Aikido is an art that is constantly evolving and requires those that pursue it to keep an open and flexible mind. For the many years I have known Robert Bryner he has maintained a freshness, openness, and endless curiosity about his practice. He truly is a rare gem in the world of aikido. Achieving high level ranking in a single art requires a lifetime of effort and Bryner Sensei has achieved this in two completely disparate arts. He is currently ranked 6th dan in aikido and 7th dan in karate.
Robert is also a long time student of the legendary Shoji Nishio. Nishio Sensei’s aikido was informed both by his experience as a student of Morihei Ueshiba, the founder of aikido as well as his already significant ranking in multiple martial arts including aikido (8th dan), judo (6th dan), karate (Jinen-ryu 5th dan), iaido (7th dan), and jodo.
Robert and his wife Chikako were our guest instructors for our Saturday training (8/1/09). Robert Bryner Sensei leaves no doubt as to the depth of his own experience and expertise. There is no such thing as “aikido as usual.” He is constantly pushing the edge for himself and his students which can leave students dazzled, amazed and occasionally scratching their head. But you can always be sure that amidst the blaze of strikes, controls and throws everything he is doing is solidly rooted in the fundamentals of budo. Many in the aikido world have eschewed the use of striking and the practice of the sword. Nishio taught that aikido could not claim to be a real budo if it was divested of these essential practices. No budo can hope to survive without the use of striking. And the sword is the very foundation of Japanese budo, so without it one can never properly understand what they are doing in aikido.
Chikako Bryner, also a highly accomplished martial artist in Aikido, Ryu Te and Iaido started class with warm ups and basic practice including irimi, tenkan, kokyunage and udekimenage. While it’s common to see udekimenage (an arm lock throw) done by positioning the arm behind the uke’s elbow at about 90 degrees, Chikako showed the importance of directing the locking arm as a strike toward the uke’s body (ribs, face, groin) as well as starting the locking arm on the wrist and sliding it toward the elbow.
Chikako then turned the class over to Robert. The beauty of Nishio as well as Bryner is that atemi (striking) is an integral part of each movement and never appears as a side-car that’s merely been tagged on as is common in aikido. (Unfortunately, most aikido schools today omit striking almost entirely which renders the art impotent against any serious attacker.) The other great thing about Bryner’s art is that the movements can be adapted to fit the most confined limitations of space.
Bryner’s art operates on many levels at once. The key ingredients are a superb sense of maai (timing, spacing and geometry), relaxed, instantaneous and lightening fast movement, unbroken and unperturbed focus, the constant unbalancing of the opponents mind, a continual slew of strikes to the face, arms and body and a grip of techniques at his disposal. The short story is: you’re done before you make your first move.
To understand this kind of aikido you’ve got to be ready to stretch your brain as well as your body. Bryner Sensei started on the path over 50 years ago and at 67 he is as passionate and innovative as ever. A sincere thanks from us to Robert and Chikako Bryner.
~Philip Greenwood, Sensei