Aunkai Bujutsu - Interim Report part 2

Training with a Bo

So after my complete failure to stick to my writing plan in the first part of my Aunkai Interim Report, I will set the stakes a little lower this time round and merely try to finish off my review of the first two weeks I’ve spent training Aunkai with Akuzawa Sensei and Manabu Watanabe during their visit to NZ in November 2014. Roughly anyway…

I won’t even go into any technical detail this time round, but just add that another ‘technical’ or practice-oriented bit that really stood out for me and that reverberates ever since was the topic of training with a Bo.

Mainly outside of the regular seminars, Akuzawa Sensei showed and had me practicing a range of solo and partner exercises using a Bo. Before then, I had a number of interviews with him and had noticed that he mentioned the importance of training with a Bo in almost all of them (have a search on google and check Stan Pranin’s Aikidojournal Interview, as well as two interviews on Leo Tamaki’s blog, and a few others). I can’t be bothered searching through those just now, but as Aunkai Group Leader France, Christophe ‘Kiaz’ Ksiazkiewicz aptly summarizes, according to Akuzawa Sensei…

The Bo (long staff and/or spear) is the most appropriate or ideal training implement to teach us how to move.

There are a variety of reasons for this in the context of Aunkai, as well as a whole range of exercises and ways in which it is used for training. As for the reasons, briefly put, it is because the nature of the Bo makes it a rich (bio-)feedback tool that provides us with information about the way in which we use our body in relation to it. In other words, it’s weight, length, and shape, force our bodies to firstly, try to adapt to it, be it to carry its weight, wield it around, or else; and then secondly, possibly improve those adaptations as we continue to practice. We learn how the weight and force of the Bo, accentuated by any momentum added to it by our movements affect us, what we are doing or might do better to deal with this effect.There’s a fair bit more to this, but I’ve promised (myself) that I wouldn’t get carried away, so I’ll just leave it there.

As for the exercises, again, there are a whole lot that Akuzawa Sensei recommends in the context of Aunkai practice and it would be impossible for me to mention, let alone cover all of them in a single post. Roughly speaking, in Aunkai we use the Bo for all four main parts of our training, that is, the solo exercises, partner training, the gradual practice of applications, and finally, free practice / sparring. To be clear however, Aunkai is not some new form of Bojutsu, nor does it explicitly aim to provide some form of foundation skill or understanding for some form of Bojutsu. The aim is much more so, on using the Bo as a helpful tool for the development of the general, mind and bodily qualities that we seek to develop on the whole. So while I have included ‘applications’ in the above list, as with the majority of Aunkai Bujutsu, the focus of training with a Bo is on using it in our solo and partner training exercises that seek to develop the frame, connection, spiralling force, etc.

This means that the Bo can basically be used for any of our solo exercises, from the fundamental three standing exercises – Maho, Tenchijin, and Shiko – through each and every other exercise, be it standing or in motion. In addition or extension of these, there is also the simple practice of a straight downward strike (along the line of a shomen uchi), and a straight thrust (or tsuki) forward. In the series of videos below, I’ve included a few examples that also encompass the latter and a few others: beginning with a variation of Shintaijuku with a Bo performed by Manabu Watanabe, which can be progressed to a Shomen strike as performed by Kiaz, then a basic tsuki exercise by Manabu, which can for example be progressed into a partner exercises as presented by Akuzawa Sensei and Manabu, or an empty hand exploration as shown by Sensei, and finally, a little more free play in the last video with Akuzawa Sensei from a seminar in Hungary in 2014.

Keep in mind that these are just a few examples and there are more to be found, both on youtube, as well as on all four of the official Aunkai DVDs. I recommend all of these highly as it is, but certainly, also if you are interested in this aspect of Aunkai practice. And while all of this can be found in all of these places, I am secretly also hoping that Akuzawa Sensei will eventually produce another DVD exclusively dedicated to Bo training… this blog post is part of my scheme in this direction, by all of which I hope to drum up more and more interest in this topic and thus eventually force him to give in to ‘market demand’ 😉

Variety aside however, since those two weeks in November 2014 I’ve been spending most of my time training with a Bo on silly amounts of repetitions of the ‘simple’ tsuki and shomen uchi exercise, plus another one which I can only fail to describe, so won’t even go into. Simple as they may seem and look, the insights and benefits I’ve been getting and gaining from these have been huge, and I’m saying this after nearly 20 years of Kenjutsu, Aiki-Ken, and Aiki-Jo practice. To the point that I’ve become convinced that anyone wanting to learn Kenjutsu should start with the Bo or spear, prior to even picking up a sword, and I have in fact been making some of my new (and old students) go through this, or at least add it to their training.

