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Shimamoto Sensei in Brisbane 2005

Put the earth, the sun, and the moon on a skewer, sprinkle them with stars and swallow them whole.

At the end of October 2005 Shimamoto Shihan from the Toyonaka Shosenji Dojo visited Brisbane and led a seminar hosted by the Brisbane Aiki Kai. Conducted over three days this was to prove to be a memorable event for all those who attended.

Sensei set the theme for the seminar from the outset when he informed us that he was searching for a beautiful aikido and asked us to join in and help him. In doing so, he shared some of his experiences in the art which included reminiscences of the Founder, Ueshiba Morihei and his own teacher the late Osawa Kisaburo Sensei. Whilst the attendees may have had varying degrees of success in displaying beautiful technique, it was clear that Sensei, a few days after his 68th birthday had achieved a rare combination of grace and martial intensity.

Posture is a key element in Shimamoto Sensei’s aikido and the link between an upright posture, relaxed shoulders, a wide and clear vision and correct technique was a constant theme throughout the weekend. In his first class Sensei pointed out the relationship between the ideal aikido posture, that used in zazen or Zen Buddhist meditation, and even the movements of classical Japanese Noh theatre.

When teaching irimi nage (entering throw) Sensei recounted 5 points which formed part of the Founder’s oral teachings.

(1) Enter to the dead angle
(2) Fold down a large opponent
(3) Move like a large wave
(4) Make arms like a ring of iron
(5) Finish with thumbs pointing downwards

Whilst the Founder referred to moving to the opponent’s dead angle or blind spot when performing irimi nage, Osawa Sensei used to simply instruct to move to a good position. After many years Shimamoto Sensei has concluded this means moving to a safe position at the correct angle to one’s partner with the proper timing.

We continued to explore the aspect of timing through the weekend with a series of exercises designed to develop the ability to anticipate the movement of one’s partner.

Once again this involved creating not only physical posture but also a calm and clear state of mind. The mental image in this case was to picture oneself as a castle surrounded by a moat of calm, clear water able to reflect the slightest intention by an opponent to attack.

In the words of one participant

The weekend of training with Shimamoto Sensei reminds us of all those key elements which are so important to deepening our understanding and practice of Aikido .... stability, calmness, awareness, grace and power, loved his explanation of specific aspects of techniques such as ikkyo or irimi nage, and use of imagery in our practice like 'the castle, strong and stable surrounded by waters calm, deep and still'.

Shimamoto Sensei has a rare ability to teach on a number of different levels in both the technical and philosophical aspects of aikido and it is fair to say that everyone from the beginner to the advanced received the benefit of some new insight throughout the weekend.

One of these memorable insights arose when practising tenchi nage or heaven and earth throw. It is said that the Founder often used to describe a concept of acting as a bridge between heaven and earth. In aikido this is embodied in tenchi nage, where the opponent’s energy is dissipated by extending one had towards upwards to the sky and the other downwards to the earth. Shimamoto Sensei urged us to go beyond that image and extend the top hand towards the planets and stars in space and the bottom hand through the earth and into space on the opposite side of the planet.

That cosmic theme was continued when he recounted another of the Founder’s oral teachings concerning the correct attitude when confronted by larger more powerful opponents. Rather than be intimidated by their strength the Founder drew on the image of a Japanese sweet consisting of three rice balls on a stick, only rather than rice balls he advised regarding one’s opponents as the earth, the sun, and the moon. Assuming the power of the universe put them on a stick, sprinkle them with stars and swallow them whole.

Finally, one of Sensei’s more profound comments concerned the ongoing debate in aikido between the relative merits of so called hard and soft style training. With amazing speed and liberal application of atemi, anyone on the receiving end of Sensei’s technique was left in no doubt to its effectiveness. Yet at the same time this hard edge was tempered with a softness whereby the receiver would be taken to the limit of their ability to respond and then be released safely and softly. Sensei commented that training hard and smashing one’s partner into the mat was okay but would ultimately limit one’s development, it being more difficult to be soft. When you train hard you are severe on your partner but when you train softly you have to be hard on yourself.

The organisers would like to thank all who attended, Naoko Kai whose translation made Sensei’s instruction available to us , Shimamoto Sensei for his time and generous support, and Mrs Shimamoto for accompanying him all the way from Japan.