137) Thirty Years of Aikido Under Imaizumi Sensei: November 2018

I recently returned from the 30th year celebration seminar of Shin-Budo Kai Aikido in Albuquerque, New Mexico.  While I was out there, some attendees surprised me with a card congratulating me on my thirty years in Aikido.  This journey has not seemed as long as it has been…. It has been a remarkable journey.

I came to Aikido from other fighting disciplines and I was trying to eliminate my “knee jerk reaction” towards physical confrontation when I was instigated.   I spent my time searching for the right art and the right teacher.  When I finally decided to give it a go with Imaizumi Sensei, I was genuinely unsure if Aikido was “martial enough” for my taste.  About three months into training, I was given my first opportunity to be uke for Imaizumi Sensei.  My “meat head” perspective had me thinking that nobody I saw ever really tried to hit him as uke.  This was my moment to find out (being the meat head empiricist that I was)….. I went at him with a shomen-uchi that was a full-hilt attack.  Without his changing his demeanor, he executed his Ikkyo Irimi effortlessly.  I literally felt like I had jumped off of a building onto a trampoline.  I elevated in the air backwards and hit a wall a number of feet behind me.  As I was shaking the cobwebs out of my head, I looked up to see this gentle smile on his face and saying “just go like this” while he was replicating the arm movements.  I was sold in that moment. I knew right then and there that I wanted to be able to stay calm and centered while being so damn effective in the face of a genuine attack.   Aikido under my teacher has accomplished my initial goal and so much more in my life.  Imaizumi Sensei has inspired me to become a teacher in Aikido (in addition to my day job!).  I have been teaching Shin-Budo Kai Aikido for over ten years at my own dojo as well.  I would like to share my reflections on my journey with you.

Tada Sensei (who was one of my teacher’s instructors and oversaw the Aikikai Aikido Club at Waseda University that Imaizumi Sensei started) said: “AIKIDO can be practiced as Bujutsu, of course it can be practiced as Budo, it can be practiced as an arrest method, it can be practiced as a sport or as a health method. Women can practice it for beauty, there are many different ways, but all of them are possible.”

I personally train my Aikido to be a form of Bujutsu practice.  I encourage everyone to find their own path and reason for training in Aikido.  When people come in to ask to learn how to defend themselves through Aikido, I take them through the “inefficiencies” of this path if there is a real need to learn to protect one’s self quickly.  I point out that civility and civil manners/actions emerged out of the history of conflict.  Those manners/actions have also contributed to how modern budo developed from a warring time into a peaceful time (relatively speaking).  People recognized the remarkable qualities that many warriors possessed, which translated in to them being in-the-moment, composed people who made good decisions that reflected an appreciation for life.  The learning process in developing those warriors helped to bring out/create those wonderful characteristics in people.  That process is very relevant today and is a compelling reason to train in a martial art (as opposed to a fighting style/method).  I present the training in Aikido at my dojo as an opportunity to explore this unique paradigm and see if and how it might fit into their life.

I will be the first to say that I used to always fight this learning experience in Aikido.  I remember returning from the first Aiki Expo in 2002 (I was a nidan at that time) and I apologized to Imaizumi Sensei for simply trying to copy his form without trying to really get at the real depth and heart of the art that was behind the form.  In many respects, I began to relearn the art all over again…..  My entire approach has always been to deconstruct what I think that I know to find the flaws and holes in what I do, so that I can learn and become better at what I do.  This “relearning” of this art has taken me deep down a proverbial worm hole into “internal training.”  By that, I talk about this process as a better understanding of how the body works and how communication (particularly non-verbal communication) and interactions actually occurs.  I look for logical ways to understand these areas and struggle to develop effective ways to demonstrate and get student to replicate these processes.  I readily admit that I am always learning new things and things that I thought were nonsense are not and that things that I did not believe were possible are.  I am always deconstructing in order to better construct what I do and how I teach what I think that I know at that point in time.  I am always looking forward to the new discoveries that I find from my practice and teaching….

I have personally watched my teacher go through his own personal transformation into the “internals” and I marvel at how his movements are now very similar to those that I see in the videos of O’Sensei.  My teacher is turning 80 in December and he is still developing this stuff.  What genuinely impresses me about my teacher (going back to what Tada Sensei said) is that he encourages all of his students to develop their own unique style of Aikido, rather than become mimics of what they think that he is doing (since he is always transforming what he does, those people face an impossible task or choose to replicate one version of time of his Aikido).  I seek to maintain that same openness with my students.  I want to be able to demonstrate Aikido as an effective martial art and use that as a platform from which students can develop their Aikido to suite their needs at that time.  I  let them know that I fought this learning process and took longer to learn than many, so that if I could finally “wake-up”, there is real hope for them!

I used to get so worked up with online forums and threads and now I simply read them, chuckle and on occasion, reply.   I still laugh at being banned from Aikiweb!  Some people are so thin-skinned that they break off all communications when their precious words are challenged or they feel that in some other manner, shape or form, that they have been irreparably harmed by “unkind words”  (civil discourse seems to be a thing from the past).  I recently spent an entire day training with a person in Ushiro Karate who was so excited when he first met me because I was one of the people who followed my posts on E-Budo so many years ago!  I guess that I even made some positive impressions on some people (go figure)!  The same fruitless discussions that I railed against then, go on today.  The art that O’Sensei did was unique to him.  He was a fierce martial artist who was changing and evolving throughout his own lifetime.  He did not seem to have a problem making his Aikido work for him, nor did he whine about what a waste of time his previous training in other areas had been.  He did not have to look outside of what he was doing to create some illusion of invulnerability.  He allowed people to chose their direction with their training while he pursued his path.  So many people spend so much time trying to pin down a moving target and in doing so, miss the point and kill that which they are trying to define.  It is okay to be honest about what our training has been and is for us.  It should not have to be an indictment or glowing endorsement that only serves to bolster our own reservations and insecurities.

For those that know me, I am as hard on myself as I am on others.  Those that really know me, know that I have been through my own travails and have recently hit the proverbial “reset button” on my life again…  I find that all of my years of Aikido training have paid off in a big way.   The words that I have spoken about the potential in Aikido to change yourself for the better as a person have rung true for me.  I am genuinely happier that I have been in a long time.  There is so much that I look forward to each and every day.  I know that I continue to get better as a person and as a martial artist.  I am glad that I am a better martial artist today, than when I was more of a fighter.  Whereas I am a better fighter than when I was a fighter, I am a more peaceful, mindful, centered person who makes better choices so that I do not have to be in an unnecessary position to do harm to others.  I attribute a lot of where I am today to seeking to train and learn from people who are also hard in how they pursue seeking to further their own development in a particular path and in life in general.  I have been very lucky to have found those teachers who have been willing to take me on as a student.

I have a lot to be thankful to and look forward to in my life.  I have been incredibly fortunate to have spent the last thirty years in Aikido under Imaizumi Sensei and look forward to the years to come.  I look forward to the  years ahead learning and teaching Shin-Budo Kai Aikido.  I can only hope that I can make a positive impact upon others like my teacher has done with me.  I will continue to push myself to become better as a martial artist as I seek my path within bujutsu.  This path has nothing to do with some ridiculous notion of being invincible and all-powerful.  It has everything to do with learning to gain a better appreciation for life and learning how to better live in the moment through the type of training that I do.


Marc Abrams Sensei

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