area, told him to do some exercise with the jo. Noro san took up the exercise. Some time after, he was sweating and in pain but there was no sign from his master to tell him to stop. So he went on. He could now barely lift his arms. Still no sign. When he could no longer move his arms, in great pain, he crawled to him only to discover he had fallen asleep. At that moment, Ueshiba sensei woke up and, a bit embarrassed at having fallen asleep, said: “Good, good, now you may stop.” Noro sensei would later tell us that the master says when to begin an exercise and only the master says when to stop.

These lessons have lead me to this day. I have since become the student of two soke, in the school of Miyamoto Musashi. These lessons among many others have guided my path through great trials. They are our guidelines in Ringenkai Aikido.