Interview with Sean Hannon of Castle Rock AIKIDO
Property Type: Aikido
1. Who is the dojo’s founder and what prompted him/her to build the school? Is there any rich history behind its making?
Founded in 2007 by Dr. Sean Hannon, Castle Rock AIKIDO has a very unique origin. Unlike almost all other martial arts schools, our school was founded by a white belt! That is, Sean had trained Japanese Aikido at numerous dojos around the US throughout his 20s, but due to a number of moves and career changes, he was unable to make much progress attaining rank.
Then in 2006, Sean injured his spine so severely that he was unable to walk, sit, or stand without extreme pain for over one year. Since drugs and surgery were not an option for him, Sean had to heal exclusively through natural means. During his recovery, he made a promise to himself that when he did heal his spine he would open an Aikido dojo, thus returning to one of the activities that gave him the most joy when he was younger.
There was only one big problem with this plan: Sean was not a black belt in Aikido! But, rather than wait until he was qualified to teach, Sean solicited numerous Aikido instructors from the area and created Castle Rock AIKIDO, a traditional Japanese martial arts school exclusively for adults in Castle Rock, Colorado.
Furthermore, dojo authenticity and integrity were important for Sean. It was critical that the school always be a dojo first and a business second. So, experienced, high quality instructors with good attitudes were a must.
2. What forms of Japanese martial arts do you teach in your school? Can you please share with us the history behind them?
Castle Rock AIKIDO offers only two arts: Aikido and Iaido – both of which are highly complementary to one another.
Aikido is a powerful martial art developed in Japan throughout the mid 20th century by a man named Morihei Ueshiba. Aikido differs from most other martial arts in that the practitioner seeks to achieve self-defense without necessarily injuring their attacker(s). Furthermore, there are no tournaments or sport applications in Aikido. Therefore, Aikido is non-competitive.
Generally speaking, Aikido is most often practiced with a partner where one person functions as an attacker and the other person practices defensive Aikido techniques. About half of Aikido’s techniques involve joint locks which enable the partner or “attacker” to be moved to a pinning position where they can be held without injury. Other techniques involve throwing the partner. An Aikido student spends a great deal of training time learning how to fall safely. Proper falling is a fundamental component to the practice of Aikido.
The basic movements of Aikido are circular in nature. Most attacks are linear. An Aikido student harmonizes with, rather than confronts the linear attack and converts the energy of that linear attack into a circular energy that, ultimately, renders the attacker or attackers helpless.
Instead of using potentially crippling kicks or punches, the Aikido student trains to apply various wristlocks, arm pins, or unbalancing throws to neutralize aggressors without injury. Aikido is a 100% defensive martial art. The so-called “attacks” taught in Aikido are merely for purposes of learning to defend against those attacks rather than for the purpose of injuring an opponent.
Spectators often describe Aikido as looking very dance-like. This quality is essential to the safe and effective practice of Aikido. Aikido’s techniques can be so devastating that if the two Aikido practitioners do not harmonize their respective movements with such a dance-like quality carefully, injury could easily occur. Students quickly discover that the strength of Aikido lay not in muscular force, but in flexibility, timing, control, and modesty.
Watching two experienced Aikido students or masters practice together can be an awesome site. An acute observer will notice a distinct, but subtle harmonizing energy forged between the two of them. This harmonizing energy, or connection, is highly sought after by Aikido practitioners and, when experienced, has the potential to transform the lives of Aikido participants. This transformation takes place not only in one’s ability to defend oneself physically, but also in every other aspect of one’s life. The uniqueness of Aikido makes it possible to experience deep levels of mental relaxation, emotional calmness, acute concentration and peak physical fitness in our daily lives. Aikido is the education and refinement of the spirit.
Iaido (pronounced ‘ee’-‘yai’-‘doh’) is the traditional Japanese art of drawing, cutting, and retracting the Japanese samurai sword or ‘katana.’ The word Iaido literally translates as “the way of mental presence and immediate reaction.” The art of Iaido is a product of Japan’s 17th and 18th century Edo-period, more commonly known by Americans as the era of the Shogun. Renowned Japanese martial artist, Nakayama Hakudo (1873-1958 ), is generally credited with coining the term Iaido and is the founder of the style of Iaido practiced in Castle Rock called Muso-Shinden-Ryu.
Iaido is a distinct, non-combative form of martial arts intended to cultivate a practitioner’s spirit. Unlike other sword arts, Iaido is generally practiced as a solo exercise or ‘tandoku keiko.’ Like Aikido, Iaido is purely a defensive martial practice.
The art of Iaido involves four stages of sword mechanics:
1. the draw (Nukitsuke);
2. the cutting action (Kiritsuke);
3. the simulated removal of blood from the blade (Chiburi); and
4. the return of the blade to its scabbard (Noto)
In the proper practice of Iaido, each of these stages must be performed in an efficient manner and smoothly blended into a single unit of performance over which an unbroken state of relaxed alertness and awareness or ‘Zanshin’ is present.
Mastery of the art of Iaido is immensely challenging because the ultimate purpose of Iaido is to acquire the ability to win over your enemy without even drawing your sword; that is, to spiritually conquer your opponent with your sword left in the sheath.
