An Interview with Jim Giorgi
20 February 2015
I’m sure Mr. Bowe’s blessing for your book, and his agreement to the theories you’d disovered were a huge professional moment for you.
Well, the whole story about how the book(s) came to be is a story in itself, one best told over time and a tumbler or two of single-malt scotch. ;-))
As a hopeless teetotaler, but avid consumer of H2O, I would love to hear the whole story at some point, but for now, what are you learning as it relates to NGA today? Any new insights?
In the dojo, we are delving very deeply into the fundamental principles of Aiki from the standpoint of natural law: physics, geometry, anatomy and biomechanics. To me the essence of Aikido is, when attacked, the defender moves himself into a position that compromises the attacker's balance while maintaining his own balance. The actual technique used is immaterial and "chooses itself" based upon the position and orientation of the defender to the attacker once the attacker's balance has been compromised. In fact just a couple of days ago we did a drill which focused on all of the two dozen or so elements of the "Aiki" response to an attack. The students' ability to respond with greater power and effectiveness than they had previously took a quantum leap forward.
Does this aiki response lend itself to a couple of techniques in particular, or do you find it working across the board?
Actually, I strive NOT to choose a technique but simply get to the right spot as I unbalance uke, and then let the technique choose itself. That is the most important point for me right now. You can know a myriad of techniques but if you are not in the right place at the right time, you won't be successful using any of them.
That said, there's an old saying, "Better one technique 10,000 times than 10,000 techniques one time." I very much like the idea of having 50 techniques in NGA (more than mainstream Aikido, less than Aiki-jujitsu). But it is true that I, like most of the yudansha I have trained with in the NGAA, have a "core" of my favorite 10-15 techniques.
My 15 can be found in my book, “Integral Aikido.”
The reason I have only 15 techniques in IA is because I wanted to focus on the ones that I found most useful and versatile and also because I deliberately did not want IA to compete "Nihon Goshin Aikido" as another "training manual".
So what would you say is the difference between “Integral Aikido” and “Nihon Goshin Aikido?”
Well, IA is not an "official curriculum", it is a focused look at the theory and practice of the most important elements of NGA from my particular vantage point as a senior yudansha. The reason I wrote it was because Shihan Bowe had suggested that several passages I had written for Nihon Goshin Aikido could be expounded upon.
Now along those lines, my theory of aiki is the sort of item that I would very much like to share with all of the NGA dojos (and non-NGA dojos) in a seminar format. I believe that this perspective on Aiki will resolve any question from mainstream Aikidoka as to whether or not NGA is "real" Aikido or not.
These principles, which I have dubbed "Mu To no Nami" (No-Sword Wave or Swordless Wave) form the basis of the seminars I have done in NGA schools around the country, and I believe are fully in line with what Shihan has been teaching us for years, but without explaining or elaborating on them.
Sensei Ryan Litchfield (instructor at Bellevue WA dojo of Sensei David Morris) and I have been collaborating on teasing out and elucidating these principles from sources like as Don Angier, Okamoto (Daito Ryu Roppokai), the years I spent training with Shihan Bowe and observing the principles he taught even if he did not explain or elaborate on them theoretically, and especially the review sessions with Mr. Bowe that I attended with Mr. Dutton et al for the NGA book have been very valuable in the identification of these principles.
Speaking of teachers, who are your prime teachers, or who would you call when you had an NGA specific question?
In chronological order:
1. Sensei MacEwen, who was a sho-dan when I started in 1983.
2. Sensei Dutton, who was a san-kyu when I started.
3. Shihan Bowe: I went to 2 seminars with Shihan at the Middletown dojo during my years at kyu ranks and then occasionally to black belt class with Shihan in Guttenberg when I was promoted to sho-dan in 1988. I started going regularly to Shihan's weekly class from 2000-2006, at which point I moved to Florida.
