Karl E. Geis, Hanshi
10th Dan Aikido, 9th Dan Judo U.S.J.A., 8th Dan Jyodo
The Fugakukai International Association was formed in July of 1982 by Tsunako Miyake Shihan, one of Mr. Tomiki Shihan's original top three students, Takeshi Inoue Shihan, a student of Ms. Miyake Shihan and Mr. Tomiki Shihan and the first Waseda team captain to do an extended teaching tour in London, and myself, Karl Geis Hanshi who to the best of my knowledge, was the first, and only, non-Japanese ever to be promoted to Rokudan by Mr. Tomiki.
Our system and I owe a great deal of thanks to Dr. Yoji Kondo Rokudan for his untiring efforts on our behalf in the early years. His advice and translation capabilities were indispensable, and his efforts to make sure that Mr. Tomiki truly understood what we were doing with his Aikido were herculean, to say the least, and he deserves a great deal of credit. Dr. Kondo's succinct description of what we were doing most certainly influenced Mr. Tomiki to promote me to Rokudan, thereby giving me the go ahead to develop his Aikido in such a way that all ages of people would benefit from it. Dr. Kondo is a credit to the art and Aikido is lucky to have his patronage, knowledge and skill. Further, Yoji has a background in Judo and understands Mr. Tomiki's concepts and ideas from the off-balance paradigm.
The Fugakukai came into existence in July of 1982 in Tokyo, Japan as the result of a 25 year on-going general study of Aikido by myself, utilizing Mr. Tomiki Shihan, Ms. Tsunako Miyake Shihan, Mr. Takeshi Inoue Shihan, and Mr. Riki Kogure Shihan as teachers and advisors, and the aikidoka under my tutelage in the United States. We were doubly blessed in that Mr. Riki Kogure Shihan was based in Houston during those early years and taught Aikido in our dojo almost every Friday night. We owe a great deal to Mr. Kogure for his understanding and insight into our problems. We owe him a great deal for his untiring efforts in our study and quest to uncover a really effective hand randori, as well as tanto randori, that would be beneficial and safe for all ages to practice. We used many of his ideas in forming our final syllabus.
The seeds of Fugakukai Aikido were planted in 1967 when I received a mandate from Mr. Tomiki. This mandate was explicit and directed me to take the older retired judoka in the United States and introduce them to his method of Aikido. Mr. Tomiki believed that judoka could grasp his method of Aikido very quickly and thereby spread it quickly. He also felt that his concept of an Aikido that used off-balance with power and speed, rather than the traditional ideas in Aikido of using only speed and power, would be more easily understood by judoka who use off-balance regularly in Judo randori and are therefore already skilled in the art of off-balance.
Mr. Tomiki began to realize very quickly after I began to implement his mandate that we had a different type of student than he did in Japan. The typical student in this country was older and less interested in the "rock-em sock-em" ideas developed in tanto randori and shiai.
In July 1973 in Tokyo Mr. Tomiki and I, using Mr. Inoue as an interpreter, discussed the fact that my serious students, rather than staying three years in study as was typical in the Shodokan college system, were in fact likely to spend 10 years and upward involved in Aikido. At one point Mr. Tomiki said that it must be really nice to be able to work with many students who practiced Aikido over a really long period of time, studying the many subtle possibilities extant in Aikido, especially when the elements of off-balance are applied to a realistic and viable hand randori system. He concluded by saying that he envied me and regretted that he did not have that opportunity because the older judoka in Japan were not interested in his Aikido.
Our efforts from 1967-1982 generally revolved around trying to solve, or at least resolve, a number of troubling questions concerning the study and teaching of a viable Aikido to a generally older population. These questions centered around the ideas extant in the martial arts that predict: that a practitioner of a true martial art will develop a safe, proper, instinctive and automatic reflex that will serve him in his best interest when faced with adversity; that a practitioner of small stature or of advanced age or both will be able to equitably defend himself against an opponent of any size when attacked; the art should be as close to reality as possible, the wide difference of ages of people studying Aikido should be addressed; the use of a safe randori system that reflects the questions asked above and provides for a reliable and safe self-defense system that is truly available to all practitioners large and small, young and old.
