“Look same outside, different inside . . .” Sugano Sensei has been known to say, as he attempts to convey to us that there is a lot more to aikido than meets the eye!
Last weekend, as we once again gathered together for the annual USAF Winter Camp sponsored by Florida Aikikai, we could not have been blessed with three more unique master teachers (shihan) than Yamada Sensei, Sugano Sensei and Shibata Sensei. As the three days of training unfolded and one class blended into two or three or even more each day, I was struck not only by the obvious similarities of technique but particularly by the individuality of each Sensei’s style -- both teaching style and “personality” -- all so different, but all with a larger-than-life quality shining through as they demonstrated aikido’s underlying principles to us in a seemingly endless array of variations. It was a banquet of beautiful aikido created using high-quality ingredients and I wanted to devour all of it.
I chuckled to myself, remembering Sugano Sensei’s favorite phrase. We might be effecting a tolerable imitation of their demonstration but how thoroughly did we really understand the interaction, how often were we able to embody the movement? Even when we managed to look pretty darn good, what was happening on the inside? These are questions I kept asking myself as one class after another reinforced the same themes.
My personal impressions: Yamada Sensei – large sweeping movements, classicism and dynamism; Sugano Sensei – explosive timing, precision and philosophy; and Shibata Sensei - extraordinary improvisation, bending time and setting the tempo at will, as the various ukes became the instruments for his jazz riffs on technique. Each Sensei fully embodies the principles of nature which under lie the art and that seems to allow them tremendous freedom of expression and spontaneity.
Hour after hour we stepped back out on the mats, savoring all that our Senseis were offering us, not wanting to miss an opportunity to receive it directly from them. I resorted alternately to icing my knee and visiting the Jacuzzi, eating extra protein, falling into bed early, waking up each morning ready for more. By Sunday afternoon we had passed beyond fatigue to that place where training continues somehow, after class has ended.
Our three master teachers who manifest aikido so differently are ironically, I reflected, actually “different outside, same inside!”
As usual, a truly amazing array of aikidoists attended the Florida Winter Camp this year and one new friend from California – an eye surgeon who loves to surf – described to me how photographers capture some of those incredible surfing pictures: the hard way, by hanging out, floating in the waves, possibly getting “turned inside out” in the process of getting the shots! The atmospheric photo shown above was discovered as I “surfed” the web for inspiration on “inside out.”