The Aikido of Reverend Koichi Barrish

I have been watching this video all week.  I really didn’t have anything disparate to say about his waza at all.  I was more concerned about the uke.  Not the ukemi, but the uke.  The way that they sway and grunt.  The grunting was most bothersome to me, because it’s too telegraphic.  I remember reading an article in Black Belt magazine by Mr. Dave Lowry.  It was about how a uke shouldn’t telegraph too much when receiving waza.  Ideally, there should be no wriggling or writhing in agony, no moaning or grunting, just a simple transition the the required ukemi posture, with a simple tap.  The ideal is not to reveal any weakness.  If anything, that would be my criticism, the over telegraphic ukemi.  As see states, his Aiki, or Aiki in general, is not something that you can understand just by seeing it.  Having only seen this particular display, I still reserve my full criticism, if any, of the uke.

The actual ukemi was great.  Some very fluid and alive centers.  The musubi, the connection to nage, was marvelous.  The tobu ukemi was a pleasure to watch, especially the awareness that the uke show in the randori and jiyu sequences.

The waza was nice.  There was a display of everything in principle that makes Aikido what it is, and it was shown well, in my opinion.  There was movement that was clearly based on ken and jo waza, and he moved the same, whether he was armed or unarmed.  There was irimi, kime, atemi, kiai, musubi, awase, sasoe – all done at a very high level.  This, you can see clearly from the video.  There was a lot of old school waza in there if you look closely, some things that are more common in older schools of Jujutsu, older styles of Aikido, and more “advanced” variations in recent styles of Aikido.  There was a lot of Takemusu, where waza was created on the spot.

He looked a lot like some of the footage of O’Sensei in his later years.  I was reminded of Tohei, Ikeda, Saotome, Yamano, and James Williams.  Some of these people I have seen in person, some only on video, but it would be who I would compare his movement to.

Most interesting was his refusal to accept the dichotomy physical and nonphysical waza.  He called it an arbitrary decision that people make, and that the decision to connect with a partner “physically” or through ki was just as arbitrary.  He makes no distinction between the two, and appears to have a preference for neither.

It’s marvelous to me because even though Aikido is still a very young martial art, we still do not have all of the facts.  We’re still unraveling all of the things that O’Sensei did.  We’re still unraveling things like Tohei and Ikeda’s waza.  We’re still unraveling the buki and kihon and kokyu of Saito.  We’re still unraveling kinesthetic waza of Kanai.  We’re still unraveling osae and kansetsu waza of Chiba and Bernath.  We’re still unraveling the high energy waza of Tissier.  I see we, but really, I should only speak for myself.  Aikido has so many proper expressions, it’s a hydra, it’s so hard to pin down.  The more time I spend trying to clearly define my own practice, I realize that as soon as I choose a particular method to focus on, I miss out on so much more.

When I posted about Mr. Barrish on Aikido Journal, Mr. Toby Threadgill, Kaicho of Takamura ha Shindo Yoshin Ryu, had this to say:

Rev Barrish has been a rather controversial character in the aikido community. The first time I saw a video of Rev. Koichi Barrish I reacted the way i imagine most do. It looked like over cooperative uke’s flipping around in a demonstration of unconscious collusion…or worse. I remained of that opinion for years…..Then a couple of years ago I visited Rev Barrish concerning questions I had surrounding Shindo Yoshin ryu’s involvement in esoteric Shinto. I found him to be quite pleasant and extremely helpful. He answered my questions in depth and asked for nothing in return.

During a later extended visit to the Jinja in 2007, Rev Barriish again provided a plethora of information, expanding greatly upon our previous discussions concerning Shinto. One afternoon over tea he invited me to observe one of his evening aikido classes. Frankly I didn’t know what to expect given what I had seen on video previously. Well, I was surprised as what I witnessed that evening looked nothing like the video I’d seen previously. I observed good solid aikido employing crisp atemi and clean throwing technique. There were no overly copperative uke’s flipping around at the least provocation. I was especially impressed with Rev Barrish’s solid control of his tanden. I would consider his aikido far above the average I have seen in my travels.

I have a very cordial relationship with Rev Barrish these days and am a formal member of the Kannagara Jinja. I invite him come to Colorado every year to perform Oharai at the TSYR Hombu dojo. He has always been a gentleman and an asset to our deeper appreciation of Shinto in TSYR.

I would like very much to see more footage of Mr. Barrish, in a class setting, like Mr. Threadgill described.

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8 Responses to The Aikido of Reverend Koichi Barrish

  1. Eddie deGuzman says:

    I came across this video a few years ago. It’s very interesting. I agree with you about the uke, a little overdone. Other than that, excellent.

  2. Albert says:

    Wonderful video. Thank you for posting it.

    The movement reminds me of the following senseis whom I met:
    Hititsuchi Senesei and his student Gerard Blaize; Kato Sensei. And of course of videos of O Sensei. The ukemi
    and waza is totally natural and real.
    The spirit is exactly as he describes it, one of healing and love. An excellent example for us to strive for…wish I were close enough to visit there. All the best…

  3. TJ says:

    To really experience Barrish-sensei’s Aikido, you have to go to Tsubaki Jinja, a Shinto shrine and his Dojo. I had the opportunity to spend a great deal of time there and it was a very trans-formative process.

    In regards to the Aikido, you have to realize that video is over 20 years old I believe. It has evolved a great deal since then, a great deal.

  4. Rene says:

    About the critisism concerning the overdoing ukes: I have recently visited a seminar with Watanabe Sensei whos movements remind me a lot of what i saw here. First i was very sceptical about the way the ukes moved, but when working with Watanabe Sensei i had to realize, that if, as uke, you are sincere about your attack and you try to stay flexible and soft enough to escape the nage’s atemi you might easily find yourself wobbling around as seen here. If you dont wobble (which you dont do by yourself but which is induced by the nage) you loose flexibility and become more vulnerable. So the choice is wether to absorbe a strike or wether to keep moving. As an educative process for the uke, the shown way to move is, in my oppinion excelent, as it is always easier to get stiffer, but always difficult to become softer.

  5. Reggie T says:

    You might do a current youtube search, and see what Barrish sensei is practicing currently. This is an old video.

  6. Keshto Arya says:

    Today, I went to the beach front with my children.
    I found a sea shell and gave it to my 4 year old daughter and
    said “You can hear the ocean if you put this to your ear.” She placed the shell to her ear and screamed. There was a hermit crab inside and it pinched her ear. She never wants to go back! LoL I know this is totally off topic but I had to tell someone!

  7. eduke138 says:

    Yes I trained with Sensei Barrish for over 7 years. I asked him about the said video when I discovered it. His reply was that the concept was so new and it was such a time when americans were first being introduced to Aiki and their understanding was very young.

    Today, the training is very practical. We are defiantly “Russian Approved” is what I call it. We have students of Aiki visit us from all around the world but more so from Russia.
    I also train with alot of MMA guys that are alot bigger than I and yet my Aiki keeps me safe and most the time, untouchable. Wrist locks for MMA guys are unknown and they are not good at protecting themselves and they dont know how to flip heals over head in order to protect their precious wrist bones.

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