“Integrate your natural reflexes into your aikido”: this was one of the key themes that emerged during the South African Aikido Association’s final camp for 2013. The camp was held in Durban, with Durban Aikido Club hosting Darko Vucetic Sensei as the guest instructor and examiner.
Durban Aikido, under Kevin Gouden Sensei, is renowned for both its martial spirit and its openness to new ideas. The gathering of Durban and Joburg aikidoka received Darko Sensei’s classes with a palpable determination to learn – and a seriousness that had Darko Sensei (who often spices his demonstrations with humour) assuring the more junior practitioners that it’s okay to smile while on the mat.
Highlights of Darko Sensei’s instruction included a response to jodan tsuki (a straight punch or strike to the face) that turns an entirely natural, reflexive “lifting of the hands to protect the face” into a sword-like deflection that can be followed by any number of locking or throwing techniques. A similarly reflexive “twisting of the body”, to avoid a knife thrust at close quarters, was again translated by Darko Sensei into a foundation for the standard aikido takedowns. Here Darko Sensei asked the trainees to imagine themselves under attack “in a telephone box”, and demonstrated how to combine the reflexive body-twist with fluid hand-deflections. (Aikido is not usually taught as a grappling-range martial art, and Darko Sensei’s applications of aikido to grappling-range attacks are influenced by Systema – a Russian self-defence system that teaches the adaptation of one’s mainstream martial art to any combat situation that arises.)
As always, Darko Sensei did not burden the students with expectations that they would immediately grasp the techniques he presented. Rather, he emphasised the value of attempting new techniques – with every attempt, whether proficient or not, serving to “open the mind” to aikido’s flexibility and beauty.
Three kyu (white-belt level) grading examinations were taken at the camp. The candidates were, as is usual at aikido camps, judged also on their performance and attitude throughout the camp. All passed, and were warmly commended by Darko Sensei.
From Darko Sensei and the Joburg Aikido Club, “Arigato gozai-mashita” (“A very respectful thank you”) to Kevin Sensei and the Durban Aikido Club for a tremendously enjoyable and affirming camp.