Monday, September 26, 2011

Speech at Applied Psychology Seminar; Nagano

On September 11th, I was invited to a seminar in Nagano, Japan, to speak about my reasons for studying the martial arts. Though the seminar covered various topics over the course of the weekend, Sunday was devoted to the topic of "disability sports". Since I am a foreigner with a disability who has altered the course of his life to pursue the practice of Budo, Kokushikan's Nakajima Sensei invited me to give a short talk. Below I have included my speech in both Japanese and English. My Japanese is by no means fluent, so there are some errors both with kanji and grammar.

フクストラ、ニコラスと申します 今日は、自分の武道、合気道や柔道などを









Good morning;

My name is Nicholas Hoekstra. Today, I’d like to speak about the reasons I am doing budo; Aikido and Judo. But first, let me introduce myself.

I am from Michigan in the United States. I’m 27 years old. Twenty years ago, at the age of seven, I began to have migraines and became seriously ill. Though doctors performed several tests, four months passed without the source of my migraines being discovered. Finally, a tumor was found behind my optic nerves. Three surgeries saved my life, but my optic nerves were already seriously damaged. From the time of the third surgery I was left completely blind.

My entire life changed in an instant. I had to learn ways of doing everything; from learning to read Braille to learning how to walk with a cane, I had to begin from zero. On top of this, medicines had left me very overweight and the time spent in the hospital had left my body very weak. My self confidence was gone. Both mental and physical health are closely connected, however, and when I entered high school I wanted to begin playing sports.

Originally, I wrestled during the four years of high school. However, when I entered University I became very busy with classes. I could not continue with a sport as demanding as wrestling. I wanted to continue doing something, though.
In my freshman year of University I tried Aikido for the first time. Since then, I have not stopped practicing budo. Three years ago, when I came to Japan, I also began practicing Judo.

There are many reasons to practice budo. For one, in my case, through the practice of budo I was able to rebuild my self esteem. When you do Aikido or Judo it does not matter whether or not you have a perceived disability. Every person has their strong points and their weak points. One is able to use their strength to fortify and improve upon their weaknesses. Although I am unable to see, I depend upon my other four senses. In the case of budo, the sense of touch is especially important. In Aikido, one guides their partner to take a fall. In the case of Judo, one feels the movements of their partner and attempts a throw.

Another reason for which I do budo is that, when I first started Aikido, the purpose of training was that everyone work together to improve their skills. Two people together work to perform a technique. In the case of Judo, of course someone wins and someone loses. However, in the Kitakyushu dojo where I first began training Judo, people helped each other to make better throws.

For these two reasons I practice budo: for the purpose of building my self confidence and the fact that people work together to develop better skills.

Thank you very much.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Hakko Denshin Ryu; A Gifted Instructor

I would like to revisit, briefly, the training I did in Hakko Denshin Ryu during my two week hiatus to the States at the beginning of August. This entry does not focus so much on the art of Hakko Denshin Ryu, but rather seeks to showcase the teaching style of my Sensei, Matt Pinard. Matt was kind enough to allow me to record a couple short videos during our last training session. The links I have put up are not intended to explain these particular waza.

Since the beginning of January—and until the end of March when I returned to Japan—our Hakko Denshin Ryu club consisted of three regular members plus our sensei. Having such a small group is ideal for learning the art quickly and, in truth, our sensei marveled at the speed with which we learned our shodan waza. Though Matt Pinard attributed our progression to our deep interest in the art, the truth is that Pinard Sensei is a very gifted instructor. His clear explanations combined with the humble attitude he adopts while instructing make an otherwise painful art enjoyable. More than anything, it’s the enthusiasm Pinard Sensei brings to the dojo that is contagious.

Pinard Sensei never hesitates to take ukemi himself. In this manner, he can feel both the pressure and angle of the technique and instruct accordingly. In this video:
Matt instructing wile I apply wrist lock and throw
The initial wrist lock is something Sensei and I worked on during the beginning of the class. In this video, however, we proceed to a throw. From the wrist lock, I pull Sensei’s elbow (holding the sleeve) to my chest and apply pressure to the back of the hand, forcing Sensei’s wrist to bend painfully inward. This is refered to as konoha. Then, again holding the sleeve, I lift the elbow high and, as though dumping a tray, tip the arm and throw Sensei to the ground.
Sensei shows definite enthusiasm as both joint locks and pressure points are applied. AS you can see in the video, “Nice! Nice!” means it hurts like hell. Nevertheless, I hold a very high respect for a Sensei who will actively participate in class and take ukemi for his students.

