An Interview with Roy Goldberg for Aikido En Línea
Entrevista con Roy Goldberg, 7º dan de Daito Ryu Aikijujutsu.
Goldberg Sensei was recently interviewed by Aikido En Línea, one of the most widely read sites in Europe covering aikido and aiki related arts. Please support their work by visiting their site, www.aikidoenlinea.com
Read the original in Spanish here at Aikido En Línea
Sensei, tell us about your first encounter with Kiyama Shihan. Where did you meet him?
I think it was 1983 or so when I first went to a seminar with Yonezawa Sensei from Kodokai. Kiyama was his uke, but I actually thought that Kiyama was even more impressive than Yonezawa. I had been training in a very hard style of jujutsu called Miyama Ryu, some Aikido and some wrestling when I was much younger. Yonezawa's Daito Ryu was much more like hard jujutsu, a lot of very hard painful techniques, not that different in approach to what I had been doing in Miyama. But, when I put my hands on Kiyama I was instantly sold. It was something I had never felt in any of my other teachers and I just couldn't explain it. He noticed how interested I was in what he was doing and surprisingly came up to me and said that he would train me. So from then on, I would travel to his home in California every few months. And this went on for years, and we became quite close. More than just a teacher, he’s like a second father to me. We would train at seminars and in the dojo of course, but primarily my training took place in his living room or in the kitchen at 2 in the morning or wherever and whenever. The whole time I was with him, it was training.
What made you become a student of Kiyama Shihan?
When I felt him I felt something I had never felt in either aikido or jujutsu and I just couldn’t explain it. The best way I could describe it was like attacking steel wrapped in cotton. He has such amazing connection. You just stick to him. He is really really gifted.
Was it hard to train with him?
It was impossible. His way of training was definitely not orthodox. Like sitting me in front of the bay and telling me to just watch the waves, or walking around the house with water cupped in my hand. He would close my hanmi by hitting me with a boken. Lots of failing on my side, he would tell me "Goldberg, you super stupid!" There was not a lot of praise. I was a 5th dan before I actually heard a real compliment. Because that's how he grew u, training martial arts since he was a little boy, like sumo and takenouchi ryu.On top of everything he is a phenomenal judo player who has made two national champions, so he just is a natural martial artist. But, his father was very rough on him. He’s just from another time.
What are the most important lessons you have learned training with Kiyama Shihan?
Shugyo. Shugyo is everything. He also told me a lot that he could he tell how you were progressing by the questions you asked.
Recently you have left Kodokai to set up your own school. Can you please explain why to our readers?
Well, it was a really really difficult decision. I have a lot of respect for Inoue Menkyo Kaiden and Kodokai. It basically came down to the fact that traditionally the Japanese were not interested in spreading Daito Ryu and what I was seeing made me concerned that this art was going to be lost. My attitude was that it is so hard to find martial artists who are able to tolerate the difficulty of this art and that it takes so long to really get good at it that you need to expose more people to it to find those that are going to really carry it forward. Takeda taught something like 30,000 people through seminars all over Japan and he only issued a handful of kyoju dairi. So if that's the ratio it takes, we have to work harder. I don't imagine Daito Ryu will ever be as popular as aikido and I don't want to make it more commercial, but you can keep a secret so well that it is forgotten.
Kiyama had already told me I was promoted to Shihan and gave me the traditional black jacket and that the hombu dojo was going to send the certificate, and I just felt increasingly really uncomfortable knowing that I disagreed with the hombu dojo about how to spread the art. I saw “Shihan" as more of a position in the organization rather than a rank and just thought it would be more respectful to decline than to accept it. I talked to Kiyama about it and he told me it was up to me to decide. I know it was tough for him and he might have preferred I stayed, but we are still very close and I still consider him my teacher.
