Saturday, September 26, 2009

Saturday Training Notes

We didn't do much variation today. It was all about practising what we've been doing in the past.

Gyaku hanmi Ikkyo

Nage extends ki into Uke's center. Neither pushing or pulling. Go into Tenkan.
Doing tenkan using center to move not the legs or body to initiate.

On tenkan, now using center, move Uke's center forward.
As he moves forward drop down using the feeling from our Aiki Taiso practice. Bring up the hands and extend
Ki to uproot Uke. Do not focus on releasing the hand but just keep the connection. Don't push Uke's hands up but just extend through the mind.

When dropping the hand initially, it is a feeling of letting go and leading at the same time, but not pulling Uke's hands. Then like a wave, you bounce up as Uke gives a resistance as a reaction to the drop.

Now at the top position, we did 2 exercises. One feel for resistance and bounce Uke's power down and down. The 2nd, initiate the upwards motion into his center and bounce down from that. To test, initially use force to bring uke down. Familiarise with the feeling of uke's resistance. As you bounce the power up and down, the leading hand serves as an outlet for dissipating uke's energy.

After doing this to practice Chushin, leading, dropping and extending ki. We did the familiar technical ikkyo.

Change feet position to ai hanmi but off center. We are facing uke but uke is now offline. When we shifted to the side, our hands did not move. Give no indication to uke. Now the cut is very fine. We do not cross uke's hands but cutting just to his side profile. Although physically we are cutting the side profile, our intention is still cutting Uke's center. The cut starts with extension of ki into Uke and then cutting in back to you.

As uke drops or his knee collapses, we cut upwards and forwards. Our top hand rotates uke's arms downwards, our bottom hand rotates power into the arms. Its either an elbow or shoulder break. Feel the resistance on uke and compare the feeling with our first technique.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Knowing, Understanding and Forgetting...

There is no secret in Aikido.

Really. If you think that all those magical aiki thing that Sensei's all over are doing is a secret than you are probably setting up yourself for a big disappointment. The truth is, everything we need to know about doing those 'Aiki' things is right there at the beginning. At least that's what they told me... :P

No seriously. Its taken me a long time to grasp an idea of what Irimi means. So all this things said like Kokyunage is a 10 year technique, Ikyyo is a 20 year technique, I don't really know what to make out of it. Its not like grade school. You graduate after 6 years and are expected to know how to speak and write, a little bit of history, some maths and sciences and occassionally paint a picture without making it look like an accident. But giving a time stamp on an Aikido technique or principle is basically saying that maturity of the mind requires 10 years of living. Not exactly precise isn't it what with Shane proving that no matter how many years you live, he'll still be a kid.

Here's the thing. Aikido is not something you can learn. Its not something that can be taught. Its something that you have to experience/live through. You can learn and teach Aikido 'techniques' yes that's true. And you can spout its principles until your mouth runs dry, true as well. You can describe all sorts of things, yet it is not Aikido until you experience it. Hence, for us we must already have this in our minds.

Why do I do this? Well, simply said... no one did it for me. It took me sometime to get that understanding and only because of help from teachers who came when they did. For all I know, in their absence I might have just continued in my ignorance for years to come or I might have come to an understanding all on my own. Regardless, I try to put it out in the open so that you have a choice that you can make. To understand ahead of time, or to go through the paces and hope understanding comes.

The only caveat here is that, now that the carrot is out in the open you still have to catch it. Meaning, I may have said something out loud. It doesn't mean its true until you have experience it. And that my friends will take however much time it takes.

Same thing with Aiki. Its there in the beginning. For some teachers, they want you to follow by rote what they do because that's what they have learned. Sometimes they have intuitive understanding but can't teach it, sometimes they have no understanding but ride along with it. Still there are some that know the theory and are unable to achieve it. Whatever the case may be, first we must know the basic underlying principles of what works and how its suppose to work. The how here is, Aikido employs natural forces. It seeks harmony thus it is 'Alive'. You have to practice Aikido like you wield a dual edged sword. To cut your opponent forcefully, you will cut yourself more. Only by moving with your center and uke's center with it, you will cut neither yourself nor him. You cut away conflict not each other.

