Impressions from the Matsuoka Sensei Seminar

(January 30-February 1, 2009)

matsuoka_01As I left work Friday afternoon and headed south to attend the first class of a three-day seminar with Matsuoka Sensei, I noticed the cold edge of winter was no longer in the air. Spring’s coming, and the warmer weather always makes me look forward to weapons practice in the park. I was also looking forward to this opportunity to practice with Matsuoka Sensei, who was teaching a seminar sponsored by Castle Rock Aikido, and spend time with a couple of my students from Kiryu Aikido, teachers (Miho & Jeff Albright Sensei) and students from Castle Rock Aikido, and a few students from other dojos.

The seminar began with the first class Friday night, followed by two classes on Saturday, and wrapped up with the fourth class Sunday morning. In this post, I want to share some of the ideas, techniques, and impressions that I took away from the three days with Matsuoka Sensei. Over the years, I’ve found it’s a good idea to write notes after a seminar, and I thought I’d share some of my notes with you. I find there are always so many new concepts packed into the short timeframe of a seminar, and even jotting down some bullet points can help you recall details quickly later on.

If you’re a student of Aikido or if you’ve seen videos of this martial art, you can probably guess it’s hard to describe what you’re seeing or learning in words. It’s even more difficult to try to share a certain concept if a person hasn’t also attended the session and has the same context.  Nonetheless, I’ll do my best here to put into writing the main things I saw and learned during the seminar…

[Class One]

dsc_0008In the first class, Matsuoka Sensei started off by explaining about our centers. He talked about our deep centers and demonstrated in seiza how we can move around this center. We all started to practice this exercise of moving around this center. Matsuoka Sensei talked a lot about moving naturally and not making a form or taking a rigid pose when practicing our basics. The moving back and forward exercise reminded me of those dipping birds. I thought how smooth and balanced he was as he moved around his center — and while looking natural. This exercise led into how we should have our center under us and that we need to learn to move our body as a whole while keeping our hands, feet, and body in sync. This was an important recurring theme throughout the seminar.

We went through a few different exercises on how to place and move our bodies in this natural motion. He made a point about how we should not overcommit with our bodies (weight too much forward, stance, etc) here. We ended the evening session by reviewing how to move our body in seiza, and to smoothly move our hands in a natural motion (mainly not using too much muscle in our arms). This translated into our basic suwariwaza kokyo-ho. This was a great way to start the seminar and we got a small glimpse into Matsuoka Sensei’s graceful Aikido form.

[Class Two]

matsuoka_kaitenSaturday morning’s class began with additional exercises to practice moving our bodies together as one unit, not arms, legs, and torso as separate elements. Matsuoka Sensei introduced another visualization of our bodies as a container. Using this mental picture helped us work on moving the container all at once — keeping our hips and center beneath us. He stressed again that we must move naturally and not make a form (pose). Next he had us work on moving our back foot in hanmi, and when we moved forward we shouldn’t lift that back heel. Also, we shouldn’t bob up and down when progressing forward.

One interesting point he shared that I really enjoyed was how we can actually send signals to our partners. He demonstrated this when he used muscle. His partner felt this and could respond and resist the movement. He showed how moving naturally and not using muscle allows no “signals” to be sent and the partner then can’t detect where the movement is going. This is something that we sense naturally, but we do not always practice this in our training. This was a nice reminder.

[Class Three]

dsc_0255During this class Saturday afternoon, we had the treat of getting a taste of Matsuoka Sensei’s Aikido weapons. Matsuoka Sensei stated that he did not consider his weapons as a style, but to evolve over time with the principles and lessons he has picked up during his years of practice. He started the session by showing examples of coordinated body movements — again referencing the container he described before.

We started doing basic strikes with the bokken and worked on keeping these movements flowing. Matsuoka Sensei has very flowing movements and you could see his sword moving from one strike to another as he described. It was interesting to see these strikes and notice that even though they were flowing, they contained a lot of power. We were instructed to use these strikes (e.g., men-uchi) to practice moving our body, feet, and center together. I have seen a lot of different sword movements and they all have different timing of the body     and the sword. This reminded me of the “ki ken tai ichi (body and sword one) in Kendo. Matsuoka Sensei really demonstrated this principle well: when his sword started moving, his feet were already sliding forward, and his feet came to a stop right as the sword came to a nice natural stop. It is hard to explain without seeing, but it was a good example of principles we should work to incorporate into our open hand Aikido.

dsc_0287After working on our basic strikes, we did an exercise where both partners were in a wrist-to-wrist position (both with bokkens) as if you were employing Shomen-Uchi Ikkyo. From this position, we worked on flowing with the energy as we do with Ikkyo. We should not tense up and use too much power, because our partner can then sense the direction we’re going and resist the technique. Even though this sounds easy and should be intuitive, I believe it is our natural instinct when matched with a partner to want to use power. This concept can directly can be used in the application of out basic ikkyo omote and ura techniques.

