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Aikido Kanji

Raso Hultgren Interview

Home > People > Katherine Derbyshire > Aikido > Raso Hultgren Interview
This interview originally appeared in Shobu Aikido's Aiki News, Summer, 2000.

Raso Hultgren Sensei, 5th dan, began studying aikido with Robert Frager Sensei at the University of California, Santa Cruz, in 1971. ASU Shihan Mitsugi Saotome has been her main teacher since 1977. She has trained at his dojo in Washington, DC, and at Hiroshi Ikeda Sensei's dojo in Boulder, Colorado, for extended periods. She has been head instructor at Aikido of Missoula, Montana, since 1990.

She taught an intensive seminar at Shobu Aikido of Boston in July, 2000, creating the occasion for these questions:

What first brought you to aikido?

I was not looking for a martial art. At that time, I was convinced I would continue on in the performing arts. I took a one year break after college to give myself some time to reflect. About that time, I saw an aikido class. There was an instant sense of recognition, even though I had no idea it would become such an important part of my life.

The unity of beauty and power and peacefulness touched me. The ability to use full power without hurting or being hurt was appealing.

At the time, I felt that I had no center, like a chameleon. I was always blowing with the wind. I didn't want to make myself into a fortress, either. As a woman, I felt I needed to restrain or contain myself to be acceptable. I was attracted by the lack of a need to hold back in aikido.

In retrospect, aikido embodied for me many of the things that drew me to theatre, music, and dance--the transforming of energy into a different form. It took me several years to realize that an audience was not an essential part of that equation, that the moment itself in Aikido is its own reward.

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We've all seen many students join the dojo for three months or a few years and then disappear. Why did you stay?

Just before I found aikido, I had a life-changing insight. I realized that my life was really about exploring the inner dimension. I wanted to understand how to live fully, which I realized was linked to studying an inner way. I realized that aikido was linked with that, and aikido�s dynamic, wordless interaction with others seemed helpful to unlocking the self.

It has also worked in a deep synchronicity with my meditation practice over the years, which has helped keep me going.

One of my teachers said, "We stay with aikido because we can't quit." Many times I used to say, "I'll quit as soon as this class is over, I'll leave and never come back." But I didn't want to leave in the middle of class, and by the time the class was over something had shifted again.

One of the things that keeps me in aikido is that it's fascinating. Simple techniques offer layers and layers of meaning, even tenkan continually reveals different facets year after year. The combination of simplicity and depth is elusive and compelling.

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What would you say to more junior people who are worried that they'll feel out of place at a seminar?

I would expect any instructor or anyone with a long time in aikido has their own natural approach. In a seminar, the instructor will often start with fairly simple things because the students are not familiar with that approach.

I wouldn�t expect to demonstrate fancy techniques, but rather explore how different components of Aikido enhance our practice. Aikido is a rich, deep world embedded in simple techniques. How do we use those techniques to communicate in a simple, true way that can dissolve fear and defensiveness and increase skill?
We're always studying technique, of course, but that doesn't mean you'll see a foreign form.

Two advantages of a seminar are the opportunity for more intensive training, and also the chance to hear things in a slightly different way and see things demonstrated in a slightly different way.

There is great value in having a home practice with high quality instruction. There can also be value in looking through a different lens. Trying something new can help us find our own ground.

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What can we expect to see you emphasize in July?

What I bring to the seminar will depend on the mixture of energies and people. How will I interface with them? How are people currently training?

I'm very interested in how aikido gives us a reflection through interaction with others of what we're doing with ourselves. In connecting to another human being and having that connection reside in our center, what is the balance between the center and the periphery? An attack tends to draw us out--how can we stay centered?
I am exploring the martial implications of center-to-center connection, and the space that contains that connection. If we abandon the feeling of what's around us, we've lost center. I'm looking at the paradox between sharp, piercing qualities and inclusive, absorbing qualities, and bringing the two into a balance that dissolves fight.

As I said, I wasn't originally looking for a martial art, but I've become interested in the martial arts because of aikido. You can't remove that razor's edge and still have aikido; you have to be attentive to the martial details.

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Are there any thoughts that you�d like to finish with?

Aikido is a fascinating study and one that we do not complete. It's amazing to me to have been in such a deep study for nearly three decades, involving so much mental, physical and spiritual energy, and yet it still remains so elusive, fresh and rich.

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