Some people might think I should have first accepted the Shihan title and then left Kodokai after, as some have done, but for me the recognition from my teacher was all that really mattered. The hombu dojo had given me a 7th dan and a kyoju dairi, which is a full teaching license, and the third scroll, all of which very few other people have and all of which I am very honored and grateful for. But, I thought, Kodokai made me a teacher, so I want to teach.
So, you say I started my own school, but we didn't take on a new name for a ryu-ha because it isn't new. I teach what Kiyama taught me. We left Kodokai the organization, but we didn't really change the art, we do Kodo Horikawa style Daito Ryu as I learned it from the Menkyo Kaiden and Kiyama Sensei. Now, Kiyama and I are different people so we each have our own "expression" of Daito Ryu and we teach differently. My main goal is to make my students better than I am. If you train hard enough with me I will convey everything I’ve learned so that eventually my students will transcend anything that I can do. That is my primary goal. By doing that it allows me to continue to grow.
Let’s talk about aiki. Lately, there has been quite a new interest for this topic. So let’s start with the basics. What is Aiki?
Aiki is really difficult to define, because you have to feel it with your body not with the intellectual part of your brain. I see it as the ability to unite your body, which eventually after a lot of training is driven by your hara. I look at aiki as the ability to immediately control your attacker by generating force from your center through any part of your body. By doing this, the attacker is totally off-balance without knowing they are off balance because it is so subtle. When people learn Daito Ryu techniques, they don’t believe that it works and so they do it too hard. People look for pain, when that isn’t the point.
What do you recommend to anyone who wants to learn aiki? Can anybody learn aiki?
You have to feel it from someone who has it. A lot. Unfortunately you can't just get this in a couple of seminars. Receiving the technique teaches your body in a way that is hard to perceive with your analytical mind or your eyes. And you need a qualified teacher to guide you through it, there are some things you just aren't going to get on your own. That's why you really can't learn this from videos or books, because what's happening internally is almost impossible to capture from the outside. Once you know what you are looking for, you can start to see it in others, but that takes a while.
Embrace failure. What do the Chinese say, "Eat bitter, invest in loss"? Even when you think the technique isn’t working, your body is storing that information from the process. Once you develop some aiki, you can do the technique and analyze it by feeling it.
And it just takes a lot of time. The learning curve for this is very slow. A lot of my students are highly ranked in other arts, with 20-30 years of experience in other styles of jujutsu or karate or sword or Chinese arts, and I think that teaches you things like structure, focus, a martial attitude, how to train hard, how to be comfortable with failure, the things that come from a lot of shugyo. That's the kind of person who will thrive in Daito Ryu. But, it takes everything you got to let go of everything you got and put on a white belt.
Aiki has been, until now, a secret within many schools, including Daito Ryu. Is still your case?
I don't think of it so much as secret as it is hidden. There are a lot of things that you can only get when you get there. My students say all the time, "Sensei why didn't you ever tell me that before?" And I say "I have been telling you that for years, you just didn't hear it." I could tell you all of the "secrets" but that does mean you can do it. You still need to feel it, you still need guidance, and a lot of shugyo. That being said there are plenty of things that you are really only going to get from kuden, oral transmission. And there is a real value in figuring it out for yourself through shugyo rather than me telling you. There are things I teach in a specific order because you need one before you get to the other. Like the cramping for example, everyone wants to do the cramping because it looks like magic. But it isn't a technique you can copy, it is the result of a bunch of other things and a lot of hard work.
Can you learn aiki just training waza? Or do you need also to include solo exercises in your routine, in order to build an “aiki body”?
I think you really have to do both. You need to do solo exercises to build aiki in your body, but the kata are a way to express that with a live partner. It’s necessary to start with things like external structure and proper tai sabaki while you are still working on all the internal stuff. And the kata can help learn all of this. Sagawa for example, really practiced his Daito Ryu to test his solo training. It seems like a contradiction, but you can’t work on your hara by trying to work on your hara. You build it through all of these other things.
