Saturday, August 29, 2009


Now we've basically heard Sensei mentioning surrender many many times during his lectures. However, I think most of us probably have no clue what surrender actually means. Since the meaning is deep and I probably don't understand half of it lets begin with acceptance instead.

On Friday we trained a few move sets to begin to understand the concept of acceptance. We started with a bokken. Holding the bokken with our fingers, we accept its weight. We don't only accept the weight on our hands but we accept it willingly with our center. We have now made the bokken 'ours'.

By loosely shaking our center we begin to move the bokken. We don't shake the bokken with our hands per se although it would look like it. Think about it for a moment. We've made the bokken 'ours'. Its part of the body now. So move our center to move the bokken. We start with shaking it up and down because this movement is very subtle and 'unforced'. Then we try to translate that feeling still further by doing shomen cuts. Then so that we don't get tie the feeling too much to just shomen movement, we do some diagonal cuts upwards with movement. Then we do a full barai and cut. All the while, we are trying to move with center and make it a very natural.

Next we practiced tenchi nage. Now instead of doing what we do typically i.e. Doing tenchi nage on someone, we instead try to learn to receive the tenchi nage instead. Doing tenchi nage the 'normal' way we will be using principles of motion and leverage to achieve kuzushi. So uke's leading leg will be where we will bring his weight down. This acts to make his leading leg heavy and move his balance to where there's a missing brace i.e. the space behind his leg. The other hand we bring upwards thus now with two different directions, uke's balance and power is splayed apart. But even though we can do this efficiently or quickly or powerfully, it doesn't detract from the fact that we are forcing this tenchi nage on uke.

For it to be natural for uke, we want to receive his power and connect with it making it ours. We now raise a hand and rotate it with our center, it can be either hand irrespective of uke's hanmi. Our hands and uke's hands are aligned so that it is very comfortable for him to hold on to you. The other hand mirrors our top hand but is centered below our navel. again it is alligned with uke's but instead of tip to tip like our top hand, it is joined in one direction (like a tenkan hand).

Now through the top hand we 'enter' uke's center, and the bottom hand cut's uke's center. Both power spirals in the same direction. Not linearly but in a circular fashion. In each case we are reminded not to collapse the hand or move uke's hands away from us. All we're doing is to keep extension and connection with uke. The movement is powered by our center and not our limbs. In this manner, uke drops gracefully to the ground making it seem to be effortless.

On Friday we stopped at that level and began to explore irimi nage the three different methods practiced by sensei. In each case irimi becomes much more than an entry movement that is purely physical.

In the first method, we are joining uke's shomen upwards. As we enter into uke, the force of his hands is joined by ours going up. But the power doesn't end there instead it has the feel of an arc that will come back down upon Uke. Only thing is, nage shouldn't force this into uke, intead allow gravity to make its point. The first method is useful to train this mentality of accepting a strike instead of stopping it or just redirecting it. If we try to push uke's force upwards, this force will come down on us heavily. Just as true, if uke were to punch instead of giving us a shomen to work with. If we try to push the punch upwards, we are likely to get hit instead. The idea of accepting the force and going up together requires us to scrape our reflex to move people and instead learn to move with them.

In the 2nd method, we now rotate our center much like we did with tenchi nage. Now instead of going into uke. We stay our ground. But we rotate our center and our hand together. Meeting uke's strike as it comes to hit us and letting it pass us. We do not pull, push or collapse our hands. Just extend, connect and rotate. Uke will lose his balance past us.

In the 3rd method which I describe as the hardest we actually have to do a side irimi movement. Irimi does not necessarily mean movement forward. Sometimes, a side movement allows us to enter better thant a forward movement. Thus we do a side movement (the same side that is attacking us.) we enter and cut. So it will look like a typical ashi sabaki movement, nage facing uke in a diagonal position, uke is looking past nage in a straight line. But again, the entry is through a non physical connection and must occur before the strike is concluded. Only then are we able to be 'one' with uke but fully in control. If we advance to the side and cut uke's shomen, the position is a stalemate. Even though we are facing him and he is not, and even though our hands are above his, uke can keep attacking because we are still two seperate units. All he needs to do is adjust his positioning. This is why the third method is the hardest. Because it is very easy to do it only physically and its also hardest to get a connection because unlike the first two methods where we can adjust the connection as we physically meet each other, the 3rd one requires us to connect with uke beforce contact is made.

