Yoko Okamoto Aikido
Realizing our limits and what we can't do helps us to find out what we can do and it allows us to develop our abilities. Of course the work must be done under Tanren-keiko conditions [EDITOR'S NOTE: consistent daily effort to forge and temper the body]. Moreover, physical strength is not just a simple wall, but it can actually lead to a profound delusion I think.
Guillaume Erard: Are Aikido techniques different for men and women?
Okamoto Yoko: In my teaching, the techniques are basically the same. That being said, there are some differences in the way that some people are tall, short, big, small, there are children, adults, etc. That is why I think that form is not something that should be used to fit something into a specific shape, but that there should be some level of flexibility when forging the form.
There are some elements of a technique that must be changed while others must remain constant. If the partner changes something, then we have to change accordingly. The principles stay the same, but the form should be adaptable.
Okamoto Yoko performing shihonage
Guillaume Erard: You have a lot of foreigners in your Dojo, and foreigners tend to rely on more explicit ways of teaching while in Japan, understanding comes from practice. Do you make a distinction or a particular effort, one way or the other?
Okamoto Yoko: Basically, I teach everyone in the same way. Some days I give students explanations if needed to help facilitate training, but on other days, we just keep moving to empty our mind.
Guillaume Erard: What synthesis do you make of all the different forms of Aikido that you have studied under teachers in Japan, France, and the USA?
Okamoto Yoko: This is very difficult... Basically, I processed all of what I had learned from many different teachers and I decided to pass / transform the product of that work to other people.
Guillaume Erard: Are you conscious of specific influences in the internal or external aspects of your technique?
Okamoto Yoko: I don't know, it comes up naturally. Some people tell me that they see similarities in my Waza with that of such and such teacher but on my side, it is not a conscious thing. There is form in the basics of Aikido but after a while, you have to leave the form behind.
My main influences are Yamaguchi Sensei, Tissier Sensei, and Shibata Sensei. Sometimes, when I get confused in what I am doing or when I have troubles, I go back to what they did. However, in my Aikido, there are also influences from many other Sensei. I studied with most of the Hombu Shihan. For example, I learnt Ukemi from Ueshiba Kisshomaru Doshu. I did not create my own style, it came up naturally based on what I learned from these teachers.
Guillaume Erard: Taking the question the other way around, do you see parts of yourself in your student's waza?
Okamoto Yoko: It happens sometimes but I don't want my students to copy mindlessly what I do. My way to express this art, let's say the "form" if we have to use that word, comes from my past experiences, my sensitivity, and my limitations. Sometimes, I see big guys trying to mimic what I do, but it is meaningless. So I tell them "please don't". It is weird if a big guy tries to move like a small woman or a small Japanese woman tries to imitate a big man. I do not try to copy a particular Sensei's form but instead, I try to learn how to internalize it for myself. I focus on the function rather than the form.