In this second video:
Matt demonstrating Third-Dan te-kagame from seated and standing
Sensei explains the origin of te-kagame (hand-mirror) as it appears in a henka-or series of moving techniques—we were learning. In the established series of waza, the te-kagame technique we were practicing appears as a third-degree, seated technique. Sensei explains both the seated technique and then applies it standing.

What I would like to further point out, in this video, is the stress Sensei puts on my understanding of the correct movements. Notice how he makes sure I have felt the movement of the elbow, insisting that I use my free hand to follow his movements. Pinard Sensei is extremely gifted when it comes to teaching in this manner.

One of my greatest frustrations when learning new techniques—or even reviewing techniques I have already learned—in any art is the fact I must wait for the Sensei to explain the technique and then rely on another student to transmit that technique to me as best they can. Pinard Sensei, however, almost always uses me as Uke while teaching. Though this can become quite painful, I find this to be both an honor and a sign of respect from the Sensei. On those occasions where Pinard Sensei does not use me directly as his Uke, he makes a point to explain the technique to me immediately afterwards. I believe, more than anything, this is the reason I have been able to progress rapidly in the art of Hakko Denshin Ryu.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

A Privilege and A Pleasure

Between working in Spain and Japan and then beginning this course at the Kokusai Budo Daigaku, I have spent little more than six months in the United States during the past five years. Trips home, then, are marked by the scramble to visit friends and family and there is never enough time. I am a man of clear priorities, however, and my first stop after dropping off my suitcase—and putting on my gi—is the
Dojo of Grand Rapids.

I have known Sensei David Mata (2-dan, Bironkai of North America) since I first began Aikido at the age of eighteen. The summer after my freshman year of college found me with a new passion for the martial arts. I had been practicing Aikido for six months with the Yoshokai club of the University of Michigan and I couldn’t let the summer vacation pass without finding a dojo in the Grand Rapids area. After a couple “false starts” which I will not bother to mention, I found my way to the Toyoda Center.
It was Sensei Mata who first greeted me upon my entering into the dojo. At that time, he was teaching the Saturday afternoon class and he invited me to join. Over the next few months, it was Mata Sensei more than anyone who oversaw my training. I was impressed, immediately, by his attitude toward teaching someone with a visual impairment. Aikido, after all, is a martial art anyone can do.

When Sensei Mata separated from the Toyoda Center and founded his own, Kyoseikan, dojo in September of 2006, it seemed only logical that I follow him. Mata Sensei has been both my friend and teacher during these past nine years and has always encouraged me to pursue the martial arts in any way possible. As much as he has watched my Aikido grow and develop, I have had both the privilege and pleasure of watching Sensei develop as an instructor. Mata Sensei is always working to improve fundamental aspects of his own Aikido, never taking an attitude of superiority. Most recently, Sensei has dedicated time to the deeper study of kenjitsu and the ways in which the buki—weapons—relate to Aikido.

I had the great pleasure of spending some time this past trip home being thrown around by Mata sensei. I take a lot of pride in my ukemi (falls) and I was very pleased, therefore, when Sensei noticed my movements had become lighter and faster. I enjoy these opportunities to take ukemi as they challenge you to react quickly and rely on your instinctual feelings to guide your body. The slightest turn of Sensei’s wrist can communicate the direction or type of ukemi expected. For a visually impaired budoka, the ability to read an opponent or partner’s movements is crucial. Even in daily life, when walking with a sighted guide, it is important to understand the message conveyed through subtle body movements. The way a guide’s weight shifts from one foot to the other can communicate a step or change in the terrain; the sharpness of an arm movement can indicate surprise or distraction. Its amazing the amount of information we project in our slightest motion.
This is a video of Mata Sensei tossing me around:
Taking ukemi
A word of advice: Do Not, I repeat, Do Not do a full stomach work out at the gym immediately before a class in which you may have to take prolonged ukemi. I was struggling to get up from back-breakfalls.

It is so important to know that, no matter where I travel or how long I am gone, I always have my home at the Kyoseikan Dojo. For a real budoka, your dojo is in many ways your second home…. Or even your first.