Kokikai Aikido Australia annual Spring Camp with Shuji Maruyama Sensei at UNSW

Annual national aikido camp with Shuji Maruyama

For the 27th time, the founder of Kokikai Aikido Shuji Maruyama Sensei came to UNSW to lead the annual Spring Camp.

So what?

The Spring camp is an event where kokikai aikido practitioners from all across Australia come to Sydney on the October long weekend to train together, do senior level gradings, and listen to the new insights from Maruyama Sensei, who turned 81 this year.

Set-up

It is part of the tradition at UNSW to sweep and mop the mats before each regular training session. At camp time, this dojo preparation goes to the next level. The main dojo is cleared, swept, mopped, and wiped with hand-cloths. White belts (usually) line up with their hand-cloths, and, in one unbroken line, move forward together wiping and disinfecting the dojo mats.

Training

Spring camp means Maruyama Sensei comes to Australia from Japan and shares his latest insights and into aikido techniques, principles, and philosophies. At camp we get introduced to higher concepts and refinement of the martial art that we can take back to help inspire our regular training sessions. One of Sensei ‘s discussion points this year was about reducing power in your opponent. Another idea was being relaxed. Not a limp, sleepy “in the onsen” kind of relaxed. But a conscious posture that is free of tension and stiffness.

As well as the insights and demonstrations from Sensei, camp is a great opportunity to train with people from all around Australia. This year there were about 70 attendees from 10 different dojos. At camp we get to train with people of all levels and we get to experience the subtle variations in technique and style that seems to naturally emerge from within each individual dojo. It is an amazing group of people, a warm, welcoming community of martial artists.

Social Events

Another great part of camp is the social events. Social dinners are fun and relaxed and we can have great food, enjoy a couple of drinks, and get to know each other in a non-dojo setting. Sometimes it is hard to recognise each other when we are not wearing our gi. It is always interesting to realise the huge diversity of people who do aikido. There are many uni students from various disciplines, from undergraduates to PhDs. Among (often) the more senior aikido practitioners, there are lecturers, doctors, IT engineers, painters, accountants, business managers & executives, researchers, and many more. The common thing we have in common: Kokikai Aikido.

Compound effect of Aikido - Antonio

Antonio saying goodbye to his “brown” belt

Antonio saying goodbye to his “brown” belt

I started training aikido in 2013, in my last year of Uni. At the time, aikido was a great distraction from the studies, assignments and honours project. For that reason alone, I wish I had started training aikido a few years earlier.

Slowly, training became part of my routine. The art started growing on me and with that also grew my ability to control my thoughts and bring my mind to where I am … to concentrate. The opposite to what I experienced from other sports, in aikido you need to learn to relax and coordinate your mind and body with intention. Calming oneself progressively and keeping composure despite circumstances. It helps me to be present and to sharpen my thoughts and movements … on and off the tatami.  

It has been 12 months, or about that, since I graded for my black belt but my aikido journey still in its infancy. The more I think about the similarities between the dojo and what happens in life, the better I understand myself and the fundamentals of my interaction with others. And as my aikido grows, the way I see the world changes …

UNSW Aikido Shodan Essay - Stephane Velasque

A new black belt! 2018

My Kokikai journey started in 2013.

I was watching my son having his Judo training on a Saturday morning at the UNSW dojo. As his training was about to end, I felt a presence entering into the dojo. The first thing I saw was a black hakama and in a split second, my mind went 15 years back when I was part of the Martial Arts’ world.

Initially practicing Judo for more than ten years, I eventually practiced Aikido in France in 1994. Based on my Judo foundations, I was able to fall and roll safely. I believe that was the reason why my aikido partners seemed to truly enjoy throwing me! Aikido was very different to what I used to practice on the mats. Strength against strength was unnecessary. The principles were more about moving away from the direct line of attack and deflecting the force to defeat the opponent by his or her own energy. Harmony between the mind and the body. When my Sensei was demonstrating, it looked easy but I was fascinated by the difficulty of trying to do it myself.

A couple of years later, I left the mats because of work and travels. From time to time, I tried to come back to a dojo only to find excuses stopping me, even though I was still dreaming about these flying hakamas…  

So, in 2013, at the end of this Judo class, I stood up and introduced myself to Allen Sensei. I immediately knew that I would come back to the mats!

I restarted with the foundations. Fifteen years is a long time. Long enough to forget the basics and most importantly, long enough to introduce wrong habits…  I had to recondition my body but also my mind contemplating the four Kokikai principles one by one. Keep one point, relax, posture, positive mind. That is only when I started to put them together that I understood the interaction between them.  We need to apply the four principles at the same time. When stepping on the mat, we enter in a very specific mindset focusing on these principles.

Trying to have the same mindset outside of the dojo enriched my life on many levels. Starting a day at work became similar to stepping on the mat: clearing my mind to focus on the day forward, keeping a good posture, relax and with a positive mindset, I will overcome issues and come up with solutions.

Indeed, Aikido improved my body awareness, coordination, balance. I always loved surfing, this is also a quest to harmony. Thanks to aikido, I then developed a “surfing mindset” by creating some inner peace that made me understand my balance, the unpredictability of my liquid uke and gradually enhanced my trajectories and moves.

Another important characteristic of Aikido is that it teaches us humility. How many times have I been convinced that I was good at a certain technique? Well, not that often to be honest, but whenever I was at least under the impression that I knew how to make it work, someone would react in an unexpected way challenging my thoughts. This is actually a good feeling as soon as we accept to let go of our ego, we understand that we have to continually refine our techniques and foundations to eventually reach the next level.

Some time ago, during a training session, I heard something along these lines: “as a white belt, you learn the foundations. As a black belt, you start to learn Aikido”. As I went for my black belt grading, I was curious and happy to open and explore this new chapter of my aikido journey with a flying hakama...

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Well done. UNSW's newest black belts

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