For the last instalment of my Aunkai Interim Report, I wanted to make a few comments on the topic of connection. I’m thinking of connection in two different ways here, the first of them relating to my practice of Aunkai in various places around the world.
Outside of Tokyo, Aunkai is undoubtedly most strongly represented in France, and the group of people making up Aunkai France has been the most consistent and longest-standing group of people training under Akuzawa Sensei’s instruction. I’m not entirely sure, but I think it’s been close to 10 years now that Akuzawa Sensei has been visiting France and by now, these visits have become a regular institution twice every year. Apart from France, Akuzawa Sensei and his assistants have also visited and conducted seminars in a range of other countries, including the USA, NZ, Hungary, Switzerland, Hong Kong, Singapore, Seoul, Belgium, and Germany (apologies if I am forgetting some and haven’t included all links). In some of these places, either permanent groups or study groups have also been established that are continuing the practice and research of Aunkai Bujutsu in their regions.
While I have not been able to meet anyone from Aunkai France so far, this year has been off to a good start, and so I’ve been able to meet up and train with some of the other Aunkai students and practitioners around the world so far, and I already know of a few more meetings to come.. 😉 So apart from my short visit to GNK core in Seoul in the beginning of this year, I’ve been fortunate enough to spend 4 days of intensive training in regular classes and personal training sessions with Akuzawa Sensei and the assistants and students at Aunkai Honbu Dojo in Tokyo, Japan, at the end of January this year. Suffice it to say that I look forward to many more occasions of training Aunkai in Tokyo, as I have thoroughly enjoyed every moment I’ve had with each and everyone there, both on and off the mat. I can’t wait to see all of you again!
Not too long after that, I was lucky enough to travel to Hong Kong where I had a great time meeting and training with Xavier Duval and a few other members of the Aunkai Study Group Hong Kong and beyond for an extended weekend. Honestly, I don’t even know where to start writing about that weekend, and I should probably revisit and write about it in a separate post at a later time, so allow me to summarise somewhat briefly here: First off, Xavier is an exceptionally nice guy and I’m truly glad to have met him in person and to have made a new friend in him after having only been in touch with him via the web before then. Xavier has been practising martial arts for a long time; he is a 4th Dan in Nihon Tai Jutsu, has recently published a book on Nihon Tai Jutsu that provides a ton of great information on the art, and he has a whole lot of great videos on his youtube channel that I encourage you to explore. Next to this, he has been studying and practicing Aunkai under Akuzawa Sensei’s guidance for some 6-7 years if I am not mistaken, has organised Aunkai seminars with Akuzawa Sensei and Manabu Watanabe in Hong Kong, and frequently visits the Aunkai Honbu Dojo in Tokyo for further instruction. Simply put, he’s as dedicated and passionate a practitioner, researcher, and teacher as you will find.
During my time in Hong Kong, Xavier kindly invited me to teach an Aikido session for his group, which I hope all participants enjoyed as much as I have. Without any planning or time to prepare for it whatsoever, circumstance led Xavier and me to teach an Aunkai seminar in Akuzawa Sensei’s place over the following weekend. Again, I can only hope that the participants who attended the seminar enjoyed it, despite the very sudden and unexpected change. I won’t go into detail as far as the content of the seminar is concerned, as Xavier has written two articles about it here (Aunkai seminar Hongkong day 1, and day 2), but what I can selfishly say is that it was a great weekend of training and learning for me, and I went away hugely inspired. Also, considering that Xavier and I had never met, or trained, let alone taught together before, it was really quite astonishing how well we managed to stomp together what I think was a pretty decent weekend of Aunkai training, as we shared our respective perspectives and approaches to Aunkai, from the most basic of exercises, through to a variety of their application. It was truly a special time and I am hugely grateful for it.
I have shared parts of what I taught at the seminar in Hong Kong on various occasions, both in regular classes, as well as at seminars and workshops in various places including a weekend seminar I taught at Takeshin Aikido Dojo in Frankfurt/Germany a little earlier in the year. Since I’ve moved to NZ, I generally visit Germany, and usually one or two other places in Europe at least once per year and its always a great opportunity to catch up with family and friends, and get in some training, whether by visiting Dojos, or attending and teaching workshops and camps. Thanks to people’s interest, this is also increasingly giving me an opportunity to share some of my insights and experimentations from my Aunkai practice.
