by Forrest Hainline, with Mark Matloff
Sensei, 1998 was a special year for you in Aikido.
Yes. It was the 25th anniversary of the Capital Aikikai. We had an anniversary seminar in October. Yamada Sensei came, along with Mike Mamura [6th dan, Milwaukee Aikido Club] and Mike Friedl [5th dan, Aikido of Ashland, Oregon]. Both Mike Mamura and Mike Friedl were my students "way back when."
Would you tell us a little about your school?
Let's go back. Where and when did you begin to study Aikido?
What kept you with Aikido?
I came from a small, one-horse town. Aikido was the only art offered there at the time. Later, there were other martial arts--but my father said that, once had I started Aikido, I had to continue--that I couldn't just jump from one style to another.
What continues to attract you to Aikido?
Has Aikido changed since you began training?
When did you leave Hawaii?
Shortly after you moved to Madison, Koichi Tohei Sensei left Hombu dojo. With your background in Hawaiian Aikido, how did it happen that you affiliated with Hombu dojo and the [United States Aikido] Federation rather than with Tohei Sensei's Ki Society?
Are the body and technique primary?
Let's go back to Madison. When you moved there, were there any other Aikidoists?
Not at first.
Then how did you practice?
Did you begin a dojo in Madison?
Have you continued with your weapons practice on your own?
Do you have regular weapons classes at the Capital Aikikai?
Tell me about the founding of Capital Aikikai.
I began teaching Monday and Wednesday nights, and Saturday morning. This continued in several different locations until 1993, when we moved into our full-time dojo. Now we have at least three classes every day.
Didn't you spend some time in Charleston, South Carolina as well?
I came back to DC in 1977. The Capital Aikikai had been kept going by some of my senior students, Dennis Ruth and Bob White.
Let's talk about balancing Aikido and life. You are a professional, a Ph.D. After working with the FDA for many years, you started your own consulting company. You have a wife and a daughter in college. And yet you've always trained and taught Aikido. How have you managed to do that?
Keeping things in balance means that, at times, one will have more importance, and get more attention and time, but each has to have its place. So I've never stopped doing Aikido. I've always kept Aikido in the balance. And I try to practice Aikido off the mat as well as on. You can train by yourself, doing breathing and weapons. Practicing has always helped me with my school or work and family, relieving tensions and keeping me feeling balanced.
How have you applied, and how have you seen your students apply, Aikido off the mat in their work?
Also, I don't particularly like to speak in front of large groups, but Aikido helps. Aikido, and breathing, has helped me be able to do this more effectively.
What gives you the greatest pride in looking at your students over the years?
I also like to see students applying Aikido successfully off the mat---dealing with people, mediating, arbitrating, negotiating effectively. To see students able to lead people and get them to do what you want them to do without bullying.
I like to see the change in people after they train. To see people learn to win over themselves, overcoming their own problems and anxieties.
What do you look for in your students---both in testing and overall?
In testing, I definitely look for technical competence, both in demonstrating the technique and the ukemi. I also look for mental competence. How does a person deal with aggression, with the unexpected, with more than they might expect? The mental and technical merge in Aikido.
As I said before, in Aikido you can demonstrate that your philosophy works. You can show this by how you neutralize an attack, how you move off the line, how you rearrange the line so you control it. I look to see whether the student continuously has his or her mind extending out.
The interesting thing is how some students who are not physically strong have strong mental powers. You expect to see the mental side getting stronger as the student advances, even if they are not as strong physically. After shodarn, particularly, the techniques don't change. Shodan means that one knows the techniques. What changes is the mental ability to use technique and control oneself.
I emphasize that shodan means "beginner." At shodan, a student has the technical expertise to begin to understand Aikido.
Is it important to you that your students teach?
I believe a person doesn't really understand something, know it, until he or she teaches it---or tries to teach it--to someone else. It's one thing to be able to do the technique; it's a different thing to understand why you do something one way rather than another and to explain that to someone else. As you teach, imparting knowledge to someone else, your body is teaching your mind and your mind is teaching your body.
In America, especially, everyone asks, "Why, why, why?" This leads to a danger: some people talk a little too much. I say, "Talk a little; practice a lot."
What advice would you give a beginner?
What advice would you give an advanced student?
When you are a beginner, the training seems complicated and foreign. As you advance, you have to look at it each time as still new--so that you don't get complacent and take it for granted.
Training is an interaction between people. The technique involves both uke and nage. The uke always changes and the nage always changes. So, training is always different. You can think of it that way. You keep training to better yourself and your partner as well. The training is mutual---I sharpen up my partner, and he or she sharpens me up.
Also, people of many different kinds do Aikido--of different ages, different body types, different levels of athleticism and aggression. I always emphasize that students should train with as many different people as possible.
The more receptive you are to feeling people's attitudes on the mat, the more you can be receptive off the mat. Part of training is also training in honesty--to give an honest attack and provide an honest technique. That's one reason I like my students to attend seminars, to see other instructors, and to train with Aikidoists they don't ordinarily see.
What personal qualities do you value in an Aikidoka? Can they be cultivated?
Over the years, you've had teachers of many different styles give seminars at your school, Capital Aikikai: Yamada Sensei, Saito Sensei, Bill Witt Sensei, Kanai Sensei, Mary Heiny Sensei, Robert Nadeau Sensei, Okimura Sensei. You've always kept good relations with these different Aikidoists, and you have maintained good relations with your students when they've gone to train with other instructors. How?
Each student has to find a style, a path, that fits his or her personality and body type. The goal is the same.
I've always been very supportive of my students. And I've always wanted to expose them to various paths. Mike [Friedl] is good example. He was my student in Wisconsin, DC, and in South Carolina. He went to the west coast, and then he went to Iwama. Later he studied with Frank Doran and Hiroshi Ikeda.
All of these influences, including mine, have helped Mike find his own path.
It's the same for all my students. They have to find their individual paths to the top of the mountain. I'm a guide. They have to walk and see which path they feel comfortable with.
How did you meet Saito Sensei?
You seem to be able to absorb and incorporate different styles.
This is true between the different martial arts. Many students at Capital Aikikai have dan ranks in martial arts other than Aikido. Everything they learn helps them understand the universal movement.
What do you see as the future of Aikido?
Aikido has split several times, which is typical of martial arts. Whether it will come back together again I don't know. But I think that the philosophy of Aikido, O-Sensei's philosophy of love and compassion, will definitely spread, regardless of the different styles.
Society has changed. People want and need a way to deal with themselves and correct themselves. Self-defense is learning how to defend yourself against yourself.
The future will be interesting. As the world evolves, people increasingly feel that society is changing. They increasingly feel lost in society. They are looking for ways to understand themselves and better themselves. Aikido provides a good way to do that.
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