On Saturday we explored further the idea of acceptance. By receiving an attack like it is a gift for us. Instead of stopping it forcefully or avoiding it, we learn that when we receive a gift from uke, it is ours to do with as we wish. Thus we see how different it is to move uke when we take his hand as a gift instead of pulling or pushing it as we will. This concept is easiest to grasp when we keep calm and not think about reacting. Instead to be have as if it is a normal occurance for people to punch you when they see you. Its perfectly a fine way to greet somone and we have to honestly believe that. Then we must welcome him with a hug or a handshake and with that feeling we will be able to understand acceptance.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Walk before you run

Too often we forget to take those baby steps. A decade long research conducted in joint venture with a BBC production traces the life of a group of babies from the pregnancy stage till childhood. These types of research is not new in the West. Previously, a study was conducted that traced High IQ kids right through their lives to try and make sense of how IQ is related to success in life (they aren't, at least not all of it). One such research comes to mind. In this particular research, they found a group of adults who have painful social skills, or minor disorders especially when it comes to confidence and inferiority complex. They discovered that it was somewhat related to the fact that these adults had never really learned to walk the way other toddlers walked. In fact they mostly skipped the crawling and falling down stage. Instead, they were advanced through the process by using walking aids.

As a result, these toddlers gained muscle and strength on their legs faster and walked earlier than the 'natural process' kids. But researchers later found out, that because these toddlers didn't go through the process of crawling, standing up and falling down they have this fear of failing and also the inability of picking themselves up from disappointment. Apparently, this physical development conforms the child's psychological development as well.

Long story short, the researchers had the adults relieve this part of growing up again. Lo and behold, they had a high percentage of success to get the adults over their pschological illnesses.

Now... last night we took a step back. Last night instead of training the basics of aiki we got back to training our center and extension. The reason is simple. Everyone wants to do what Sensei does. Touch a person, and that person flip flops all over the place. Its cool, I'll get respect that way, or no one is going to touch me now! I'm thinking all those things too... but remember this. Sensei isn't about teaching magic tricks. And aiki tricks is not going to really help you except in demos with your friends and victims.

To learn a bit of aiki tricks, all you need is perseverance. You definitely won't get everything, but you'll get something. And that something maybe enough to convince you that things are going to plan. Unfortunately, that's not going to be the case. In everything there is a base and if your base is hollow, those walls are going to tumble down one day. Soon even.

So what are the basics? Well, the 4 principles of aikido which we have mentioned time and time again. But which we haven't really focused the training on. Yes, its true we have done it from time to time. Its just not enough to do it once a month. Because at the end of the day its like learning to move again. You didn't learn to walk in one day, it took you months. It started with the crawling, the standing up, the scooting, the falling and the the stumbling walks before you got to this walking around thingey.

The training we are doing now, to develop the center and extension is your brand of crawling and scooting. So make sure you do it every day. Otherwise, if you come to class each week and ask me how to feel center, I won't be able to help you. After all, no one taught you to walk but yourself.

So to recap the things we did:
1. Funakogi Undo - stand in hanmi. keep center and relax your body. Do not let your hands flip flop but have some feeling of extension in them. Move your center forward, to move your body and hands. Your body and hands are one unit. As you move your center back, your body and hand follows. Things to avoid are moving your hips, moving your bottoms, moving your hands independantly, stiffening your shoulders and other joints. Breath in and out naturally. You can time it to the movement.

Remember with Funakogi undo, the weight of your body sits on the balls of your feet or your big toes. But do not lift the heels. Just do not rest your weight there. Some people can try to derive power from the ground path. For now just link your center to your feet and move the center. Later you can try to generate power from the ground into the center into the hands and outwards. That will be the basis for you to do the 'wave' and also 'atemi'. Remember that the atemi showed was not a physical strike but it does penetrate uke.

2. Sayo undo. Hands to the side and the knees closest to the hands bent. The other leg is straight. Weight is evenly distributed and still on your toes or balls of the feet. Use your center to move side to side, not the legs or the hips. Your hands and body as one unit as you do the bending down. This is to get into your mind to not move your hands or tilt the body independantly. Instead, you are lowering your center down to move them down.

Remember how we used this to enter someone trying to knee us. Or to move freely and let the knees drive past us. This can only be done if you don't go up or down using your legs or body. Because uke is holding on to you and he can feel your body move that way. Using your center to move, your body moves as a unit and its harder for uke to react. It also makes it very light.

