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Cheryl Matrasko
James Loeser
Matthew O'Connor

CONTACTS

Cheryl Matrasko
James Loeser
Matthew O'Connor
Editor

 

Peter Bussell, 4th Dan
Canada's own
Aikido Veteran of 40 Years
(Page 2)

by Cheryl Matrasko

  

What influenced your interests in martial arts?

"When I first started, I had no real interest in martial arts. The motivation for it was purely to get my body into shape! (We laugh hilariously)."

You happened upon a big opportunity!

"Yes, it has changed my life completely! (We laugh)."


"I would like to say that the most influential teacher I’ve ever had, has to be David Lynch Sensei – you only ever have one first teacher. He is very dear to my heart. I’ve had my differences with him over the years, but have never lost my respect and admiration for him. He is still my first teacher and I still have correspondence with him. We are much closer now than we were at the end of our first 10 years when we had a parting of the ways. I think that is a reflection on my immaturity at that time."

"But he was one of the most influential people and aikidoka for me. After that (ten years in the Yoshinkai) I went with Tohei sensei. And in terms of the Aikido I practice now, I suspect Lynch and Tohei Sensei were the most influential teachers."

But Lynch being your primary and first instructor . . .

"Yes, because he set the foundations and my experience has been – I often describe the Yoshinakai as the “Holiday Inn of Aikido”. It’s very consistent. It doesn’t matter where you go in the world you get exactly the same standard of quality and techniques and exercises. Whereas my experiences of Aikikai, you get a thousand different interpretations (we both chimed) of Aikido, But Yoshinkai is fundamentally identical where ever you seem to go. And my foundations were built on that and they are still influential in it. Less and less in many things but not the basics."

So you were given strong basics.

"Very strong basics. And my experience has been – I have numerous Aikido people that come to my dojo now that have had previous experience – and if they have had Yoshinkai experience for 3 or more years – they’ve got really good basics. But that’s the only school that I found that is so consistent.
Dan started his aikido at the Yoshinkai, his basics are very sound, Gary came from the Aikikai and we at first had to work on much of his basics."

So a technique will not really vary a lot from one instructor to another, with one country to the next.

"Right, right, that has been my experience."

It will be consistent and it won’t be confusing for a new student that visits another dojo on another continent.

"I suspect so."

If you’ve picked up books on Yoshinkan Aikido, the footwork and techniques are consistently the same, so it is easy to follow.

"Yes, very much so."

What was the most valuable lesson or actualization in your Aikido training? Realization or awakening.

"The most influence on my Aikido as an event, would be meeting Tohei Sensei (Koichi Tohei, 10th Dan) and being introduced to his Ki principles for Coordination of Mind and Body, as he said. It has opened so many doors and so many new ways of looking at things. I just said how I respect and admire the Yoshinkai so much. When I was in the Yoshinkai we spoke about the “hard schools of Aikido” and the “soft schools of Aikido”. Yoshinkai was a hard school of Aikido and Aikikai was a soft school. "

Editor's note: All references to Tohei Sensei denotes Koichi Tohei, 10th Dan, former Chief Instructor of Aikido World Headquarters, Tokyo, Japan, and founder of Ki No Kenkyukai Headquarters, also in Tokyo, Japan.)

"At that time, in New Zealand, we only saw a few Aikikai people, primarily two Japanese Sandans, -- Takase Shihan, now head of the Aikikai in NZ and another, Honda san, from the Kansai area – subsequently I discovered that the Aikikai represents a huge spectrum of “styles” And this was spoken of not in a derogatory term, but as a different “style” of aikido. And consequently when the Ki-Society started it was considered to be a softer school than the Aikikai. Well I started off in the very hard school of Yoshinkai. And I would suspect that Ryurei Aikido (Peter Bussell’s style of Aikido) is probably the softest school in existence now. I find Ki-Society incredibly hard compared to Ryurei Aikido. By hard, I mean very muscular and strength oriented. And it was the influence and great teaching ability of Tohei Sensei that opened me up to that."

