Friday, January 29, 2010

Beginner's Class Last Weekend

I was able to concentrate the entire class for our newest beginner last weekend and I think it helped a bit with the flow of the training. We started off with basic ki exercises and tests and an explanation of the importance of the 4 principles of Aikido. Namely, keeping center, relaxed posture, ki extension and feeling ki. (Although we don't practice weight underside, I mentioned that as well).

Afterwards, we practiced ukemi. The seated form starts from seiza. From this position we did both mae and ushiro ukemi. For mae, one leg goes to the front with the knees at about 90 degrees. The back feet shifts inwards slightly and is on the toes. Balanced is centered. The opposite hand to the front leg is placed parallel to the feet. The other hand lightly touches the ground in front of that hand but with the fingers pointed inwards.

Chin is tucked in lightly on the open side of the body. Raise the back leg and roll over the shoulder of the front hand. The hand is kept bent slightly and does not take any weight. If support is required, the back hand is used. Put the shoulder close to the ground and push off the back leg. Keep the hand position relative to the body and you should end up kneeling in the same position.

With Ushiro ukemi, you are basically reversing the roll. From the same position, this time rock forwards and then rock back. Still tucking the chin and keeping the hand in the same position. This time however, the rear feet tuck the toes flat as you push off from the front feet and both hands.

After ukemi, we practised hand grabbing gyaku hanmi. Our stance is natural. The legs are placed naturally as if we are taking a step forward, but because its hanmi, we have a slight exaggeration in terms of the body angle to the side. Even so, our centerline is focused straight forwards. Our feet matches uke's positioning. If not, one of us is open to attacks. As uke grabs, uke takes over dominance in terms of positioning. Uke control's nage's center. Nage now responds by shifting to the side to regain dominance of Chushin. Uke's chushin is now off center, whilst Nage's chushin is focused on uke. From here, execute tenkan without pulling or pushing down. Lightly, using the natural pendulum movement of uke's arm.

Next we did sayo nage from the same attack. Again the emphasis here is not to chop uke's neck, but to bring his natural pendulum upwards inline with his centerline/chushin. Now drop your center (not your hands), and compact it to uke's center. From there move your center and feet forwards (behind uke at an angle) and extend out with the hands. Uke's feeling for this is his legs are trapped and when you move forwards and out, falling will be a natural movement.

Next we did an Aihanmi wrist grab. Same kihon exercise which is mentioned in an earlier post. The emphasis for the beginner was to feel how different angles of hand movement means differing resistance from uke.

Last we finished with Sorewaza kyokuho. Here the emphasis was on the form. Expand the hand being grab, rotate uke's hands out and extend hands forwards using center movement (not hand pushing forward). Rotate in as you do that to bring uke's elbows up. Extend outwards with both hands, rotate your chushin (use imagination/men). Here we want the beginner to feel how the exercise works when using strength and leverage. Struggling with the appendages alone means just that, struggling. But coordinated whole body movement makes the exercise easier. This will form the proper form to begin practice with. Later, we will incorporate awase and musubi elements.

Lastly we had a short discussion on Zanshin. Awareness in class and outside. How good warriors are aware of what is dangerous and what only seems dangerous. How smart warriors create situations that favour them and disfavours the opponent. Recognising an opponents strength and eliminating that from the equation.

Mostly, we want someone joining our school to recognise our methodology. We start with...
i. Aiki no kokoro - Heart or spirit of aiki.
ii. Aiki no genri - Principles of aiki
iii. Aiki no waza - Techniques of aiki
iv. Aiki no chikara - Power of aiki
v. Takemusu aiki - Absolute aiki

Although usually, Aiki no kokoro is placed 4th, I believe its more honest to put it at the front. Although we will not fully understand it as a first level, we need to start our journey with the right intention or spirit. Taking up Aikido is a choice you made. Sometimes its a choice of logic (you want to use Aikido because it claims the ability to use the opponent's strength against them, and it doesn't advocate the use of overpowering strikes to disable the opponent). However, Aikido is best served when one's heart shares its deepest meaning. To be at peace. A heart desiring peace, deserves an art of peace.

