Monday, November 5, 2007

Raiders of the not so lost Ark

Actually, it’s Akuzawa Minoru, who goes by the nickname Ark.

Just spent the weekend at the Akuzawa seminar and ‘twas oh so much painful fun for all. It’s nice to once again be a slightly below average intelligence guy in the mix of people on the mat instead of trying to teach when you have so much you want to work on for your own progress. The seminar once again conclusively proves "I suck" and I am only teaching because I suck a little bit less than the guys I teach in the TNBBC do.

While some of the material overlaps things I’ve been taught and try to practice, the approach Ark teaches is different enough to make me get tunnel vision in trying to piece his teachings together in my own head and body. That is, I focus too much on getting on one part, while screwing up the rest, thereby screwing up the whole exercise. I should know better but obviously still screw up a lot. I don’t really mind that happening since that’s how we learn. But I’ll still bitch about it. The goal is just to screw up less as you go.

For anyone who has debated going to see Akuzawa, I highly recommend you do. First, Ark is a nice guy, and Rob John, who is his senior student, is a nice guy and great translator too. There is no status game with them. They present the exercises and training methods of the Aunkai and you can try to absorb what you can physically and mentally to your own benefit or you can leave it on the mat and go back to what you do. There is a bit of evangelical "Spread the word", but this time the word has value and depth and is worth the listen.

Second, the skill in what they do is very apparent once you touch hands. Ark’s approach streamlines the body connection work. When I say streamlines, I mean it leaves out the foo-foo and woo-woo that infects too many so-called internal martial art approaches to the detriment of students and teachers. This doesn’t mean there are any shortcuts to the work process, it is still a very demanding effort on the part of the person learning.

Out of those who I have met, had first hand contact with, and consider having real skill, Ark is one of them. Many people with out feeling it have slammed Ark’s approach. I was one of those who looked at some of the videos and thought, "I know that and have seen it done." I wasn’t wrong on that. But I was wrong on how good Ark is and how well he presents it. This is a large jump above many "masters" I’ve encountered. Combine that with being a nice guy, it’s worth the time and cost to go see him if you can.

I am not saying the Aunkai method is all things to all people. There is no long pedigree of history for those who are interested in that aspect. It’s just Ark and the methods he developed from his study of Chinese arts and Japanese arts. There is no newaza, but the things Ark teaches can help a grappler understand body connections for better power and balance, just as it does for standing and striking arts. That of course, is up to each student to figure out by practice.

I’ve met numerous "good" martial artists, who in reality, were not "good" but simply at the top of a pyramid organization having little pickles thrown at them by worshipping students. Others I’ve met may be good, but they are so arrogant, vain, and major league asses, they destroy their own message and wonder why they have no students and think they are unappreciated, while never considering their own faults.

Of course, I realize many people would be happier living in denial that there is something missing in their approach. Part of me would be too; I’d sleep better at night. But I’m more interested in actually learning so I try and put aside my position as head fluffy bunny of Icho Ryu and try to relearn what I do know, what I think I know, and understand the intent and goals of the instruction and teacher. Then it is up to me to understand how to implement that in my own practice and teaching. Along the way, I make lots of mistakes and try to learn from them. I wish the same for all reading this since good instruction is valuable, but personal experience, failure, and learning from that failure make the best teachers. Read my blog on Gawande.

You notice I’m leaving any mention of what was done at the seminar out. That’s intentional. Go and see for yourself. Will Ark be back? Hopefully, and maybe I’ll see you there.

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