From 2004-2010 I had an opportunity that, except for Sensei Dutton and Sensei Maffei, no other NGA'er had previously or has had since ~ and this would be attending the aforementioned review sessions with Shihan Bowe to review the Nihon Goshin Aikido book.
During that process, we reviewed every classical technique in detail with Shihan's explicit comments and corrections to what we had written as the technique instructions.
Because of Shihan's schedule, we had only two or three sessions per year (and some years less). Of course, that's why it took so long to finish and publish the book. The book was actually finished by 2004, but it took another 9 years before the review process was finished ~ and it was formatted in its final form for publication.
That said, there is no "order" for those of whom I ask questions. I speak frequently (several times a month) with Sensei MacEwen so I would ask him first, but if I had a question that I thought only Shihan could answer then I would call him directly.
Have you ever had a real life reason to use your NGA skills?
Fortunately, I have never been involved in a fight of any kind since elementary school days. I tell my students often that if I use my Aikido skills only on the mat for the rest of my life I will consider myself to have had a successful life as a martial artist. I like to think that our training in the dojo helps us to avoid having to use our skills in situations outside the dojo. If you have read Terry Dobson's story about his experience on the Tokyo Metro, you know what I am talking about.
(NGAexperience aside: Yes I am familiar with that story. Dobson is riding on the train, and a man is verbally abusing each member in the car one at a time. As Dobson sits, he hopes the man will come to him, so he can use his aikido and put the man in his place. Before the irrate passenger can get to Dobson and receive his just reward, another man offers to assist the irate man with whatever was ailing him at the time. Like a crumpled leaf, the man caved into a shell of self agony. After gaining his composure, he confessed to the man who had intervened on his behalf that he had lost his job, and apologized to everyone in the car for his behavior. Dobson’s epiphony at that time was that there is a version of non physical aikido that is preferred whenever possible.).
Dobson story aside: I was involved in two incidents in which I used Aikido principles in preventing my or another person's getting hurt.
The first was in the late 80s at the time I was working as a school psychologist in a county-wide special education center in upstate NY. My specialty there was working with the emotionally/behaviorally disordered students from ages 3 to 21. I was frequently called to classrooms to intervene when one of the students became "disruptive" (disturbing the classroom decorum by being verbally or physically assaultive or throwing books, desks, chairs, etc.). My job was to do "crisis intervention", meaning that I came to the classroom, removed the disruptive student to a "timeout" room and then helped him/her to calm down and dialogue with me to prepare them to rejoin the class in a more positive state of mind. One day I was called to one of the classrooms with kids between 10-12 years old. One kid, whom I'll call Billy, who was a very large-for-his-age 12 year-old, had taken exception to something either the teacher or a classmate had said and was starting to trash the room. I entered the room and "assisted" Billy into the timeout room, where I remained attempting to calm him down. Billy agitatedly paced up and down the room (probably an 8'x8' space or less), cursing at me and everyone else and looking at me menacingly as I spoke to him in an attempt to calm him down. Suddenly he pulled a ballpoint pen out of his pocket, raised his arm into an overhand stabbing position, and moved toward me. Without thinking, I immediately entered to the outside and did a linear pivot take-down, dropping him to the floor and removing the pen from his grip. The fall was not a hard one as I did the technique as gently as I could and assisted his fall. But I will never forget the look of shock and surprise on his face as I stared down at him on the floor. He was totally flummoxed. He stared up at me and sputtered "what did you do? What did you do?" I had to use "all my powers and skills" not to burst out laughing as I replied, "I just helped you to make the right decision." We talked for a few minutes afterward and then he was calm enough to return to the class activity that was taking place. From that time on he was my "best friend" as it were, and always responded to me with respect and deference whenever I was called in to intervene in a problem situation he was involved in.
