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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