We felt that the tanto randori concept failed as a developmental process in teaching a true and really useful Aikido system. Tanto randori, like most sports, by its rules and nature predicts that the strongest and most athletic person will prevail; hardly a viable idea if we are to develop an Aikido form that is useful and productive to all who practice large or small, strong or weak. Therefore we agreed that all techniques based on speed and/or power would necessarily need to be modified in kata and actual practice in such a way as to make off-balance a realistic part of the technique.
We agreed that it was important to use kata as our primary technical training facility. We felt that the traditional kata training was too oriented around beauty of movement, rather than around the beauty of utility. Therefore we resolved that we would seek to opt for utility when the option of beauty had no other redeeming quality.
We further agreed that the Shodokan style of training stressing the tanto randori over the kata prevented the practitioners of the tanto randori paradigm from acquiring the subtleties of advanced Aikido understanding to be gained from kata. In the tanto randori based system, kata is practiced rarely, and only for promotional purposes, making kata practice for research purposes impractical. Since the existing Japan Aikido Association (JAA) kata system only relates vaguely to tanto randori, we agreed that a kata form could be realistic and still be beautiful.
We began to develop a system of testing each technique in the Tomiki system for the purpose of determining the validity of each technique in a near realistic combat situation. My justification for this type of testing of each kata technique came from my Judo kata, Sensei Mr. Sumiuki Kotani, who, along with Mr. Tomiki Shihan, were two of four aikidoka to make the rank of Menkyo under Uyeshiba Shihan. Mr. Kotani told me that all of the Judo kata were designed from realistic attack situations, and that one could become a very effective judoka by practicing kata that were developed from near realistic combat situations.
Our test mainly consisted of having uke attack in a realistic fashion, and once tori has begun to take the technique, uke would have the option of trying to prevent the technique from working. Uke was permitted to use the prior knowledge that he had about the technique in question, to try and develop various methods of blocking the technique and was only held responsible for making an honestly committed initial attack. We quickly discovered that Mr Tomiki had been right (off-balance is the key). From that point on we began to concentrate our focus on breaking uke's balance before attempting to execute our technique. We began to move very quickly through all of the kata, modifying each technique until it became a really believable, testable, and usable idea. Further, as a precept of our system, we allow any sincere person in our system to question any technique and ask that a reasonable and realistic test be made to prove that it is indeed reasonably fail-safe and really useful against a strong, athletic opponent.
Often someone will say what if I try this, and we try it. Sometimes we got surprised and had to enter into further modification of the idea until it worked. No idea was held sacred, no belt rank was too high to be questioned if the question was legitimate. These questioning and testing precepts are a part of our system and no teacher would attempt to dodge around questions by great and prolific oratory rather than real pragmatic physical testing and truth seeking. Our simple rule, "if it can't be tested forget it", is strictly followed today in all of our seminars. The kata techniques, therefore, were required to be realistic and useful to all ages and sizes of persons against a realistic attacker.
In the beginning we thought that the techniques would become short and quick when exposed to our methodology. Surprisingly however, the technique took longer in time to execute. It quickly became clear that having the knowledge and ability to use off-balance and movement became more important than the use of speed and\or power. It became very clear that even a small, older person, fully utilizing the ideas of off-balance and proper movement, could really be effective against anybody.
We found that the automatic reflex part of the movement needed most was the movement centered around the initial attack. We found that, if during the initial attack the balance could be disturbed even the slightest bit by a properly developed automatic reflex, the opponent became a sitting duck with loads of time left available for the application of the technique in question. These discoveries and others convinced us that we were on the right track in our use of kata. We further felt that a randori system, very near to the system used in Judo, was needed to bring our system to fruition.
All of us, having been trained in the Tomiki system, were familiar with the tanto randori system and its evolution. We were all troubled with the many self-defense questions that tanto randori and tanto shiai brought to mind. First, shomen-ate to the face was not allowed. This technique was considered by Mr. Tomiki to be so important to Aikido that he once told me he believed that in real combat Aikido wrist and joint techniques were only viable if they were preceded by shomen-ate.