"We were speaking earlier about the interview that Stanley Pranin of Aikido Journal did with Tohei sensei and how among other things that Tohei Sensei had said, was that the greatest thing that O-Sensei had done was to teach people to relax. I really believe it is. Maybe not the greatest thing but it was certainly a very very important thing he gave. I suspect that maybe 95 percent of the Aikido world has no idea what he, Tohei, meant by that, (Hence the subsequent derision accorded Tohei Sensei when that interview was published) and has no idea what the power of true relaxation is. It’s interesting because I was very much influenced by those principles that Tohei Sensei taught. And unlike Ki-Society dojo where they say they practice the Ki exercises that Tohei Sensei taught, but in my opinion, in reality just do a mechanical movement without the real thing that Tohei was striving to get across. I can go into a Ki –Society dojo and do a seminar or teach a class there. They seem to have lost (maybe forgotten) much of what Tohei Sensei was teaching – Ki wise. My observation is that a huge percentage of the regular students have a rudimentary understanding of Ki in general. Their desire and attitude is wonderful – don’t get me wrong, this is not intended in any negative way. There are a few individuals that have what Tohei Sensei was teaching, but it seems to have been lost or is being lost. I hope the Ki Society dojos don’t take this the wrong way. They are striving to do their best, however it seems to me that the Ki Society’s well qualified teachers are spread pretty thin and so many of their dojos only meet a highly qualified instructor once a year or so unless they are able to travel as individuals. I wish they all had the opportunity to go to Japan and spend time there. Or go to Seattle and spend time with Kashiwaya Sensei. Of course there are other wonderful individual instructors in the US Ki Society, but as I said, they seem to be spread fairly thin."

"Tohei Sensei has said many times that when he first came to the United States he was teaching these things and everyone was doing them. And he went back to Japan. Then he came back to the United States 3 or 4 years later and found that “they” had lost it. I find that he is not here, so they’ve lost it all over again. (Perhaps this is explained when I remember Tohei Sensei informing me that he cannot teach me anything, it is for me to learn it – how true.) Kashiwaya Sensei is too busy to be teaching these exercises to all the dojos in the Ki Society. He manages to visit a few dojos each year and then it is usually for a weekend seminar and so there is no intense tuition of these Ki exercises to the rank and file membership. This is not a criticism but more an observation. "

"You know with new students coming to our dojo it is a good six months with two Shinkido classes a week before they are starting to get quite competent with the Ki exercises. Most Ki Society dojos that I have been able to observe go through a series of Ki related warm up exercises but few have classes dedicated to learning about Ki. Some of those dojos offer one dedicated Ki class per month. "

"In contrast Imaizumi Sensei, Shin Budo Kai, has regular Genkido classes each week. (Imaizumi Sensei was the first USA Chief Instructor for the Ki Society in 1975 – he accompanied Tohei Sensei to New Zealand in 1975 prior to locating in the USA.)"

"At Ryurei Aikido – every class we do some Shinkido – we do a lot more in depth study of Ki than most Nth American based Ki-Society dojos ever do. That’s why I say we have evolved into a much softer school of aikido because practice of these Ki development exercises will have that affect. We really try to practice what we preach. It is telling also when we get aikidoka who are new members or from elsewhere who, as is often the case, want to challenge you. With some arriving at 6’ 5” - 350lbs, it is pointless to try to out muscle them. At 115lbs it is just not going to happen that way for me with almost anyone. When you understand Ki their size, weight or physical strength makes little difference."

Your students are very serious about their Ki studies. They just don’t talk about it – they’re thinking about it thoroughly. They have fun doing things that I show them but they are very serious about how they do things.