The why is Aikido is about peaceful resolution. Not about self defence or destruction, but peaceful resolution. To achieve this in your Aikido class you must keep this in your mental state at all times. If we train to paint with watercolours, we do not use crayons or worse a typewriter. So if you wish to train for a peaceful resolution, you don't train to crank someone or throw them around. It helps to understand fighting because it gives you insight, but it doesn't require a knowledge of fighting. Many people will argue against this. I have said before that Aikido is martial. But there are many levels of martial. The highest level is winning without defeating. How can that be achieved if our only way of winning is through fighting?

How does knowing all this help you in your Aikido techniques? Well, it won't help with the form one bit. But it will form your core. Practising the outer form is necessary and to all intents and purpose it can start from hard to soft or vice versa. As long as your core spirit is true than it doesn't really matter. What that means is, you can practice Yoshinkan style, Iwama style, Yamaguichi's style, Endo's style, Takeda's style, Nishio's style, Aikikai hombu's style, Sensei Hakim's style... and in the end, the outer form is just that. Your dress. You and your spirit have to firmly, joyously, wholeheartedly embrace the Aikido way before you achieve true Aiki.

Achieving this state means you will realise your true self. Funnily enough, it took Silat to open my eyes about spirit and intent. It also showed my maai and entering. All those principles in Aikido, and after 10 years I had to see it through a different lens. Even so, Silat has a different principle overriding it. At least in the form. Though its meaning itself is peace (silaturahim), its nature of conflict resolution leaves something to be desired at least for me. That is why time and time again, I get drawn back to Aikido. At my level, Silat will definitely hurt the attacker. That is why they forbid you to use it unless necessary. But this is meaningless in the achievement of peace if you cannot use it without hurting people. I know intuitively that they can do better but having had no opportunity to see such a master at work, I cannot carry this art as my primary way. Since I have since the possibility in Aikido, I have adopted it as my path for now.

So once you have all this knowing and understanding, does that mean your journey is over? Happily enough its not over. Why do see Osensei's Aikido change so much over the years. Do we believe that in his old age, his Uke's don't really have a high opinion of him thus they give him chance when attacking? Contrary to that, by all accounts his power grew as he aged and they really did attack him to their best ability. His outer form has gone soft, but his core is stronger. When you attack yourself, you will lose. Such is Osensei's ability to be one with you that attacking him ensures you have lost before anything has happened.

So if we understood chushin and can now control uke's center we now need to forget it and look for musubi at Tai atari. After achieving musubi and being able to control uke in the flesh, we need to forget it and learn ki-musubi and kokoro-musubi. Connecting at that spiritual level, we now need to forget it and just be One again.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Friday and Saturday training Digest

On Friday we worked on tai and ashi sabaki. This time around, Uke follows up with a 2nd or third attack after the initial contact (katate, shomen etc). Generally we are training irimi the entire time.

The big point here is how Irimi is done. We are trying to show that Irimi is not about moving forward. It can be an inch, or more or even less but Irimi is entering. The entering is done using the whole body. Today we were looking at Gyaku irimi to the outside and Aihanmi irimi to the inside. In both, nage's closest feet will have his big toe as the focus point and directed towards Uke's chushin. The movement inside and outside as mentioned before is minute, maybe 2-3 inches to begin with and we gradually whittle it down to as little as possible.

For the hands we remind ourselves not to stop the power but to receive it. The hands are actually doing atemi so is the mind. Its hard to grasp this idea of receiving power from Uke like its a gift to us and also thinking about atemi as a strike. So don't think atemi as a strike, instead think atemi as our gift to uke as well. But give it to his mind. Its almost like an imposition but not to that extent. Work on his eyes as a door to the mind but not to fixed our intent there. Much like a punch has to go through an object to achieve power, otherwise if we keep our mind at the target, the punch's power will dissipate there.