Learning the principles before techniques is of course logical. One should practice the internal aspect of Aikido and utilise it within the techniques available. That means, even if you have mastered one technique, that technique will be adequate because of the pairing with the internal aspect. This pairing equates to the power of aiki. However, if you have many techniques under your belt, but no understanding of the principles, then more often than not you will be defeated by power, strength, speed and technical prowess.

Lastly, Absolute Aiki... the surrender of the body and mind, is an understanding that the knowledge of Aiki comes from a divine source. Though it has been given to men, who have seek it, we must acknowledge that it is a gift. Osensei has often said this of Aikido, yet it remains incomprehensible to most because we are to take it on faith. Part of the problem is that we see Aikido as a physical manifestation. We also can't see or describe fully the non-physical manifestation. Mankind as a whole do not take kindly to things which they can't see or describe. Yet, Aiki is generally something you cannot physically see.

Takemusu Aiki is also the ability to manifest Aiki without form. Is transcends the Jujitsu-like forms of Aikido, and the limitations of Awase, kuzushi and maai. Takemusu is not learned or taught, but achieved through enlightenment.

If this is beginning to sound like voodoo 101, then I apologise. I myself am only beginning the journey towards understanding but at this point in time, this is what I believe to be true. On the whole, we do not have to understand everything now. We just need to know about it for now and we can forget about it and just concentrate on our daily training and life.

Finally, this aspect of learning is important. We learn through our sight and our hearing. But we must also learn from feeling. That is why becoming a good uke is important. A good uke will understand correct movement first because he has good intention. The intention to attack nage. To become a good nage, he must learn to feel that intention. Because only by understanding intent, can nage move correctly.

Friday, January 15, 2010


Its interesting to see a martial art so engrossed with the preservation of life simply so permeated with acts of violence. There is nothing passive about Aikido. Even in doing nothing, our minds and body and spirit must be united and ready. In that readiness is not the body reacting to an initiator, instead that readiness compels us to act upon an instigator. Whilst the difference appear subtle, in reality it is not. The former suggests that when confronted by a punch, we avoid or block the punch. In the latter, when confronted by a punch, we cut.

Cutting seems more at home with arts like Kendo and Kali than Aikido at first glance. Aikido after all primarily uses unarmed techniques usually ending up in throws or pins. So where comes the cut?

There are many aspects of cutting in Aikido. The varying degrees of cutting comes from the state of mind as well. The more aggressive Aikidoka uses cutting as a form of Focused Power, attacking the core of the opponent. The intent is to cut opponents centerline when they commence an attack. The cut completely arrests the opponents attack by stopping its power source. Yesterday we practice this a bit.

Most times when we encounter an attack our mind gets caught up with the attack itself. When it is a knife especially, more of our being becomes tied to that dangerous weapon. Even an innocuous grab to hand makes us tense up in the according hand, usually with the instinctive reaction to pull away. What we try to train nage to do now is to disregard the physical aspect of the attack but to react on the intent instead. Thus, we run drills on uke hiding his weapon and randomly taking it to attack nage. Nage only responds to attacks not feints. Then we take a step further where we have uke hitting nage at close range. Nage's response is not to block the hand but to attack uke's core directly before being hit himself.

On casual introspection, it seems unlikely that Nage can react faster than Uke, if Uke is the one to attack first. But seemingly not. Nage cuts uke using the principle of irimi whilst uke is just attacking nage as is. When we start practice, both uke and Nage are in seiza. Irimi here is entering not moving. So this practices the mind and intent, rather than the formal tai sabaki.

In any case, the other levels of cutting relates to the Aikidoka's state of being. As I mentioned, an aggressive Aikidoka will generally use the cutting of chushin more times than anything else. Just as they would use Ateru more often than not. But the softer you get, the more your cut permeates the mind of uke. Ashi awase is an aspect of this. You cut the opponents movement by mind and intent alone. A good example of this is Kenji Ushiro, and
You have to study the video a good number of times to see what I'm aiming at. His is the ability of using Aiki. But he employs Aiki to cut the opponent off his power and then proceed to attack him. So even as you step to attack him, he has cut you first before he hits you. Nor is this the reaction of someone who's trying to avoid his powerful strikes which no doubt they are. In essence, to their mind they have already been cut. That is why they stop.