"I also teach a course in Shinki-Ryoho – we have taken Kiatsu-ho, done a lot of study on it, incorporated some aspects of Chi Ni Tsang and Reflexology into it and have taken it a whole lot further. The most amazing thing about this is that I give the first level of Shinki-Ryoho (which is a five week / 30 hour course), where the first two weeks is just the introduction to Shinkido principles. Which are a little bit different than Ki-Society principles in that I’ve added one principle to it. Tohei Sensei had a 'coordination of mind and body'. We call it ' The Shinkido Principles for Coordination of Mind, Body and Spirit'. His principles for coordination of mind and body are: Keep one point, Relax completely, Keep weight underside, Extend Ki. We added one in between the last two, number four we call: ' Detach from all '. Because when people focus on One-point, they just focus on their navel and they think: ' Ohhhh . . . keep one point, keep one point, keep one point . . .  and it all goes to hell.' You can’t focus on something otherwise you are too attached to it mentally or too attached to it physically - and you won’t get Coordination of Mind, Body and Spirit. So we’ve introduced it – we teach that in Shinki-Ryoho because that’s what makes Ki flow. Shinki-Ryoho is dependent on your Ki flowing very powerfully."

"I know many people will totally dismiss the existence of Ki. That is because they have not been exposed to anyone who has a modicum of understanding of it. When I administer Ki in Shinki-Ryoho, I have to be careful that the recipient’s skin is not too moist. On three occasions, I have done it when their skin is damp and I have felt the tip of my thumb getting hotter and hotter, actually painfully so. When I have finally stopped, there is a heat blister on the end of my thumb. Where else did that energy come from? There is no movement involved. The most amazing thing is that the students that have gone through Shinki-Ryoho and have graduated, if they are Aikido students – they come into the dojo – unbelievable! (Peter exclaims loudly). Their Aikido has just leapt ahead in huge strides and their Shinkido is now equally unbelievable. Yesterday at the seminar, there was a woman who came in and started in the afternoon. She has completed the Shinki-Ryoho course. She was on the mat doing Shinkido exercises she has never seen before. This was basically her first time on an aikido mat. Instantly she did the Shinkido exercises, as well as anyone on the mat. So what I’m saying here is the training we give them in Shinki-Ryoho has changed so many Aikido people as well as their Aikido. Shinki-Ryoho gives them a very solid understanding of Shinkido, and Shinkido principles. It is unbelievable how it affects their Aikido."

"When I first held a Shinki-Ryoho course here last year, I had many Aikido students in the course. The rest of the dojo didn’t know what they were doing other than that they were doing this Shinki-Ryoho course. Suddenly, '  . . . wait a minute - what’s going on in this Shinki-Ryoho – we want some of that. Their Aikido had changed so much '. So it goes back to the same idea that Tohei Sensei was saying – learn these principles, teach these principles, be able to do these principles."

Your style of Aikido, what emphasis does your Aikido have? What is its emphasis?

"My emphasis is on minimum physical strength to make the Aikido work along with the use of Ki technique. Minimal physical strength is desired. As Shioda Sensei said, anyone who can lift 15lbs can do aikido."

"The term Ryurei translates as elegant, fluid movement. That combined with the aspect of no physical strength, I think, epitomizes my idea. The smoothness will come around with no physical strength. However the basis of it is Shinkido. We also often look at the technique from the point of view of the bokken, it is always a good guide."

"I’m not a big person as you can see. I told you earlier I discussed the idea of Shioda Sensei weighing only 105 lbs - and being 5 ft. tall, if that, doing amazing things and obviously not having the physical strength to do that. He had to have something. "

"We were talking earlier about small people in Aikido. I also think that Aikido is a small persons’ martial art. Very large people have a difficult time in Aikido, because they have always been able to use muscle to achieve most things. It doesn’t work that way in Aikido."

What have you learned so far in instructing Aikido? The nature of the role as an instructor, you find yourself learning from the students in the process of imparting knowledge and lessons.

You are influenced by your students and sometimes learn more from them than you ever thought was possible. Can you describe these lessons? What has this done for your personal Aikido?

All of these questions are things people have asked me, and other instructors that may not have the courage to ask – would be interested and curious. I know that I love to hear the various answers and compare them to my own.