I cannot argue with the decision to eliminate shomen-ate from tanto shiai. It was a necessary safety measure that had to be taken, if tanto shiai was to remain an Aikido alternative. It is also true, however, that with the institution of this one rule, eliminating shomen-ate from tanto randori, that without question the most powerful and effective, simple, instinctive, and automatic single response to a totally surprise attack was eliminated from the Tomiki Aikido automatic response repertoire. We found the inability of the man bearing the tanto to use shomen-ate against his opponent further reinforced his inability to develop this technique as an automatic instinctive intuitive action to any real life threatening surprise attack.
We got around this dilemma by agreeing to use shomen-ate primarily as a separation technique when doing randori. We use shomen-ate as a throwing technique only after our opponent has walked into our palm. To our surprise shomen-ate became stronger, rather than weaker, because by using shomen-ate primarily as a separation technique rather than a blow in randori we began to develop very quick hands-to-the-face when we lost control of our position or of the opponent's hands.
We further found that the more slowly we worked the quicker we became automatic in our response and the quicker our reflexes became. This type of free randori, with both players doing Aikido, has developed from its initial stages in the late 60's and early 70`s during Mr. Riki Kogure's six year teaching period in my dojo to what it is today. We now have a large number of people who are very skilled in hand randori. We use our method of randori as an adjunct to our kata training program.
It was important for us to retain the concept of tanto randori. One of the major problems that we faced was the age difference between the people practicing Tomiki Aikido in the west and those training in Japan. The players in Japan are usually young college students and only spend three years or so training. Whereas the people training in the west are usually between 25 and 50 years of age who have spent 5-10 years training. It is simply not viable for players of these ages to constantly be faced with the very high level physical conditioning requirements of tanto randori.
It is also important to consider that the usual player in the west is seeking some sort of reasonable and effective self-defense as well as a spiritual improvement program. We therefore use the tanto randori solely as a training device. Our principal use of the tanto centers around the best methods of avoiding getting cut and the best methods of controlling the opponent and the knife hand. This differs from the traditional tanto randori idea of jumping in and taking the technique quickly.
We have found that, if one learns to initially react instinctively to avoid being cut and succeeds in breaking the balance of the opponent even slightly, he will usually be able to make the transition into a hand randori relationship with which he should have some familiarity. Therefore, we use the tanto to learn how to practice making a safe and effective entry; successfully avoiding the automatic negative responses that grow from jumping into a knife-wielding adversary without concern as to real world consequences, in which we could be badly or mortally wounded.
As luck would have it one of my students who weighed about 175 lbs and who was (before he began studying Aikido), as he describes himself a "wet, whipped dog" lost his job as a computer designer during the recession and had to take a job as a bouncer in the roughest girlie bar in town. He became very respected in a very short time. As he put it, "Off-balance is where it is at. I just push them with a two handed shomen-ate and it's over". I now have a group of ex-karate trained bouncers doing Aikido and using it effectively in their jobs.
We are finding that our form of training does indeed provide a very powerful and useful self defense, while still retaining the precepts and softness of Aikido. We have learned that the system gives a profound self confidence to our students. It is really great to know that the system is giving to our students the benefits that the martial arts are supposed to give to people, but in reality seldom does.
We have tried to build a beautiful kata system, a realistic and safe hand randori system, a very effective knife avoidance, capture, control and defeat system, a realistic self-defense system, and a spiritual development philosophy based on Mr. Kenji Tomiki's very brilliant method of defining the essence of the Uyeshiba Aikido. Our emphasis on off-balance has allowed us to develop a unique and extraordinary use of aikido against very strong and competitive opponents with an unusual success.
We owe much to Tsunako Miyake Shihan and Takeshi Inoue Shihan for their teaching advice and support of us while we developed our ideas fully. They are truly rare, far seeing teachers who saw the direction that we were going and the unique refinements that we were trying to make, and urged us on in the development of our Fugakukai Aikido. Thanks to them and the many other Fugakukai members who have spent years studying the Fugakukai approach to the study of Aikido, we have fully developed our syllabus and now have it firmly entrenched in the world of Aikido families.
Karl E. Geis
Fugakukai International Association Newsletter
October 2, 1991 - Houston, Texas, USA