VII International Aikido seminar, 2002

VII International Aikido seminar, 2002

VII International Aikido seminar under the direction of S.SEKI Shihan.
October 14th-20th, Moscow, Russia 2002.

The seminar program included the main part (14 classes) and the general review (3 classes), as well as the Dan examination. The review part of the seminar was held in one of the largest judo dojos in Moscow – the Shabolovka sports complex. A total of 240 aikidokas participated in the seminar, including representatives of 9 Russian cities and towns (Moscow, Stupino, Domodedovo, Nizhny Novgorod, Saint Petersburg, Chelyabinsk, Tomsk, Ufa, Rostov-on-Don), as well as guests from Lithuania, Ukraine (Melitopol), USA and Japan. 16 participants were awarded Dan ranks as a result of the examination, of them 1 Dan – 10, 2 Dan – 1, 3 Dan – 3, 4 Dan – 2 practitioners.

Seminar Impressions

Douglas Marshall (USA), 20 October 2002

The days leading up to the most recent seminar with Seki Sensei were like the days before Christmas (in the U.S.) when I was young. The anticipation made the preceding days go by slowly, and the night before the first day of the seminar I could hardly sleep.

For me, and maybe for others, participating in such seminars involves overcoming obstacles. Some of these may also be obstacles we encounter in just undertaking or continuing a practice such as aikido. The obstacles include demands placed on us by our work or our family. (My 5 year old daughter, who loved aikido until the seminar started, began to resent it because it seemed to her I was always at work or at aikido. She’s over it now, and can’t wait to start practicing.) The obstacles might be minor or major physical injuries or discomforts, or psychological barriers. They might be financial issues. I think that how we deal with these various obstacles affects how we develop in our practice (and in our lives in general).

After arriving a few minutes late the first day of the seminar because of terrible traffic jams, (even though I was sure I would make it in plenty of time having left work 15 minutes earlier than usual), I arranged to leave work an hour earlier for the rest of the seminar week.

This was not the first aikido seminar I have attended, and it was the second with Seki Sensei, so I did not feel like I was going into it blind. Still, I was excited and nervous.

What dissolved my nervousness instantly was seeing Marina Karpova, Sasha Grachev, and many of the people I usually practice with, which, of course, made me feel very much at home (even though I had never been to that sports hall). Marina warmly invited me onto the mat as the session was in progress. But, I also felt a relaxation and inspiration upon seeing Seki Sensei. I’ m sure he doesn’t know me or remember me from other encounters, but when I saw him I bowed somewhat instinctively (maybe improperly too low? Not low enough? I’m not sure), and he smiled and bowed back. And each day that I saw him, we would smile and bow slightly to each other. And I always had the feeling that this simple gesture was sincere, genuine, intentional and not mechanical, and with no trace of condescension or superiority. To me, this common act of acknowledging each other was a symbol of Seki Sensei’ s manner on and off the tatami, and of why it is a pleasure and inspiration to experience his instruction. I think this genuine and sincere friendliness, humility and humanity is shared by the rest of the Koinobori (and most of its membership), and is part of what attracts me to the dojo.

Of course, as is well known, Seki Sensei’s demonstrations of aikido techniques are very precise, strong, and quick. He shows them at a fast speed, and then more slowly, breaking them down and pausing at certain points to make clear and obvious to even the less experienced participants how each particular part of the technique should work. Occasionally, he makes a comment in Japanese, which Marina Karpova translates immediately into Russian. Most often, though, he makes his point by demonstrating the wrong way (tense shoulders, elbows out, or foot pointed the wrong way), and then demonstrates the right way. Even when he doesn’ t shake his head, or make a face, or otherwise indicate that what he is showing is the wrong way, the contrast he creates just by doing the wrong way and right way consecutively makes immediately apparent what he is trying to show. When he shows the right way, the elegant, clean flow of his movements, the dignified, ready-but-relaxed stance he takes as uke prepares to attack, and the harmonizing of his movements with those of uke, display the result of the many years of tremendous work he has put into his own practice, and the depth of his internalization of the principles of aikido. And because he works one-on-one with each participant, he has to adapt to every kind of partner the big, strong, egotistical ones who would like to prove something; the frail, inexperienced, nervous ones; and the experienced and skillful practitioners. And it is my impression that each of those kinds of participants got just what he or she needed to develop further. The frail, inexperienced ones don’ t receive what Marina Karpova and our other teachers receive, at least not in the same way. They receive what they can use to take them a step ahead. Each participant also is able to watch as Seki Sensei works with others, and often by watching how he corrects someone else I have seen what I, too, can do better.