Keep in mind that I’ve only been practicing Aunkai for a relatively brief period of time, so the video below is neither strictly, nor exclusively ‘Aunkai’. Rather, it is a collection of clips from my last visit and seminar in Frankfurt where I shared some of my ideas, sensations and inspirations in and from Aunkai, especially revolving around the training of (tensile) connection, elasticity, continuity/flow, and explosivity. I’ve tried to arrange the video in a way that is not about showing off skills, but instead, roughly traces parts of a progression that have helped me explore the development and application of connection in a number of ways. Have a look and I’ll say a bit more about the progression below…
It might actually pay to have another look at the video with the explanation in mind, but you might have guessed or had some ideas of your own with regard to what you’ve seen, so maybe it’s also interesting to compare and reflect a bit. Basically, the first few bits show an exercise I’ve derived from Aunkai’s Push Walking, quintessentially converting it into a Pull Walking that has really helped me as an idea to begin feeling a kind of relaxed yet tensile whole body connection. This exercise progresses from standing, to walking, and some ideas for ground application, before then going back to a more standard approach to Push Walking based on the gained sensation. In the video, I have only included a variation with swords, somewhat akin to a Tanren exercise from Yagyu Shingan Ryu.
Next, the whole body connection or frame developed through these exercises is transitioned to strikes and kicks for its additional practice, exaggeration, and gradual application. While I’ve put special focus on the punch as an exercise reinforcing the feeling of solidity of the frame, I’ve found the way in which the diagonal kick exercise (a variation of Aunkai’s Ashi Age) that you can see in the video highlights tension between the front arm and back leg particularly helpful to gain a sense of the elasticity and explosivity of whole body connection. We then explored the same stretch and connection in a purposely adjusted variation of Aikido’s Ikkyo omote, and then via a number of Kenjutsu kata’s gradually started adding different directions and dimensions to it (i.e. front-back, up-down, side-side and their combinations).
The way I usually explain my sensation of this elasticity, beginning with three basic directions, is fairly simply by referring to a standard, household rubber band. If you have a sibling like I do, then you’ve probably practiced shooting this at someone else before, and you will know that this can be either very successful by releasing the band forward, or painful if you let go of the front end only, or downright disappointing when you release both ends at exactly the same time and they simply snatch towards each other and drop to the floor.
Thankfully, in the martial arts we can make use of all three of these releases (especially when we are not just shooting rubber bands at each other..) so there is lots of exploration to be gained even from this initial, fairly linear approach. And once you start feeling those tensile connections running through and across your body, and gain a sense of how to increase and release them, you can then start exploring all sorts of directions, with or without a weapon, or partner, in kicks and strikes, on the ground or in standing. At that point, at least to me, the linear rubber band starts changing into more of a rubber band ball and with some practice each and every of those directions becomes available. That’s kind of what I’m trying to get at with the examples/exercises at the end of the video, but they are really just a very general idea of where you can take it from there.
You can also see me explaining some of this using the analogy of a bow and arrow, but the point of the multidirectional rubber ball is that each release of an arrow leads to new tensions in multiple other strings, which can then be released as a direct result in the following. I wouldn’t want to be at the weird receiving end of a bow of this sort, but using the linear image, it’s a bit like shooting with a paradoxical bow with strings on two sides so that each shot, releases tension from one string and immediately generates tension in the one opposing it (which then shoots you back right in the face..).
Next to the fact that this can make you feel like a rubber ball gone crazy, or a crazy person gone rubber ball, the beauty of this is that it can give you at least some sense of why there are no ‘techniques’ in Aunkai, and why there is relatively little need for them altogether given the right exercises for the development of this tensile whole body connection. The only thing I would recommend as you start flinging yourself through space, following the different connections that you feel, is that you take care of yourself and your training partners, especially if you want to keep them. Not so visible in the video, but both the force and (increasing) speed generated through this is quite considerable and I caution against its physical and even psychological effects, so be sure to slow yourself back down again.
Following the shooting and releasing of ideas between myself and Xavier, he has also written a post about his explorations with this very ‘Yang’ approach to movement and the importance of balancing it out with some more ‘Yin’ oriented work. And as he says there, it’s hard to say whether this is the ‘right’ direction, and what you’re seeing in the video is certainly by no means perfect, but it’s nonetheless certainly one that is wortwhile and fun exploring. Without a doubt there’s tons more to explore, and so meeting and training with Xavier has prompted me to refocus my research back in the direction of the thematic he had focussed on during our joint seminar. Broadly speaking, it’s the topic of accepting, or receiving force inside the body, but that’s for another post. What I can briefly say though, is that the combination of it, with what I have written about here, has led to another host of lightbulbs going off in brain and body, and I think are clarifying for me more and more, what it means and feels like when Akuzawa Sensei says that…
Technique is only the result of force entering and leaving the body.
Thankfully, I’ve got a few more years of practice and experimentation ahead, both with Akuzawa Sensei and all my other fellow Aunkai and Budoka in NZ and around the world. Next up, I’m really looking forward to sharing my current explorations with my friends at Takeshin Aikido Dojo Frankfurt, as well as the Aikido Dojo Giessen. Whatever the ‘correctness’ and results of these explorations might be, what I can say in summary of this three part Aunkai interim report, is that I’m loving every bit of it. Loving life and practice in general actually and I am really grateful to be able to walk and share this path with all of you. So with all this said, it’s time to go to the dojo again and I am left with nothing to add but a big..