The Most Valuable teachings I Have Learned from Saotome Sensei

For over a decade I have traveled to Missoula, Montana to witness Saotome Sensei teach at Rosso Hultgren Sensei’s vibrant dojo, Aikido of Missoula. As I reflect on the teachings I have embraced from these trainings over the years, some just land deep in my psyche: I hear them in my head. They are as alive to me now as the moment I first listened.  Too many times did Sensei remind me:  “Don’t space out!” and “Aikido has no style”.  Below are the teachings that have had a deep impact on my practice.  I have immense gratitude for these jewels of aiki wisdom.

  • Aikido has no style. O Sensei never identified a style. Aikido defines our essence: ”to be or not to be.” 
  • O Sensei referred to ‘Ikkyo’ as a life time study. Of course you know how to do ikkyo.  But can you make it work today? With this person?  Or tomorrow, in completely different circumstances with different people?
  • Always pay attention to the appropriate distance between yourself and your partner(s). Always.
  • Nage needs to be act first. In order to do that, his perceptions must be ‘turned on’.  Don't’ space out!  The Samurai society recognized the power of wakefulness. In present time we are often living in a dream. Crossing the street in traffic with our eyes glued to our cell phone reliant on the kindness of strangers in a hurry to get their cars down the road.  We need to wake up.
  • It’s important to hone our ability to learn by seeing. Often we are caught by the image and we make assumptions: he is big, she is small. We need to train our perceptions; see with our eyes, but also our senses. What do you see now in this moment? Do you need an eye doctor to help you? I show you how to move, but you need to train yourself to see the details.
  • Good timing is crucial. Look at shomenuchi ikkyo for example.  Clap when you think that uke is about to attack.  You are late. You must see the attack as it unfolds. Respond to the attack before it gains momentum.
  • We must honor the naturalness of our aiki movement.  I have good teachers in Florida.  Mosquitos.  If I am too aggressive in my swat, they get me every time. How do you brush your hair?  Hairbrush is a weapon.
  • Aikido is not a sport. It’s an examination of Life and Death. In ancient times, sport was an activity to knock around the enemy’s head.
  • You cannot take care of your opponent if you don’t understand what is inside the techniques of aikido.  I offer you many examples of shoulder and elbow power - two of the body’s lethal weapons - this weekend. The blows that destroy uke are often subtle, landing before the opponent knows what is happening.
  • The enemy does not care if you are kind. He does not care if you are using Aikido to protect him.  The enemy is going to kill you, regardless of your kind heart.  If you can demonstrate the skill to take down enemy and don’t, that’s aikido.  Everyone misunderstands aikido to be a soft art.  It is not so. Aikido is not a competitive martial art. The aikidoist knows how to both ‘take out’ and to ‘take care’.
Kimberly Richardson