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Aiki Expo 2003: A Personal Perspective

by Stanley Pranin

Published Online

Stanley Pranin

Aikido Journal is hosting Aiki Expo 2003 from September 19-21 in Las Vegas, Nevada. Last year’s event attracted about 700 participants and we have even higher expectations for this year’s Expo. In many respects the Aiki Expo is a revival of the tradition of the Friendship Demonstrations we began back in 1985 in Japan. The purpose of those demonstrations was to bring together in a single venue outstanding martial arts instructors to conduct lecture demonstrations. The basic premise was to afford an opportunity for top teachers to assemble together to demonstrate before their peers and a large, receptive audience. Four Friendship Demonstrations were held from 1985-1988. These were landmark events seen by hundreds of spectators in person and tens of thousands more on videotape.

The scope of the Aiki Expo is even more ambitious. The event takes place over two-and-a-half days and most of the attendees actually participate in training sessions. Since several martial arts and styles are represented in addition to aikido, participants have an opportunity to taste experience training they would likely not otherwise get. By the same token, the instructors have a chance to interact with attendees and other teachers in a setting conducive to friendly exchanges. We have continued the tradition of the Friendship Demonstrations as well at the Expo and the performances of the instructors span two entire evenings. The overall concept is to stimulate both Expo instructors and participants to venture outside their normal spheres of activity and experience new training approaches and ideas.

This approach was highly successful for Aiki Expo 2002 and we have taken steps to make Aiki Expo 2003 even more stimulating. The most significant change to the Expo format has been the expansion of the number of small, focused workshops to allow the presentation of particularized subjects. By doing this, we have attempted to broaden the instructor base and better highlight the theme of this year’s Expo: Realizing Aikido’s Potential.

Introducing Aiki Expo 2003 Seminar Instructors

Among the more than 40 instructors who will be on hand for Aiki Expo 2003 are nine seminar instructors possessing skills of the highest calibre. These teachers will be available to share their knowledge and engage in exchanges with Expo participants over the three-day weekend.

I have had the pleasure of knowing each of the invitees personally save one for extended periods, in two cases for 34 years! Permit me to offer a few comments about each of these fine gentlemen from a personal perspective. By so doing I hope to succeed in conveying my gratitude for their collaboration and friendship over the years and enthusiasm for their participation in Aiki Expo 2003.

Gaku Homma: “Free Spirit from Denver”

Gaku Homma

Before actually meeting Gaku Homma I had a hard time understanding where he fit in the aikido scheme of things. He was clearly a maverick who did not belong to any organization and even had the hutzpa to write a lot of books about subjects ranging from aikido to cooking! When I finally had an opportunity to meet him in person and experience his world, I instantly became one of his legion of fans.

Over the years Homma Sensei has endeared himself to the city of Denver due to his long years of community service and operates a gorgeous dojo called the Nippon Kan housed in a Japanese culture center of his design that also features a traditional Japanese restaurant. Homma Sensei has moreover distinguished himself as an author having penned a series of insightful articles on famous aikido figures including O-Sensei, Morihiro Saito, and various aspects of aikido history. He has done a great deal of independent research and I consider him a kindred spirit in the area of research into aikido’s roots.

Homma Sensei is a free thinker who, having paid his dues with long years of hard work, now moves about at will any place in the world in connection with teaching and research into aikido history. He is one of a rare breed of men who dreams bold dreams and then proceeds to realize them. A splendid example for us all!

Hiroshi Ikeda: “Nice Guys Finish First!”

Hiroshi Ikeda

The State of Colorado has some of the best dojos and nicest aikido people of anywhere. Fortunately for all concerned, two of these special teachers will be on hand for Aiki Expo 2003. The first, Gaku Homma Sensei, we have introduced above, and now I would like to speak of Hiroshi Ikeda Sensei from Boulder, Colorado.

Many people, including myself, wonder if Ikeda Sensei ever bothers to sleep! He is one of the most dedicated, hardest working people I have ever met. He operates a large successful dojo, heads a martial arts supply business called Bujin Design that produces some of the finest products available, and travels most weekends to dojos near and far teaching and preaching the aikido gospel. He has achieved success on every level.

