Haruo Matsuoka Seminar: A Photo Journal

Haruo Matsuoka Sensei held a seminar in Irvine, CA in mid-November, 2017. This photo journal captures the Friday evening and Sunday morning sessions from the event. We hope you enjoy the photos, along with the commentary that captures my personal perspective of the event. Photos by Anne Lee, an Aikido Journal photojournalist.

Haruo Matsuoka Sensei (6th dan), my personal mentor for the last 26 years. Every year he hosts a weekend seminar in his hometown of Irvine, CA. These photos are from the Friday night training session held at Ikazuchi Dojo.

After a short warm up, we begin with the fundamentals. Matsuoka Sensei allocates a large portion of his personal development to internal power / body structure concepts. He uses this opportunity to share his perspective through basic, traditional techniques. Uke: Chris Jones

Chris Jones (3rd dan), an Ikazuchi Dojo instructor. I’ve trained with Chris for 17 years and find him to be an exceptional martial artist and athlete. Originally introduced to aikido through a Ki-Society club in Kansas, Chris has over 25 years of aikido experience. Well into his 40s, he still actively practices gymnastics (the hardcore kind), a discipline he’s kept for over 20 years now. With deep martial experience and high levels of creativity and intelligence, Chris is Ikazuchi Dojo’s “mad scientist.”  When one of Ikazuchi Dojo’s corporate partners (a security services company) asked us to develop defensive tactics against a skateboard attack (a statically significant occurrence for them), I immediately asked Chris to find a solution. He found and analyzed videos of actual skateboard assaults, performed research, and mapped out methods to apply aikido fundamentals to address the problem. Chris thrives on creative problem solving. When researching a problem like this, his experiments don’t always end up being viable, but a meaningful percentage of the time he ends up finding unexpected and elegant solutions.

Training with Rose Jones. A high-performance aikido practitioner and gymnast for decades, Rose is fast, balanced, and incredibly strong relative to her body weight. Based on any common fitness measurements (pull ups, push ups, etc.) Rose would be in the top 1%.

Matsuoka Sensei sharing body structure details with Billy Vincenty and Mitsuko Nagayama, who recently earned her shodan at Ikazuchi Dojo.

After a shihonage demonstration, Matsuoka asks Rose to demonstrate the technique on him.

After guiding students through a progression focused on body structure and internal power applications, Matsuoka Sensei moves on to atemi applications. Inspired by his exchange program with Kenji Yamaki Sensei (former kyokushin karate world champion), Matsuoka Sensei has been spending more time on atemi and researching how to best integrate new insights into his movement system.

Maria, an Ikazuchi Dojo white belt training with Billy Vincenty (shodan), an Ikazuchi Dojo instructor and martial arts veteran. In addition to his aikido training, Billy has over 25 years of karate experience. Billy grew up in the Bronx in the 1970s and began studying karate for real-world self-defense needs. He’s incredibly kind and warm-hearted, but as tough and courageous as anyone I’ve ever met. He’s a fantastic mentor for many dojo students, including my own 16 year-old daughter who he recently trained for her 3rd kyu test, instilling her with levels of confidence and determination I’d never seen before.

Christine Sells (2nd dan). Practicing simultaneous deflection and counter-strike techniques. The day after this class, on Saturday, I traveled to Redlands Aikikai to spend an afternoon at the ASU Winter Intensive. While there, I took  a class from George Ledyard Sensei that had a very similar focus. It’s a little off topic, but I just needed to mention how impressed I was with Ledyard Sensei. I had the opportunity to talk with him and take his ukemi. I found him to be a masterful technician, skilled instructor, and a surprisingly and formidably fast training partner.

Reagan Payne, a fantastic aikido student. Having just tested for 5th kyu, she brings great energy and a fresh perspective to the dojo.

Ben Cave and Christian Devine. Ben, in his 20s, earned his shodan last week after years of hard training. We’re proud to have him join our black belt ranks. Ben is an avid gamer and supports instruction for Ikazuchi Dojo’s aikido program at Blizzard Entertainment. It’s always a pleasure to train with Christian, who faithfully travels down from Northern California every year to participate in Matsuoka Sensei’s seminar.

Practicing side-kick defenses. Christine trained in Tang Soo Do before starting aikido and can still throw a formidable kick.

Sven Thilo and Wes Watkins, two Ikazuchi Dojo instructors, observing the Friday night session. It’s great to be moving on the mat, but these two can also learn and contribute by observing dojo students for 90 minutes and getting a better picture of each person’s strengths and weaknesses, as well as what areas of focus should be priorities for each student.

Haruo Matsuoka and Rob Pagan talking after class. Rob wears a white belt in our dojo. Rob is thrilled to train under Matsuoka Sensei. Rob is new to aikido, but not new to the martial arts. He has nearly 20 years experience in Filipino Kali and Escrima, having trained under some of the most respected instructors in the art. We have a few people like this who train at Ikazuchi Dojo and it’s always a great experience. I think we can benefit from more of this kind of dynamic in the aikido world and I’m delighted to see it elsewhere when I travel. Whether it’s kyokushin karate instructors wearing white belts at the Mitsugi Saotome seminar or a BJJ black belt and competitive champion putting on a white belt to learn aikido at the 11th Street Dojo in San Francisco, I believe we should respect and welcome these people into our community and make a sincere effort to build friendships and learn from their experience.

