City Aikido, San Francisco California – Robert Nadeau Shihan

On Tuesday afternoon We visited City Aikido in San Francisco, to be instructed by Robert Nadeau Shihan. We drove down from Rohnert Park and actually got there a half hour early, even after parking and walking several city blocks. We were both giddy with anticipation. I’ve attended a seminar under Nadeau Sensei and have seen many clips of him on YouTube. My sensei Bob Noha is a senior student of Nadeau’s, and so I am familiar with the process, but I have not trained under him in his dojo before. We snapped up a picture of Leah outside the school and shortly after, one of the live-in students came down to unlock the door. We paid our mat fee and waited for class to start.

Shortly after, Kayla Feder Sensei, chief instructor at Aikido of Berkeley came in with her wife and their child. She was on crutches and could not train. She apparently brought in her students from Berkeley over to City Aikido to train because she was not able to teach. When I first started Aikido at San Francisco State, our teacher brought us on a field trip once to Aikido of Berkeley to visit, but aside from that I have not trained with Feder Sensei. Leah and I have watched many of her videos and when I introduced myself as a student of Bob Noha’s she smiled warmly and said to give him her regards.

Class started with one of the uchi deshi leading warm ups. She was a small Asian woman that led us for a few moments before Nadeau Sensei came onto the mat. Nadeau, as does my teacher, talks a lot about levels of performance and levels of fullness within ourselves. He also relates much to the body being a system. The frame work of the classes are similar between my teacher and his. Nadeau looks at the system and encourages us to open up the system, stating that things begin to happen when we open up and move naturally. This is a very important thing for me and is key for my Aikido development. We didn’t work on too much technique per se, but we worked on connecting body to body and keeping that connection throughout.

Our training progressed so that as we moved and turned, we would practice that connectedness through the whole movement and into the finality of the throw. He also stressed that we finish a technique, we should sit and feel the fullness of it. Not just walk away from it into the next thing. I kind of likened this to the final note being performed by a musician. If the music is cut short, then the meaning of the song is lessened. As such, the technique can be lessened if you don’t acknowledge that it has a beginning, middle and an end.

Nadeau Sensei uses the concept of “levels” to address the depth and breadth of our practice. He encourages us to acknowledge the level that we are currently at, and through contemplation and movement, “upgrade” our levels to a level 2 or a level 3. One of the significant things I got out of this was something he said about being a level 1 and disguising this as a level 3. It reminded me of a teenager that just bought a 1988 Corolla and dress it up with mag wheels and chrome. Even though you do this, it’s still a 1988 Corolla. Like wise, he was talking about having superficial knowledge and pretending that this is true knowledge about your Aikido. This superficiality is hidden behind an overly aggressive technique, or a seemingly intimidating stance. He contrasted this with the ability to truly reach a level 2 or a level 3 within yourself by opening up to the system and allowing the system (the body) to move freely.

One thing that both Nadeau Sensei and Noha Sensei talks about a lot is the “I” and it’s involvement with the system, or as my teacher Bob Noha explains it, the “unit”, or the “functioning unit”. I made the mistake early on in thinking of the “I” as equivalent to the ego but it really isn’t an equivalent at all. A full explanation of the two is a bit out of scope here, but I will try to give a quick explanation. The functioning unit is that which we use to perform our daily tasks. These are the costumes we wear from loving father to systems engineer to Aikido student, to husband or boyfriend. The “I” is that which we are when we strip away all of this. It is the essence of who we are. We actually all have to function with a relationship between the I and the unit and according to my teacher and to Nadeau Sensei, we get tripped up when we entangle ourselves with an overbearing “I” or a false sense of identification with a facet of the functioning unit. Nadeau teaches us that if we open up and allow, then we can grow. Once we start to do this, we can examine the depth and breadth of a “level 2 me” or a “level 3 me”.

Robert Nadeau Shihan is a very enigmatic teacher. He is a direct student of O Sensei and was given a scroll by him that reads “Teach the Aikido that cannot be seen by the naked eye.” He’s taken this charge and ran with it, wildly. On the mat, as he teaches, he is full of charisma and movement. He is expressive, vibrant and totally in his element. He connects with his students when he talks. He catches your gaze and as he speaks about the subject at hand, he holds you and connects with you. After class, we got changed and walked out, meeting each other at the lobby area off the mat. We thanked him for the class and he curtly smiled to the both of us, not saying anything. He stepped outside for a smoke after and we gathered our stuff to leave, we walked past him as he stood there looking down the street.

I was and still am very intrigued by my teacher’s teacher. He is this massive amount of rugged sensuality. He is poetic, a philosopher, a warrior and amazingly brilliant. Even from this hour long class, he is able to convey things that will help my Aikido and my development as “level 3 me” progress beautifully.

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