When Filip Maric came to Hong Kong in March and told me he was planning to organize an intensive Aunkai training in New Zealand with Akuzawa sensei, the Aunkai enthusiast that I am couldn’t help but be excited. What an amazing opportunity to spend more than a week training with sensei, 5-6 hours a day, along with like-minded people.
Fast forward to 17 November, it was finally time to take my flight to Auckland, and start this amazing week of exploring Aunkai a bit more.
Two days of open seminar in Auckland and five days of intensive training in the amazing Koru Dojo of David Lynch in Coromandel, you can guess the content was massive and deep, and that I won’t even try to put everything here. The presence of Rob for the open seminar was also a key element as he’s not only a great translator but also an amazing teacher who always knows when and where to give you hints. But without going too deep into the content, there are probably a few elements that can be highlighted.
Frame vs movement
In my first years of Aunkai, emphasis was clearly on building the frame via the tanren and basic kunren, often giving an impression of rigidity with people trying to keep their frame at all cost, even though for most of us it actually meant bracing and defeating the very purpose of an internal art. This has changed dramatically in the past few years and the emphasis this time was clearly more on movement. Having two study groups in NZ, led by two great martial artists, Filip and Liam, there was also less of a need to go through the basics as these are already taken care of, allowing sensei to go deeper in the method.
Instead of trying to keep our balance at all cost, Akuzawa sensei showed us how to accept the constant change between balance and unbalance. In my opinion, a big part of Aunkai consists in exploring our own limits, the limits of our balance being one key element and accepting the unbalancing gives key insights into where our body can or cannot go and what are the related consequences.
Reorganizing the body
Something I have been exploring quite a bit already and that was a very clear takeaway of this intensive week. Internal power requires a proper structure to avoid using excessive muscular power and a way to achieve that is to have a body well organized and aligned.
Along with it goes the idea of using our pelvic girdle as what I would consider to be a tray, as in trying to use it to balance the upper body but also our opponent. Understanding how the pelvis works, the many positions it can take and how it impacts the general structure is a key point from the week in my opinion.
Work on the ground
If this is something we don’t do much in Tokyo as there are no mats in the dojo, Akuzawa sensei thoroughly enjoys exercises on the ground, either in seiza or with one knee down, and I have to admit they are good tools to learn how to move and to engage the pelvis and tanden properly.
Not having the flexibility of a Japanese person raised doing seiza every day, I have to admit I suffered quite a bit there and that I could feel how sore they were becoming. Nothing bad though, my feet finally suffered much more from the constant friction with the mats than my knees did.
Aside from the high quality of the teaching, this week was also a fantastic opportunity to spend quality time on and outside of the mats with sensei but also with all the fantastic people who came. Despite the long trip from Hong Kong, I was not the one coming from the furthest place as Bea came all the way from Germany. That’s around 30 hours of travel and 12h hours of time difference, not a small commitment. I already knew Filip obviously and was extremely happy to meet him again. Filip is one of the most passionate martial artists I know, extremely skilled, open minded and a real pleasure to work with. I also knew Gray who came to HK recently and was happy to spend more time with him this time. And of course, I was so happy to meet everyone else. I spent quite a lot of time with the Christchurch gang and in particular Liam and Dave (to which I will add Bea), again great people, committed, friendly, it was a real pleasure to exchange with them on the mats but also to spend some time with them visiting the north island on our resting days.
I’m obviously not going to name everyone, not because they don’t deserve it, they certainly do, but because I should certainly keep it short. I particularly appreciated the fact that even though some of us were relatively new to the method, the whole group jut worked so well together, in and out of the dojo. Quickly enough informal sessions were taking place between the sessions with sensei, with Filip, Liam and myself trying to give additional insight when we could.
The place chosen for the intensive training clearly also played a role in making this week magical. The Koru Dojo is located on the beautiful peninsula of Coromandel, in the bush, with waterfalls, glow worms, eels, and close enough to the beach so you can easily go there for a training session. The dojo itself is certainly the most beautiful one I have ever seen, pictures will let you see what I’m talking about. And then there is David Lynch and his wife Hisae. Having studied Aikido under the direction of Shioda sensei and Tohei sensei, and having brought Aikido to New Zealand 50 years ago, David and Hisae are not just anyone in the martial arts world. But you would probably think they are when meeting them, as they are just so kind and humble, friendly and with so many great stories to tell. They do give a heart to this place.
To conclude, I’d like to thank Filip for his organization. When you see how seamless it goes, you would tend to think it’s just easy. But it’s nothing like that and a seamless experience always comes from hard work behind the scene. Thanks also to sensei and Rob for their teaching, it’s always an invaluable experience. And thanks to all the people who came, trained, and shared this moment. I cannot wait to come back to New Zealand!