So you need the solo exercises to start to build connections in your body. Once you start to transform your body you can start to express aiki in whatever you are doing whether that's kata or horseback riding, or rock climbing, or kyudo or washing the dishes. It's just who you are. The kata help you learn how to apply what you are building with the solo exercises.
The kata, by going slowly, allows you to develop a sense of feeling both for what's happening in you but also what is happening in the uke. But, what is really important is that you need an uke who can give you a committed attack with real intent, and feedback on what they are feeling and not just someone who is going to stay connected because that's what they think they are supposed to do, and then takes a fall anticipating your technique. That's the death of any martial art. They have to be able to give you a real attack that is pitched at the outer edge of what you can handle. So it isn't really "live" combat because we’d be injuring each other all the time, but it also isn't just dance. The better you get the better you are able to maintain that aiki in your body with gradually increasing resistance. You can't just jump right into fighting and expect to hold on to what you were doing in the solo exercises.
Now, the kata won't teach you to fight. It won't teach you what happens when you get punched in the head or what happens to skills under stress. So, as you get better your uke sort of dials up what they can give you. The hard part is that some of these techniques are pretty dangerous so you have to be careful, and Daito Ryu is really an art where the technique is reflected back on the attacker. The faster and harder the attack is, the harder it is to receive the technique by the uke without getting really hurt.
How is your school curricula organized? Do you focus on aikijujutsu, aiki no jutsu, or jujutsu?
I really don't make a distinction between jujutsu and aikijutsu. Every technique in Daito Ryu contains all of the elements of Daito Ryu. So you might do a technique as a kyu rank and it is more like jujutsu, by that I mean more externally mechanical, and then when you are 3rd dan say you are doing the same technique, but with more aiki, more internal dynamics. It is the same technique. Maybe the movements get smaller, maybe you don't need that step anymore, or the other hand reinforcing a grab, or whatever. But it still always begins and ends with kuzushi. And they are really the same technique.
So, as far as specific techniques go we don't teach methodically going through the 1st scroll, for example. We do some of them, but Kodokai more emphasizes softness and connection and working on aiki from the very beginning, not after you reach a certain level.
My Oku-sandans and my 7th kyu might do the same technique, but they should be doing it differently. I also think we have an obligation to preserve these techniques from a historical perspective while balancing that with trying to keep them alive and not just a shadow. So it is a balancing act. Preserve it but keep it alive.
Although some people don’t know about it, there is a strong link between Aikido and Daito Ryu. Some people even say that they are training the same, but with different approaches. You have trained in both arts, what’s your opinion on this matter? What's your opinion about the role of Morihei Ueshiba in the history of Daito Ryu?
Well, I have to say that when I started training aikido under Yamada Sensei, I was coming from this hard style of eclectic jujutsu, and it was because of aikido that I realized the existence of a center. Many jujutsu techniques would be difficult to apply against a high level aikidoka. When you are doing jujutsu you can hit the person, but moving the uke is something different. And it was a catalyst for my search.
I think that Daito Ryu and Aikido have more in common than they have differences. It is really difficult to talk about though because within aikido there is such a wide spectrum and it is really difficult to make assumptions about how people train or what they know what they don't know. I think people like Chris Li and Ellis Amdur have been doing amazing research on this sort of question so I’ll defer to them on some of this. I am pretty convinced that what Ueshiba was doing throughout his life was his expression of Daito Ryu, but I think that for whatever reason something was lost between Ueshiba and his students and I don’t know why. I think Ueshiba added some things and was influenced by his personal philosophy and that over the generations some of the techniques were simplified and made safer to practice. So instead of thousands of techniques like in Daito Ryu you basically have 18 or so in Aikido, but from lots of different angles and attacks. Tenkan for example, or retreating or disappearing is really not the same in Daito Ryu. In Daito Ryu you are almost always entering even when it doesn’t look like it. The idea of connection is present in Daito Ryu, but I don’t really think of it as blending. Uke sticks to you because they have no choice once you have kuzushi. So that feeling is very different.