The next photo series is from the Sunday morning training session. To accommodate larger groups, Matsuoka Sensei holds the Saturday and Sunday sessions for his seminar on the University of California, Irvine campus. They have an expansive recreation and athletic facility well-suited to large training groups.

Haruo Matsuoka and Christian Devine

Matsuoka Sensei asked me to lead the first 90 minute class on Sunday morning. We spent the time focusing on tanto-dori concepts, sharing techniques and fundamentals inspired by my study with Dan Inosanto and the instructors at his Academy. Just as the sword is integral to Japanese martial culture, the blade was, and is, a core part of the Filipino martial culture. However, unlike Japanese martial culture, the Filipino’s worked with a much wider range of bladed weapons, from longswords to highly concealable and unorthodox knives.  I find their short blade system and instructional approach to be incredibly mature, versatile,  sophisticated, and in many ways, similar to and highly compatible with our aikido movements.

In aikido, with sword and jo, we traditionally practice suburi (independent attacks), kumi-tachi / jo (weapon vs. weapon), and tachi/jo-dori (weapon vs. unarmed). However, with tanto, most of us shortcut the first two components and practice only tanto-dori. We used the first part of the session to learn 10 different angles of attack with the tanto and how to link attacks together in efficient sequences. After that, it’s off to practice kumi-tanto — knife. vs. knife. Uke is Anastasia “Nastia” Shuba (2nd dan), an Ikazuchi Dojo instructor.

Ready to train.

Alex Haythorn, one of Matsuoka’s black belts, practicing responses to horizontal slashing attacks. Many of the students, having previously trained against a limited set of attack vectors (yokomen and tsuki), needed some time to recalibrate their movements.

Alex adapts quickly and begins linking together a series of attacks, counter-attacks and responses with his training partner. Everyone is starting to move more confidently and beginning to understand the the unique characteristics of the knife at a deeper level.

Anastasia “Nastia” Shuba showing details to Ted Rose and Sheryl North. At Ikazuchi Dojo, we respect rank, but we also respect and encourage specialization. Although there were many in the class that were higher ranked than Nastia, I asked her to assist and walk the mat to answer questions and give corrections. Aside from Matsuoka Sensei and myself, Nastia has more training time with tanto-dori than any of our other instructors. Nastia’s senpai at Ikazuchi Dojo are happy to learn from her in this area. Ted Rose, a veteran Iwama aikido practitioner has been taking Nastia’s weekly weapons class and building new technical responses to a much broader range of attacks. I also often take Nastia’s class and will play with knives with Ted.  Ted is now much harder to attack successfully with a nimble short blade and when he gets a hold of me, his powerful and controlled Iwama-ryu throws put me down decisively every time.

Ikazuchi Dojo does not offer children’s classes but Hamilton is trained outside of regular group classes with targeted instruction. He’s only 9 years old, but was brave enough to get on a mat full of adults.

Tightening up lines of attack with James Sterling Sensei (3rd dan) from Las Vegas. James was in Southern California for the ASU Winter Intensive. His sensei supported his taking a day off from the camp to train with Matsuoka Sensei. It was a great pleasure to spend time with him on and off the mat. I saw James the day before when I took a day away from my sensei’s seminar to join the ASU Winter Intensive. I had the opportunity to train with many great practitioners and instructors that day and brought back new information to share with Matsuoka Sensei.

Moving on to tanto-dori, Ray Ariazza, an Ikazuchi Dojo shodan, gets a perfect disarm. When executed properly, this blade ejection technique can be surprisingly high-velocity. You can see the blurred out training weapon flying in front of my left hand in this image. This Bunal Brand training weapon has a firm core but is soft and safe. It’s a great training tool to have on hand for practicing more committed attacks and responses than would be advisable with a wooden or metal training blade.

Bringing James over to spend time with Matsuoka Sensei after training.

Making new friends and reflecting on shared connections. One of Sterling Sensei’s students in Las Vegas used to live in Los Angeles and trained under Matsuoka Sensei back in the 1990s.

I’m so glad James enjoyed the event. I had a similar look on my face after training with his teachers the day before. A special thanks to Haruo Matsuoka Sensei, for leading the event, inspiring a seeking spirit, and fostering a culture of trust, respect, humility, and friendship.

Josh Gold

Executive Editor of Aikido Journal, CEO of Budo Accelerator, and co-founder of Ikazuchi Dojo.


    • Thank you for the feedback Sensei. I’ll pass along your compliments to Anne. Glad you like the photo journal format. We’re still experimenting with different types of content and if the community likes this format, we’d love to do more of them.

  • Hello Josh,

    I really like the photo journal, and even if I didn’t attend it (coming from Belgium is a little bit too far for a seminar), I can imagine the great value of such a meeting, thanks to the great photos as well as the very live comments.