It Has To Be Felt

It has to be felt.

How many students felt the dynamic power? Have you experienced the exhilaration, fear, uncertainty, excitement as the dynamic circle sends you spinning to the conclusion of the technique? The uke may not fully know how it will end, but for sure they are fully engaged and dare not lose the connection. Those who have had this happen will say to you, it has to be experienced; it’s active, not passive. You have to make contact and stay committed. If you give up that commitment, the interaction changes in a single moment. We love our videos; it gives us a reference point. It gives us something to observe, but it’s passive. Ultimately, we must physically delve into the depths of the movement. We have to engage physically. It’s in that interaction, the ‘doing’ where we feel what happens and it becomes a part of us.

USAF President Emeritus, one of the first members of the New York Aikikai (NYA) and current Sensei, Mike Abrams, explains that it’s important for students to feel the instructor’s technique. He’s an open history book.  Sensei Abrams is another living legend, who explains the importance of what Yamada Shihan and his contemporaries did with the NYA. Sensei Abrams’ class takes you back to the foundations of training at the NYA; he speaks of the ukemi that Sensei Yamada took for his sempai. You get a picture of it in your mind, while listening. In Sensei Abrams class, when he asks you to grab him, one may do so in a rather naïve, unsuspecting manner. One may wonder what is coming next, but as soon as he begins to move you become immediately clear that whatever happens will end with you on the mat, usually face down. Similarly, Harvey Konigsberg Shihan will point to the connection between his hand and his hip movement. He will then explain it to you, in his low gravely voice. He may then say, “Grab” and you do. Then what you thought you understood goes flying out of your head, as quickly as you land on the mat. His disarming warmth and spiritual connection lull you into a feeling of smooth quiet and security. That is of course, until you feel his hip move and his weight drop while you get tossed. You get up, smiling, because your body gets this “turning on the light bulb” moment of comprehension. And ultimately, when Shihan Yamada says, “grab”, undoubtedly, healthy concern goes through uke’s mind from inception. You know his movement is big, powerful and direct. Some uke have explained that when they take ukemi for Yamada Shihan, they feel like their bodies are going in separate directions at the same time. For example, during one class, Yamada Shihan seemed to be moving toward a particular irimi-nage opening, but it appeared that he changed his mind, so he picked the uke up, as though to do an aiki-otoshi. The entire class held it’s breath and watched with wide eyes, while the uke’s head turned from side to side, looking for the landing place (kind of like a fighter jet coming in for an emergency landing).

Then he let us all off the hook, as he said to the uke, with a chuckle, “don’t worry, I’m not going to do that.” Even as we enjoyed his humor in that moment, we were all taking ukemi, because we followed him intently. We were in sync with him and there was nothing between him and us. We released a collective sigh of relief for the uke, but more for ourselves, because for a moment, “things got real”. We felt the air swoosh, when he picked up and seemed to swing the uke around. We felt the distance between the uke high in the air, (with Sensei Yamada holding the uke underneath his arm pit), and the mat. We felt his joviality, but we simultaneously felt the seriousness of training, which I believe he wants us to understand. After class, in the locker rooms, we talked about that and kind of nodded at each other as if to acknowledge it in a single word, “Yeah”.

I suppose all of this is to reiterate, that is it has to be felt.


Dena Williams

New York Aikikai

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