Monday, July 14, 2014

Searching for Balance

Source unknown
Balance is like a buzzword in martial arts. If you look at movies and books, everyone talks about balance. Whether its balance of your internal energy, balance of left and right, balance with the opponents... and so forth. Yet for all its ubiquity not much depth in explanation or exploration is given to this very important aspect of life.

Osensei asked us or actually he told us, to observe nature is to study Aikido. (paraphrased). Well, again with these martial art saints, a one liner wisdom. So we have some students go out to nature, sometimes alone and sometimes with friends, to be with nature hoping that one time or another when he gets back to the dojo, Aikido's secret will open up to him somehow.

It is true that a lot of wisdom is garnered from observation. In the past, masters seek inspiration from animals and the forest and wisdom. But those things have been there for a millennia. There's been billions of people too, so why aren't there billions or even millions of different martial arts? I believe though that for for most people, true observation is beyond them. If we cannot even observe our own body and mind and spirit, I doubt we have much to learn from observing nature itself.

Right now, we are in the middle of the muslim's fasting month or ramadhan. Muslims around the world are observing fasting from before dawn to the after dusk each day, abstaining not only from food and water, but also other desires driven by the ego. Abstaining from 'wants' and 'desires' so to speak. They are also asked to perform more good deeds, such as charity, learning, helping and worship of all kinds. Yet this month is also in the pinnacle of the 2014 world cup. Life goes on too, we have work in the morning, traffic jams in the afternoon and the Palestinians are dying by the hundreds.

Oops, it appears this blog now contains political inspiration and religious connotations. Where is the Aikido then? Well today, we are speaking about balance. True Aikido requires its assimilation in the daily life, and balance is a key component. Not just balance written in the first paragraph, but also a balance of self and others, of the worldly and the spiritual. When Osensei kept harping about spirituality as the key of unlocking Aiki, most of his students (I mean almost all of his students) just could not accept it. Some, true to human nature, mocked him quietly that the old man's lost his marbles. Yet, this is a fundamental aspect of human balance. The atheists and the secular would say their piece now, let them. I'm not judging and I'm not preaching. The purpose of writing here is to remind myself of my journey. Perhaps looking back at it in another 10 years, I might have gotten everything wrong... or then again, maybe it was the right step at the right time that will lead to my future progress. Who knows.

There are money examples that we can find to make sense of this actually. A lot of people find faith strengthens them. But faith is meant to soften the heart as well, and .... harden it. We are asked to show mercy because God is merciful to us in his bounty and gifts. But we are taught to be merciless in fighting oppression and injustice. Being kind is not just by helping someone with money and food and love. Sometimes a greater kindness is to cut him up. A doctor saving a patient with gangrene may cut the person's leg off. Sure we understand its mercy now and its medicinal knowledge. But think about it... centuries back, no one knew. The first doctor to cut open his patient to conduct a heart surgery and a cornea surgery was a muslim doctor. (turkey or India, I can't remember). Back then it was a game changer. How could he have every convinced someone to allow him to cut their body open to fix it up?

Yet again this violence done, it was done with knowledge and faith in that knowledge. That knowledge gained through hard work, experimentation and the gradual building up of experience through lesser components was also in the end Godsent.

How true then the art of beheading for the samurai. The way to kill is not anything new. Hit a person's head with something hard enough and he will die for sure. But the Japanese have it down to an art level. Beautiful someone would say when watching a master wield his sword. Elegant. Simple and yet so deadly. Is the art of killing so beautiful that one would praise it? Life is not that cheap that it should be ended by a stab in the dark, a bullet in the head, a rope around the neck, a needle in the vein, or a missile in the dead of the night. To kill someone in combat with skill and faith in oneself is to appreciate death. To feel its close embrace, one would appreciate living all the more. When you can see your opponent's sweat, tears, pain and fear, you see a human being. It makes killing him all the more momentous. Because if you can emphatise with a human being, how would you be able to harm him. Harming another being is like harming yourself. Yet, if in harming this person you are doing great kindness, and you act with full conviction of faith that has its foundation on love and mercy, you shield yourself from destruction with spirituality.

It is a fact that combat veterans comeback with many a disorder and malady. Research shows that in most modern military conflicts, at least a while back, that most soldiers shoot their enemies deliberately aiming to miss. and vice versa. That for most human beings, killing another is apprehensible and unnatural. For most of us, we would like to be kind and happy with other people. Think about it. Would you like to go out there and fight with a total stranger, or would you rather make new friends so that you can enjoy his company?

