Monday, April 7, 2014

A Wonderful Sensei

My favorite Judo teacher, Hikkoshiso Sensei, was an impervious 55 year old 6dan when I met him. He loved randori, but most people in the large dojo wouldn't play with him because "He's too strong." I played every chance I got. He threw me all over, with power and control and finesse.  His throws were clean and perfectly controlled.  He always landed you beautifully, without pain or bruising or discomfort. To this day I can't understand why people weren't lining up to play with him.

His technique was fantastic.  Big movement hip throws are famous in Judo, as you can see here.  

Hikkoshiso Sensei could do them, beautifully.  Often though, he would use the most subtle of hand techniques, no big hip or body movements at all.  He just sort of waved his hands around while holding my collar and sleeve and my feet left the ground and I went flying through the air.  After more than 20 years of practice, I’m starting to get to the place where I can understand how he did it.  I still can’t do it on anyone who isn’t letting me practice it.  When Sensei first started doing it to me, I was solid 23 year old shodan who practice several times a week. I was young, strong, getting lots of practice, and he still tossed me around like a stuffed doll.

For some reason though, very few people wanted to train with him.  There were a few of us. All of the top guys in the dojo played with him, and me (I was so far from the top I needed binoculars to see it).  Everyone else just avoided him.  There weren’t enough of us to provide a partner through every round of randori.  I tried encouraging some of the other guys at my level, but they always said something like “He’s too strong. I can’t.”  

Yes, Sensei is strong, but that’s the reason to train with him.  He’s strong, his control is excellent, his throws are clean, and he will help you raise your art.  He will make you learn good defense without being abusive or harsh.  I learned every time we grabbed each other’s gi.  After training with him for years, one day I got good enough to stop his waving hand throw.  I couldn’t counter it or throw him or anything like that.  I could just maintain my center well enough that he couldn’t just wave his hands and make me fly.

So instead he threw me with some of those big throws like in the video above.  He threw me all over, and I loved it.  I learned more about throwing and movement and balance and defence. I knew my throws were making progress when I could break his balance enough that he had to take an extra step.  I studied Sensei when he played with other people.  After a few years of this I picked a technique and polished and polished it.  After maybe six months of work, I was playing with Sensei and things felt right.  I tried the throw and Sensei went up and over.  I had thrown him!   Sensei got up and bowed his congratulations to me.  He was happy that I had learned enough to be able to throw him.

Of course, that technique never worked again on him.  He knew it was out there, figured out the weakness I had exploited, and eliminated it.  I think he did that while he was bowing to me, because I never saw another chance to use that technique on him.  It was back to the drawing board if I wanted to throw him.  

That was great though.  I wasn’t training with him because I could throw him.  I was training with him because I couldn’t throw him.  I didn’t learn much doing randori training with people I could throw easily.  With Sensei, every step, every breath counted.  I had to constantly improve or Sensei would just keep throwing me with the same technique.  If I left an opening, he would make use of it.  It was great.  We could laugh and smile at techniques tried, failed and successful even as we were trying to throw each other around the room.

As tough as the training might be, and as much as I got thrown around, it was always with a spirit of joy.  Sensei loved training and randori, and he shared that joy with everyone who would bow to him and say “Onegai shimasu” to invite him to do randori.  He still does.  I train with him when I can bet back to his dojo in Japan.

He’s still going strong, quite strong.  He’s in his 80s now, and last year took home a bronze medal at an international tournament in Tokyo.  He’s still strong and powerful, and his technique is gets more subtle, effective and cleaner each year.  Sensei keeps training and polishing himself.  People still don’t want to train with him because he’s too strong.  They still can’t throw him unless he lets them, and that is too much of an ego breaker for them.  So now if now one asks him to train, I go over and get an extra session with him.

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