|Hiroshi Kato, Shihan and 8th Dan conducted a Winter
Intensive seminar at Shin Ki Kan Dojo in
We are now just past the mid point of an 18 day Seminar and period
of training with Shihan Hiroshi Kato, 8th Dan, of the Aikikai Hombu Dojo
in Tokyo, Japan. The weather this time of the year, in Houston, is running in the 70s and 80s, which is a blessed relief from the soaring
temperatures that we endured last summer. Kato Sensei arrived in Houston on the 24th of February, after spending 14 days doing a Seminar
at the Suginami San Francisco Aikikai Dojo where Jimmy Friedman is the
The first three days of our Seminar, Kato Sensei spent reviewing
basic techniques for the kyu levels since we were planning to have testing on the 5th day of the Seminar. As always, it was very
instructive for all of us to observe him executing the various pins and
throws that make up the 5th through 1st kyu testing curriculum.
On the 6th day of the Seminar, through today, Kato Sensei has been
reviewing themes in body and hand movement and relating these to our use
with the jo. This part of our training has been very amazing to me and
I must admit that I have had a sense of being overwhelmed with the volume of information being presented as well
observing the way he is able to move his body. It is truly a beautiful thing to watch, but a
difficult thing to do. He has presented a number of techniques demonstrating proper entering on both sides of uke, using irimi and
tenkan movements. Something new that I have learned in this Seminar is
that Kato Sensei considers a tenkan to be any turning movement as opposed to the particular movement that I have come to associate as a
tenkan. Indeed, when he performs his techniques full speed, he will often spin from side to side with his feet parallel to each other as we
so often do in our weapons work. This kind of movement is considered to
be the short version of the technique where only the last part is needed
due to the speed of the body movement involved. He can do this with almost any of the techniques such as tenshinage or even kaitenage. It's
always interesting to see, after observing the fast version, which technique he was doing. It's very difficult to explain without actually
seeing it. We have this kind of movement with both bokken and jo where
he will do a kumijo or a kumitachi slowly and then demonstrate it rapidly, only moving the body and using the final strike, leaving out
all of the intermediate steps: the principle being, that your body must
move in a certain way in order to be in the position you need to be in
for the final part of the technique to be effective. As I said
before, Kato Sensei's aikido is more than just learning to do techniques; but
rather, it is learning to move your body with the technique.
In this Seminar, Kato Sensei has done a number of things with
regard to energy flow in the body and being grounded in your center.
Yesterday, he was demonstrating to us how that even when your center is
completely grounded and you are rock solid, the upper part of your body
must remain loose and flexible. He stood in the middle of the mat and
had various dojo members attempt to body tackle him by putting their
shoulders into his midriff and trying to take him down. One of our yudansha named Don, who is very powerful and weighs in the range of 240
pounds was the first to try and he could not move him one inch. I would
say that Kato Sensei is about 5' 7" and weighs probably 150 pounds.
Somehow, bending over, without using his hands, he was able to completely take down Don. I was the second to try and I can testify
that hitting his stomach felt like I was running into the side of a mountain. He bent over slightly and I began to lose my footing and felt
like a huge weight was coming down on my back. It was truly amazing.
Immediately after this demonstration, Kato Sensei began to do some flowing ki-no-ga-re kokyunages. While he was doing these, he was
lightly flitting his arms about while the ukes were flowing with him and
taking their falls and he called out to us that while he was doing this,
his center was as rock solid and grounded as a few minutes earlier when
he was standing there and we were pushing against him. I, for one, felt
somewhat enlightened by this piece of information!
With regard to energy flow, we did an early morning class where
there were just a few of us present. Kato Sensei spent the entire morning in which he did an hour and a half of morotedori techniques. In
all of these, he stressed how he energy in moroedori techniques moves through your arm and out your hand. He stressed over and over that you
have to push your "chikara" (power or energy) out. In his way of doing
morotedori koyunage, he keeps his arm very straight and concentrates on
curling the fingers of the hand up and pushing out. You might be thinking, "How does he execute the throw without bending his arm?" The
answer is that he cross steps with the back leg forward and begins the
throwing motion with his hip and he's pushing out with his hand rather
than attempting to step behind uke and throw him with the upper body. He also demonstrated this kind of energy flow with his version of
shihonage where he uses a half tenkan of sorts and allows the strike or
grab to go through as he is pushing his hands with it in the same direction. It is very powerful. We closed the session with a number of
non-aikido strikes where we practiced striking uke in various ways using
the same energy flow concept. Kato Sensei explained that while this was
not aikido, doing these exercises served to demonstrate the basis of our
aikido techniques and the way that our energy needed to flow through our
body and hands while doing our techniques. Needless to say, some of us
left that session with a few bruises!
Traveling with Kato Sensei this time from Japan was a young black
belt who took time off from his university studies in order to spend six
weeks seeing the United States for the first time and studying more extensively with Kato Sensei. This young man is new to Kato Sensei's
style, so I asked him what he thought of it. He responded to me that it
was very interesting to him and that, in Japan, Kato Sensei's aikido is
considered to be very original.
On two days of this last week, two local
dojos from different affiliations came to study under Kato Sensei. One
Sensei (a 6th Dan) remarked to me, after seeing some of Kato Sensei's weapons work, that the style he had been taught regarding weapons was a
well known style in the world but that Kato Sensei's weapons work reminded him very much of the type of weapons he had seen O'Sensei do in
the various videos that have been distributed. Kato Sensei has always
said that he developed his style of body movement and techniques as well
as his weapon sets from his observations of the Founder during his years
of studying with him.
Finally, in closing, I would like to explain that Kato Sensei was
never an uchi deshi at Hombu Dojo, but rather, was a soto deshi. He has
always been an Aikido deshi that worked a regular job and has trained
as a soto deshi at Hombu Dojo for the last 47 years. Often, people will
come to him and show him pictures of various classes and ask him where
he is in the picture. He will often remark that those pictures are of uchideshi during day classes which were taken while he was at work!
He eventually started a dojo that meets in a community center in
Suginami where his students train with him; but he himself has continued
to train at Hombu Dojo as a member for all of these years. I explain this so that it will be clear that he is a Shihan and he is from Hombu
Dojo, but he is not on the instructional staff of Hombu Dojo. He occasionally
teaches some of his own students there and he himself attended Doshu Kisshomaru Ueshiba's class all of these years until his
recent passing. I asked him if he attends the new Doshu's class and he
responded to me that he does. I think this is the most commendable thing to me about Kato Sensei. That for all these years, he has
remained a true student of the art. I hope to emulate his example in my
Blessings to all.
© 2000 Jorge Garcia,
All rights reserved.