The second thing we trained on is vibration and amplitude. In the ikkyo position we have nage forcefully push uke down and then we compare it by bouncing him. Using his rebound at the peak to bounce him into a bigger amplitude until he caves quite naturally. This is a very crude way to train but its a start.

We try to apply this feeling now as uke comes to grab us again and again. Then we tried a simple experiment of 0 power. Uke grabs nage's wrist. Nage tries to wrench it away. Now nage puts 0 power into that hand and using his other hand slaps his hand away from uke. Applying ateru if possible, if not possible using the feeling of bounce. It should be very easy to release the hand this way. We remind ourselves that the Kobjutsu school emphasises movement without tension. While we have never been trained that way, we must try to move without tension. A simple lesson that sensei has taught is in the aihanmi katatetori. We move our center to the hand and not the hand itself because we don't want uke to feel the tension. However for beginners, this application is not martial. Just training of moving uke's center.

In order to help train the martial aspect we then have uke grab strongly. First we feel moving uke using force from the hands. Then we feel moving uke using our body weight dropping. Now we try to keep tension out of the hands, and extend a connection into uke. Now we try to drop out weight into Uke directly. Using the hands as a bridge. The with this exaggerated movement, we try to capture its feeling and put it into Uke each time he grabs aihanmi. As he grabs, we pour forth that feeling and then we irimi as our center closes in to our hands (like sensei's movement). By doing that action at the grab, we enhance the martial value of our training. This is because we have enacted kuzushi on uke before bringing our center close. Otherwise, we'll be moving into uke's strike.

On Saturday we practiced irimi again. Using ryotedori as our primary exercise. We didn't do a technique just a simple stretch. The emphasis is again we do not extend our hands to be grabbed. In ryotedori we want to feel that our hand atemi's uke but we allow this to be grabbed. As uke grabs, we irimi outside and bring our hands down. Here hands are not pulling. Its more like a natural drop without tension. Done right uke will lose balance. Done wrong he will feel a pull and resist. There is an element of timing here as well. In the initial contact our atemi has intruded his mind thus when he grabbed the hand it is at his disadvantage. When bring out hands down we are also doing it together with our irimi movement. Thus whilst we don't have tension in our hand, we do have power because of the unity in our movement. Now as uke has lost balance we move again and offer our other hand. In reality this is an atemi. If uke doesn't grab the hand, he will get an elbow to the face. So uke grabs hard to prevent this from happening.

Here we remain static for awhile to practice a couple of things. First we do it with force. Next we bring our hands to the center just like the our aiki exercise at the start. Our hands are rounded and relaxed with ki extended. We then make a circle with our hands to that the tip of our fingers touches a foot away from our forehead. We don't carry uke's hands we just make the circle. Be careful about how uke's grips are affected. The focus is leading. Thus if we make it awkward for uke to hold on, we'll be pulling him instead. Uke must feel a natural grasp throughout.

Then we pivot one hand up and one down. We must keep connection with uke here. Any pushing and pulling will mean that uke will let go. Once we have him facing out and we are positioned behind him, we keep our fingers pointing towards him and extended. Then we step back and invite him down. Done right uke will have no choice but to fall down. This is hard to do. Its also a great exercise to with complete beginners. They don't have the conditioned mind of not letting go. Thus you can get an honest feedback when a complete beginner doesn't let go of his hands when you invite him to fall.

We redid our acceptance of strikes. This time we used a tanto. We show that if try to move the tanto with our hands, we get cut. If we stop the hand, we get punched or kick. Thus we learn to accept the knife as a gift and inspect it and return it to uke. This lesson is not about knife fighting. Its about learning to accept a weapon as a gift and not be scared doing that. We do not shy away from a handshake. Nor do we stand there waiting for the hand shake to happen. We move into the hand shake. Its a mutual greeting. Thus we want to cultivate this feeling of mutual gifting and acceptance in our minds.