3. Tekubi Kosa Undo. Standing naturally feet shoulder length, arms loose and all parts of the body relaxed. Your body weight now extends into your fingers, you bring the hands to your center and out and in again side to side.

At any point, ask a partner to lift your hands up. If they can't and you're not exerting any power nor are you stiffening your shoulders, then you are doing it right. Remember the scooping pendelum motion used here.

4. Tekubi joho kosa undo. Same stance but this time the hands are swung in front of your face.

5. Ude furi undo. (actually this name is for another exercise that requires you to move, but its the same principle) Same stance. Now put one of your hands in front of you and the other one behind you. Using your center swing them around and back again. Hands are relaxed and extended but try to make sure its just loose for now. Shoulders do not move. Hips do not move. Don't sway your body. Initially you will be using the muscles around your navel to move your hands. When you get better, this physical aspect will diminish over time.

5. Ushiro Tekubi Tori Kotai Undo. Stand naturally, hands come up using center close to your body, palms down infront of you but the extension goes up. One leg steps back hands extend forward in line with your back (like bowing).

This trains your hand to move up with center and extension. It also shows you that you can extend forward even though you are moving backwards. Later this will give you an idea on how movement and extension can go different directions.

6. We also did the arm raising thing and letting gravity pull it down. Letting gravity do the work creates a weight on your hands which is natural and not derived from your muscles. This is the feeling you need to carry with you when we strike or handle uke. When you work with weapons, again you move the direction of the weapon but let gravity help with the strike.

The other exercises we did reinforces the basic exercises and principles we are training.

Aihanmi katatedori. We showed the difference of using muscle power and technique to achieve kuzushi as opposed to using gravity, extension (and unbendable arm) and center to move.

From there we practiced nikkyo. Again using strength and technique we showed that uke can resist or run away. Then we use relaxed but extended arms and center to center connection we bring down uke without pain and uke finds it difficult to move his hands away.

We then did gyaku hanmi nikkyo using the same ideas.

Then we did katedori tenkan. Using the geddan version where our fingers are pointed downwards and uke grabs the wrist from the top. Scooping our hands like we are in a river and we avoid blocking the scoop by doing irimi tenkan. The scooping is done to take the water but not the mud of the river so its very light. The shape is like a pendalum and not straight lines.

We then had uke unbalanced. And now we showed that even then, pulling and pushing just gives power back to uke. So we used our center to move in a big circle. Then we stop and then moved uke again this time we bring our hands down then up our heads then down in front of us again. Done right, the feeling uke is like a yo yo with springs. Very wave like. Uke's weight doesn't bother us and uke doesn't feel as if he's being pulled down and up.

That should mostly cover everything we did in class. Not everything, but enough so that you can work on the stuff that's important.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Small steps up the mountain...

I think we've all know that nothing is constant. Our knowledge that we subscribe to in books and manuals and stories, they change with time. Our history changes in time. Our understanding of something changes everytime we experience it anew, or when we receive an explanation of it from a different perspective.

The problem with defining something as something is that you are bound to redefine it later. So it is with this mindset we must approach our learning. Firstly, we learn with a clean mind. We learn the form. We learn Kihon. Basic.

By learning basic, we receive building blocks. The more basic we have the more building blocks we can use.

In order to use the building blocks, we now have to learn the principles of using it. Needless to say, balancing the blocks unevenly and we will unlikely create very tall structures. Thus the principles come to play when we start playing with the building blocks. Principles alone however, without the building blocks is essentially writing music on the score sheet without an instrument to play it. Theoretically it may be music, it looks like music, but you don't hear anything yet.

So kihon and genri are very closely related. Between the two, you are more than likely be able to produce a rudimentary form of Aikido. With Kihon and Genri, we try to define it in a certain way. This is so, anyone practicing Aikido can recognise others doing the same thing. They would also be able to respond or play together. If different people practice Kihon in different ways, getting on the mat would be terribly difficult.

Having understood Kihon and Genri, experienced practitioners will develop the power/potence/effectiveness. We reach this Aiki-chikara usually after a keen 2-3 years training on the mat. At this point in time, we should not only understand all the formal techniques available in the Aikido curriculum, we should be able to use them to the predefine attacks in a smooth and powerful manner. We also should by now, understand the basics of Center line, kuzushi, maai, extension, relaxation, spirals, irimi and tenkan. This level, we have come to grips of the bio-mechanical aspect of Aikido.

