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Training, Training and Training

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by Peter Goldsbury

Published Online

Last weekend Hiroshi Tada taught a seminar here in Hiroshima. Tada Sensei is probably the last remaining 9th dan Aikikai Hombu shihan who is still active. Seeing just how active he was, at the age of 73, showed that there is still hope for the rest of us (providing we take the proper steps) and was a good occasion to ponder the issues raised by George Ledyard in his earlier contribution about reaching our teachers.

Tada Sensei’s seminar lasted two days and was open to everybody. After the initial breathing exercises familiar to anyone who has attended a Tada class/seminar, he took us through a series of basic footwork exercises and then basic techniques, always showing two or three variations and always building on what went before, up to the “main menu,” which was two-person techniques from a morote-dori hold. The demonstration of techniques, with ukes he had never met before, was laced with detailed explanations of what we were doing and why we were doing it, together with reminiscences of his life as a deshi of the Founder and of O Sensei’s way of training. The second day was a repeat of the same, but with the “main menu” being tachi-dori, for which, of course, the previous day’s morote-dori training was also a preparation.

During the seminar I considered some of the questions asked in recent forums. Tada Sensei’s ukes were trying to cooperate as much as possible, for taking ukemi was like being swept into a vortex and they found it hard to keep up with him. What would have happened if the ukes had been uncooperative? Well, I saw what happened in this case at a recent summer school in Italy: it was like practising with a combine harvester. What about the issue of a senior shihan testing himself against his senior yudansha? Tada Sensei has senior (i.e., 7th dan rank) students here and in Italy, but I do not think there is any question of testing here and I am pretty sure that if there were, they would fail.

Along with the late Seigo Yamaguchi and Sadateru Arikawa, Tada Sensei has not written any books or made any commercial videos, so the only way to experience his aikido is to participate in one of his classes. A few years ago Tada Sensei told me quite candidly that when he died his aikido would die with him and this was as it should be: it was up to each practitioner to create something unique out of his/her own life and training. This was a response to a question which has bothered me for a number of years: as a direct student of the Founder, what had he done to pass on his legacy, to prepare for the time when he would no longer be around to teach anybody?

What stands out with Tada Sensei and also stood out with Arikawa Sensei, though in a completely different way, is the total dedication to training and the expression of this dedication on the tatami. I believe that they saw this as a major consequence of being a deshi of the Founder and they never let off, even for a minute, which is perhaps why they have the reputation of being remote, austere and unapproachable. But this is what they show: a life dedicated to embodying a particular vision expressed more through practice than in words. To my mind, this obsession and dedication is also a crucial aspect of the Founder’s own life, one’s life as a burnt offering to the kami, so to speak.

Can we reach such giants as Tada or Arikawa? Insofar as aikido is training: a complex activity involving the acquisition of habits, the answer has to be Yes. Perhaps a more important question is: would we want to?

note: this article was originally published as an online blog