The turnout at the seminar was huge, and we had to be very aware of what was going on around us to keep from colliding. I suspect that still there were many who wanted to participate but could not because of space limitations. However, it is hard to imagine how it could have been arranged to have more space per person, as the hall we used was quite large, and there were three (!) sessions per day. (Where does Seki Sensei find the energy? Evidently, he uses his energy so much more efficiently than most of us that he is able to keep up such a pace and yet keep such precision in his movements, seemingly without tiring.)

The seminar has just ended today, and my impressions keep coming. The week was intense, and I am sure that I will be absorbing and digesting it for some time. I cannot express in words my gratitude to Seki Sensei, Marina Karpova, and the others involved for giving me the opportunity to participate in what they have shared.

Viktor Sadykov (Russia, head of “Chelyabinsk Aikiclub”), October 21st, 2002

At any seminar there is a certain “essence” that can be observed from the beginning of the seminar to its end. But, it also sometimes happens that you only understand it at the end, or even a little while after the seminar has ended.

During Seki Sensei’s seminar I was wondering what it would be that “hits you”, what would be the thing that makes you say, “Ah!” And I only started to understand this after the seminar was over, and it only really became clear after I had analyzed and thought over each day, each training session.

As many will remember, Sensei started this seminar with the words, “I’m not going to say anything, let’s start training immediately. “And we started, and continued, and that’s how it was every day, from the beginning of each session to the end of the last day. Even during the examinations, the uke was made to sweat. This turned out to be the “Ah!” of this seminar — working hard. To me it seemed that this might be one of sensei’s goals for this trip — to create such a fast pace of training, and maintain it to the very end, as if to test the mettle of Russian aikidoka, to see whether they could take it. Yes, they did! Seki Sensei addressed everyone after the exams for 1-3 dan, recommending that we train with the same intensity, effort, speed and strength in our regular training sessions.

I have heard from those who have been fortunate enough to train at Hombu Dojo that 10 minutes after a training session begins, they started looking at the clock, thinking, “When will this end so that I can rest?” And then after 30 minutes, all they can think is, “Why did I come here?” And yet, each day they would come to the next training session with delight. Now I understand what these words mean. After having worked with yet another heavyweight partner, one wants to take some lightweight “rookie” and unhurriedly execute the next technique. However, sensei appears behind your back, or in front of you, and very business- like invites you to attack him. Surprisingly, fatigue disappears, and strength appears from somewhere to attack as the teacher has demanded.

In conducting seminars, there are always strong and weak aspects, just as there are people who are strong and weak, big and small, heavy and light. I consider that one of the strong points of this seminar was that sessions were conducted in various halls. This enabled one to work on various tasks, besides those proposed by sensei. For example, in the hall with wrestling mats (which are much softer than tatami), one could boldly throw partners of all levels, without worrying that an inexperienced partner could get hurt by a strong throw. The negative aspect to such mats is that they hold your feet too much, so it’s hard to move about smoothly. If you are not used to such mats, the arches of your feet and the small muscles around the knee get tired. So, another positive aspect of the seminar was that the next session was held in a hall with tatami, and you could move about with smooth, sliding steps, which enables you to more accurately verify your stance, rotation of your feet, and much more.

Lately, organizers of such high-level seminars have been requiring that participants be of at least 3rd kyu level. One could get the impression that this is a case of discrimination against students with less experience. Those with less experience can learn from more experienced partners. But from whom can the more experienced ones learn? At a kendo seminar they conducted an experiment: a large delegation of senseis divided the participants into groups according to their skill level. They had several small groups practicing in one hall. Each sensei offered techniques for a particular level of training. So-called “rookies” in the group executed basics techniques; more experienced participants did somewhat more advanced techniques; and the most experienced ones worked on tactics and strategies in “duels”. This made it obvious that you could do a great deal of high-quality training within the framework of one seminar with groups of people of various skill levels. So it works out that a shihan comes once a year at best, and you have to get enough from him to work on for a whole year. Judge for yourself, who is in the most advantageous situation — a newcomer, who can grab by the arm a more experienced student all year, or the senior student, who gets to work out with more experienced people a maximum of twice a year, let alone with sensei. Of course, each person’s ability to learn differs from others, and each level of student learns information according to his level. Therefore, it is valuable to have as many students of 1st dan level and up as possible at seminars of high-level senseis.

Heads of dojos and leading students from the regions come to seminars of shihans and high-level masters such as Seki Sensei, which allows them to improve their own skills and to share with each other their knowledge on the spot. This is very good, since the overall level of aikido practitioners in Russia continues to grow constantly.


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