introducing Saegusa-sensei

Follow kenshusei Takenaga started aikido in the dojo of a man named Saegusa Ryusei.  Saegusa-sensei used to be around Tokyo and then moved to Hokkaido.  Takenaga never says much about him, but she traveled to Hokkaido for his blessing before the Kenshusei Course started and then went back there this month after it ended.  I guess that says a lot.

The other day, I had reason to go to Payet-sensei’s apartment before he left for Russia.  We were talking about aikido and somehow I mentioned Saegusa-sensei.  He said, “You know, he used to be my sempai at hombu.  He was very charismatic.”

Andy-sensei had also said he was charismatic and that his seminars, which Andy-sensei had attended once, were very interesting.

So, I was poking around the Internet the other day and found Saegusa-sensei’s website, when what did I see?  Is it?  Could it be?


Can you see?


It’s a very younthful-looking Andy-sensei!!

Somehow, Andy-sensei is always finding his way in front of the camera.  Or maybe the camera is following him.  It’s a kind of aikido!

Anyhow, here is Saegusa-sensei’s website.  You can buy an aikido Bible.  Someday, I would be interested in going to one of the seminars.



Happy White Pyjamas

The exam is finished.  There were some unexpected changes, but we rolled with the punches and finished successfully.  Thursday was supposed to be the final exam, but Payet-sensei wanted to eat lunch with us after the physical portion of the test, so the written portion of the exam was moved to this morning (Friday).



Thursday physical exam

Thursday’s test was a real trial.  Andy-sensei was out sick with influenza.  (He watched a live video feed of the exam via a Skype call to Nick’s iPhone.  Technology is amazing!)  So, Nick was moved from being my uke to be an assistant tester in place of Andy-sensei.  Then I thought Yasuda would be my uke, but it was changed again to Izzy.  With Yasuda as uke for Takenaga, they stood stock still through every other technique, which was unnerving.  To top it off, our favourite filmmaker, Kenji, was there taking stills and video of the test, so he was walking around with a camera while we were doing the test.  So many distractions.  The whole thing is kind of a blur, but we performed all the parts of the test I described in the last post.  My teaching technique for shido ho was karate mochi nikajo osae 2.  I think I did okay.

After the test, Payet-sensei bought us all bento boxes from the cafe at the hospital across the street.  It sounds humble, but actually the hospital cafe has quite good food… which you can eat every day for lunch if you come to Kyoto and do the Kenshusei Course.  We toasted with some sake (“kampai!”), listened to Payet-sensei’s stories about his recent trip to Russia, and talked about next year.

The legend of dead monkey pizza

After the test, I was so wiped out, I went back to the apartment and napped on the floor in front of the electric space heater with Three Outlaw Samurai playing on the Tube.  But Nick managed to get me out of the apartment.  It was an extremely mild spring-like day, so we went to Dai’s Pizza Kitchen.shop_img05

Real pizza, but no tables!  So we brought our pizzas to Kitano Tenmangu shrine, just down the street.  Since it was night, the shrine was closed and we ate our pizza in front of the giant stone torii.  I put Nick’s pizza box down on some rocks in front, and he said, “please don’t put my pizza on a dead animal.”  Sure enough, there was a decapitated monkey carcass lying under the pizza box–a strange finish to the day!


Friday written exam

This morning, we showed up for the Friday morning ken (sword) class as usual.  Then Payet-sensei went home, and Nick administered our written exams.  We sat around a table in the dojo with pencil and paper and had one hour to answer the following questions:

  1. Describe the history of Yoshinkan aikido.
  2. What is “maai”?
  3. What is “kokyuryoku”?
  4. What are some important points to keep in mind when teaching?
  5. Describe shomen uchi ikkajo osae 2.
  6. What is the difference between training and keiko?

At the end of it all, we were very happy.  Happy to be finished, but happy to be doing aikido too.

Tomorrow Izzy will return to California for one month before coming back to Kyoto to be sewanin for next year’s kenshusei class.

Takenaga will go to Hokkaido to visit her previous aikido teacher and home to Saitama to visit her family before returning to Kyoto.

And I will stay in Kyoto, resting my knees and teaching English until next year’s class arrives to move into their new home.

Thank you for reading.  Please check back for more posts later in March and then, starting in April, next year’s kenshusei as well!

why you need to come to Kyoto

I want to tell you about something that happened on Friday in the Kenshusei course.  I think I did aikido!


Last week, I was reading Aikido Shugyo again as research for the paper we have to write at the end of the Kenshusei course.  I read the book years ago–maybe 2006–but I haven’t read it again since coming to Kyoto.

