A Day in the Woods with Koichi Kashiwaya Sensei
By Ryan Goettsche
A few summers back, I attended a camp ground about 30 miles west of Fort Collins, Colorado to spend the day learning from (more) Koichi Kashiwaya Sensei. Kashiwaya Sensei was born in Yamagata, Japan in 1949. He began his Aikido training in 1969 and trained exclusively for many years with Koichi Tohei Sensei and even acted in the capacity of an Uchi Deshi, or live-in student, with Tohei Sensei. In 1983, Kashiwaya Sensei was appointed Chief Instructor for Ki Society USA by Tohei Sensei.
The Rocky Mountain Ki Society was hosting a weekend campout with three days of weapons training featuring Kashiwaya Sensei. Friends picked me up at 4:30AM and we hit the highway. We made good time up through Denver and thought we would be too early but we ended up at the camp ground about thirty minutes before training was to begin. We got registered and were able to meet Sensei and speak with him for a little bit before class. Training began about 9:00AM and the group was separated into two groups, one which was there for the whole weekend and one that was there just for the day. Each group faced each other and we practiced cutting with a bokken. Sensei would demonstrate how to hold the bokken and how to cut. Then ten people from the group that was there for the whole weekend would count to ten each. After each round of one hundred cuts, Sensei would demonstrate some more refined aspects of the cuts and we would go through another one hundred cuts. We did a total of one thousand cuts…one hundred of them we did holding the bokken with just our right hand. The last few hundred cuts, the group that was just there for the day closed their eyes and turned to cut towards the voice that was calling out the numbers.
This was really good training. After the two hours of cutting we stopped to have lunch so we all sat with other from the group who had brought some light sandwiches and power drinks for everyone. The next class Sensei showed sections of a common jo kata. At first he was demonstrating moves which I thought were from the 21 jo kata but with some variations. I recognized some of the motions from what other teachers had showed me but then some were very different. Sensei went through all of the motions of the jo kata and by the end of the class and we worked on all of the moves with partners. It was very interesting to go through the movements while outside in the forest and trying to watch your step with how the terrain was. The campground was not flat and there were little trees and rocks to work around. We ended the class by watching Sensei perform the full kata very quickly with two students attacking from the front and the rear.
Sensei is very precise in his movements and even more precise in his explanations of what is happening before, during and after the movements. He was always smiling and describing what is going on with the mind and body and how each movement works to merge the two using Ki. The last time I saw Kashiwaya Sensei was in Fort Collins back in 1997 at the University gymnasium and I remember watching him and being blown away at how powerful he was, especially when moving with weapons like the bokken and jo. You could just tell that they were extensions of his body and Ki. They weren’t just something used to cause damage to another individual, which people who don’t train assume it’s all about. The movements he demonstrated this time were just as strong as I remembered from eleven years ago. The constant strive for perfection is truly what it’s about and he demonstrates it so well.
During the breaks, lunch and dinner, we were able to spend a lot of time with the students and instructors of the Rocky Mountain Ki Society dojos. There were about forty people from all of the schools in the area (Boulder, Fort Collins and Denver) along with students from Kansas and Canada. They were all very hospitable and very excited that we came up to support the seminar. They knew that we were not part of the Ki Society association but they didn’t treat us as outsiders which speaks volumes to how they train. We had lots of comments on our posture and etiquette and we even had a comment that it was very rare that they had three black belts from the same school come to one of their seminars. This was a great experience and worth every minute of sleep lost to participate in the teachings Kashiwaya Sensei and his students had to offer. I look forward to training more with him in the future.