3. What are the principles and concepts that you uphold and try to instill in your students?
Through physical training, Castle Rock AIKIDO imparts numerous virtues to its students based principally on the Seven Virtues of Bushido as articulated in the 1899 book Bushido: The Soul of Japan by Inazo Nitobe. These include:
1. Justice (or Rectitude) – ‘Gi’
2. Courage – ‘Yu’
3. Benevolence – ‘Jin’
4. Politeness – ‘Rei’
5. Truthfulness (or Veracity) – ‘Makoto’
6. Honor – ‘Yo’
7. Loyalty – ‘Chu’
These virtues are not taught academically in class, but viscerally through physical training. Over time students learn to internalize these virtues as they relate to themselves, for example, self-Rectitude, self-Loyalty, self-Truthfulness, and self-Honor. One cannot hide behind intellectual or philosophical artifices in a martial arts class. One’s true self is discovered, challenged, and cultivated on the mat.
4. Why do you think it is important for people to learn martial arts?
The truth is that learning martial arts is NOT important today. Learning martial arts is valuable and is something we hope many people are interested in learning, but it certainly isn’t essential. Today, most people can survive and get by in life without learning a martial art. The value in martial arts comes from the moral and spiritual training it provides a person with. Success lies not in victory or defeat, but in the perfection of one’s character. Through the arts of Aikido and Iaido students can discover within themselves a power they never knew they had that can serve them in any and every capacity of their lives, if they so choose.
5. What difficulties and obstacles have you encountered so far with regards to teaching martial arts and how did you overcome them?
Castle Rock AIKIDO is a very unique school in that we are a conglomerate of talented instructors who come from a fairly wide variety of backgrounds, experiences, educations, and lineages. This, initially, posed a bit of a challenge as different instructors have different styles and methods of teaching. Learning to integrate the various differences took some time. However, when we surveyed our students, we discovered that the overwhelming majority of the students found the diversity to be far more valuable than simply learning one, myopic approach. It does make the program somewhat more challenging to learn, but one doesn’t train a martial art because it’s easy. They train a martial art because it’s hard!
The only other challenge we’ve experienced is getting over the stereo-type that martial arts is just for kids. Our program is 100% adult. You must be at least 18 years old to participate in either our Aikido or Iaido program. We make absolutely no exceptions to this rule. However, quite regularly we still get phone calls from parents with a “tall” or “mature” 14-year old who wants to participate in our program. Unfortunately, we must say no to that parent because we have people driving great distances from all over Colorado coming to train with us here specifically because we are adult-exclusive.
6. What advice and/or insights can you share with our readers who want to pursue their interest in the Japanese form of martial arts?
Many Japanese martial arts came into popularity in the US shortly after World War II. A prospective student should be aware that many Japanese were profoundly affected by the devastating impact the Pacific War had on the country and, subsequently, the purpose, philosophy, and attitude behind practicing Japanese martial arts went through an evolution of sorts. Martial arts like Aikido and Iaido became must less conflict-oriented and much more about bringing harmony through the study of martial arts. They became less about killing and more about personal development and the refinement of one’s character. A famous quote by the founder of Aikido expresses this as “True victory is victory over oneself.” A prospective student looking only to become a lean, mean fighting machine may want to look outside of Japanese arts for this reason.
On a more pragmatic side of deciding what kind of school to join, it is our advice to NEVER join a martial arts school that forces you to sign a time-based contract. In our opinion, if a school is good enough they shouldn’t have to contractually force you to stay! Doesn’t that make sense?
7. Can you please give a short biography of your dojo’s instructor(s)?
Andrew Blevins Sensei has been training in Aikido for over 23 years. During these years, he has had the privilege of being an “otomo” — or traveling assistant — for high-ranking Aikido instructors teaching Aikido in countries such as Scotland, Brazil, Czech Republic, and, of course, the United States. Blevins Sensei has family from Osaka, Japan, which has contributed to his competence with the Japanese language and understanding of, and familiarity with, Japanese culture and customs.
Tip Harris Sensei has been practicing Aikido for almost a quarter century (since 1984) and has been teaching for over 15 years. Before that he studied the Japanese art of Judo. He earned both his 1st and 2nd degree black belts from Hiroshi Ikeda Shihan of Boulder, Colorado. He attends between four and five Aikido seminars each year and has also traveled throughout Japan on multiple occasions. At age 66, Harris Sensei credits decades of Aikido training for his continued agility, flexibility, strength, and power.
Mariquita Izawa Sensei began her Aikido training in 1978 at the Hombu dojo in Tokyo, Japan under the 2nd head of the art, “Doshu” Kisshomaru Ueshiba (the son of the Founder). Izawa Sensei has also trained with other prominent Aikikai Aikido instructors in Japan and the United States such as Osawa Sensei (Sr.), Ichihashi Sensei, Seki Sensei, and Mitsunari Kanai Sensei. As such, she offers a very traditional, powerful, and authentic style of Aikido.
Steven Shaw Sensei received his 2nd degree black belt in Aikido and his 3rd black belt in the Musoshinden-ryu style of Iaido (the Japanese art of sword drawing). Both ranks were earned under the late Reverend Kensho Furuya Sensei at the Aikido Center of Los Angeles.
Pat Musselman Sensei has been training Aikido since 1991 under the direction of Bill Sosa Sensei in Manhattan, Kansas. He earned his san-dan (3rd degree black belt) at the Aikido of Phoenix dojo under Fred Mastison Sensei. Patrick is a police officer in Colorado, a Certified Personal Protection Instructor, and a plank holder in the Tactical Applications Association (TAA).
Monica Iwakabe Sensei began her martial arts study in 1991 while Germany serving in the United States Army. After two years training in Shotokan Karate, she was fortunate enough to be transferred to Colorado where she began her Iaido training at Rocky Mountain Budokan with Iwakabe, Hideki Sensei in 2000. Monica is the instructor for Castle Rock’s Iaido program.