Ikeda Sensei has refined his aikido technique to incorporate ever smaller circular movements and very sophisticated unbalancing maneuvers. To watch him perform is a study in subtle hand and body movements executed with perfect control. Whether on the mat or behind the Bujin table you will find him with a smile and willingness to help. Hiroshi Ikeda Sensei is a very special person you should get to know at the Expo.

Kyoichi Inoue: “Teacher Par Excellence”

Kyoichi Inoue

Kyoichi Inoue taught aikido to the Tokyo Metropolitan Police Department for more than 20 years. During that extended period, he honed his teaching skills to the point of being able to present the Yoshinkan Aikido curriculum in easily understood terms to a large audience. On a personal level, Inoue Sensei has continuously explored the subtlties of aikido movements and I have watched his technique become progressively more soft with the passage of years. This becomes especially apparent when observing one of his fascinating demonstrations as I have had the pleasure of doing on numerous occasions.

I remember, after the passing of Gozo Shioda Sensei when the issue of a successor was still undecided, voicing the opinion that Kyoichi Inoue would be an excellent candidate to fill this position because of his outstanding technical skills and leadership skills. I was delighted when this actually came to pass and Inoue Sensei is now serving as the second Kancho of the Yoshinkai World Headquarters in Tokyo.

Inoue Sensei is currently working on the second volume of a technical manual on Yoshinkan Aikido to be published by Aiki News that will appear in coming months. His style of writing includes clear and thorough technical explanations. Inoue Sensei’s seminars are presented in the same logical fashion and he will bring his superlative teaching skills to Las Vegas for your further edification in aikido.

Shizuo Imaizumi: “Quiet Craftsman”

Shizuo Imaizumi

My earliest memory of Shizuo Imaizumi Sensei goes back to the summer of 1969 when we were partnered during a class at the Aikikai Hombu Dojo. It was an especially long hour for me in the stifling Tokyo heat as I was up against an immovable rock! Surely he does not remember that day, but I certainly do! Imaizumi Sensei was one of Koichi Tohei’s leading students and later a member of the Ki no Kenkyukai organization for many years.

Our paths crossed next in Santa Cruz, California about 1972 when he taught an outdoor seminar at the University of California. He was a soft-spoken, charming man who spoke good English. He would establish himself in New York City in the mid-1970s where he has lived since. Imaizumi Sensei’s independent organization is called the “Shin Budo Kai.”

Imaizumi Sensei recently conducted a weekend seminar in Las Vegas in which I was a participant. It was very nostalgic for me to once again practice in a style similar to what I learned in the mid-1960s. Imaizumi Sensei is very methodical and precise in his teachings. I am told he writes the names of the techniques he teaches on a blackboard at his New York City dojo as an aid to understanding his clas system. Imaizumi Sensei’s art bears the strong influence of Koichi Tohei Sensei of the 1960s and 70s. It is important for you to know about this approach to aikido as much of the art disseminated in early times in North America bears this stamp.

Yasuo Kobayashi: “Man of His Word”

Yasuo Kobayashi

My admiration for Yasuo Kobayashi is unending. He was instrumental in the early success of Aiki News when we began to sponsor the Aikido Friendship Demonstrations back in 1985. I describe his pivotal role in this article Yasuo Kobayashi: A Man of his Word for those interested in this topic. Kobayashi Sensei was among the early postwar students of Morihei Ueshiba, Kisshomaru Ueshiba, and Koichi Tohei at the Aikikai. His technique epitomizes the beauty and elegance of the early generation of Aikikai instructors.

On my first trip to Japan in 1969, I had an opportunity to visit his newly-opened private dojo. From that simple beginning, Kobayashi Sensei has over the ensuing decades built a large organization within the Aikikai system called “Kobayashi Dojos” with scores of schools in Japan as well as in many foreign countries. Kobayashi Sensei’s success on an organizational level has been built on his extraordinary interpersonal skills. Not unexpectedly, the instructors in the Kobayashi Dojos system are kind, open-hearted people that are produced through the application of aiki principles.

