Two Innovative Instructors

There are many great martial arts instructors in the world. The best of these have that rare gift of being able to display astonishing technique coupled with great insight. Once in a while, we come across a fascinating and seemingly fresh interpretation of the art, and it can give one’s mind a lot to think about. Below is video of a Shotokan instructor whom I hadn’t really heard about before – Sensei Rick Hotton. If you take a look at him, you’ll note that his karate techniques are very good – yet, his interpretation of movement is distinctly different from what most karate classes teach. He talks about the sine wave, emphasizes (and demonstrates) hip motion and connectivity in far more detail than the basic hip snap/thrust/rotation, and pushes his Shotokan audience to learn to relax. These are concepts I recall from my early years in Aikido. Glancing into Sensei Hotton’s background a little, I found out why – he is also a student of Aikido Sensei Matsugi Saotome. Sensei Saotome was an uchi-deschi of the art’s founder, Ueshiba Sensei. Some 25 years ago, I truly enjoyed reading his book, “Aikido and the Harmony of Nature”. It was so interesting to see some of these concepts, effectively blended into our karate movements, with exciting results. I think that you can learn a lot just by watching a sample of what he does.

The second video is of the late, great Aikido master, Koichi Tohei. I doubt if most of you ever heard of him, but when I was a young teenager practicing Aikido in the 1960’s, he was my idol. Tohei Sensei was the primary disciple of Ueshiba Sensei and beginning in the early 1950’s, began to introduce Aikido to the world. His first stop was Hawaii, where his demonstrations with the local judoka convinced many of them to take up the gentle art. He used to visit our dojo on his many international trips and we was fortunate enough to watch him and even receive technique from him, on occasion. As with most Aikido, the demos almost always look like “shibai” – as if the attackers are faking and falling down. However, I was always blown away by his effortless movement and could actually feel his power. Like all the others, I was thrown by the lightest touch. To this day, I don’t know how he did this, although he explained it as Ki (Chinese Chi), which was his own philosophy (not the Founder’s) and was part of what led him to break away following the Founder’s passing. His movements show the circular and exceptional pivots inherent in much of Aikido. I especially enjoyed watching how adept he was with the jo (Aikido cane).

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