The class then went through exercises for each of the 5 kamae (go gyo no kamae). For jodan kamae (high level), one person was in jodan no kamae and the other one was in chudan no kamae (middle). The person in jodan no kamae stepped forward and did a men-uchi strike while the other person moved back from chudan no kamae into jodan no kamae. Repeat. In the next exercise, one person was in chudan no kamae and the other in geidan no kamae (low). The person in geidan no kamae (who started with right foot forward) stepped off the line to the left with their left foot, and then stepped slightly forward with their right foot. While moving their feet, they would bring up the tip of their sword to their partner’s wrist.

mtsuoka_entry01The importance of this exercise was it demonstrated that the tip must lead and then the body follows immediately afterwards. This principle of entering with the tip first was shown the next day for irimi. The day ended with an open hand relation to the entry with a sword. Here we blended to the outside of a yokomen strike and then threw our partner in an irimi movement. This was a nice finish to the weapons class to recap the direct relation of weapons to our open hand techniques.

[Class Four]

We started the last session with a recap of most of the basic exercises we had been practicing for the past few classes. This was nice to go over the movements and try to ingrain these movements (well, to the best of our abilities for a few days). Matsuoka Sensei stressed that all of Aikido movements are irimi and tenkan, and that we must train to master these movements along with moving the body as a whole. He added the idea that one person trying to move a large rock by themselves is hard work, and with 10, 20, or 30+ people it is much easier. This is like using our body as a unified whole, and the more points we can blend to create a synergy, the easier it becomes.

mastsuoka_entry002The class then practiced some irimi exercises, blending to the outside and to the inside straight in. Matsuoka Sensei then demonstrated some uke nagashi (deflection) movements. He explained how these movements should be thought of as if there is a weapon in our partner’s hand and that we should move our body and head out of the line of the weapon. We practiced ukenagashi to the outside and then into kotegaeshi.

matsuoka_ukenagashi01We ended the day going back to the natural movement of the rowing exercise “funa kogi undo”. He told the class that O’sensei used the term “ame no tori fune” when he did this exercise and this came from the ancient Japanese story “Kojiki” or “The reconds of ancient matters”.

Final Thoughts from the Weekend


There is probably a lot I missed and I am not trying to cover everything that happened during the seminar. That would be impossible :). Instead, I wanted to focus this post on some of the bigger ideas and concepts that we talked about and practiced during the three days.

Matsuoka Sensei demonstrated the techniques with practiced precision and flowing execution while sharing his mature vision of his Aikido experiences. He was very enjoyable to watch and was very kind in his help of all the students during the seminar. Also, I wanted to send a quick thanks to Albright Sensei and

castle rock Aikido. I hope I get the chance to learn from Matsuoka Sensei again, and suggest if you get the opportunity you do the same.


Kiryu Aikido ©2009

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Comments (7)

Jeff AlbrightFebruary 7th, 2009 at 9:12 pm

Blevins Sensei,

Thank you so much for summarizing the highlights of the seminar. It was a great experience. I think we all learned alot, and had a great time with good friends. I noticed my posture improved dramatically after this seminar.

Thanks for the wonderful training. We all look forward to seeing you soon.

Sue PFebruary 7th, 2009 at 10:31 pm

Nice article. I was happy to hear the ship container analogy with respect to moving our centers and not over reaching (which would allow our balance to be taken). I first learned this while practicing karate and was glad to hear it reiterated in the seminar. Working to keep your center is a constant effort. I was most interested in the softness, or lack of force, that was discussed. This has been a struggle for me and believe the concentration on it will help me. I had an awesome time at the seminar and look forward to applying what I learned in my training.

Thanks for taking those notes!

adminFebruary 7th, 2009 at 10:35 pm

Albright Sensei, thanks for the comments. I think we all have a ton to work on. Good thing we have time 🙂

adminFebruary 7th, 2009 at 10:37 pm

Sue-san, its amazing how different teachings and skills can flow from one martial art to another. I thought the softness was a very nice touch to the seminar, and I just need to figure out how to include that into my own aikido (while keeping the power and zanshin).

Michael KilmanFebruary 8th, 2009 at 1:25 am

Great summary of the weekend. Of coarse it is difficult to capture everything we learned, because there was so much. I definitely find myself thinking about how his teaching can be applied to my own practice.

Kara StewartFebruary 8th, 2009 at 1:28 pm

What a wonderful seminar. Matsuoka Sensei sounds like a gifted teacher and what a great opportunity everyone had to learn from him as he shared his passion for Aikido.

While I unfortunately was unable to attend this seminar, what you’ve written here is very helpful to my practice. The notions of moving our body as an integrated whole, keeping our centers, bringing softness rather than muscle to our techniques, and maintaining flow with power in weapons work and open hand are huge for me to remember and reinforce.

Thanks so much for sharing this great information.

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