All in all, this has hugely spiked my interest in training with long staffs, poles, spears and the likes and I have begun exploring this a lot more widely ever since, whilst continuing to keep up all of the above. That this kind of training is important in the traditional martial arts is by no means a revolutionary insight, nor in any way new, especially if we look to the Chinese martial arts. Similarly, pretty much all of the Koryu Bugei of Japan included Bojutsu and Sojutsu components and there are even a few that focus specifically on the spear, like for example Owarikan-ryu Sojutus and Saburi-ryu Sojutsu. There’s no direct link here to Aunkai Bo training, nor do I intend to discuss their relation to the Chinese styles here, but I’ll include two videos of each here just for the heck of it, as some of you might be interested in such a wider research.

While I personally always find this kind of broader perspective and research interesting, it is important to not fall into the trap of a ‘technical’ tunnel vision, at least in my opinion. To reiterate, this is because the important part of training with this weapons, in a sense especially in today’s world, is not in their use for fighting on the street, or in an otherwise martial context (remember that last spear fight you had the other day..!?). Much rather, the long staffs and poles help us learn and develop certain mind and bodily qualities more easily, that we then seek to translate into empty-hand practice and sparring, and beyond (see the last post on this ‘beyond’).

It is this kind of practice with a Bo that I’ve also been sharing at various seminars already, and I’ve begun including them in regular Aunkai, Aikido, and Kenjutsu classes ever since, and from what I’m gathering people are enjoying it… apart from their usual bewilderment with my excitement about the simplest and seemingly most meaningless of movements (not to mention the standing poses)..

This then finally brings me to the topic with which I will finish this post, and it is simply and briefly about the continuation and progress of training in New Zealand since the first ever Aunkai NZ Tour in November 2014. First off, two study groups have been formed, one in each of the locations in which the first two Aunkai seminars have been held at the time, together forming and representing Aunkai New Zealand. The Aunkai study group Christchurch is led by our friend Liam O’Donoghue, himself a 5th Dan in Buikukai Aikido with over 30 years of training and the head of Otautahi Aikido, and training takes places in a workshop format about once or twice a month. Generally enthusiastic about their training, these guys are hugely passionate about Aunkai ever since and take it to the beach on an almost regular basis, so I can’t recommend enough that you go visit and train with them should you ever be in the area. The photos should speak for themselves…

Liam also ran the first ever fully dedicated Aunkai Study Day in for our Aunkai study group up here in Auckland following his attendance at an Aunkai 4-day intensive with Akuzawa Sensei and Manabu Watanabe at the Fudoshin Dojo Leipzig, Germany. Gray Gillespie, one of our members who also runs a Chu Shong Tin Style Wing Chun school here in Auckland also wrote a review about this day and you can find it here. Though prompted by some unfortunate mishaps, we have also recently had our first ever two-day, Introduction to Aunkai seminar here in Auckland, as well as our first ever Shiatsu and Aunkai workshop shortly thereafter.

There’s no doubt that I might be biased about these, but I’ve found all of these occasions to be really fun and insightful, for me personally certainly from both a teaching perspective, as well as the more important learning perspective, and I look forward to many more of them in whichever format they may be. Naturally, the next big one I am looking forward to our next Aunkai seminar with Akuzawa Sensei in November 2016. If you are still keen to join us there, get in touch with me through the event contact form or via email ASAP, especially as I have only 9 spots left at this stage and we will be strictly limiting the event to 40 attendants to guarantee the best possible learning environment.

Finally, apart from all of these study days and seminars, our Aunkai Study Group Auckland offers regular classes and personal training in Aunkai Bujutsu and you can find all relevant information in this regard on our website here. And as in the case of our various seminars, workshops and other events, all of these classes encompass all aspects of Aunkai Bujutsu practice, including the training with a Bo that I have written about here.

So on that note, I’ll leave the rest of what I wanted to include in my Interim Report for an upcoming third part, and in the meantime, I will see you on the mat..