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.

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