Before Becky and Henry and Mac and Karl, there was John Usher. Usher-san was my first aiki instructor, and was the instructor I spent the longest with, so he has been most formative of my aiki thinking. Over the 20+ years I've been working with Usher, he has taught me many things besides a bunch of techniques, a handful of which include...
- Embrace your slowness and weakness ASAP - At some point in your life you will get to where you are unable to beat your opponents by being harder and stronger and faster than them. At that point, if you continue martial arts, you will only be able to do so by embracing the slowness and gentleness of aiki and ju. And because there is a long learning curve on aiki and ju, you need to embrace those qualities while you're still young - long before you reach the point where you can only function in slowness and gentleness.
- Learn to diagnose and solve your own problems - Around the time we were shodans or nidans Usher began inoculating us with the idea that unless we figured out for ourselves what was good aiki and what was bad aiki and started diagnosing our own problems and coming up with a plan to fix our own problems - then we would always suck at aiki.
- If something malfunctions at a high level, there's always a problem with the foundation. We were hammered on ukemi and walking and releases and kihon every single class - and it paid off! When we would go to seminars people started asking us why their stuff didn't work and we would reach back and pull out an Usher kihon lesson.
- Kata is kata - when you do kata for real, it becomes Real Kata. Usher is a bigtime kata proponent - it is how he thinks and how he teaches. But he always managed to walk that path without becoming a kata nazi. Usher did his sandan demo in Seitei jodo kata in Houston in front of all of the big-name teachers, and afterward, Henry-sensei told us that Usher was one of the only guys that level that he'd ever seen who looked like he understood what was happening with a jo and a sword. On the other hand, Karl-sensei once told Usher-san after a shodan or nidan kata demo, "That was real pretty, now would you like to learn how to make that kata Real?" Tomiki called this real level of kata, "Painting the eyes of the dragon,"
- Randori can wait till later. Until we were around nidan we had no clue what randori was or how it was different from sparring or what the goals were. Usher's feeling was that until around nidan we did not have a technical foundation, ukemi skills, or time on the mat to understand how to do productive randori. It turns out that I just heard that lesson indirectly from Henry-sensei a few weeks ago through a long-time direct student of his.
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