With schools, clubs, and workout spaces closed for the COVID-19 lockdown/quarantine, many aikidoka are forced to train within the safety of their homes. Seeing such an opportunity to assist the many practitioners homebound throughout the world, Aikido Shimbokukai hosted the first virtual bridge seminar, via Zoom. With over 130 participants joining the groundbreaking seminar, six instructors from Romania, the United Kingdom, and different parts of the United States lead the training session.
Sunday May 3, 2020, in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic and lockdown, the aikido community gathered and participated in the first ever virtual aikido bridge seminar. Headed by Aikido Shimbokukai, the organization announced that it would be hosting six instructors from around the world for the seminar. The first of its kind, an overwhelming number of participants (over 130) joined in via Zoom to learn from Wendy Whited, Andy McLean, Dorin Marchis, Gary Marks, Liese Klein, and Hiroshi Ikeda. With each instructor quarantined to their homes, all emphasized the importance of individual, weapons, and internal training as a way to enhance the empty hand and partnered practices in the art.
Wendy Whited of Inaka Dojo opened the seminar focusing on shomenuchi and tsuki. She stressed aligning the body with the strikes to create the proper structure, power, and purpose in those strikes while concentrating on the intended target. This purpose creates an urgency for nage to move, move from the line of attack, and perform a technique. Next, Whited emphasized the footwork on both tenkan and irimi tenkan, stressing the attendees to move quickly, as if uke was coming in with a strong and powerful strike. She noted to maintain posture during movement, as that will cause off balance. Whited wrapped up her thirty-minute session with the funa kogi and shaking/breathing exercises, highlighting the importance of keeping center.
Next, Andy McLean of Chishin Dojo continued the seminar, from the United Kingdom, discussing the body’s posture and its relation to gravity. To stay in balance, McLean continued, an aikidoka must be married to gravity. He explains that an aikidoka must do the same to absorb a push from uke. In doing so, nage becomes grounded. McLean further explained that the action of being grounded forms a vector from the point of contact with uke to nage’s farthest foot from uke, creating a diagonal vector of power. He closed his session by demonstrating how this action happens with a partner and asked the participants to try this experiment at home.
From Romania, Dorin Marchis of Musubi Dojo taught how he conducts internal aikido training and how he applies it to his external training. In a seated position, he placed both palms upward and, with eyes closed, focused on the center of his left palm first, then his right. He would alternate his focus between the two palms. This exercise was to see without seeing and to create an intention in the palms of the hand. Marchis then shifted his focus to the shoulders, attempting to see them without seeing them. He then explained how his internal exercise connected to the external: to execute a proper shomenuchi or a yokomenuchi strike, the shoulder and hand must be aligned with center, but first, the hand and shoulder must be aligned. Marchis stressed keeping the shoulders relaxed as the attendees practiced the strikes. He also explained that the same principle is in effect when an aikidoka performs the entering movement of iriminage. At the close of his time, Marchis clarified that this internal to external training method was to help the aikidoka learn how to feel firstly themselves, and then their partners and how to best execute a technique.
After Marchis, Gary Marks of Denver Aikikai explored how weight affects the body and how to move that weight around the body. Marks demonstrated placing a weighted bag (he used a large bag of horse chow), on different points on his body and seeing how the bag fell. He began the exercise standing, then he moved to seiza to see how the weight fell from there. Marks later demonstrated how to roll around and performed ukemi with a weighted object. Understanding how affects an aikidoka’s body helps nage throw and uke taking ukemi.
Liese Klein of New Haven Aikikai training session concentrated on both bokken strikes and kata, the latter developed by the late Kazuo Chiba. She began with shomenuchi strikes from a horseback stance then moving into a squatting position. Klein also stressed that each cut is its own – an aikidoka focuses only on making one cut at a time. Klein also mentioned that her instructor, Chiba, would say when working on bokken strikes: “One cut, last cut,” driving home the message to focus on only one cut at a time. After moving from the shomenuchi strikes, she took participants through six of Chiba’s eight-count kata, each alternating between retreating and advancing strikes.
Hiroshi Ikeda of Boulder Aikikai ended the bridge seminar with a discussion about internal practice, similar to what Marchis expressed earlier, specifically concentrating on one point of the body with relaxation. Ikeda emphasized the use of center not only in the funa kogi movement that Whited began the seminar with, but also in all the techniques an aikidoka does throughout training. Then, through the implementation of musubi, or the movement within the movement while unified with center, as Ikeda put it, “You move, your partner moves.” Though this may not be a big or large movement, breaking uke’s balance using small or minute movement is all an aikidoka needs to complete a technique on uke.
With Ikeda giving his thanks to all who attended and those who hosted and sponsored the seminar, so ended the first virtual aikido bridge seminar. Everyone who instructed and attended expressed their gratitude and their thanks to Aikido Shimbokukai for hosting the event. Many of the attendees, even the organizers, looked forward to another bridge seminar in a similar format, possibly in the near future. Even in the face of COVID-19’s presence, the aikido community demonstrated that it can adapt and modify how they transmit aikido’s teachings to its practitioners.