Homma Sensei Visits Shushinkan Dojo in Mayaguez, Puerto Rico


On the weekend of September 16-18, Shushinkan Dojo was honored to have the presence of Gaku Homma Sensei in Mayaguez, Puerto Rico. His visit was truly a remarkable experience and I hope to share some thoughts on the countless knowledge Homma Sensei shared with us.

Homma Sensei’s approach to Aikido sets it very clear how taijutsu (open hand techniques) andsuburi (weapons) practice are directly related. Not only that, he showed how one helps you with the other and vice versa. When practicing open hand techniques, we can correlate our stance and movements to those of kenjutsu. Homma Sensei used the analogous comparison of the modern soldier to the samurai of old. Modern soldiers have their hand guns and rifles, the general concept for being effective in either (steady stance, aim, shoot) is the same. So were the samurai, with their bokken and empty hand movements. For example, in taijutsu, our body movement,sabaki, as we receive an attack and begin to execute a technique all the way to its completion, can be performed just as if you were practicing kenjutsu, with the same clear footwork and the same extension and intent on the throw analogous to the final cut with a sword. Conversely, in suburipractice, greater sensitivity can be learned from taijutsu, not just simply swinging the weapon wildly or bashing weapons on a block. Suburi practice in aikido requires harmony, hence the concept of Aiki, which is what separates our suburi practice with the jo as uke presses his attack and nage intercepts, just like in taijutsu when uke strikes shomenuchi or yokomenuchi or when ukegrabs katatedori for example. I use the term “intercept” mainly because using the word “block” brings a connotation of bashing wood against wood, arm against arm, which is exactly that must not be done. Just like in open hand practice, by “feeling” in suburi practice, nage can then extenduke’s attack in another direction, take him out of balance and better understand how to deal with the situation.

Spending time with Homma Sensei off the mat was as much an experience as on it. Better understanding certain concepts or nuances of Japanese culture and language help bring a better understanding of what budo really is. I recall one of the conversations Sensei was having with us as we were sitting on the outside deck of the restaurant with a beautiful view to the sea. We had asked Sensei of his travels and of cultural differences he’d seen through his practice of Aikido in different places. Sensei begins telling us of how things have different meanings for people in different places and then hit on a subject that was most enlightening to me. “It’s like keiko, for example…” he began. Keiko, in Japanese, translates to “training” in English. In English we refer to getting together to perform any event as practice, as in “I have basketball practice today…” or “we are getting together to practice our lines to the play…” or “I have Aikido practice tonight…” However, Homma Sensei explained to us why it is wrong to say the same of Aikido, how that would be too simple a way of putting it. Paraphrasing Homma Sensei, in Japanese, “kei” (the root to the word keiko), means going to the nearest star and back one hundred times. Imagine how long the great distance through outer space to go and actually come back once would take! If one were to actually do that it would take a lifetime or more! That is why he said Aikido, as with all other martial arts, is training, not practice. It should be taken with the dedication, the eagerness, the intensity of actually wanting to get to that star and come back one hundred times. “Then, you might be getting somewhere,” Sensei added, and began laughing.

Homma Sensei also narrated endless stories and anecdotes of his with O’Sensei and the time he spent in Iwama. He spoke of the many stories of O’Sensei’s incredible achievements that have given him a myth-like god stature and put them into perspective. “O’Sensei was a man, like you and I are man…” By doing this I know Homma Sensei meant no disrespect, he sought to give us a more humane perspective on the Founder, not to dispel myths and legends. Going back to the subject of keiko, he explained that Aikido did not come through divine intervention. Aikido has its roots in Daito-ryu Aikijujutsu just like that has its roots in older styles of bujutsu. It was the long endeavor of a man, through hard work and training, day in and day out, to find a way to stay alive. We must not forget that Aikido is a martial art, and as such, it was a way of staying alive in a time when war was more commonly fought face to face instead of just by the pressing of a button. It was developed through many hours, countless drops of sweat and great dedication. Thanks to O’Sensei tireless keiko, he achieved what he achieved. By reminding this to us, Homma Sensei pointed out that it is within all of us, within our power to become as great as we want, not only in Aikido, but in life in general. This was definitely one of the most inspiring moments in my life, and I would like to thank Homma Sensei for sharing so much of his invaluable knowledge with all of us.

Claudio Neves
Shushinkan Dojo
Mayaguez, Puerto Rico