Kobayashi Sensei has informed me that he will be bringing along his son and successor, Hiroaki, to the Expo. We are pleased and delighted that both will be coming. Please come and meet and train with these wonderful teachers in Las Vegas!

Katsuyuki Kondo: “Keeper of the Tradition”

Katsuyuki Kondo

I am proud to count Katsuyuki Kondo among my closest friends. Besides being an outstanding martial artist, Kondo Sensei is a great lover of Japanese culture. He has been a collector of all manner of things including swords, armor, calligraphy, traditional Japanese clocks, watches, beetles and many other things. He takes his role as the leading disseminator of Daito-ryu aikijujutsu very seriously and has trained and taught steadily for more than 45 years. Responsibility for the tradition of Daito-ryu handed down from Sokaku Takeda through Tokimune Takeda rests largely in his capable hands.

Kondo Sensei’s Daito-ryu is extremely dynamic and he is a gifted teacher who gives his all in every class. He practices with and takes falls for his students and always works up a good sweat when training. Kondo Sensei has a great eye for detail and a deep understanding of anatomy and body dynamics. His explanations are logical and often laced with historical commentary. A class with Katsuyuki Kondo Sensei is always a deeply satisfying experience. His classes were the best attended at last year’s Expo. Don’t fail to see him at this year’s Expo!

Tetsuzan Kuroda: “Man from Beyond”

Tetsuzan Kuroda

One quickly runs out of superlatives when attempting to describe the skills of Tetsuzan Kuroda Sensei. He certainly ranks among Japan’s finest swordsmen besides being very adept at the Kuroda family jujutsu system he has inherited. Watching Kuroda Sensei draw his sword is a stunning experience. It’s akin to a religious revelation where you humbly thank the Creator for allowing you to witness to such a miracle of movement!

Kuroda Sensei is a wonderful teacher who patiently circulates among his students during class pointing out the minutest detail and letting everyone feel his technique. It seems that his body is constructed in a different way compared to that of the normal human being. He assumes with ease postures that are impossible or excruciating for the untrained individual to attempt. Everything about his art stimulates you to set your goals at a much higher level. Old limitations become the floor from which to ascend to new heights!

Kenji Ushiro: “Out to change the world!”

Kenji Ushiro

A face-to-face meeting with Kenji Ushiro Sensei—be it during a training session or in a social setting—leaves one in a energized, optimistic state of mind. My impression is that Ushiro Sensei views the world as a gigantic ball of clay just waiting to be reshaped in a positive way if we can simply overcome our self-imposed limitations. And he practices what he preaches.

The speed of his movements is not an absolute speed but one timed to be exactly appropriate to the timing of his opponent. In other words, he is keying into the intent of the opponent, not to a physical manifestation of an attack. He is at a very high level as a martial artist. These skills carry over into his business and social dealings and he is a sterling example of how budo can transform an untrained person into an extraordinary human being.

Martial artist, engineer, inventor, author and all-around guy, Kenjiro Ushiro will again be in Las Vegas to challenge and inspire you!

Vladimir Vasiliev: “Aiki Russian-style”

Vladimir Vasiliev

To these eyes of an aikidoka, Vladimir Vasiliev is likely to present an enigma. He is one of the foremost exponents of Systema, the Russian martial art being disseminated by Colonel Mikhail Ryabko of Moscow. Vladmir’s movements will seem refreshingly different yet, at the same time, strangely familiar. His skills are borne of many years of rigorous military training and combat experience that would be utterly shocking if divulged. That life-or-death experience would lead to softness in his technique seems a contradiction at first glance, but is actually dictated by the drive for survival in high-stress situations.

Vladimir’s preparation for all manner of martial encounters is total. Empty-handed techniques, defenses against and use of bladed weapons and firearms, bodyguard training and much more are his fields of expertise. You’ve never seen anything like Systema and you’ve never met a nicer fellow than Vladimir. See if I am exaggerating and join us in Las Vegas!

Stanley Pranin
June 2003
Las Vegas, Nevada, USA