About a week and a half have passed since Akuzawa Sensei and Manabu Watanabe have left and I can’t stop myself from thinking about Aunkai practice over and over again and working on what I have been taught, while I’m walking around, driving in my car doing ‘Car Maho’ and practically all other daily activities. In addition to that, I keep reviewing the DVDs, personal notes on the various exercises, the philosophy and methodology of Aunkai that I keep adding to, re-reading old Interviews that I have saved from the web, and collating it all for myself to make more and more sense of it all. The entire 12 days of the ‘Aunkai New Zealand Tour 2014’ have been so rich and I am still trying to process it all that I don’t even know how to write a review of it all. I will try to share some very unsorted thoughts, impressions, and sensation, rather than recount the entire time and information in a very sorted, clear and chronological fashion.
So one thing that was very special and that I am very grateful for is all the time I’ve been able to share both with Akuzawa Sensei and (Sempai) Watanabe off the mat, before, after, and in-between the seminars in Auckland and Christchurch. Particularly, apart from some time spent training more personally, what I mean is having had the opportunity to not just meet the teacher, but the person behind the teacher. This is not to be mistaken to signify a disconnect or difference between the two, on the contrary, there is actually a complete congruence there and so I have experienced a man that is deeply committed to the study and practice of Bujutsu, whose thinking always returns to it and never circles too far away from it, and whose body and mind have integrated the principles of his art into his daily life. Over and beyond, I have also met someone who is simply fun to be around, who laughs and jokes around constantly, is very down to earth, open-minded and open-hearted, generous and easy-going, yet a strong, independent and deep thinker and a keen observer of everything that happens around him. Whether as a result of all these character traits or despite them, importantly, Sensei never seemed to set himself apart from anyone and never claimed to be more special than anyone else, nor radiated such an attitude at any point. Quite the contrary, Sensei was just a very normal kind of guy, just like you and me, thus generated a very immediate feeling of comfort and familiarity when being around him. It is special to be that normal. Equally, I have to mention that I am just as grateful and in fact happy to have made a true new friend in my Aunkai Sempai Manabu Watanabe.
Having said that, it needs little addition from me to point out how very much Akuzawa Sensei’s bujutsu skills stand-out. I think there is already a considerable amount of videos, interviews, reviews, etc. available on the web that reiterate this point in sufficient detail, so I don’t think I have to add much more to it. If it means anything, I had been observing Sensei from afar (via the web) over a number of years and desperately wanted to train with him because I intuited him to be a great martial artist of the highest level. It was almost surreal to me when he actually arrived in New Zealand and shortly after stood on the mat, following the invite of a total stranger (me..) to visit and teach here. It took me quite a while to adjust to the fact that a long-held dream of mine had materialised and was very suddenly right in front of me… and that is not on my laptops screen. Suffice to say that my intuitions were met and in fact surpassed on both a technical and as mentioned, personal level.
Very early on, I noticed a very particular ‘superpower’ of Sensei that is related to his technical skills or results from them, but I have not yet seen or heard noticed or mentioned anywhere and can actually easily go unnoticed. To be clear, Sensei’s practice and bujutsu skill are a very serious matter to him and he trains and teaches with the utmost concentration, often displaying a considerable explosiveness and speed in his movements paired with exacting precision. The ‘superpower’ I am alluding to, however, is unfailing and works with literally everyone regardless of height, weight, age, or else, and that is that he makes literally everyone smile as he makes his way around the mat, helping people with their experimentations, showing them stuff etc etc. Oftentimes this smile is linked to a demonstration of something and from close-up or afar (and without ever having asked anyone about it), seems to go along the lines of any of the following: a ‘how the hell did he just move me’ smile of disbelief by a tall and strong person, or really anyone else; a ‘wow that looks so nice’ smile; or a ‘what just happened he moved so fast I couldn’t even see it’ smile; a smile following a joke; a ‘I know I was just thrown but have no idea how’ smile following a throw by Sensei; or a smile after being told to throw him that seems to express a ‘you must be joking, it does not feel like I will be able to move you at all’; and many more such examples. Given that we had 70+ participants overall at the Aunkai NZ Tour 2014 I can assure you that was a lot of smiles created over the two week period.
I really don’t think I need to get into the detail of his principle-based ‘technical’ teaching, as there is so much available online already. Akuzawa Sensei’s ability to move every joint of his body with great precision and control, absorb incoming forces, produce incredible amounts of outgoing force, yet at the same time always stay relaxed is truly astonishing. But what is maybe more important and what came out really strongly for me, is that yet again he does not sell himself as being special, but on the contrary repeatedly says and gives you the feeling that we can all achieve the particular skills he is displaying given the right kind of practice. And this is precisely what Akuzawa Sensei has created and is sharing with the Aunkai method. I think this can be easily misunderstood, or again, go unnoticed, but the methodology and exercises put together under the Aunkai umbrella are a very clear and straight forward process, that although requiring considerable amounts of personal effort, time and hard work, can get you from where you are to where he is on a fairly straight line (that never closes itself off to further development/experimentation).
