Hiroshi Kato Shihan arrived in Houston on Thursday, the 22nd
The following day, we had a non-scheduled class for ShinKiKan
members only. The class was very spirited and fast paced. As one of the participants, it
seemed to me that Kato Sensei was testing our conditioning on his arrival from Japan.
Our Seminar officially began on the weekend of Saturday, July
24th. The Saturday classes were two hours in the morning, with three hours for lunch, and
two hours of practice following. Every Saturday class had the participating group eating
lunch with Kato Sensei at a local restaurant. The Sunday classes were three hours in
length and the weekday classes were two hours in evenings
(although, Sensei called for morning practices everyday which ran from 7:00 - 9:00 a.m.
for those who could attend).
One of the remarkable things about Kato Sensei, is his great
humility. He is very personable, friendly to everyone and willing to share as well as
answer questions. Sensei loves to sit with the group and have exchanges with everyone
present. All sessions have one hour of free handed techniques followed by an hour of
weapons practice. We generally alternate the jo and bokken on opposing days.
Kato Sensei's aikido is based on several principles that he
emphasizes more than most. He is very strong on the concept of being grounded and
immovable in some portions of techniques. He teaches the rotation of the body, emphasizing
hips leading the leg movement and turning from side to side in almost all of his
He also centers strongly on the concept of irimi, calling for powerful entering movements
in many of his techniques.
Rather than being a technique machine, Kato Sensei is a
teacher of the principles of body movement along with understanding how your energy moves
within you as
you are executing techniques. Since Sensei does not speak English, it took me a while to
begin to understand these concepts from him. We had several people fly in from out of
state to train with Sensei as well as one of his students who came from Japan and was able
to do some great translations for us in the mornings. In was in these morning sessions
where there were only a few of us practicing with Sensei that I began to realize the
genius of his thought and system.
Premise of his weapons practice is closely tied in with the
techniques that he teaches. Our daily weapons practice included individual training and
exercises with the weapons to strengthen wrists, arms, hips, and legs. These were
quite grueling for the uninitiated.
Kato Sensei is in tremendous physical condition. He has
powerful forearms, wrists like telephone posts and not an ounce of body fat on him. (He
can do the splits like a ballerina. He is 64 years old.)
The second part of our weapons training included paired
interactions that demonstrate and help the participants to practice body movements with
technique. The third part of our weapons practice involved something they call, in
Japanese, kiti kaish, which is when both partners are doing the same thing. These appear
to be exercises in body movement. The fourth part of our weapons training involved
memorizing and learning the way to do all of the basic techniques with the weapon (ikkyo,
nikkyo, sankyo, yonkyo, gokyo, iriminage, and shihonage). This was with both jo and
bokken. The fifth part of our weapons training was learning to move fluidly and naturally
with the weapon and how to handle it properly. The last part of our
weapons training was reviewing the basic kata that O-Sensei taught which contains all of
the technique's motion and correct body movement.
We had an embukai or a demonstration this last Friday night.
Kato Sensei gave a powerful performance, demonstrating the principles of Aikido. His
ikkyos literally swept his ukes off their feet. His body movement would draw their attacks
in and sweep them around him in a
circular motion as he threw them effortlessly.
Kato Sensei emphasizes that uke should always attack strongly
and our basic training is for holding hard at all times. Sensei insists that his ukes
resist his techniques if possible (I haven't seen it happen yet). The randori by
Kato Sensei was impressive to me in that he was so fast, it was difficult for the
attackers to even get a hand on him and I love to see them run into him and bounce right
off. I've never seen anyone do that before. At any rate, lest we make him sound like
superman, Kato Sensei does get tired and needs to sleep and eat like other human
beings. I suppose that it is such a privilege to train with someone of his caliber, that a
glowing report like this can seem like an exaggeration, and maybe it is; but from my
perspective, it seemed this way to me. I am told that many of the people at Hombu Dojo say
that of all the senseis, Kato Sensei reminds them most of O Sensei. After
having seen my share of O Sensei videos, I must agree. Many of his mannerisms and motions
are the same and particularly with the weapons, I see many of the things O Sensei
demonstrated in Kato Sensei.
He certainly lets out loud "Kiai's" during his
techniques. His Aikido seems more martially oriented than most, although I wouldn't call
it old style, since he has continued to practice at Hombu Dojo as a member for 46 years.
Believe it or not, he trained with us in the mornings last week. When he first grabbed my
wrist, indicating I should do the technique to him, I was stunned. On most of the
mornings, he would show a technique and train with us for 30 minutes before he began his
official teaching. I think that might account in part for his tremendous conditioning.
This afternoon, we practiced for an hour and a half and then he allowed us to ask him any
questions that we had,
sitting in a circle on the mat. It was a great privilege to be there.
God's blessings to all.
ShinKiKan Aikido Dojo