That is why, when you do go to combat, you have to go there for the absolute right reasons. Human beings lie to each other, most human beings are selfish. We know that, because its a genetic make up to ensure our own survival... over other if need be. So you don't actually know whether going to combat is for the right reason especially if you are a career soldier where questions aren't asked. But a bushi... a bushi or a warrior is not a mindless beast. He has a mind and he has a heart and he needs his faith to justify and bolster him. A samurai is a servant to a higher ideal. He is not a gangster with a sword. He dispenses violence in the path of greater good. A person who actually does that will not find himself rotting inside and expressing this outwardly with hard to pronounce diseases. A person who is selfless and kills other human beings because of faith and conviction would have balanced his deed.

And this understanding is desirous in our pursuit of martial arts. We cannot continue to learn a martial art like Aikido as if it is life's answer to everything. Like a dance routine with our partners. Like a temple to spew koans like a grasshopper's master. Like a hobby we get off after a long day. Aikido in all its temperament find its roots as a martial arts. Osensei may have told us about love and harmony. Yet what is harmony? I believe we have misunderstood harmony as rainbows and pink unicorns. Harmony is the balance and assimilation of the hard and soft. Skewed either way, and human life would be imbalanced. We would suffer within ourselves if the balance remains unaddressed. I don't mean to advocate killing and violence in our practice, but understanding it in our practice is crucial. Using it with faith when called upon is an absolute necessary. You cannot practice a warriors heart without tempering your heart to wilfully enter the path of upholding justice. In whatever form it takes, physical, words or mental, you must stand with the higher good. Otherwise there is no balance.

Lastly, this is also the path of Aiki. Aiki is neither soft or hard. But appropriate.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Receiving shomenuchi - The Three Ways

Firstly, the truth of why you are seeing less and less of my postings here is that I'm taking more time to digest my lessons. Learning now takes longer and while at times I feel I understand certain things better, I also realise that I still don't understand enough.

Anyway, in today's training I was thinking of the three ways we meet shomenuchi.

1. The wave
2. Opening the door
3. The irimi cut

Before this, I've taken all three as seperate methods or techniques. But as I explored it today, I feel I understand that the three are levels of the same thing. With the wave, the no 2 won't work as well. Without no 2, no 3 wouldn't work either.

In the wave, the attackers power is diminished upwards upon contact. And we follow this with a cut through his center using our center as impetus. The sword doesn't cleave, it shears and so should our center movement.

In opening the door, for it to work we cannot wait for contact. The wave must be implemented well before contact and this as his power dimishes, we can safely contact his attacking hand and at that point in time, use chushin to move his center away.

In 3, we cannot irimi and cut without diminishing uke's power and then changing his line of attack using no 2, and only then irimi and cut. If you try to avoid uke's cut by sidestepping, inevitably, the uke will change direction to follow suit,

Well practice this more. For now, its bed time to reflect.

Saturday, March 2, 2013

Kenjutsu seminar March 2013

This is going to be a real quick post for the current seminar I'm having, a sort of forget me notes come sharing. There's a lot of nuggets of information he is sharing and its great to experience koryu based kenjutsu training. For those of you still practicing aiki ken only, it'll be a good step up from there.

I'll probably do a rewrite soon after this. But don't expect any photos or videos. Too busy training to get any of that....


Practise without opening the mind is wasted energy. With goals and laced with principles the practise is a step by step method of approaching mastery. Winning is reward of concentration. Concentration is like a tight beam of light. As you shine it to various spots in the darkness, you will eventually be aware of the entire surrounding. As practitioners of budo we must pay attention to that.

Iaijutsu
Tennonichi
Gripping the sword at the hon line or natural line. The sword is held by sticky hands. Awase.
The little finger holds it in place and has a small hollow.
kesa is the angle temple to nose.
Neck to armpit.
Elbow to hip. Etc.
Sword to draw is held at kesa.
Thumb is removed from tsunami maintaining oblique position and is now releasing the ken from the saya.
Butt of sword faces opponent.
This is maintained when transferring from right to left.
Tsuba is always guarded by thumb.
The peak of a draw has the sword above the head.
Employ ki ken tai. Body never moves before the sword.
Cutting is stopped using the wing muscle of the draw hand. Body is now oblique.

At kamae the situation is reversed. Left hand is strong. Right is soft and guiding.
The cut is soft hard soft but always leading through the little finger. Ki extends outwards.

Drawing also uses the chest, not the hands. Sinking is employed. Curve of the sword is maintained at all times. The sword feels like its been thrown and then held back.