"I think the first major lesson I learned, as an instructor is that different people learn in different ways. And so one way of teaching a technique or exercise or whatever it is you are teaching does not necessarily work – you have to find many ways to teach that same thing. Because people learn in different ways, they are turned on by different words, etc. You know, Take a class of 12 people and teach them a new technique – the first time for each one of them. And then watch them. You’ve made your points, you’ve said what you’ve wanted to say, you’ve demonstrated it as many times as you want. Then watch them and you’ll see 12 totally different ways of doing that technique. You’ll say: ' I didn’t show that – I didn’t do that.' (We chuckle heartily, because we’ve all experienced this). But that’s what they’ve interpreted. So I think the main thing is to be a good instructor, you have to be a good communicator. I find that, as smart as humans are as animals, we’re pathetic as communicators. We’ve got so far to go in communication. I wish I could communicate better. But by teaching you learn so much more about an individual technique. You just do it – to start with automatically. But when you’re teaching you have to analyze what you’re doing. Then when you start analyzing what you are doing – you find that you don’t do what you said (or thought) you were doing. You actually do something quite different to what you think you are doing. And you can demonstrate it and say,    'this is what I’m doing', and then they are doing exactly what you are doing – but it doesn’t look like what you think you are doing. (We chuckle hilariously)."

"I heard that O-Sensei was once asked if he could demonstrate a technique again. He said no, I’ve done that. I can only ever do that technique once. And when you think about it – that is correct. You can only ever do a technique once. Just like uke can only ever attack you in that way once. You can never really reproduce it absolutely. So I find that with the different individuals you are trying to teach - they may be gripping you in a different way, or they have a different reaction when you move in a certain way – so you learn how versatile you have to be."

"I don’t know what your experience has been, but mine has been that you get very meek / mild placid people, and then you get very aggressive and incredibly strong physical people that are there to challenge you. And you have to have a lot of control over yourself. Especially when you are less experienced, it is easier to think quietly: “He’s challenging me now, ” or whatever your suspicions are, and you have to prove you can make it work. Whereas the last 15 years or so, I just say – forget it, I don’t have to have make this work right now, because if I do I might hurt this guy and I don’t want to do that. Let him learn about this slowly. So I never accept a challenge from a new student. I’ll let them think whatever they want to but I’m not going to show them I can do that just for the sake of doing it. So the ego disappears when you are teaching well, I believe. But you learn about the way the human body works – the physiology of it, by teaching. I’ve learned how different each body is. It teaches you about techniques that you have to be able to adapt to whoever the uke is and whatever the uke is, their level of expertise or whatever their “non-level” of expertise is. And then put it into different words or different ways for different people because they don’t learn exactly the way I do. You have to be respectful of them and find a way that communicates to that individual. So that any given technique, I might have 20 different ways to teach it. You have many different personalities to deal with. You know, I think that is the most amazing thing for me. It takes a long time to appreciate it."

You’re right – you can explain one way to one person but you’ll have to explain it totally differently to another person. You have to identify the different people and how they are going to absorb and disseminate that information.

Some people need more explanation, and some people need no explanation but need to feel the Aikido movement from the instructor.


"Absolutely. In fact I’ve found that is the most effective way of instructing. For them to feel it. Especially with a very large or very strong person who doesn’t appreciate how much strength they are using. You are trying to tell them ' Now don’t use strength”, or you’re trying to tell them (gently) ' Relax '. They say, 'I am relaxed!!!' (In a very loud and frustrated voice.) (We both laugh hilariously). I tell them (gently and softly) ' No, you’re not relaxed.'. He smiles knowingly but understandingly."

I’ve got to say Koichi Tohei had the best method of communicating and showing the strength of Aikido. He used to have many, many demonstrations and classes where he would have spectators come up to try to lift him and bend his arm. When showing the power of Ki, none could lift him when he would utilize his one- point.

"Yes. Although I do remember Tohei Sensei having a hard time with his unliftable body once during a public demonstration in Auckland. A huge Maori fellow (A native New Zealander) simply lifted him off the floor. The second time he was not successful though."