Nor does it end there. You also see him cut people who are strongly attached to him or holding on to a jo. In this instance, the static attack precludes any sort of 'mental' attack in terms of timing or pre-emptive strike. Yet, Ushiro sensei permeates the connection with a cut that unbalances uke's power before dropping them.

Again. The idea here is not to copy or try to 'get' what Ushiro sensei is demonstrating. For our purpose it is to train the mind and body and spirit to unify and so you can express yourself in any form be it through your body, your mind or your spirit and have all the power of the 3 combined behind it.

Friday, January 8, 2010

New Year, New Beginning?

Well, today was the first class I took at the dojo this year. Thanks Miles for handling the earlier classes. Apparently, others were also done with the coughing virus and also some were down from cat fleas. No matter, getting sick is part of life and God's way of telling you to take a break.

Now speaking of breaks. We were going over Ikkyo today with a beginner. Initially I wanted everyone to use blade hands to control uke's arm. Running it just over the elbow to rotate the arm and using center to bring the body down. Needless to say, this is not that easy when you first start out as the propensity to slip is there. With proper musubi, it won't happen. And using the blade hand is good practice so that you don't resort to gripping and then failing to connect with partner and instead start to use strength. Now when we start using strength or rushing it, inevitably something will go wrong. At the least of it, uke recovers center. At the worst, we have uke with a broken elbow or a sprained one at best. This happens when uke's arm is straight and nage applies pressure on the elbow. So its better for everyone when the elbow is bent. For nage, bending the arm doesn't detract from the efficiency of ikkyo. With skill and experience, ikkyo can be done with a straight arm and without hurt or injury. But for now, bending the arm would be the safest course. [Picture is from Joint Pain Experts]

Nevertheless, I had to adjust this method for our new student who is quite petite. It also just so happens that uke for the day is kind of a big guy. So instead of using a blade hand, I had the student use the inner part of the thumb and forefinger. Not to grip with the whole hand, but only the inner part. It has a better fit to uke's arm in that it starts out as rounded. Also, rotating uke's arm is crucial. After which, nage abuts uke's wrist to nage's hip and spears his elbow down using the whole body movement.

Now, this moulding of nage into uke's appendages is nothing new. We've practice this a bit some months back and it constitutes good practice to learning awase and musubi. If we maintain our body form and uke as separate entities, it'll be quite difficult to connect with him. Gaps and broken connection would be too frequent.  Wherever we touch uke, we must fit our body to his shape. When the shape fits, its easier to link with him and to become one. So sometimes, if we find it difficult to do awase, it'll be a good idea to pause and study the body contact. See if there's a way to adjust a bit so that the contact becomes naturally connected.

We also did tenkan walking today. Its good practice for connection, weight underside, relaxation and also chushin. When you tenkan and remain connected with uke, you can drive his center forward using the wrist to palm connection that you have with uke. Weight remains underside and atari is seen to be working here. If you pull, uke will certainly pull back. But if you connect, and then walk with your center, provided that your hand remains extended and relaxed, uke will walk with you. Its like a horse with tight reins I suppose. Not pulling, just firmly in the correct position.

Another basic exercise we did was sayo nage from katatedori gyakuhanmi. We did not do kihon method. Instead we focused on extending uke's hand up and then as we align his chushin, we drop our center to collapse his center. Doing this allows the beginner to concentrate on the center movement and controlling of chushin. Doing kihon would have confused a beginner because most people would rely on neck sweeping and from there a contest of strength begins.

An interesting thing happened after class. A minor accident that occurred because someone did not apply zanshin. Well accidents happens to everyone, but we must also realise that when this weakness is revealed we must not become flustered. Instead, immediately focus on regaining center and calmness. I notice our student panicked a bit. Even though he did nothing rash, but a calmer attitude would probably have saved him some money tonight. In any event, I had regretted not explaining zanshin earlier in class today for the benefit of the beginner. It seems that the older student still has yet to remember his lessons instead.