12 tanjo techniques.
1. Right leg back. Lock elbow. Hon te. Overhand swing with step in. Follow strike.
2. Right leg forward. Retreat suriashi. Hand comes around and strikes. Follow up.
3. Left leg fwd. Drop with right knee fwds. Right hand holds up tanjo midsection. Strikes elbows as in wave. Strike body with left hand. Rise up to the right controlling the elbow.
4. Right leg fwds. Strike upwards follow up with high barai with left leg step in. Left hand at temple guard. Strike. Drop hands to control sword. Trap ankle with left feet. Strike armpit.
5. Uchi. Three steps end left feet fwd. Hold tanjo lower. Kaiten. Irimi with strike. Left hand comes upward and replaces right hand. Ikkyo.
6. Left leg fwd. Switch feet drop to knee strike solar.
7. Right leg fwd. Suriashi back. Strike solar.
8. Upwards strike to displace ken.
9. Upwards strike but off line. Hit ken and hit right temple.
10. Uke is drawing and kesa giri. Step back with kesa guard. Hit twice.
11. Left leg kneeling with strike to shin. Stand up strike elbow ans body.
12. Tanjo behind neck. Maai. Nage feints cut and tsuki. Parry left and enter body strike.

Sent from Samsung Mobile

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Some Gifs of Sensei's latest Aiki Intensives

December 2012

The techniques shown are a variation. They are more circular as opposed to sharp/straight cuts we are more used to.




Saturday, November 24, 2012

How are we learning?

Image from Intentblog.com
A couple of weeks back, I returned to UK for a short holiday. There, I managed to visit my old sensei's John and Sarah, and their ex-master Sensei Kolesnikov. It was as always an enjoyable training. Somehow I feel invigorated and excited whenever I train in my old dojo... perhaps it was because of the Ki Aikido slant, or perhaps of their unique way of teaching and training.

Anyway, I've sensed the changes a few years back in terms of their relationship between the two dojos. But it was a closure for me to actually talk to them about it. For John and Sarah, they felt the need to improve themselves pushed them into breaking away from the main dojo to explore the art with other sensei's... and not necessarily with those of the Ki Society and its ilk. Having met with Ikeda Sensei and   a few others in Europe, they felt that what they had was too constraining. And so they left to pursue this knowledge elsewhere. Without a doubt, there may always come that time when we feel our paths branches away from those who are with us. All of us have our own journey to make and sometimes those paths may align together, sometimes not. John and Sarah felt the draw of new found knowledge and felt that growth can come from there.

This is one way of learning. Learning from a new perspective, or learning new techniques, methods, skill. This way of learning expands your skill set. Yet, through it all, I felt that their Aikido has not far detract from their original school. The fudo genri is embedded into their being that the Aikido they do is more familiar than different.

Visiting Sensei K's dojo the next day, I honestly think what I just said is true. The mould is set and their style is no different then their previous master. However, Sensei K has not waited or petrified his Aikido as well. Whilst he has not ventured into different ways to practice his Aikido, or looking outwards as it were, he has to some extent look inwards.

The outwards that I mentioned earlier is looking beyond your existing knowledge. Looking from somebody else to teach you something new. Looking inwards, is delving into the existing knowledge. Trying to refine it or explore it in different ways. So with Sensei K, he does the latter... perhaps venturing a bit into dance, into spirituality, or gaining insight from research.

Both methods of learning are valid. As a new born, our first task is to learn new things. As quickly as we can. At the same time, practicing each new thing until we master it... during this time our progress and knowledge gathering is at its peak. It gets harder and harder to learn new things as we grow up.

We can attribute this to gradual increase of difficulty in our knowledge curve, or memory loss, or lack of time, or our own mental blocks i.e. set and myopic views, etc. But when we were most innocent, knowledge came rapidly.

Our choice day to day, is to either keep learning or hold tight to what we have. Sometimes you can see that people refuse to acknowledge something new because it goes contrary to their current knowledge or beliefs. In refusing to open their mind, they lie in themselves but are comforted by the unchanged state the find themselves in. For most, a strange new idea is very frightening indeed.

How do we learn?

Do we keep on doing the same things again and again? Go to dojo, back home, go to dojo, back home. Day in day out, week in week out and for years... do we find ourselves in the same cave?

Or do we think on what we do? Reflect how it works? Remember and think about the messages and clues our teachers gave us? Do we practice to get better or to defeat Uke?

We have to keep this in mind everytime we practice. Its very important especially in Aikido where learning comes from feeling our partner out. If we kept practicing selfishly, i.e. imposing our will as nage upon uke, we will never change for the better. We may get fit and stronger, but Aikido may forever be beyond our grasp. Instead, from feeling comes understanding.

Think about sorewaza kokyuho. A most basic but very important exercise we do each session. What is it about two hands parallel grab whilst kneeling that can be important enough that Osensei always had it in his classes? It doesn't even make sense in reality.

Yet it holds the key to all of Aikido. For my level, I feel its understanding energy and power. We want to move uke but without 'wanting' or 'using' power. Instead we must feel his power and return it to him. How do we do this? Imagine a walkalator. If you stood on a walkalator heading your way, then you need not do anything but you will move forward. But if you were to walk against a walkalators direction, you'll most likely be held in place or at the best, expending tremendous effort to move forwards as opposed to walking normally on the ground. And that is how Uke is holding us. A walkalator in the opposite direction. So how do we use his power instead of ours? Imagine the walkalator as a conveyor belt. Even as it moves forwards on one side, the bottom side returns to its source. Thus his walkalator is in fact two directions. Similarly, uke's energy is like that too.