Re-reading it now after doing Kenshusei, however… whew!!  Shioda is so straightforward, open, and transparent about aikido.  It’s pretty amazing, but it’s still difficult material.  Center line… focus… breathing… simple in theory, but to understand them with the body is another thing.

And then there’s the chapter called “Ki is the Concentration of Balance.”  The concentration of balance?  What does that even mean?

I was thinking about these things on Friday during class when Payet-sensei had us simply work on sotai dosa.  As Izzy and I were doing Tai no Henko Ni, sensei came over to us and did that thing he does.

That thing is where he physically repositions your body for you so you can feel what a technique is supposed to be.  As I was standing in kamae, he Payet-seizaextended my arm and told me to relax, then had Izzy put all his force into pushing.  And when I say relax, I really mean relax–no power, no tension, just shape.

Voila!  I was immovable and all of a sudden could feel so many things Shioda writes about in Aikido Shugyo… getting rid of your strength, maintaining body alignment without tension, power surging through the big toe…  My mind was blown!

All of a sudden, I understood “Ki is the concentration of balance.”  This is a phrase that you can grasp only through experience.  I never could have reasoned it out, but once Payet-sensei aligned my body and arm correctly, I had direct access to the experience.  How can you have a feeling of dynamic energy flowing through your body to defy your opponent when you are weak?  How can it get stronger when you get weaker?  Perfect alignment.  When balance becomes perfect, it transcends itself and makes your uke struggle with the earth underneath you.

Of course, as soon as I moved, I lost the feeling and couldn’t get it back on my own.  But for a moment, I was experiencing aikido!

I wonder… without training under Payet-sensei at Mugenjuku, how long would it have taken me to realise this feeling?  Would I have ever done it?  Will I ever find it again without Payet-sensei?


This is why people train under masters.  It’s why Shioda spent eight years with Ueshiba, two training from 5:00AM to 9:00PM.  It’s why Payet-sensei spent years with Shioda.  It’s why Crampton-sensei and Carter-sensei moved to Kyoto.  You could spend years training pointlessly on your own.  Transmission is directly from teacher to pupil, not through scrolls, books, or videos.



Moreover, you don’t know when the transmission is going to happen.  You have to have the right mindset and be practicing just the right technique and have sensei there to show you something at just this time.

You can train in California or Canada or Russia or anywhere, and Payet-sensei can be your shihan.  But if you see him only for an occasional seminar, you aren’t letting the right confluence of circumstances take place for you to receive the transmission.  In a seminar, the only thing you can be sure to find out is whether you are performing the outward form of techniques correctly.  If you get some insight, it’s luck, but you can’t count on it.  You need to see sensei in the dojo as much as possible and come with your ears open and your body and heart prepared to train.  Then you can be ready for lightning to strike.


Dai Yon in The Course

Now that we are in the Dai Yon portion of the Kenshusei course, we are supposed to go to the classes for regular students and act as Payet-sensei’s uke.

Apparently, when Payet-sensei was at Yoshinkan hombu, all the uchi-deshi used to scramble to try to be Shioda’s uke.  We are to do the same.  If Izzy and Naomi and I are all at the same class, we have to compete with each other and with Andy-sensei and with Nick to take uke for Payet-sensei.

When I was first told this, I thought it was a bit over the top.  But like everything in Yoshinkan, the form comes first.  I think I understand now that the uchi-deshi compete to be uke because you never know when you are going to get some transmission.  You have to create the opportunities for it to happen.

This is why you need to come to Kyoto.  If you are studying Yoshinkan two times a week in between watching episodes of Duck Dynasty, you should stop wasting your time and money.

Do the Kenshusei Course.  If you don’t have time, come visit for a month or two in the summer when you are ready to focus and can go do misogi at Nanzenji with the Kenshusei.  If you are serious about Yoshinkan, you need to come to Kyoto.


Blue sky country

One year ago in July and August, I was traveling in Mongolia.

Sleeping on sanddunes…


Riding across the steppe…


Wearing traditional Mongolian “дээл“…



Drinking fermented horse’s milk… 

No photos, but tasty!

I went to Mongolia with the non-profit organization Nomadicare, which does good work in Mongolia.  I had planned to stay in Mongolia for one year, but couldn’t get a visa.

My wanderings through SE Asia and China eventually brought me to a place, psychologically and geographically, that caused me to apply to the Kenshusei program.

I miss Mongolia a lot, but Kenshusei is a great experience.