Aikido training in Las Vegas: “Lightbulb moment” by Mike Smith

I recently had a class with a friend of mine from California who has been a student of Aikido for about 16 years now. My Sensei, Mr. Stan Pranin, was gracious enough to allow him to attend one of our classes here in Las Vegas. It was interesting to hear the two of them talk about the different variations and history of Aikido as well seeing his practice. We went over a few basic techniques and I was focused on the details of each movement. I’m new to this art and find myself going over the moves in my head away from class and then when I get back to class I get mildly frustrated by my lack of skill.

After class, Sensei asked if we had any questions and I asked him how to deal with all the details of the various movements and positions. I don’t remember his exact words but what I got out of his answer was very helpful. He gave me, what I gathered to be, an overall picture or concept to think about in the background of every move to keep me focused and ignore frustration. The concept involved balance and how, when dealing with an opponent, the main focus is to get him off balance and how this can be done with the most subtle of movements. Half the time I don’t even realize I’m off balance until it’s too late and I think that’s the point. Sensei’s movements are graceful and soft yet highly effective. It’s not about force, it’s about balance and I look forward to carrying this thought with me to my next class.


  1. Fr Douglas Skoyles SSC says:

    “The main focus is to get him off balance and how this can be done with the most subtle of movements.”
    Precisely! We call this “kirikuzushi” and it took me a few decades to recognize it but without “kirikuzushi” Aikido can rapidly become Japanese cultural dancing rather than real Budo.

  2. I’ve been thinking about a related topic, strength and weakness. We all know where we’re strong. We use it all the time. Weakness is like the black hole in our vision represented by the optic nerve. Mostly we just paint it over.

    A different example is from another of my favorite sports, sailing. These guys on an America’s Cup race boat led a line across the boat in a different fashion. When they tightened it up, they heard a nasty noise and water started rising in the bilge. Their chase boat had time to come alongside before they were treading water. Nobody had considered that uni-directional carbon fiber in the hull structure just couldn’t be loaded that way.

    The human skeleto-muscular system is full of weak spots like that. One of the aspects of O Sensei’s genius was finding so many of them. One of the wonderful things about Saito Sensei’s loyalty and respect was that working on strong kihon waza allows even the slowest student (like me) to eventually get past using strength (at least some of the time).

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