March 6, 2014

To Look Straight Forward, pt2

A conversation about Makko Ho with Tomoko Horikawa Morganelli, one of only two people in the United States who is a trained and licensed instructor of Makko Ho, a Japanese stretching art.

Can you say something about “Hodo Taiso?”

“Hodo” in Japanese means, “supplement,” and “taiso,” “exercise.” It is designed to assist to get better at Makko ho. It was not originally part of the movements, it was added after Nagai sensei. It is based on readjusting from the pelvis – the center of the body. And if your center is aligned, the whole body can readjust with it. So, we partner up and it looks like giving stretching or bodywork - one person giving and the other receiving. The person giving is stretching and doing bodywork – helping to open the pelvis and realign. There is a sequence.

It is really interesting - an extension of Taijutsu. My understanding of it was deepened much earlier by my ability in Bujinkan Taijutsu. The body weight is used to press into your partner’s body to release tight muscles and bring blood and oxygen to stagnant areas of the body. And the sequence is like a form – a kata – one for the backside and one for the front. The entire sequence takes about …

About 30 minutes to complete. Starting from the back muscles to release, then goes to the hip, then down to the leg. Then flip over and it starts from the feet and ankles, then hip joint, then going to kneeling position to work the shoulders.  

The first time we met, I remember you had said something interesting. You said, if I wanted to, I could hurt people with my Makko ho. You understand this duality of healing and the flipside of it-

You can attack people. It depends on your intentions.

Hatsumi sensei said the same thing about "kyusho," vital points. Someone had asked him if the “death touch” was real. He said, “of course it is.” And they wanted to know which point it was. He said they were the same points to heal. The difference was in the intention.    

Good martial artists understand how to heal people. People with good Taijutsu means they can be a good healer. I have been teaching Makko ho to martial artists through you and I can really see some people are really good at it and quickly understand Hodo Taiso and I am always amazed. They understand Taijutsu then showing them the movements is much easier.

When we went to the Makko ho Hombu Dojo I met some amazing people. That one gentleman, who was in his 80s, was as flexible as a four-year-old. He could do the splits and lay his chest on the floor. Another gentleman put me through the Hodo Taiso ringer in about 10 minutes. I’ll never forget he cracked all ten of my toes at once with both hands like it was nothing. Incredible.     

After getting whole sequence of Hodo Taiso, it feels like you are brand new. Lots of people told me the whole body gets really warm. Feels so energizing. Gets circulation and realigned for the pelvis. Giving Hodo Taiso also follows the sequence. The bowing movements are back and forth, so you gonna be, like, meditative - if you practice longer. Sometimes you don’t feel like it is even you giving, but feels like also receiving too. So, which one is giving and which one is receiving? Feels like more “oneness.” Doesn’t feel like I am forcing, but more connecting.        

Very much like Taijutsu. It is not about forcing people to do what you want, but giving them options they cannot deny.   

Makko ho has so much Japanese culture behind it. If you see Japanese, everyone is bowing, everywhere. So, for us, bowing is so much … into the heart; apart of our culture and who we are. We like to express the gratitude. The seated position is a very cultural thing, too. Our ancestors were always sitting on the floor so it is very natural for us. Also, the Hodo Taiso part, (Japanese) are not kissing or hugging, even in the family. But we do massage each other. That’s what I learned when I was little - my mom ask me to massage her shoulders and feet. So, we could have a physical connection and show affection.   

You learned Makko Ho while you were apprenticing in Shiatsu (a Japanese massage art) in New York?

Right. It increased my sensitivity and how to use my body. Not just the hands, but using core, the movement from Makko ho, how I can put the weight into my hands, using whole body to give bodywork. And also learning to breathe right.

How long did you study Makko ho before you got the license?

Maybe two years. Normally it takes longer. Now I have studied Makko ho for almost twenty years!

So, what has Makko Ho taught you? What have you learned?

I still remember when I knocked on the door to see my teacher in New York. First, I thought because I had a dance background and was already flexible that it was easy - only four positions and I could do everything. And I thought I would get bored – only four positions. But my teacher said, "You didn’t see it. You will know how deep it is and how layered and you will understand if you practice." She had already been studying for 30 years at that time. And I just started. And every time I practice I remember she said, “Makko ho is very deep. It’s very simple, but so many layers in it. And if you practice more you can see more layers and feels like it never ends.” It’s not just being flexible. There is something more.

My teacher was doing Shiatsu professionally. She had a clinic and said, you have to understand Makko ho first before learning Shiatsu. You could understand basic bodywork and learn how to touch people. So I practiced Makko ho and Hodo Taiso for a couple years. Then I started learning Shiatsu from her and it was easy to understand the way to touch people.

I feel like I have a mission to introduce Makko ho not just only to Japanese, but also internationally. I was asked by the Makko ho "Kaicho" and people who passed away. We have traveled to England, Japan, and through the United States to show people the true meaning. I wish we could travel more! We have so much to share. This is a wonderful exercise. And I hope lots of people could know about and experience it. I would also like to spread the philosophy the founder had of his own experience. The original meaning.

To me, it is a positive way to face life and that's what I think is most important.  

See Part1

For more information or to contact Tomoko:

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