Friday, July 31, 2009

Friday night

Last night, we started the first aiki class in my friends dojo. Not that I had that much to teach. Its going to be more like a practice session for us to share and try to develop the necessary components and understanding of ki in Aikido.

To remind myself of what we have done I would like to post it as somewhat of a journal here. That way, I can remind myself what we have done so far and what more we can add bit by bit into the future.

We started of with an explanation on how to practice that night. The idea behind the practice is not to complete a waza or accomplish a throw. But it is to feel. Feeling your center, the connection and your opponents center. Being able to accomplish a finishing move is secondary.

We also described the stages of learning that we will be trying to achieve. Beginning with Chushin, Awase and then to Musubi and kinonagare.

The principles of relaxation, keeping one center, extending ki and focus is described and asked to be maintained throughout the session.

To being the weapons practice, we practiced shomen with the bokken. Using a 3 step shomen style. Grip the bokken with the fingers lightly, holding the bokken about 2-3 inches from hara and the tip pointing towards uke's imagined throat. Hands and shoulders relaxed, extend ki into the tip of the bokken. One step forward and raise bokken lightly using ki. Shoulders are down, elbows are down, the hilt is above our eyebrows and the bokken diagonally above our heads. Strike by first extending our forearms to fingers to bokken. Done properly it almost looks like we are casting forward. Regardless, the aim is to extend ki into the strike, thus we do not feel heavy hands, strength in shoulders or looking like a chopping movement. Done right it should feel light hands, heavy tip, relaxed arms and shoulders and the bokken will not point down at the end of the cut.

The first practice was jo and bokken paired practice. We did a shomen with a bokken, a side step with jo and extending center through the jo into the partners forearm without pushing or 'hitting' it. Through the jo and contact with the forearm, nage is to feel his center connected with uke's center. Uke is to provide feed back by, first indicating whether he feels pain (which is wrong), he feels being pushed (wrong), and whether he can move freely without nage being able to control/sense it. Lastly, if nage can manage it, he can try moving with chushin to kuzushi nage, take center and tenkan or take center and uproot etc.

The second practice was again paired practice. This time the emphasis is on awase. Nage with jo, slides right food to the back and puts 70% of weight to the front, leaning forward. The Jo is extended upwards into uke's throat. Contact is emphasised as pure awase with no blocking or avoiding. The goal is to achieve blending as uke raises bokken not as he strikes downwards. As the cut is complete, jo is touching the bokken lightly, chushin is felt, musubi is also felt on the weapons. Nage proceeds to advance lightly all the time with the feeling of extension. At any time uke feels force on his weapon, he can withdraw to strike. Nage proceeds to stand just parallel to uke and lightly perform iriminage.

I originally intended to continue with jo from there with nage taking uke's center through the jo he is holding. From there, I wanted to do uke tsukit nage and nage again controlling and playing with uke's center. But, seeing as this requires more indepth exposure to weapons for the new students, we left it for the future.

Next we did tachiwaza shihonage. Uke holds gyakuhammi. For omote, nage is asked to first extend his ki physically through his hands. Gradually he is asked to reduce the physical extension but maintain only ki extension. The idea is that physical extension usually limits our ki extension to the tip of the fingers. Once we have reduced physical extension, maintaining extended ki into uke's center at all times, we bring our center down lightly by bending the knees and we proceed to enter uke's space in front of him. Done right, uke doesn't feel force through his hands but he will be uprooted slightly. Keeping our connection through the hands, and maintaing our extension, we kaiten and extend our hands slightly. Uke should fall of his own accord. Nage should not cut down his hands as it is not necessary. This is to avoid physical pulling of uke. Unbalanced as he is, pulling down uke will not be too hard, but it voids our practice goals.

In ura waza, we do tenkan first. Again beginning with physical extension and then only ki extension. Bring our center near our hands with disturbing uke. Drop center and tenkan. The rest is the same. Only reminding ourselves to be slightly forward of uke throughout the tenkan. It is never past uke and our hands are never behind us but always extended in front of us.

Later we may practice shihonage with 2 hands. But for now, the main goal is to ensure we feel connection and extension of ki. I believe if we start with 2 hands as usual, nage will likely start using physics and power to move uke.

After this we experimented a bit with ateru as a taster to musubi practice and understanding aiki.