I have felt some very high-level aikido people like Saito, Gozo Shioda, who also trained with Horikawa, Osawa who was a senior instructor at the Aikikai, and many other Shihan. They were all very skilled, but very very few have that feeling that I get in Daito Ryu.
Now I love working with Aikido people because often they will feel Daito Ryu for the first time and suddenly this lightbulb goes off over their heads and they recognize something that was in their art but just hadn’t really been pulled out, and they say, “So, that's what that is!" And they start making connections to things they're already doing or things that they've been hearing for years, but just didn't have the context to get.
Some people that I've worked with like Stephen Toyoda Sensei have been successful in taking some of those principles and that feeling from Daito Ryu and restoring that in their Aikido. Sometimes I think just having a different context for why Aikido does things a certain way can change the way you approach your training.
What’s your opinion on the future of Daito Ryu? Is there a bright future for the art?
I am really optimistic about Daito Ryu's future. You know, I don't think Daito Ryu will ever be, nor probably should it be, as big as Aikido. There is something about this training that just isn't for everyone. The real challenge is to pass on Daito Ryu as a living, traditional, effective martial art not just a collection of empty techniques.. Especially that soft aiki in the Kodo Horikawa and Sagawa styles. Feeling it is so central to the art and that has to be passed directly from teacher to student. Even just in the past few years I have seen it growing tremendously. People are hungry for the things that Daito Ryu has to offer. Our group is expanding across the country with several new Study Groups including Michigan, Seattle, Oakland. And in addition to all the US seminars this year, I am doing new seminars in Moscow in September, Lisbon in October and Barcelona next January. Next year we will most likely be visiting even more places.
I have a lot of fun working with new martial artists from all sorts of backgrounds, because in part it makes me better and that's how I continue to grow. I am always very impressed when we are approached by a new group, I think it takes a lot of guts to break out of what you know and take a chance on this stuff that looks crazy. And we welcome anybody and everybody on the mat who is sincere about training, even people from other Daito Ryu styles are always welcome.
Ultimately, my goal is to preserve and grow this art, and I do that by passing on everything I can to anyone who is of good character and wants to put in the hard work. And I will do my best to make my students better than I am.
Thanks for giving me a chance to share my thoughts,
Now I would like to end with my particular impressions of my training with Roy Goldberg. The contact with his technique is an exceptional opportunity to feel what aiki is, in the hands of a world-class expert. As he says in the interview, until you have a direct experience of this ability it is not possible to understand its power, and why it is so special. The feeling is that you always stay stuck to tori, unbalanced and unable to react from the start. It is, in a way, an experience that has the potential to change the martial career of anyone interested in progressing and reaching the highest levels of Daito Ryu, Aikido, or another martial art. I strongly recommend to try it, and take the relevant conclusions by oneself.
At the same time, and for those who are already training aiki development methods, training with Goldberg sensei is a privilege, as it helps to understand how to apply aiki in the context of the technique. Developing an aiki body through solo exercises and applying this work in a technique is not an automatic process. It requires clear explanations about how to connect one's body and transmit that power to uke, so that from the first second the aiki expresses itself through the body of uke, achieving an instant kuzushi that opens the door to the execution of any technique in a powerful way and with hardly any possibility of reacting. It is the difference between simple jujutsu, and the "divine techniques" spoken of by O-Sensei, and that all aikidokas try to pursue without knowing very well how to achieve.
In addition, Goldberg sensei really wants to teach how to develop aiki. His explanations are clear and concise, devoid of all mysticism and references to ki. As a physiotherapy professional, it also includes precise references to the type of body parts that we must work and mobilize, so that the student can understand what he or she is doing. In short, an unforgettable experience that I hope to repeat very soon.
Anyone interested in contacting Goldberg sensei can do so through their website.