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.

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