Perching on a Branch with Mark Evans Sensei

posted 4 May 2012, 03:24 by Dan James
Last night Mark sensei and Lisa visited our dojo and shared something of their time with Okajima Sensei in Japan. Time was short, though he managed to cover an overview of their training experience in Japan, as a bit of a teaser really. First up were some Soutai exercises and some insight/explanation into their purpose and aid in the study of Aikido. Soutai, is as Williams Reed Sensei once shared as an aside in Japan(link), just the characters for Taiso the other way around and there neatly is its role in our practice.  Soutai is intended to allow the body (and hence the mind ) to relax and become rebalanced. When practiced at the start of class, its a form of preparing the body to be better balanced as well as developing a state of 'proper' mind to maintain (and return to ) during the practice of the Aikido arts.

Sensei led us through several exercise and then we practiced some aikido arts that related to the movement. in these movements the touch of the hands on uke was very soft. Sensei used the analogy of birds perching on a branch, where, rather than forcing uke to the ground, the relaxation of the body draws them to the ground. 

We then explored Goshindou, a self defence oriented art that Okajima Sensei is a lineage holder in. The movements are short and sharp, yet based on aiki principles at the same time. Many of the movements i thought (*speculation alert*) were also consistent with practice of the weapons arts, such as trapping holding and imaginary saya during movements. I was delighted to learn Mark Sensei and Lisa hold dan grades in this art and are open to the possability of running a short seminar in this sister art in the near future.

Sensei finished class with Kokyu dosa, explaining that for him it encompassed all we need to learn. From, the Soutai principles to relax, the aiki-age aiki-sage of unbalancing(link to aikiphysics II), the need to move from our centre and then an insight suggesting that it is less about pinning uke at the end and more about calm in ourselves invoking calm in uke.


There is something very special that happens during prolonged intense practice as transformation. To do this in Japan is the dream of many and Mark Sensei and Lisa made reality. Practicing multiple class everyday for a year brings with it an incredible amount of knowledge in bodywork and mind that Sensei seems to be well on the path to integrating and making their own in the year since returning to Australia. I found his teaching to be a much deeper experience than just a few years ago when he last taught in Brisbane and I look forward to next time, as it continues to distill in his mind and body.

I was greatly encouraged to hear that Okajima sensei studies many other arts actively, in addition to those he teaches. This is a incredible wellspring of knowledge to drink from that I hope will continue to replenish and extend on the knowledge he brings to our school for many years.

I'd like to thank Lisa for her feedback on her experience in our dojo (I often grill visitors for feedback) and on how she found our role of uke in the dojo. Its important for uke to be conducive to learning, rather than dive bunnies, overly resistive or prescriptive in response to technique. The feel of a traditional dojo, such as Okajima sensei's in Japan is some thing we have striven to create so thankyou all for being such exemplars. Thankyou also to our regular visitors from other dojo for what you bring to the dojo.

A reflection

One of my conundrums as a student of the art is that we have the student handbook and grading syllabus as a starting point, the complete syllabus that is made available to all dojo through Michael Williams Sensei our chief instructor,  yet beyond this are the Shinkage Ryu and Daito Ryu teachings and now the Soutai and Goshindou are also emerging. There is a lot to learn! a lifetime really. For this black duck with a modest 20yrs under my belt its exciting to be able to continue to learn, though the task of running a modest dojo and what to teach people just starting the art is a challenge.

In many respects I shouldn't be surprised, Takeda Sensei drew on many source to create Daito Ryu, his principle student (arguably) Ueshiba Sensei drew on other sources to create Aikido, Tohei sensei (his first 10th dan) drew on other sources to create Ki Aikido, Maruymaa Sensei (president of Tohei's Ki Society) drew on other sources to create Aikido Yuishinkai and now Okajima sensei is also bringing in new sources. Having been around for a solid foundation in Ki Society, the spread of Aikido Yuishinkai in the west and now seeing the influences of Okajima's other lineages its a real challenge to maintain beginners mind and practice authentically what is Aikido Yuishinkai, there is so much to learn…. I guess thats why the dojo is still open