Encountering the Spiral Downunder and in Middle Earth with Gleason Sensei by Michael Nash
In a small change room in Sydney is my first encounter with a humble yet genius martial artist. We shake hands, like all really great artists he is engaging yet unassuming and down to earth.
I think to myself that is Bill Gleason I just meet…. no entourage…. no fanfare, no star dressing room. We had come a long way to meet him and the engagement never stopped from that point onwards.Sensei Gleason was in Sydney for a 3 day seminar hosted by Steve Seymour from Aikido Kenkyukai Sydney in Balmain. Steve was generous enough to let the Queenslanders come to the “secret Friday night session” prior to the main event over the three day weekend.
This simple gesture was well received as many of us were a little nervous venturing into enemy territory during a State of Origin campaign.
The Balmain venue was perfect for the twenty odd we had on the mat and the regulars to the dojo were extremely welcoming. With the smaller numbers Sensei Gleason was able to review some basics that he wanted us to grasp so we were up to speed.
You know that feeling when you break up to attempt to recreate what Sensei has just spent five minutes explaining and demonstrating, and he walks toward you, but before he gets to you he says, ” Ok, Ok” and we all stop……… only for the concept / technique to be demonstrated again.
He then proceeds to say something like “Not like this”, and you know that it was you doing it ” NOT like this” rinse and repeat …….. ” DO like this”. That happened a lot.
Despite our inadequacies the basics of where the power comes from, rotating femurs was relentless, it sunk in a little. It had not struck me then, but now a few days post seminars I know the message. How many times have you been told be soft, …………don’t use your shoulders………. don’t push…….. don’t pull. Well, many of you may not have been told as many times as I have, but NEVER are you told HOW to achieve this state. !!!!!!
The message is a simple one, the power comes from your legs specifically your rotating femurs generally in opposing directions, keeping the hips square, working with a connected upper body. Sounds easy …..it isn’t…. but it is formidable. Keeping it very simplistic, this allows you to relax the shoulders completely and your opponent cannot tell where the power is coming from.
There is of course much more to this and the attendees are expected to have a basic understanding of what is termed internal power.Sensei is creating opposing spirals within his body through his hara, and this gives birth to aiki…….. now where have I heard that before ?? Once you discover this reality you are free to relax the upper body and the driving force becomes the lower body, it is the answer to being soft yet powerful, the quest all Aikidoka seek.
It is not for me to elaborate or attempt to explain this in more detail, but be sure it runs very deep and the combinations are endless. What is clear to me though is that a simple explanation can now be offered to those who want to be soft yet powerful……. it takes the art beyond technique and therefore allows you to move into a mode of training without restriction…….. never endingly so!
I had the pleasure of doing it all again in New Zealand this time under the invitation of Henry Lynch and Riai Aikido in Auckland. You could not find a more friendly and welcoming group, I will be forever grateful to Henry and Danny for there hospitality. Some of us need to be shown things more than once,…. that is why I backed up again in New Zealand, you never know how many opportunities you get in this life to encounter people like Bill Gleason so I jumped in again, along with quite a few of the Sydney crew.
As the Thai’s say “same.. same but different”, Sensei’s Gleason’s explanations were similar but each time you here him he has a slightly different anecdote or reference it helps embellish the main points. His grasp and back catalogue of information in our art is breathtaking.
The quotes : “never retreat’, “technique comes about if uke is skilled enough to avoid the atemi”, “mind is in the hands” are all very descriptive and help solidify his principles. Watching Sensei it seemed all things were a spiral, they all began to look the same, they are !! Why is it so difficult then to master?
I think I made small steps in grasping some of the principles as the… “Ok Ok’s ” coming from Sensei Gleason were less a result of my efforts as the seminar progressed. This meeting for me helped me see the principles I had been exposed to last year in Hawaii with a man who is equally driven to get Aiki back into the martial arts.
At some points it was a little like deja- vu, watching Sensei Gleason in action, the movements are universal. Only this time it was specific to Aikido, and connects a lot of the dots. Sensei Bill Gleason is especially passionate that the art continue in all its technical aspects and traditions, just that it be done including all that the founder intended.
His mastery of Aikido is something everyone should encounter at some point in their journey and his acknowledgement of past and current influences coupled with the classic beginners mind, is an inspiration.
The other aspect that Sensei Gleason made comment on and is indeed a change in thinking was the fact in Sydney we had eight different “styles” on the mat and I believe five or more varieties co -habituating in New Zealand. This co-operation and adoption of key principles across multiple styles is a refresher that needs to be congratulated and encouraged.
Many thanks to Sensei Gleason, Evan, Steve, Henry, Danny, and all those great people who took the time to taste real Aikido in a modern context.