A Journey to Disgrace - Part-Two-of-Three

Vice President Agnew resigns
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I never wanted to teach French because even though I had all the necessary qualifications, I wanted to avoid contacts with the French community. Arikawa Sadateru Sensei was there too and although his keiko was very painful, he had a wonderful technique. Shibata Ichiro Sensei was teaching on Thursday afternoons, he replaced Chiba Kazuo Sensei when he moved to the United States and his classes were very dynamic.

Shibata Sensei became very important for me at that time. Endo Seichiro Sensei was already teaching and he was actually my mentor at the Aikikai since Christian had introduced me to him before I left for Japan. There was also Sasaki Masando Sensei, the shinto priest with the thousands word games whom I liked very much, even though I did not understand what he was saying at the time. He often made word games using different levels of speech, a bit like the Manzai storytellers of Osaka.

In one of my books, I have translated his last three months of teaching at the Aikikai; I had a very hard time. Japanese is a multi-layered language and even though the pronunciation is similar, the choice of one character over another might make very significant differences. Guillaume Erard: Even though you followed all these instructors, did you consider yourself as the student of one teacher in particular? Olivier Gaurin: I did not want to be the student of one particular teacher but of all the teachers. Practicing at the Aikikai was very hard because each Sensei showed very different things and every one of them was wonderful.

Most of the times, I liked what they showed but did not understand it. I was however the only one at the Aikikai who could mimic all the Sensei, a bit like a learned idiot; it was a game for me. They never told me that I was their student but they were models for me, my references, and my main reasons for staying in Japan. Olivier Gaurin: Certainly, his influence was obvious because he was the one who introduced me to Yamaguchi Sensei and because his own Aikido was an expression of that of Kisshomaru Ueshiba Sensei.

For me, Yamaguchi Sensei was the most profound expression of the type of Aikido that we call nagare.

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But I wasn't a judgmental, obnoxious vegan, I don't think. Start your review of Disgrace. Not in a simplistic or didactic way unlike, say, Elizabeth Costello , which I haven't read in awhile but don't remember fondly at all , but in an extremely complex and nuanced sense this book is about the question of how to be a good person in this horrendously awful world, and what our relationship to animals has to do with that. The medical officer originally thinks K wants to kill himself — hence his reason for not eating — but he comes to understand that K does want to live, just on his own terms. I can and will happily go without the pretentious literary value these books want to teach me.

The Aikikai quickly emphasized this aspect of the practice and today, we can clearly see both the positive and negative effects of this approach. Kisshomaru Ueshiba embodied a very mysterious phenomenon for me. During his morning class, he very quickly took me as uke, after the uchi deshi of course, but before a lot of Japanese people nonetheless. Something clicked very quickly between us. He was extremely kind in spite of his severity. Also, when I was attacking him, I felt lost. At the time I was very fit, I was practicing boxing and other things but each time, I felt like attacking a ghost.

He was already old and weak and I was in great shape and weighted over 75 kilos. I was really intrigued because each time I was attacking him, I encountered a void.

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I also realized that the uchi deshi were falling in a very peculiar way with him and it made me want to learn because it was beautiful and seemed justified. I took quite a few hits from Kisshomaru Sensei and I never saw them coming. It was very gratifying for me because in addition to my will to learn, I felt that Ueshiba Kisshomaru Sensei wanted to teach me.

It is a bit similar to what happened with Yamaguchi Sensei, a mutual interest and a certain connection. Guillaume Erard: Do you feel privileged to have had that sort of a relationship with these instructors? Guillaume Erard: If all of these people have these common references, how come their Aikido is so different? Olivier Gaurin: Having common references does not mean that we should all do the same thing. This is the depth of Japanese Aikido: people are not taught to do the same thing as everyone else, instead, they are taught to find the possibilities available to themselves.

In contrast, in France for example, people are doing ready-to-wear Aikido, catalog techniques, a sort of industrialized version of Aikido while in Japan, past the apprenticeship of the basics, it quickly becomes a very personal and refined craft. In Japan, Aikido should fit the practitioner impeccably as opposed to the practitioner trying to fit in an Aikido which is not adapted.

