Last month I attended a course in Holland hosted by Ruud Van Ginkel and the Aikido Centruum. The visiting instructor was 8th Dan Shihan Shimamoto Katsuyuki. This is an annual course that is worth every penny it costs me in airfare (from Scotland), food, hotels, fees, etc. There are certain reasons for that and here’s just one of them.
When you’re at a course you’re there to learn from someone that you will very seldom get to see. This means you have to pay attention at courses. To everything. You could just phone it in and train the way you always do, performing techniques the way you normally do, but that’s a waste of your time and money. You have to pay attention.
The reason you have to pay attention can be illustrated with a simple lesson I learned from attending this course. A lesson that I only realised 2 weeks later and one that I would never have picked up unless I had been paying scrupulous attention to Shimamoto Shihan.
A large part of the course was addressing the topic of shizentai, meaning natural body/ posture. Shimamoto Shihan was explaining that we needed to develop this to improve our aikido. Part of this meant that we should have good posture; and if you look at him his posture is impeccable. I’m reasonably certain he doesn’t even know how to slouch.
The interesting thing about this though, and the source of the lesson, is in relation to hakama. For years, almost 2 decades, I have always sat down in a specific way while wearing hakama, the way I was shown. I see a lot of people that sit down in exactly the same way regardless of their style or number of years training. They reach down between their legs and tap their hakama as they kneel down. This moves the fabric out of the way and allows the wearer to kneel without getting caught up in the fabric. Numerous people I’ve met refer to this as ‘hakama slap’ because of the sound it makes.
While waiting to bow in and start training at the course I watched as Shimamato Shihan entered the mats, moved to the kamiza and sat down. I noticed something about his movement that I didn’t understand until I was training 2 weeks later. Shimamoto Shihan did not perform the ‘hakama slap’ as he knelt. He made a small, very subtle movement instead. He took the triangular spaces at the side of the hakama and pulled them gently backwards and up as he knelt down (you can see this motion in the video clip below). I thought it was unusual but thought nothing more of it.
2 weeks later and back training at home I realised something and the simplicity of it amazed me. I went to kneel down and thought that I would mimic what I had seen Shimamoto Shihan do. I wanted to know if it made some difference. It did. Quite a profound difference at that.
In order to perform the hakama slap and kneel as I usually do I have to bend over to reach my hakama. This, inevitably, causes me to sacrifice my shizentai. I have lost my posture every time I make this motion. In contrast, the small movement I had observed achieved the exact same thing as the hakama slap but with a noticeable difference. The material was out of my way and I could kneel down while maintaining perfect shizentai. There was no need to bend over.
The subtlety of this simple thing made me laugh out loud. Shimamoto Shihan had been teaching us from the moment when I first saw him as he stepped onto the mats.
Pay attention at courses. To everything.
If you can afford it, and would like to help out,
consider donating some brain fuel!
Also, if you enjoyed this post you can find further insights in this book.