"On the subject of keeping weight underside, 8 years or so ago I had some pretty large people in the dojo. One of them was 6ft 6 inches, 275 pounds. He was Canadian Arm Wrestling Champion two years in a row. He could bench press 500 pounds. There was another 6’ 2”, 240 pounds with a 56 inch chest. He was almost as strong as the other. The two of them together couldn’t lift my 115 pounds off the floor. Even if they got underneath me, they could not lift me at all. I said, 'bring the other fellow over', who was about 6ft., 195 pounds. So, the three of them couldn’t lift me. Now these three guys together could lift about 1,100 pounds. To add insult to injury, as they were trying to lift me up - they collapsed all over the floor! They still didn’t believe it after all that."

"You know, we were talking about teaching in different ways and how many different ways we need to be able to instruct – the Shinkido and in teaching the 5 Principles for Coordination of Mind, Body and Spirit, we probably have a repertoire of close to 3,000 different exercises, only to illustrate 5 principles. And these have come about because we need so many ways to reach as many people as possible. But it also serves another purpose in that you have much more interest and very interesting things to do in the Shinkido study."

What would you exchange with other Aikido instructors (advice, tips, etc.). For instance, I have quite a few instructors that have written to me exchanging situations where their students (shodan, nidan, and once in awhile a sandan) that have shown poor behavior, such as starting trouble on the mat, becoming arrogant, threatening to leave the dojo for another dojo, etc.

"I think that whatever you are doing in the dojo, you have to be able to get up in the morning and look at yourself in the mirror. In other words you have to maintain your integrity and self-respect."

"It was originally said to me by David (Lynch) – we’ve spoken many times about how we both want to run a professional dojo – not a commercial dojo. There is a very distinct difference. It is part of having integrity – being true to yourself and to Aikido. Part of that being true to myself and the integrity of my dojo – no one gets a grading from me that hasn’t worked for it, earned it and demonstrated it. Not just in technique, but in attitude, behavior, in their own integrity. I try to maintain high standards. It is about Bushido and Budo as well as Aikido. I will also rescind a Yudansha grading, at least Shodan and Nidan anyway, if the aikidoka ignores their responsibilities as far as the etiquette and “behaviour” are concerned and ignores all suggestions to adjust their ways. Higher than that, I would consider myself to have failed in my judgment of them if they regress so far that I need to consider rescinding their rank."

"We are independent and we are going to be compared. I make a very brash statement to my students and as I have stated it. I have to be prepared to back it up. “I guarantee that you will never be embarrassed by your rank, in any dojo in the world.” If I can do that, and it will happen that they are not embarrassed – then I think I have done my job - from that point of view. But as far as the Aikido and so forth is concerned, I want to be true to what I’ve learned from whomever I have learned it. After I pass on, I want to be able to meet David, Tohei and O’Sensei and not feel the need to turn away, but to face them straight on and feel good about what I have done in Aikido."

Continued on page 3 -

Page 1

 Page 2

Page 3

Cheryl Matrasko is a Network Analyst for the department of Networking and Communications at a prominent Chicago hospital. Formerly the LAN Administrator for Northwestern University Medical School - Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology, and assistant LAN Administrator to the previous MIS of the School of Law. Previous to that, she was a Field Technical Engineer, for some time with Northern Telecom.

She started Aikido in 1965, studying under Isao Takahashi as her first instructor. She enjoyed working out under many well known Aikido instructors during her tenure with Takahashi Sensei, and thereafter following his death in 1971. Cheryl has dedicated time with instructors in Northern Shaolin Long-Fist, Seven Stars Praying Mantis, and Daito-Ryu Aikijujitsu to extend her martial arts education and perspectives. Currently, she is instructing Aikido at Northwestern University's Chicago Campus and supporting Aikido World Journal.


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Michio Hikitsuchi 10th Dan 1978
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© 1978 C. Matrasko

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7/4/2004