A long awaited meeting after eight years

Warning: This post is going to be pretty Aikido-intensive and technical. Read at your own risk!

One of the highlights of coming to Berkeley for my exchange semester in Spring 1999 was the opportunity to train with Pietro Maida Sensei at the Ki No Kenyukai dojo. It says something about his teaching when his words still resonates so strongly with me even after 8 years. I get asked pretty often what the differences are between practitioners of various Aikido schools like Ki Society and Aikikai, and while officially, there are some broad strokes that led to the founder of that particular school breaking off and starting something on his/her own, in my humble half-baked potato opinion, most times you can't really tell, and it depends on a lot on the instructor of the dojo and what he/she wants to teach you.

So managed to find out the new location of the dojo, thanked my lucky stars that there was public transportation there, and was surprised and very very happy that Sensei still remembered me! Must be the time I bopped him on the head with a bokken by accident and he remarked that I was trying to 'leave an impression'.

Mention Ki Society, and many people think of esoteric meditation techniques to 'focus your Ki', movements that are too soft to be of any practical use, and people skipping about on the dojo mat. But frankly, I get flung around pretty good in this dojo too (no charity falls here!), and I kinda suspect that Maida Sensei may have missed throwing someone about like that, given the glee on his face as he tossed me all over the mat. He said that while the nage is supposed to be as non-aerobic in his movements as possible, the ukemi can be very big and that's where you get your workout.

The thing about training with Maida Sensei is that it can be stressful in the sense that he closely scrutinises every aspect of your movements. So you cannot getaway with being lazy for one technique, going through the motions, or thinking that you've got it just because you completed the throw. So I did a shiho-nage ura, but I 'floated' and lost one point when I did the irimi under my partner's arm. I would have lost balance if my uke moved or pushed me. So I managed to do a zenpo-nage without pulling my uke along, but my front foot lifted off when I released the uke, and that's unstable. He could tell instantly, what the one thing bugging me about a particular technique is, just by watching it. Even for the rowing exercise, had to concentrate on all my little movements as there was Q&A after the exercise- what did you do first? how did that make you feel? On one hand, it reinforces the beginner's mind and it makes you evaluate your movements a lot, on the other hand, it was definitely not good for my poor ego to be pummelled like that, like what have I been doing the last 9 years of training??? Waaaa......

Stayed back after class on Friday and we talked a bit about aikido and stuff. Was telling him about all the trouble I have with those big and strong beginners who like attacking hard and fast, as if to test you, and how it was difficult to do the regular movements with them, and also doing kokyo-ho/doza with those super seniors who clamp you down and render your hands immobile. He gave an interesting tip for kokyo-ho- to try and hug your partner. Like struggling to move your hands would send signals that make it easy for the uke to resist, but just move as if trying to hug them, and they should move with you, and it is very hard to get someone to move against his/her will, even if you are highly skilled. Haha, will have to try that out at the next seminar...

The other thing about training with Sensei was his sense of humour. He's tough on you, but he's nice about it. Like this really bad joke he made..... He said he found it more amazing that we can insert keys into our doors on the very first try every single time, than if we can execute aikido techniques, as the key hole is so tiny, and the key fits exactly into it. But yet, there're no poke marks all over our doors- so why is our hand-eye coordination so good there?? It's definitely not some high-level skill that you need to fall off a mountain to attain.
Ans: Because you are extending 'key'..... (yeah yeah, it's very bad)

And because he trains directly with Tohei Sensei (wowowowow....), we get to hear stories about Tohei Sensei and his training days with O-Sensei that you won't find in the biographies. That definitely makes me smile!

After two days of training, my head is just chock-ful of stuff to think about. Before I left, Maida Sensei asked me to consider a stint as uchi deshi in his dojo for at least six months, after I'm done with my degree. I'm pretty honoured and humbled that he asked me, I mean, he hasn't seen me in years. It's definitely something to consider over the next few years huh?


AdamNg said…
yeah i know what u're toking abt..the dojo i'm training at is an off-shoot of ki-society, and in some aspects are radically different from aikikai folks. they have a knack for catching very subtle stuff and it can be very frustrating when I get stopped at almost every movement when they feel its 'not correct'. But their kokyu-ho method is darn good..its almost not using the hands. Still trying to figure out how to do it.
Scott Zrubek said…
Invited to be an uchi-deshi. Cool!
bluebabe said…
Their interception for yokomen-uchi very good too! I got bopped on the head a few times while trying to do shiho-nage with Sensei. Yeah, for the kokyo-ho I wasn't supposed to move my hands at all...kinda leaned in, and then lift off my heels keeping the same posture. I just keep thinking that I'm going forward to hug my partner!

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