This article first appeared in the Kiai newsletter in late 2002. This year marks the 50th year of Aikido for Hoa Sensei (and Bill Witt Shihan)--a remarkable milestone. Hoa Sensei was dojo-cho at the Aikido Institute for numerous years, and has left an indelible mark. Congratulations to Hoa Sensei and Bill Witt Shihan! --if you can, check out the celebration training happening this Saturday in Davis, CA!
Most people enter our consciousness gradually. We have no recollection of the first time we met even though we might share a long history. But occasionally we notice something remarkable during a first meeting, and then we always remember how we met that person.
In 1979 I was the senior student at the Aikido Institute. I had been training nearly five years, intensively for four, and I was preparing for my nidan exam. In those days we trained very hard – like all old-timers it always seems things are easier and softer now but it was hard training. Lots of high falls, lots of strong, fast techniques.
As part of my role as senior student, I felt it was my job to test any advanced students who came into the dojo. The primary method was a kind of endurance contest. I would begin training lightly with my partner and gradually increase the pace and the strength of the techniques. My partner would respond in kind. I’d throw in some variation that made the ukemi more difficult, and I’d see if my partner could/would do the same. We would continue that way until one of us gave up by lowering the pace and power. At that time I was in my twenties so I had lots of endurance and my ukemi was quite good.
One night a new black belt showed up for class. He was also in his twenties, and as I watched him during warm-upsI could see he was pretty good. Oh, boy! Here’s some fun!
The sensei demonstrated irimi nage, I believe shomen uchi. Irimi nage was one of my favorite techniques, and I knew a number of variations. I quickly bowed in with the new black belt, and we began training. The techniques were firm yet gentle, but the pace soon increased. I threw my partner harder, and he took a beautiful ukemi. He threw me harder, and I did my best. The throws became harder and faster. I threw harder; he threw harder. I began to throw in variations to see if my partner could keep up with me. I threw in a variation, and he threw in the same variation. Neither of us was giving an inch. I decided to try one of the more severe variations – your partner starts his high fall and when he is in mid-air, you throw him straight down. I knew I could take the ukemi – could my partner? I threw him straight down. He deftly took the fall. I threw him again and watched his graceful response. I had to admire falls like that. Now it was his turn to throw and my turn to show what I could do. But then the remarkable thing happened. This partner did not give up nor did he respond in kind. Instead he stood up and said to me “I think you are throwing me straight down.” Then he threw me, but not straight down. I was amazed. The contest was over, and he had won. He had been up to the challenge, recognized it, and had responded in a most Aiki way. Hoa and I have been friends ever since.