On Monday, September 11th, the Itten D˘j˘ was exceptionally honored to receive its first visit from Okabayashi Sh˘gen, founder and chief instructor of the Dait˘-ryű Aikijűjutsu Hakuh˘ Kai (which is based in Osaka, Japan). Okabayashi Sensei was accompanied by Ozeki Shige and Robin Brown, branch chief instructors of the Hakuh˘ Kai d˘j˘ in Fukuoka and New York City, respectively. Together they presented a fascinating and exhilarating introduction to some of the fundamental body mechanics and applications of the classical martial art of Dait˘-ryű aikijűjutsu.
Okabayashi Sensei studied Dait˘-ryű under both Hisa Takuma and Takeda Tokimune, receiving from the former a kyoju-dairi and from the latter a shihan-level license, as well as a menkyo in Ono-ha Itt˘-ryű (Sokaku-den) kenjutsu. Believing that some modern branches of the Dait˘-ryű go astray by incorporating present-day body mechanics to ancient techniques, Okabayashi Sensei founded the Hakuh˘ Kai in order to research and preserve the traditional forms of aikijűjutsu.
The evening started with instruction in reishiki: the proper manners of standing, sitting, and bowing employed in the Hakuh˘ Kai. Okabayashi Sensei's requirements were very specific, and contributed greatly to many of the students looking like they knew what they were doing -- at least for as long as they were sitting perfectly still...
As is typical with introductory-level seminars presented by Okabayashi Sensei or his senior students, the next topic was one of the hallmarks of the Hakuh˘ Kai: bushi-no-h˘koh˘ (the body mechanics and method of walking that were employed by the bushi in ancient times). Unlike modern peoples, who walk with a swinging of the arms that places shoulders out-of-line with hips, the bushi were trained from the time of their first steps to walk with shoulders and hips in alignment vertically, allowing completely fluid movement and a sword to be drawn from any point in their gait. This manner of walking and avoidance of any "twisting" of the body has profound implications for technique. Okabayashi Sensei believes that adaptation of classical arts to modern body mechanics destroys a priceless heritage, and the Hakuh˘ Kai is determined to preserve Dait˘-ryű in an unadulterated form.
From walking forward, we progressed to stepping backwards or to the sides, endeavoring to use gravity rather than muscle to initiate movement. To illustrate this principle, Okabayashi Sensei and Ozeki-san demonstrated a sword form involving a very quick attack from j˘dan, which is countered by shitachi dropping to his right-front corner and cutting uchitachi across the abdomen. The electricity which filled the air from the moment both men picked up bokken made this one of the most impressive exchanges of the evening.
Throughout the class, Okabayashi Sensei taught us basic forms of movement that we practiced initially as drills, and then he demonstrated the applications of principles in specific techniques. We had, I think, 37 people training and several more watching, so the level of energy in the d˘j˘ was very high. Since the mat was pretty full, Okabayashi Sensei showed us ways of organizing the students such that all could practice safely while maintaining considerable intensity. The 2Ż hour class just flew by, and all too soon it was time to bow-out.
After a round of photographs and an exchange of mementos, many of the students had an opportunity to speak with Okabayashi Sensei and Ozeki-san, and express their deep appreciation and indebtedness for what we had been shown. We also had a chance to chat with other notable persons in attendance: Chris Caille of FightingArts.com and Ozeki-san's lovely wife, Mariko. Even though our guests faced a late-night, three-hour return drive to New York City, not to mention a flight back to Japan the next day, they seemed as reluctant as we were to leave the mat -- everyone just wanted to savor the glow in the d˘j˘.
This report was written three days after the seminar, and the glow remains. Members of the d˘j˘ are still firing e-mail back and forth, discussing this technique or that drill, and an increasing number of students are expressing serious interest in our Hakuh˘ Kai study group (looks like James Mullins, the study group team leader, may have his hands full). Thank heavens for the monthly visits from Robin Brown -- his guidance and active participation is making possible what would otherwise be an overwhelming endeavor.
Overall, I would have to mark this seminar as one of the most significant events in the eight year history of our d˘j˘, and I fervently hope we will be able to enjoy return visits during future seminar tours. To anyone considering attending a seminar with Okabayashi Sensei or his senior students I have only one thing to say: this is an unbelievable opportunity, absolutely not to be missed.