The standard weekend seminar format is well known and has become refined over decades of modern martial arts training. A typical seminar will host a master or senior instructor for a weekend of training with a school’s students as well as practitioners from other local (and sometimes distant) schools joining in.
These events are excellent community building initiatives. They allow us to meet and train with great masters and make new friends within the aikido community. The financial model for these seminars is also fairly standardized and enables event costs to be covered, along with sufficient funds to make it worthwhile for the visiting instructor.
I have great memories of seminars I’ve attended over the years and have made important friendships. I believe these kinds of seminars are valuable and are here to stay. We organize one of them locally every year and Matsuoka Sensei travels to lead them for some of his close students from around the globe. However, we’re strong believers in developing innovative event formats that can be complementary to ( but not replace) the standard seminar.
At Ikazuchi Dojo, we’ve tested a number of these alternative event formats and used them to inspire, exchange knowledge, and build community. Not every format we’ve tried has been successful, but a number of them have. Here’s an example of one of our alternative event formats.
Stan Pranin Sensei, founder of Aikido Journal (who asked to be addressed as “Stan” for this post), has interviewed nearly every great aikido master in the history of the art, with the exception of the founder. When we had the opportunity to host him for a weekend visit, we decided to do something different.
We opted not to ask Stan to lead a class or seminar for the local aikido community, but believe we were able to create in its place a far more rich and multi-dimensional information exchange than we’d have gotten with a standard seminar or workshop format.
We structured Stan’s visit so he could experience Ikazuchi Dojo in its most natural state. We wanted to enable a knowledge exchange that is multi-layered and has meaning to an audience with diverse backgrounds and experience levels.
Here’s how we structured the event:
We gave Stan a tour of one of the large organizations where we operate aikido programs. He was able to get an inside look at Blizzard Entertainment, one of the world’s most successful entertainment companies, and see how members of this elite team relate to the warrior code and apply their martial arts training to their professional and personal lives.
Matsuoka Sensei and Stan got on the mat for two hours to share technical knowledge and feel each other’s movements. Outside the formal atmosphere of a class or interview, the two were able to freely exchange knowledge, laugh, and learn. Aside from these two martial artists with nearly 100 years combined experience, the only other people present were Josh Gold (to serve as an uke), a photographer, and a videographer.
Stan joined Matsuoka Sensei’s Friday evening class and trained alongside Ikazuchi Dojo students. He was able to see our training and feel our students’ movements in a natural setting. Our students had the unique opportunity to feel Stan’s aikido, not as an uke in a demonstration, but as a practice partner in a normal class.
After class, many of our students stayed for a Q&A session with Stan. Students with 2 months training asked questions, as did those with decades of training. Topics included Stan’s firsthand experience with notable masters and the essence of “aiki”. This session was captured on video.
Stan was able to see firsthand how Ikazuchi Dojo exchanges knowledge with those outside of the aikido world. Mark Cheng led a two hour knife knowledge workshop on Saturday and Stan participated as a student. Mark is a veteran martial artist and trains at the Inosanto Academy, home to some of the world’s best knife technicians. With a t-shirt and gi pants, Stan joined our group and experienced a new perspective on knife combat alongside our students.
In addition to Mark Cheng’s knife knowledge, he’s also a Chinese medicine doctor, movement scientist, and human performance specialist. He has deep historical and technical domain expertise across a range of martial arts. As a contributing editor for Black Belt Magazine, Mark has interviewed and written stories about many martial arts greats including Donnie Yen, Kenji Yamaki (Kyokushin Karate World Champion), and Haruo Matsuoka.
Over a casual dinner, Mark, Stan and Matsuoka Sensei were able to learn from each other, build friendship, and inspire future areas of research.
Stan spent Sunday morning in a private discussion and informal training session with Ikazuchi Dojo’s team of instructors. All of our instructors have a strong aikido background, including some with over 25 years experience. With Stan’s perspective, having over 50 years in the art, we were able to discuss and explore the topics most impactful to our instructors from a historical, technical, and leadership perspective. Ikazuchi Dojo takes its instructor development responsibilities seriously and has begun arranging special events and training sessions (like this one) to improve their instructional and leadership skills.
With a full weekend to see Ikazuchi Dojo in its natural state, train with Matsuoka Sensei, and have a personal dialogue with dojo instructors and students, Stan was able to get a great deal of insight into Sensei’s mission, background, and character. This provided a valuable foundation and connection that I believe, resulted in richer and more meaningful interview than we would have had otherwise.
Although this event structure didn’t allow for our local aikido community to participate directly, it does now allow for this multi-layered information exchange to be made available to our larger, global marital arts community.
We documented many parts of the event and plan on making much of it available to everyone via a series of articles, photos, and video. You’ll see the first of this effort next week (Wednesday May 18th), both on Aikido Journal and the Ikazuchi Dojo website. We look forward to sharing and getting your feedback.