Now, imagine 2 cars. 2 Ferraris, same make same model. Put them on the track and tell me who will win the race? Think about the variables now. We can talk about different tyres, different engine oil, spark plugs, brake, fuel and all sorts of things that make cars go tick. Presumably, that if the cars were driven by the same person, the car with the best stuff in it would probably win the race. If they were different car models, we could easily point out that this car's engine has more torque thus produces more acceleration power, the other has more gears and can reach a higher top speed, this one has better suspension, thus can take better turns. All in all, we focus on the mechanical aspects and we feel we now know which car is the best.

Unfortunately, you inherited your body and its going to last you a lifetime. There's no changing this model. There is no upgrades for your engine. Sure you can fine tune it with exercise, diet, meditation, knowledge and experience... but in the end, your body is your limitation. Because physical things have limits.

Going back to the race car. Say the 2 equally similar cars competing with each other. Who would win if for example, Schumacher was driving one, and you the other. Most of us would probably say we won't stand a chance. Yet, the physical thing has not changed at all. Its the exact same car with the exact same engine. Theoretically we are even.

Yet intuitively we know that we won't be able to use the car like Schumacher could. We won't turn the way he does, brake the way he does or push the car like he does. Schumacher is like the spirit of the car. His spirit encompasses the physical aspect of the car. He brings with him the knowledge and experience, yes... but also he brings with him the intuitiveness and feeling. We can teach you the same thing Schumacher knows, and theoretically you'll be just as good as him. Yet you lack the thousands of hours he had racing, of all the experiences he had winning and losing, of feeling the tracks, of understanding the car from the sound, vibrations and etc. Schumacher will win, because he can feel the car better than you do.

So, the question is how do we attain that level of feeling? Is it gauged by the number of years you train? Certainly, hours training will help. Experience counts for a lot. As long as the training is honest, bit by bit you will learn what works and what doesn't. Again, you can use the building blocks and principles to experiment with what works and what doesn't. If that is so however, you will see everyone racing as long as Schumacher has be as good as him. You will see countless of Michael Jordans, and Tiger Woods. Yet, these people are few and far in between. They are the notables...

The reason why I wanted to point this out is simple. Whenever we feel disheartened that we can't do something as well as another person. Remember that we have to go through a process. And even if we do go through the entire process, sometimes others will attain excellance before you do. Do not question your ability just yet. You may not be able to perform as well as the star, but you too have skills which others lack. So the question is not How do I get as good as him... but should be Am I doing everything I can?

Monday, August 10, 2009

Attention Intention!!

Last week we were working on developing further our awase skills. I started out with aiki ken where Uke is in Jo-dan. Nage gets as close as he can to uke without alarming him. Uke's intent is to strike nage when he crosses a certain threshold. Nage however must feel that threshold and stop before it.

At that point, nage proceeds to draw his bokken and strike horizontally across uke'e eyes. In that instant, if done with proper extension and feeling, uke has to step back to avoid the strike. Being unable to strike first. The moving of nage requires whole body movement to achieve this.

Uke then strikes down, nage responds with awase and strike back.

Using this as a starting point we proceeded to tachi waza beginning with Nikkyo. Here nage offers the hand. But just offering the hand is not enough. The intention to offer the hand corresponds to nage's earlier cutting of uke's eyes. The hand being offered is an atemi of the mind. As uke grabs, nage awase upwards instead of waiting for the grab. Done right, uke's hands latches on but does not have any control over nage, instead nage now use chushin to control uke's center. Nikkyo is done one handed, by cutting uke's center with nage's center. There will be no pain, uke is unbalanced.

Partners are also asked to do common place variations like blocking and parrying and using two hand nikkyo in order to feel the difference. Most notably, they are asked to compare with just offering the hand as opposed to using the hand as an atemi.

The lesson here is our intention begins our connection to uke. Uke's intention to attack begins his connection to us. By making our intention valid in our minds, we no longer respond to uke's attack but we preempt it. We are joined with him when he begins his attack. But the difficulty is to maintain intent without inherent agressiveness or posturing. The intent stops at the connection level but does not go to the physical level as yet. As uke comes, awase comes naturally as a result of the intent being there. Without intent, nage as fast as he is, awase will feel awkward or clashy.

As a result of good awase, nage now finds himself with positional dominance and chushin can be applied appropriately. Now by focusing on that connection, cutting uke's center is easier. If we relied on the physical connection, cutting is an exercise of strength and mechanics.