Friday, November 20, 2009

Some thoughts on training and harmony...

Well, I was watching my videos of Systema today and there was Vlad explaining about how some arts or sports destroy your body. Sure when you are younger, you try to go faster and hit harder, take high falls and that sort of thing. He was explaining it in a progression kind of way. When two people go head to head, the stronger or the faster wins, but then someone then starts to use techniques and then the person with the best technique or the most number of techniques and counters wins. But as you get older and wiser, you sort of start using less and less of strength, speed and techniques, and more intuition and feeling.

Part of how systema trains its practitioners is to strengthen their joints and ligaments instead of muscle. We all know how bodybuilders build their mass. Heavy lifting destroy muscle tissue and when they rest and eat nutrients, the muscle builds up again bigger. In Systema they train instead by breathing and conditioning the body. Conditioning through slow pace dynamic isolation exercises as well as partner pairing where the other person uses touch, push and punches to various areas. The core of breathing also comes with the caveat that the body must relax completely. Sometimes we relax on one area, but inadvertently we are tensed in others. For the advance Systema practitioner, they even have multiple layers of relaxation. From muscle fascia, muscles, joints and even the bone and skeleton.

Now, look at how some of this philosophy and method correlates with how we train in Aikido. Natural movement, intuition & feeling, breathing, relaxation... all this are principles that we too adhere to. And look at the statement, as we get wiser we use less and less... ultimately, that is what we think about when we're thinking about the big circles becoming smaller and smaller until it reaches a point and then it becomes nothing and everything. The basic mechanics of that have been explained somewhat in a book entitled Small Circle Jujitsu by Wally. In fact, this idea is also dominant in Tai Chi and many other chinese arts. Just so we don't jump to the conclusion that everything is about the same thing, let me put caveats on that statement. In the most basic of sense, all the arts are probably looking at the same thing. Of course, as I understand it, the Aikido's perspective is slightly different at the endgame to the others. They too are different from each other.

Let us also look at the statement where you destroy your body or your opponents. This is a statement which intrigued me greatly about Systema several years back when I first heard of it. Sensei Hakim too said, that in practice we should improve our health, physical or mental, not destroy it. If we train and get injured a lot, something is wrong somewhere. This is not empty talk indeed, when I've seen some of his students who first came in using canes or who had psychological disorders and are now in much better condition after a few years of training under them. True martial arts or the spirit of true Aikido is about life not death.

Ok so having said that, and just for the fun of confusing you, Budo is about accepting death. Can I have just contradict myself? If you look at it deeply, training in Aikido implores that you seek life and rejuvenation. We get this because we train hard our body, mind and spirit. Most other activities only train one aspect. Say in sports we train the body, in our university lectures or discourse we train the mind and when we meditate or pray we train the spirit. But here we have an amalgamation of sorts. We train all. That is where the rejuvenation aspect comes to play. However once we have develop all these aspects in ourselves, we are more able to understand the true spirit of Budo. Budo is duty. Budo is about acceptance. That acceptance encompasses the ability to embrace death when it comes.

If we truly have achieved this level of acceptance, this is when we can say we have achieved some knowledge of harmony. Because within harmony resides a balance. With life there is death. If we only seek life, then there is no harmony. Harmony is only ever attained when we embrace life and we embrace death.

To the less spirited reader, when we talk about life and death, it is but an aspect of a whole. Certainly there other things to be said about harmony and such. We talk about life and death because to human beings, that is ultimately what we care most about. Not money, not fame, not power. When it comes to crux of it, human beings crave life and we shun death.

Lastly, the things I've said here is a philosophical aspect that we should try to understand based on our awareness and experience. Aiki in itself does not hold to any philosophical boundary. Aiki is natural. It is a way, a natural way. Once we learn to move the natural way, we can defeat the opponent because we understand him completely, more than he does himself. But we should know that Aiki is not the one all we're trying to get here. By committing to the learning of Aikido, we have to also accept that we need to train the heart. The philosophy of the heart is what differentiates Aikido from Aikijutsu.

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