In my quest for self-training, there was an opportunity I found to practice Daito ryu Aikijujutsu under Juan Ribot Sensei in south Florida, almost in my back yard so to speak (4.5 hours drive).
I have a very humble background in the martial arts that began with Hapkido in South America back in 1989 following which I explored some Chinese and Filipino arts, then progressed from Jujutsu to Aikido, Kenjutsu and eventually to Daito ryu Aikijujutsu
I have heard about this Daito ryu Aikijujutsu (main line) study group near the city where I live in (Windermere, Florida), so I contacted the head instructor, Juan Ribot Sensei, to arrange the possibility of “going to watch or practice” in a session.
Ribot Sensei and I have interacted many times over the telephone and electronic mail during which he had invited me to partake in one of his morning training sessions on a Saturday. However due to time constraints I have put off this meeting for quite some time, until one Saturday morning in March I finally had the chance to go.
I arrived at the address of Ribot Sensei’s study group and I was kindly greeted as he welcomed me into his training space and after introducing me he proceeded to ask me about my background in the arts
At first I did not know what to expect, althougth I had a great first impression of Ribot Sensei after our previous long distance interactions, I was curious about the ambience of the class, is it going to be crowded? too serious? and what would my face to face impression be like?
The first hour of practice was done almost the “Zen way”, meaning there was not much verbal explanation. We started with the ippondori technique in Seiza and progressed from there. I’ve practiced in Seiza in the past but I must admit I was not prepared to do so for such a long period of time. Afterwards Ribot Sensei was very eager to explain any questions I had; in fact he encouraged me to ask questions and his answers were complete and detailed, including subjects about the curriculum and general.
We continued by practicing some other techniques that included variations of ippondori along with Gyakuudedori and Hijikaeshi from Ikkajo. I began to realize more of the intricate details required to execute the techniques properly… My goodness I think you can write a book on Ippondori alone! I was taken aback to see how the “six essential principles” were used in the execution of each technique, among them I’ve noticed the emphasis on kuzushi as well as the emphasis on the constantly changing maai.
I was in awe at Ribot Sensei’s vast knowledge and I felt very fortunate to have this sort of one on one personal attention. For a while I was left to practice the forms on my own while Sensei was paying attention to the rest of the students, something I rather needed in order to catch my breath. I must say I was quite worn-out at that point, not to mention I was running a fever two days before. But I think with all my excitement it seems that for a moment my fatigue went away.
This experience went beyond my expectations. The atmosphere and camaraderie within the group made me feel as if I was friends with them even before this training session.
Attention to detail was there and Ribot Sensei was very adamant to ensure the techniques were done correctly. During his explanations he even used a Samurai armor display that sits in a corner of his Dojo to elaborate on the atemi-waza used in the techniques and their historical value.
After the class Ribot Sensei was very kind to share with me some stories of one of his meetings with Kondo Sensei and I was delighted to be shown pictures of his recent trips.
In my perspective, Ribot Sensei demostrated not only a high level of technichal mastery of the art but his demeanor was that of a true gentleman with a wonderful personality and the atmosphere of his study group reflected that. I was very grateful of his time even more after he indicated he teaches not only at a small scale (class size wise) but he is very selective as to who he teaches, not to mention his teachings are non-profit.
Once I read a quote from Kondo Sensei “Budo and life are one and the same,” I believe then he meant that through martial arts we use techniques for character development to reach a higher spiritual level, therefore reaching the “top of the mountain” will be that as well as developing a technical skill. I feel Ribot Sensei is the epitomy of that statement.
At every moment there was a remarkable sense of an authentic tradition being shown to me. I am not arguing whether or not “you have to go to Japan” to find a truly qualified instructor to train in the Koryu, the purpose of this article is not that by any means, but instead I wanted to share an experience during which I “feel” I experienced true Budo, with an excellent Sensei, and I was fortunate enough to find it all within reach.
Thank you Sensei!