Aikido in the SportAccord, World Combat Games
In 2010, the International Aikido Federation dispatched representatives from several national organizations to participate in the first ever SportAccord Combat Games, held in Beijing, China. The IAF increased its presence at the most recent Games, held in St. Petersburg this year.
Most martial arts and combat sports involve both training and competition. Practitioners compete to win championships. Aikido is unique in that there is no competition and participants cannot be called competitors. They work together for the improvement of both.
Therefore, the aikido portion of the World Combat Games involved demonstrations only. In the place of competition, aikidoka were given tasks to perform to the best of their abilities. No attempt to quantify their performance or compare the results was made.
In addition to the national delegations, there were demonstrations by expert-level aikido instructors, who also coached the participants in classes held to prepare them for the demonstrations.
Arrival at St. Petersburg
After a journey of more than 17 hours, I arrived at St. Petersburg airport at midnight on a Sunday. Most of the other aikido participants at the World Combat Games had arrived earlier that day.
To my surprise, a volunteer met me as I left the plane to accompany me to the shuttle that would take me to the Park Inn Pulkovskaya. All the aikido participants were lodging at the same hotel, and a large number of volunteers were on hand, ready to receive us and help with the many practical matters that might arise.
Before checking in, I consulted with the reception staff to see what our schedule would be for the next day. The day was to begin with an early training session, followed by a seminar at a sports center and then a rehearsal at the Games venue.
I arrived too late to attend the technical meeting and welcome party. To my chagrin, I also missed the welcome speech by Aikido Ambassador Mitsuteru Ueshiba.
Meeting the Delegations
My first encounter with some of the other delegates occurred at breakfast. Although many of the participants arrived late the night before, spirits were high as everyone took the opportunity to get acquainted with aikidoka from all the corners of the world. Such was the excitement that formal introductions felt almost like an afterthought.
I had about 20 minutes to eat breakfast before it was time to catch the shuttle bus that would take me to the first day of seminars. I encountered more delegates in the hotel lobby, and though we did not know one another, everyone was ready with a smile and an extended hand of friendship. The atmosphere was congenial to a good day’s training.
Training, Seminars and Rehearsal
I met my demonstration partner, Gabriel Horsch, 4th Dan from Switzerland, at the first training session. The class was led by IAF Chairman Dr. Peter Goldsbury. He started with some warm-up activities and focused primarily on correcting any errors in our form.
We also took part in a special international seminar, during which three shihan – Ulf Evenås, Christian Tissier and Tsuruzo Miyamoto – each taught a class. Waka Sensei Mitsuteru Ueshiba conducted the final class of the seminar. Needless to say, his energetic style stirred the spirits of all the participants and renewed their vigor.The seminar took place at the Volleyball Academy Platonov, bringing together around 200 participants and a great number of aikido students from several Russian aikido organizations and dojos.
After the seminar, we were supposed to go next to the Peterburgsky arena for a late lunch and then preparations for and a rehearsal of the demonstrations. However, a problem with the booking meant that no lunch had been prepared and the tatami at the arena was still being used for a judo event.
So we were free for the evening. That turned out to be fortuitous, as the seminar was intense enough that the participants felt as though they had had a very comprehensive workout.
Taking Direction from the Shihan Expert Instructors and the Technical Delegate
Naturally, all the participants were eager to absorb as much advice as possible from the Shihan Expert Instructors and Technical Delegate for our demonstrations. I sought out Christian Tissier Shihan for his opinion. He provided incredibly useful commentary on our demonstration as well as some helpful reminders on some of the practical aspects of performing before a crowd, such as how best to use our time.
Though he gave just a few comments to my group, I made sure to stay and listen to what he had to say to some of the other delegations. He provided a lot of very good advice and even demonstrated some movements that would come in handy during the demonstration. I found it all extremely useful, and I believe his advice helped inform my own demonstration.
I also observed Miyamoto Shihan, who was advising the Japanese delegation. It seemed that they were so well trained that Miyamoto Shihan was more interested in the spiritual aspects and elegance of their performance than he was in the actual techniques.
Considered together, the shihans were all incredibly focused and able to easily judge and correct the performance of the many participants. Such patience and understanding help explain how they became shihans.