Then we did suwari kokyu. Starting with again physical extension and then relaxing into just ki extension. First nage just blends into uke and uproots then letting uke fall down. 2nd, uke is now asked to do something with nage's hands. Pull, push, pull down or spread apart. Nage must extend ki and connect with nage. Forgetting both his hands and uke's hands, feeling center alone, nage now feels where uke's center is offbalanced and moves the center there. The physical movement follows the center movement. Done right uke cannot resist this. It is not, if uke push nage pulls. It can be uke push, and nage actually returns back uke's hands towards him. All depends on where uke's center can be brought to off balance.

In the next class we may practice jo tsuki and bokken shomen with unarmed disarming. The practice will focus on awase and chushin.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Back from Gashoku in Jakarta

Just got back today from a 2 day Aiki camp in Puncak at Jakarta. I would show you pictures but since I used up all my memory card for videos instead, you'll have to make do with my words painting the view.

First of all, I had hoped I would lose a little bit of weight say 1-2 kg during the camp. I mean after all we're talking about 5 sessions a day here. Unfortunately it didn't happen quite to plan. The food in Jakarta is undeniably good and they have rice with everything.

Ok back to the subject at hand. I won't narrate everything we did, but only the things I want to make a point of remembering.

The first class we did was with weapons. Jo and bokken practice. The katana tsuki and jo takes awase in 2 ways. One where we had the jo vertical to the side and we irimi to his hand and musubi with chushin. The 2nd, we awase like spear diagonally upwards to uke. The awase is 0 energy by the way. We then continue to go in and execute an irimi nage. Again, no physical pushing, musubi.

We did all the characters of Aiki. Some helpful tips.
For downwards ki, one basic method is to harden ki extension physically and then make it zero.
For ateru (this not proper ateru btw, just like the above is not the correct downwards ki), receive and return. Its almost enveloping the power back like a wave. It does not feel like a catch.

Proper ateru. I managed a bit sporadically here. Keep the feeling of skin and uke's skin. Move uke's skin with yours. Forget gathering ki to center and exploding it out. That's more like Focused energy. In fact sensei says that my skill hitting is focused energy method which can evolve into ateru.

Pulling aiki. Again skin moving skin is the best. A beginner may visualise uke's tanden and connect, then pull the tanden with our movement. Ie. our tanden connect with uke's. Our tanden move our hand and uke's tanden like a line. Don't use triceps!

Always be aware of uke's grip on whereever it is he's gripping. If any movement enforces the sensation, then that is the wrong way.

All waza can use the different characters of aiki. Our preference will be decided by the type of person we are and the situation that uke engages us. But in this school we practice all.

Practiced with jo disarming. Again practice awase.

To reinforce my last post, the sequence of practice is this:
1. Chushin
2. Awase
3. Musubi
4. Kino nagare.

Remember there are various levels of ability for each of the above. But each ability leads to the other. So start with Chushin like sensei, but practice for awase. And when we understand awase more, practice for musubi.

Also, we are reminded that an opponent that grabs us, could have hit us.

If we just focus on tanden to tanden connection, what happens when we have multiple attackers. That's when musubi comes into play. Again musubi here is long distance musubi. Train this with enveloping aiki.

Note, ateru is not harmful. But it will be painful against people who resist especially those who uses energy build ups or shields. Most times they'll get better on their own though it hurts. But other times you'll need someone to push the locked energy out. I have a theory that it all gets warped out because ateru does not have impact. It also doesn't penetrate. It crushes but there is no impulse energy.

Kaoru was heard to mention relax your legs. In fact at anytime we do anything, our body parts should be able to move. Hmm, funny because during our weapons awase, the stances were too wide. Though, the feeling was relaxed. I guess its ok to have long stances if we are not dead weight but poised/as in connected with musubi.

Sensei's parting advise is to teach everyone extension and center. I told him we will practise aiki with the regulars. Otherwise, we'll fall behind everyone in Jakarta.

Something else I need to remember is, we can enter someones space. In fact when we did a tachi version of the jo awase/disarming, it is very penetrative. The feeling is uke gets cramped down. Also note the tachi waza here is more powerful then the jo version. Nage's circle is smaller. This is also harder to do but the key point here is awase must be 0 energy.

I can't remember anything else for now, I'll add it later.

Arigato gozaimus.

Ah, a final wisdom...
What is an apple? A red skin? A yellow flesh? A sweet taste? A nutrious food? A seed...

Saturday, July 11, 2009

The Principles of Aikido and Aiki

Whew, the weeklong training with Hakim sensei is coming to an end. Although it has been a hectic week with too many late nights for my liking, the learning has been non stop.

