The seminar was held in the university’s echoing, cavernous gymnasium, where puzzle mats were laid out. There were 51 attendees, including 12 Aikikai participants from Macau and a local Aikikai dojo, in addition to the Wadokai students from Guangzhou (who were also our indispensable interpreters). After warmups, Sensei showed Sayunage from a wrist grab. Shihan Chad showed the “Sinawali” punch drill, and then Sensei followed up with Iriminage. Shihan Sonny showed Kubinage (if I remember right). I showed Tenshinage off a punch from Shihan Franklin. It was great to have guys from the local dojo running up to bow in and work with me. They said I explained things well, a welcome piece of positive feedback, given the language barrier.
It’s always a bit of a challenge remembering everything that happens at a seminar, when you’re participating. I get caught up in the waza (that is, the technique) and the great energy of it, and then am really tired at the end and it’s a bit of a blur. Then, years later, I’ll be sitting in church (this mostly seems to happen when I’m sitting in church, although it happens when I’m in the kitchen cooking, too) and will suddenly remember a technique Sensei showed years before, in a seminar or at Summer Camp.
It’s an odd experience. It may happen because when I watch Sensei do technique, I do my best to just look – not analyze, not think, but to focus completely. Just watch and absorb. Then the waza sinks in, and when I do technique, I have a sense of how “Sensei-ish” it is, and what I need to adjust to get closer to the model, imprinted while I was absorbing the technique. Analysis is fine (and helpful) for learning from less definitive teachers. I reserve the “filterless” absorption for a very, very small number of teachers – not even a handful – and Sensei is the first of these. I would add that this does not always seem to help one when you are first learning an art, but I recommend practicing it as early as possible, because once your hands, feet, and body “stop talking back to your mind,” this way of learning will become invaluable when used judiciously.
A side note about technique names. In traditional Aikido, Japanese is the technical language of technique, as it is in Judo and any number of other Japanese arts. I’ve heard arguments against this – some say they don’t understand why Japanese is used instead of English, or why the traditional names are used at all.
Japanese names are very useful simply for clarity – it’s a name, and it means a specific thing or class of things, and beats the heck out of “the move that goes like this” for clarity and brevity. In the Wadokai, they form a common set of terms, both technical and philosophical (and these two things are more closely related than one might think), across the organization. Also, in some cases technical words convey a cultural meaning or cause students to learn about the culture via the language, which doesn’t happen if everything’s conveniently translated into English. In Wadokai Aikido, we also learn a whole group of concepts and philosophical terms that actually end up being extremely critical to effective Aikido – and some of these only translate part of the way into English. It took me a while to figure out how important the concepts behind these “tough vocabulary words” are to describing what has to happen in and around the technique to give it that subtle, scalable effectiveness that is the hallmark of our style. But it all starts with learning the proper names of techniques…in Japanese.