It is often the case abroad with people stubbornly copying the forms of such and such Sensei. We can therefore say that the common points are the basics but that the ideal of Japanese martial arts should be adapted and specific to every practitioner. This is what I learnt from Ueshiba Kisshomaru and Yamaguchi Seigo Sensei: to always try to do haute couture in Aiki, that is, an Aiki that looks and feels good in every circumstance. Olivier Gaurin: Those who do not understand that difference tend to think that they are the representative of Aikido as a whole rather than of one form of Aikido.

A person who is aware of the haute couture is not fooled by the Aikido displayed by others. The flaws, deviances, fake stories, technical inventions etc. However, true mastery is a lot more humble than that. Olivier Gaurin: These two Sensei were indeed my humble basis of work but I tried to follow every teacher, particularly Osawa Kisaburo Sensei. Like many old Sensei, I think that very few people understood what he was doing. It was an interesting Aikido, very flexible, but in a rigid mentality, all of that behind a very sympathetic mask, as is often the case here in Japan.

Osawa Kisaburo Sensei was a bit like a peach with a big stone in it laughs! Of course I also particularly liked the classes of Arikawa, Watanabe and Endo Sensei and I think that their influence on me is still visible today. Basically, there are three ways to learn in Japan. The first one is to follow one particular Sensei and to become a sort of doppelganger. This is the way that I have chosen but it is a quite tedious and thankless task, you have to build yourself using all the conflicting information that you are exposed to.

Olivier Gaurin: After a while, one should stop seeking differences but instead, start to look for the common points in all these teachings. It is at that point that things start to become interesting. I think that people should congratulate each other and acknowledge the fact that everyone is fabulous in their own medium and in their own world. Or be appropriated by it? Should one become a clone of such and such Sensei?

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The bottom line should be: take the qualities of all these people and leave their flaws aside. I sincerely believe that everybody should develop their own Aikido. It has to be built upon common bases and pertinent work hypothesis but it should at same time be the expression of something personal. In Japan, this part of the work often starts when a Sensei passes away. In my case, since Yamaguchi Sensei and Kisshomaru Sensei are dead, I have been left alone, trying to follow their trail, but I am also freer in my Aikido.

My Aikido now matures like a good wine, slowly, freely but at same time well framed by its gasket. Olivier Gaurin: Yes, this is the first degree of analysis which concerns a level that one might qualify as basic. Although it is true in the sense that in Japan, what is expected is imitation, it is only relevant at the first level of understanding of the art. There are other levels.

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In fact, the Sensei does not expect us to reproduce exactly what he shows. What he expects is that through imitation of the techniques, the student understands their meaning. That is the second level. I remember for example Yamaguchi Sensei; the only two times when he got really mad at me were both after I had been mimicking his techniques and his attitudes.

Besides, they know perfectly well that you, a 6 ft. What they expect from you however is that you understand their Aikido, how they do the things they do. So at the beginning, Japanese Aikido is indeed about imitation, but it is not an end in itself, it is just a way to understand what we are mimicking. Now the problem is that if people get stuck in the mimicking, although a few things will come out, nothing very profound or coherent will develop.

Aikido technique is a shell and at the core is the person. The shell contains important points of comprehension of the movements, these are the points that the Sensei are seeking since they have been lost through time and pass on. The forms, the styles, are like in music, everyone has their own. We can have the same music sheet but interpret it differently; this is not an issue, it is actually a good thing.

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Olivier Gaurin: Yes I was there at his last class on a Monday night. The following day at eight a. He had never missed a class before that. It is a sad story; we wish he had lived longer. When he died, I stopped Aikido for three months; I was in shock and did not want to go back to the Aikikai. I felt a great void, a kind of black hole. I did not feel like doing Aikido anymore… until the day when I saw him in a dream. He was giving out to me for the third time. He said that I was a fool to be stopping after 12 years spent training with him, in his shadow.

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I felt like telling him that he should not have died but before I could utter a word, he told me that I should resume my practice, that I should enhance and perpetrate what he had taught me. It was a dream so it can mean anything or nothing but it helped me. The following morning, I went back to the Hombu Dojo, Kisshomaru Ueshiba was teaching his morning class as usual, as if nothing had happened.

Nobody was talking about it, I was shocked and this is then that I thought that I should not let the little I had learnt from Yamaguchi Sensei disappear. I heard a good few people from Europe saying that they were surprised that the Aikikai had not organised an official event or a ceremony for these people.

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Olivier Gaurin: This has to do with Japanese culture.