In essence, Akuzawa Sensei has undone with secrets, but has simply laid it out there and keeps spilling and spilling, and sharing and sharing with anyone who expresses even the most remote amount of interest. I mean, pretty much directly upon his arrival, after having dropped his luggage off at my house and strolling through the city, he began showing me stuff as we were walking along, alerting to the importance of posture, dropping my center of gravity, etc etc. Later in the evening, having dinner at my house, he would ask my fiancee (who practices no martial arts at all) to ‘come, stand up, I will show you’ this and that. And even after two full seminars, Sensei continued teaching at the bar where we were all having end-of-seminar drinks, over beers and food, moving from person to person, inviting them to feel how he does something, ask questions, etc etc. Again,NO secrets whatsoever, if you asked him what the essence of Aunkai was, that is exactly what he would tell and show you, on the spot and with the greatest passion you can think of. And at the risk of repeating myself over and over, this is also exactly what Aunkai is: an open book for anyone to read, explore and experiment with – a clear methodology and step-by-step process towards learning a particular set of fundamental skills, or as he says. ‘the development of a martial body’ from which an infinite number of techniques can emerge as an adaptation to requirements of anything that presents itself.
This is certainly one of the greatest gifts that I take away from this time, the seminars, but also and importantly, the conversations and small and large training sessions with Sensei and Sempai in between. Particularly this period of ‘processing’ and reviewing the available material and DVDs has made this clear to me and I feel as though having felt and trained with Sensei and Manabu Watanabe. It is not that I can do it all, but that I feel as though I have been completely freely gifted the key alongside the trust and encouragement to explore and experiment with what I find behind the newly opened door. This is the strongest and most important foundation for my future study of Aunkai from here forward and I feel confident and could not be more highly motivated than I am to walk along this path.
The clarity also comes from and with another feeling that I had, at times at the seminars, but most explicitly during a training session with Sensei and Sempai at the beach around the corner from my house and that continued or deepened a sensation I had on Orban Sensei’s last visit to NZ in April. I can’t really describe what was largely a physical sensation and I don’t want to sound presumptuous, but it had to do with actually ‘feeling’ in and with my body, what is meant with a connected or unified body, moving it as a unit, as well as a strong sensation of my center, almost oddly deep inside my body. Now I might just be a late bloomer and everyone else might already have that, but to me, it felt sufficiently different and instantly generated (another) huge smile on my face. In that instance, I felt a childish excitement (those who know me will know that this is a frequent description of me during Budo/Bujutsu practice..) and the thought that popped into my head without any premeditation was ‘THIS IS IT! This is what Budo/Bujutsu is really about! This is the sh**! It is what I have always read and thought about, looked for, the stuff of legends, and it is actually possible! And it is all right here, at my beach and ‘this guy’ (sorry, I mean Sensei!) is teaching a direct path to it without any unnecessary ‘stuff’ around it!’. I could not believe it. And then it was suddenly gone…
I guess I better stop writing about this here, but I am not at all sad about it being gone. As I have already said to some people in talking about this, I am well aware that I can’t really ‘do it’ at all times and with everyone. Quite the contrary, I get stuck all the time, not last with the many people in NZ that are taller and much stronger than me (What is it with the crazy rugby-genes in NZ away and why did I never get any of those back in Europe, I mean seriously people!?). But what I have had and what is not lost is my vision of that light at the end of this very long, long (long, long, long) tunnel and as I have said, I am grateful for having been gifted the methodological key and experienced the bodily sensation, that will enable me to walk towards it with clarity and conviction.
This is also critical for me going forward from here. Akuzawa Sensei’s visit here marks a beginning for me in many ways. First off, it is clear to me that I want to continue to study and practice Aunkai Bujutsu and I am glad I have had such an outstanding opportunity at making a beginning. Also, at the same stroll through the city, when Akuzawa Sensei literally had me stand with my back against a wall, heels, back and head touching it and said ‘Now walk, but no muscle.’, it was immediately clear to me that this time would be very much a ‘start from zero’ experience that would highlight how little I can do. This was repeated immediately after with a grab to my hand and the instruction to ‘now lift my hand’, where I felt that I would not produce even an inch of movement, and many similar situations and laughter over the weeks to follow. As much as this might seem unwelcome or unpleasant, for me, it actually opens a huge space for learning in front, which I look towards with much excitement. Its funny, but I am excited at the prospect of wearing a white belt again for my Aunkai practice (not that belts do more than hold up our pants anyway, but you get what I mean). In this context, I hope for and look forward to the long continuation of my study of Aunkai under the direction of Akuzawa Sensei and hopefully the many more seminars we will arrange in NZ with him and other Aunkai Instructors.
Further, I am honoured and humbled that Akuzawa Sensei seemed very happy with his time in New Zealand following my invitation and that he has expressed his support for the formation of the first two official Aunkai Study Groups in Oceania, one in Christchurch led by Liam O’Donoghue and the other in Auckland lead by myself. If you are on the South Island and for information on the former please contact Liam directly via Otautahi Aikido Christchurch, without whom the Chch seminar would not have been possible. At this stage, both groups will start with one regular weekly class. The Aunkai Study Group Auckland launches on 8 January 2015 and will betraining every Thursday from 8-9.15pm at Jikishin Dojo Auckland, whilst Aunkai exercises will also continue to influence all other sessions. At some stage next year, we will also arrange Aunkai NZ study days/seminars in Auckland and Christchurch where members of both groups and all others that are interested will come together and share practice with each other. Given all these beginnings, it seems even more fitting that I happened to use the Agyo figure of the respective A-un pair, which I felt somewhat resembled the shape of NZ (see the first image in the post) and which also marks ‘the beginning’, for the backside of the tour T-shirt that I had put together. In this sense, I don’t want to waste any more of our precious practice time.