The other incident happened in the early 1990s at the Buddhist temple in NY (in the Catskill Mountains about 20 miles further upstate from the Middletown NGA dojo) where I have done my Zen training. I have previously mentioned that I have been practicing Zen meditation from the same time I started Aikido training and was ordained as a Zen Buddhist priest in 2000 at that temple.
A little background information. At the time of this incident, the temple was in the process of construction. A group of us (Korean and American members) were sitting in the basement of an old barn that was temporarily being used as the temple. The basement was the kitchen and dining room.
The Korean carpenter who was building the temple was in residence there. My teacher and my teacher's teacher were also staying at the temple, and there was also an older Korean woman there who was an elder of the congregation and major benefactor. There were maybe 6-8 people in the room at the time of the incident.
A group of us were sitting in the barn basement having tea, talking, and waiting to go to a restaurant for a group dinner. The woman and the carpenter were talking (in Korean, so I didn't understand a word) and suddenly the volume of their conversation rose and the tone became more heated. They were arguing about something, I knew not what. After a couple of minutes of this back and forth, a monk (resident at the temple) who was also in the room got involved in the argument, apparently taking sides with the woman against the carpenter.
Suddenly the carpenter ran over to the corner where there was a wood stove and a pile of wood. He picked up the axe lying on the wood and approached the monk with the axe raised above his head. I sprang up from my chair and caught the carpenter's hands and the axe in a shiho-nage position and quickly removed it and threw it back to the woodpile. The carpenter and the monk were continuing to posture and flail toward each other. I was holding the carpenter back and a friend of mine was trying to calm the monk. Well the monk got around him, went to the woodpile and picked up the axe and charged for the carpenter. I turned and intercepted him and removed the axe from his hands in the same way. I went to the door and flung the axe out into the woods as far as I could. But that left the carpenter free to run to the woodpile, pick up a log and charge at the monk. For the third time I intercepted and disarmed the would-be assailant, threw the log out the door and actively restrained the carpenter. Meanwhile my friend had gained control of the monk and brought him outside to try to calm him down. The other people in the room were aghast at what had just happened within half a minute or less. Eventually I was able to calm the carpenter and escort him to his room, out of sight of the monk and my friend.
The irony of this story is that we were all (about 16 people altogether) planning to go to a Korean restaurant in the area for a group dinner in honor of my teacher's teacher. Both of them were taking a nap while this incident occurred, so they had no idea what had transpired as we gathered to carpool to the restaurant. We made sure that the offending monk and the carpenter rode in separate cars and that they sat at opposite ends of the table when we got to the restaurant. The dinner went off without a hitch, and we returned them all to the temple. We never heard of any repeats of that assaultive behavior in the following weeks and so I assume that they were able to patch up whatever differences they may have had that day. But it certainly made for an interesting story back at the dojo, especially having happened at a Buddhist temple, which typically would be a haven of peacefulness and the last place you would expect to witness, let alone intervene in, a fight.
Sensei Jim Giorgi explaining the nuances of the art at an aikido seminar.
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Sensei Giorgi on the Power of the Search:
I applaud every student’s questioning and analysis, even if it does seem like a "dog chasing a car" at times.
Although it may take him some time, if the dog ever does catch the car, eventually he WILL figure out something to do with it, even if it's just sniffing the tires. Or sleeping underneath. Or scratching his back on the bumper...etc.
Truth be told, it took me nearly 20 years (from 1983 until about 2000) before I figured out how classical technique can be seamlessly integrated with the irimi blend [(irimi => tenkan => tenkai) ~ which manifests itself in a 360 degree circle] and why that process is indeed exactly what Shodo Morita intended classical technique to be.
This insight, as well as other epiphanies I have had during the past 30 years of training, was the direct result of my "chasing the car" without knowing what I was going to do with it if and when I actually caught it.
And this process has been my most enlightening and joyful experience, an ever expanding and accelerating journey of wonderful discoveries.
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Here is a video of Sensei Giorgi divulging some of his insights during a 2013 seminar in Seattle, Washington.
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