The First Day of Aikido Demonstrations at the World Combat Games
The first of the two days of aikido demonstrations was divided into two blocks of two hours each, with four minutes per demonstration. The first block was devoted to basics. My partner and I were assigned to perform Basic Techniques in Tachi-waza, and shared the stage with the Slovakia delegation. Each of us had one minute to perform as Tori/Nage. My focus was on performing the basics with elegance.
The second demonstration called for higher speed and intensity, as well as some more advanced techniques and attacks. This time we shared the stage with the Belgian delegation. They had decided to perform Yokomen-uchi techniques – and coincidentally we meant to do the same! My partner and I decided that I would instead do Shomen-uchi, while my partner would do Ushiro-Kata-Tori. I made some minor mistakes as a result of the last-minute change, but fortunately my partner and I worked so well together that any imperfections were minor.
The national teams then performed in quick succession according to a given program. Eighty aikidoka from 32 countries around the world showed a multitude of aikido techniques and training forms for a total of four hours. The second day was to feature even more.
The Second Day of Aikido Demonstrations at the World Combat Games
The second and last day of aikido demonstrations featured an escalating level of complexity. The first portion was the same as the first day. I was tasked to perform freestyle for Tachi-waza, while my partner was to handle Ushiro-waza. I was fully confident about this demonstration and with my partner’s support we performed a high-quality embu on an international stage. We were pleased to accept compliments from other delegations.
The final part of the day had the theme of basics by experts. Five teams demonstrated specific techniques for Suwari-waza, Hanmi-handachi, Tachi-waza, and freestyle weapons and randori. I was not originally supposed to perform in this part of the demonstration. However, Team Head Anna Wilder Hjerppe, 4th Dan of Sweden, invited me to join her group for Suwari-waza, while Jikou Sugano, 5th Dan of Australia, invited me to participate in Tachi-waza. I was so delighted and proud to join them.
These demonstrations went smoothly as the participants followed the movements of the team leaders. The performance was both serene and vigorous.
The final part ended with demonstrations by the three shihans, Ulf Evenås, Christian Tissier and Tsuruzo Miyamoto.After the completion of the demonstration program, each participant received a certificate from IAF Chairman Dr. Peter Goldsbury and Russian Aikido President Sergey Kirienko.
The rest of the night was given over to a much-deserved sayonara party for all the participants. We shared our feelings and a few laughs about some of the funnier moments that happened on stage. It was also a precious opportunity to talk with such leading lights as Tsuruzo Miyamoto Shihan and Waka Sensei. I am pleased to say that Christian Tissier Shihan had some very nice things to say about my performance, which made for a pleasant end to the event.
When the party ended, we all adjourned to the hotel lounge to continue our discussions and enjoy one another’s company. I had the opportunity to chat with the Russian National Team, who shared their feelings on what it was like to be part of the national team as well as the promotional representatives for the Combat Games.
I was the sole representative of Hong Kong, which is why I was partnered with Gabriel Horsch. I had a difficult time turning up any information about him before the Games, so I went into the event feeling a little apprehensive about performing together. However, my worries did not linger past our first meeting, as I found him to be very nice and easy-going.
We needed only to practice together a few times before we were ready to work through the techniques required for our demonstrations. Once we were comfortable with our performance, we took the opportunity to engage in friendly conversation.
Working together presented an irresistible opportunity to discuss aikido and ambitions for our future training. I was also pleased to discover our shared preference for a gentle approach when it came to our demonstration. Clearly, we had much in common.
The Games were broadcast live worldwide. Highlights and parts of the demonstrations are available for viewing at the SportAccord World Combat Games YouTube account. IAF Senior Council Member Tony Smibert Shihan served as expert commentator during the live coverage.
One of the special benefits of performing in the arena was that some of the highlights of each team’s performance were broadcast in slow motion on large screens throughout the venue. This footage was truly awe-inspiring -- and helped explain the intensity of the applause! I am pleased to say that there are many official photographs of my performance, and I was able to put together a gallery of my own photos of this memorable event.
I was honored to have participated in Games and represent Hong Kong. Experience, souvenirs and friendships are a few of the things I was able to take away.
I was enriched beyond measure and will treasure my memories for years to come.