His hands may be pushing against you, but there is a return path. Curiously enough you may use the bottom of the walkalator as an honest analogy of the energy path. Don't push against his direction, instead use his return energy and move forward. You will find that sorewaza forms the basis of all awase.ac

Monday, July 16, 2012

The Progression from Unification of Self to Unification of Others

We know that fudo genri is closely related to the first level of Aikido which is unification of self. But I think I get how important Chushin really is now. Learning to feel center, to be relaxed, to move without wanting to move, to extend ki all leads to establishing a good centerline. With that, movement becomes Aikido movement. Without chushin being the backbone, we are just like jelly fish no matter how much muscle or speed we put into our movements. If we only know how important kamae and sorewaza really is. And I'm beginning to appreciate kata dori more and more. And Ikkyo, wow. How did such a boring technique become so so Important? Even more so than iriminage! One would have thought that iriminage is so much more useful, but hey...Without proper Ikkyo, it's doubtful you could even enter into iriminage. If you're still pushing your ikkyo, then its high time to start practicing more cuts.

And then, all those exercises with our partner. Those attacks. We get to feel their ki, their tension, their muscles, their balance, their center. And then we learn to manipulate this using our centerline, and we also learn to connect our center to theirs. Then we learn to move their center with ours. And later we learn to move it from feeling. Then quite possibly later, we get to feel his center even without physical contact and then even to move his center from that distance. This is just wonderful! An art that constantly has layers upon layers for us to explore and discover. Its just great. I don't care if I'll ever use it or not, just by having the chance to practice this is reward enough for me.

I wonder how and what I will discover in Unifying with the universe level...I know its still a long way to go. But will I hear the Sound of Earth? Will I hear the Sound of Heaven? And after that...

Saturday, June 30, 2012

The Art and The Labor

The Malays have a saying, tak kenyang sesuap nasi, what it means is 'you can't sate your hunger with a handful of rice'. What it actually means is that, if you were to practice once, you are unlikely to 'get it', just like eating rice... you need to eat more than a handfuls and so practice has to be more often done.

Most times both the teacher and the student falls into the trap of instant gratification, more so in this very capitalistic modern world that we live in. For a generation where the currency has no intrinsic value behind it, it is very ironic that we equate reward to the amount of dollars we spend. So for this generation, where there are endless 'masters' and instructors and teachers willing to teach you the secret of any art in return for some moolah, they expect a reasonable rate of return for the money they've spent.

Now this is kind of an arbitrary reading of the current situation, but on a whole it is true. Especially when it comes to children's classes. After all, you'd have parents remove their child from a school that consistently fails them or any slight grouse for that matter. It is kind of tricky, since teaching martial arts to children is pretty dubious at best.

I'm all for training them young, but modern kids are not the shaolin young un's whose parents had allowed the temple to adopt them because they can't support their own children. Nor are they the Thai kids whose crazy regime in Muay Thai is the only way out of poverty for the top 10%. These children are in survival mode. They understand that the only way for them to survive to adulthood and make a decent living is to practice hard and rise to the top of the ranks in their martial arts/sport. Our society sends the kids to the dojo to collect certificates for their extra curricular activity. Its not even close.

Not to disparage the kids, the adults that join modern dojos are more often than not the same... a way to exercise, a way to rid of excess energy or stress, a hobby and what not. Where is the serious practice that is expected of martial artists? Martial artists who in yesteryears practice no less than 4-6 hours a day, because slacking means death? That's the point isn't it? Slacking in your Aikido practice is unlikely going to be the cause of your death in this modern times. Thus, the real motivation for practicing martial arts is no longer the same as before.

Nevertheless, individuals practice for their own reasons, and whatever those reasons may be, the desire to train is there. As little or as hard as they practice is irrelevant. The fact is, with desire of knowledge, one must invest time and effort. A skill is learned, not bought. Thus to be skilled in Aikido, first you must have a wish to be so, second you must labor for it. That's the simple truth.

Now a lot of people may have fall in love with everything that's nice about Aikido and they may wish to have the skills to the same. But wishing to be an artist and buying the paint and canvas doesn't make one an artist. So love the art, but working hard is the only way you can become an artist.

I write this not just to remind anyone reading this, but mostly for myself. As I get older, with more kids and more work, its so easy to put Aikido in the back burner. But I saw something in this art. As effective and lethal silat may be, and more practical one would say, there is something unique about Aikido done well that it still has a part to play in my life. I fervently wish that I can live up to the art.