MO: Are you constantly tracking for the riai - the underlying principles behind the technique?
BLS: Trying to, yeah. I think that’s something to aspire to, but more often than not I’m still stuck in learning the technique itself and how to make the technique effective. But I think you’re right, the level above that is - what is the particular essence of this technique, what are we really learning? Maybe a good example is hiriki no yosei ni. Lots of people get stuck doing it by thinking that they’re just turning. In reality, it’s not about turning at all. It’s all about shifting your weight and moving your weight. And so you find lots of people turning but their weight’s staying in the middle, so they’re not using it effectively. But as soon as you realise, ‘oh, this is to shift my weight and you can move a person with it’, suddenly all these techniques become much easier. You’re not just turning on the spot anymore and trying to twist them, there’s something moving them and it all goes from there. Everything’s like that.
MO: I remember in one class you were teaching and I was absolutely struck by the lines that you had. When you were demonstrating a technique, the lines of your body were just so beautiful, so accurate, it was like out of an Aikido book. How does one get to that level with such great mind-body coordination?
BLS: Being able to move and have a good posture when you stop is, I wouldn’t say easy, but not very hard. Anyone can really do that and have a good posture when they stop. But I think the hard part, especially in Aikido, is to try and keep your posture between movements, between positions, and during positions. And I think that’s the real challenge, and really that’s to do with balance and keeping our balance as we move. And keeping our posture helps us to keep our balance. If you lose your posture, you lose your balance, and so you can’t even stand straight. If you can keep your balance as you move and keep your posture as you move then you can start to do jiyuwaza and other things like that. You see lots of people getting into very awkward positions themselves and very unbalanced, and then wondering why it’s very hard to do a particular throw. Whereas if they come back and think about the basics of getting their balance and their posture right then all of a sudden the other parts become easier.
MO: What are some of the things that make the difference between an average student versus someone who’s really learning and progressing well?
BLS: What makes the good student? In the end, it’s the hunger, the hunger to learn, that want to learn. I think lots of people expect not only to be taught but to be given the technique. And you can’t give it to them, they have to take it. They have to absorb it themselves. Lots of people just go through the motions, expecting by going through the motions ‘that’ll be enough, I’ll get given it’. They don’t realise that it can never work that way. They have to want it, and they have to take it and try and make it their own and understand it. Of course, people change all the time but most of it’s the hard work of them trying to get it. That’s what sets the groundwork for them to be able to get to the next level or get to the next part. It’s the hunger - if you want it, you’re going to go out and get it.
Cultivate your spirit. Go back to the basics of the Yoshinkan and cultivate your spirit because if you don’t cultivate the spirit then you won’t keep coming back, you won’t keep doing it. But if you just keep doing it, you can get all these other parts as well. I think that’s far and away the most important thing. Someone without any spirit, they’re never going to get anything out of it and they’re not going to last very long at it either, and I think Aikido is really one of those things where you gotta be in it for the long term to really get much out of it.