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.