The best thing of it all is that, every practice has been rejuvenating. Its unlike training with some aikido classes, where students ache with pain and injury and training is more often than not a cumbersome exercise filled with disheartening moments.

The practice is not easy. Though physically it is not as demanding as normal classes since Hakim sensei is fond of lecturing about Aikido as much as he is of physically doing 'aikido'. After all, the key here is that Aikido is spiritual in nature. The fundamental aspect that makes it different to other arts, is the spirit and heart that is required to practice aikido with.

Anyway, before I forget everything I've learned so far let me just jot some key points here for everyone's sake.

Principles of Aikido
1. Keep Center
2. Relax
3. Extend Ki
4. Intention

Followed by the Stages
1. Aiki no Kokoro (heart of aiki)
2. Aiki no Genri (principles of aiki)
3. Aiki no Waza (the techniques)
4. Aiki no chakray (the power)
5. Takemusu Aiki (all encompassing/complete aiki)

Characters of Aiki
1. Entering ki
2. Downwards ki - disolve
3. Inviting ki
4. Absorp ki
5. Pulling ki
6. Ateru
7. Enveloping ki/control the mind

No mind
Not thinking about the unnecessary

Immovable spirit
acceptance, surrender

Other training elements
Taking the opponents line. Using inviting aiki, we flow with the line but do not avoid it.

Cut, cut and cut both as nage and uke to maintain weapons
Although we cut, we must find the path to cut and not cut blindly

Extend opponents ki. Up, Down and fingers.
Whilst we extend our ki, make sure we do not just physically extend. There is extension in the mind and the hands are relaxed. We can do physical extension in certain circumstances, but at times we need to make our hands 0 but still extend in the center.

Awase, Musubi and Kino nagare
Maintain chushin. Saeka tanden, kokoro tanden, jo tanden.

Musubi - standing to standing.
Feel opponents center and manipulate it.

Shihonage - ashi sabaki, center down, hand lightly touch above, center move together.
Irimi - 3 styles. Head sweep in. Chushin rotating arm. Ashi sabaki irimi control hand body and throat.
Kuzushi kosadori. Center close. Down. Draw the sword out.

Musubi - point in hand move.
Moritodori - center close and turn point.

awase ryotedori. Cut horizontal.
Kotegaishi - finger ki direction. Grab is touching with fingers.

I think I'm too sleepy to make more sense then this.

Friday, July 3, 2009

Weeklong training with Hakim Sensei

My teacher from Jakarta is here in KL for a little more than a week. Last night we had our first class and from Sunday onwards we will have a week long practice everyday.

Sometimes, all our life we will be learning from a teacher who gets paid to do his/her work. Some of them might be teachers you like and some would be the ones you dislike. But rarely do you find a teacher who teaches you in order to learn.

In Aikido, a teacher teaches not just because he has something to learn, but he teaches so that he too learns as well. But finding a teacher such as that is difficult. Also finding a teacher who understands that very important aspect, AND also has some very good fundamentals to teach is monumentally more difficult. I am blessed to have found Hakim sensei who is what I consider my true Aikido teacher.

Having said that, anyone here will think I have now shown disrespect to my previous teachers Sensei Kolesnikov, John, Sara and Marcus; and all those Shihans and sensei's who have I have spent considerable time with Yamada, Ariffin, Harry and so on. They have all thought me something and that is undeniable. Yet, they have not fulfilled the role of being a teacher to me. That they have taught me much including ettiquette and fundamental aikido skills is important. Yet a teacher must also teach spirit and he must do that not by just lecturing but also doing.

That is why it is important to practice with a teacher. Because mere words alone do not translate well into the page of Aikido. Most physical arts require physical instruction. Aikido goes beyond physical instruction and requires mental and spirit unification. Imagine how much harder one has to practice in order to attain this.

Seeing Hakim sensei's aikido is testament to his abilities. At his young age, one is surprised to see how well he grasps the knowledge of Aiki. But he himself was in a similar state of any aikidoka out there not too long ago. He had been taught by several senseis and have reasoned that his skills were if not the best, certainly respectable. Until he found himself unable to execute his techniques on a certain individual. Realising that he has found a weakness in his art or himself, he sought a teacher. That teacher told him that his techniques are already good but his heart is not good enough. Finally the teacher agreed to teach him if Aikido until he requires no techniques anymore.

And because of that failure, Hakim sensei has finally found his path and the knowledge that he craved for. Certainly that knowledge is something that I too crave for and I believe any aikidoka out there would want that even if they do not know it themselves. Otherwise, why are we learning Aikido?