Sunday, February 28, 2010

Training the Spirit

Mind, Body and Spirit. I've talked about this in the past but today and last Friday's class we tried to put more practice on the Spirit aspect.

In your mind, there is knowledge...
In your body, there is technique and prowess...
In your spirit, harbours all intentions and ki.

The idea of training the Spirit might be laughed at and treated with condescension, but ultimately necessary. For something so intangible, it is terribly difficult to train. How do we train... this spirit? We can't touch it. Its not like our body where we can do thousands of ukemi and kata, to perfect our movement, balance and ability. Its not like the mind, where we can study methods, principles and focus our thoughts. Where does the Spirit reside anyway?

The past two classes, we tried to take small steps from Shihonage. Osensei once remarked that you will know Aikido if you understand Ikkyo and Shihonage. I don't think he meant throwing people in 4 directions will lead you to mastery.

In Shihonage, the most oft used method where Nage takes Uke's balance, is by grabbing uke's hand 2-handed and extending it out. Usually with a deep irimi outwards. Doing so avoids the beginner's mistake of getting punch in the face. Nothing wrong really with this method, it is aligning chushin in a way and not really clashing with uke. However, uke almost always feel the pull or that shihonage is being done to him. Unlike with Hakim sensei's method. In his method, nage takes an empty step forwards (without entering uke's space), then holding lightly and maintain connection, drops his center down and forwards into the empty step. As a result, uke feels as if he's falling down into his hands or vacuum. His arm gets locked but not in an uncomfortable or unnatural way, and nage completes the movement into shihonage that has uke off balanced completely thereby even eliminating the need to effect a 'throw'.

The next step forward in my eyes, is ryotedori. For this, we use iriminage as the waza. In the ryotedori, we now have a problem. We can't take an empty step, because there's no space to go forwards. Not with both hands held tightly in front of us. So, now instead of doing a physical drop into uke's feet, we now have to use more 'men', intention or spirit what have you. Maintaining connection, we drop our minds under uke's hands and center. We capture it lightly and lift it straight up. It will feel light and effortless. If instead we keep thinking of bring our hands up or uke's hands up, uke will feel our movement and resist.

In any case, a student asked, is this thing useful for anyway? No one is going to grab your hands like this. To that I answer, its not for a 2 handed grab grasshopper, its for when someone punches you. He then proceeded to do a double punch at my waist level. Ok humour aside, I think this awase movement is useful for a punch. A punch to the face or around there anyway. If someone's punching your guts, I think sinking musubi is a much better prospect really. So there we go, from ryotedori we went into shomenuchi iriminage. Using the first method  of Ken no Awase. Except there is now a slight change in how we deal with uke.

In Shomenuchi, we don't have physical contact with uke at first. And it is imperative that we don't wait for the contact before affecting our musubi principle. So what is the bridge? The bridge is now non-physical. It has to be built by your spirit. At this level, we do not try to capture uke's spirit. At our beginning and exploratory stage we need to exercise our spirit first. So both uke and nage kamae in a good extension and connected way. As uke shomens, nage feels his intent and projects his cut into uke's center. Both comes forward and nage brings his cut up and leads uke's hands. Done right, there will be no clash. No lifting or pushing of the hands. Done right, uke feels nage's cut disturb his center and his shomen will lose its power. The going up occurs almost exactly like what we did for ryotedori. Only this time we're using our shomen hand. Although I've described it before as if 2 waves are meeting and annuls each other as they both rise into a peak, don't try to emulate that in the hand movement, i.e. see-sawing the hands and drawing uke's hands up with yours. It really should be cut center, and straight up. Uke's hands just happens to be in the way and gets 'carried away' by your lift. You don't even think about his hands coming down for your head really. If you do, it'll probably result in a clash.

Anyway that's enough Aikido lectures for the day. What really prompted me to write tonight was not so much to mouth out what I have often repeated in class. Its really to share with you an amazing conversation I had with an amazing person I know, my dad. We had the chat today after brunch, and we were talking about projects and problems. Some of it went to the subject of people who have struck it rich and forgot about the people who had helped them along the way. I won't name names, but we both know this fellow. Before, he was struggling and I was in a position to help him. Which I did. It was a choice to give him a chance or to give it to a bigger company with more clout and money. In terms of gratitude there was none. In fact, not one year into the project he ran out. Anyway, to cut matters short, he came by an amazing amount of money. A couple of people I know who are his peers went to seek his help, and got brushed out. As I recounted this story to my dad, I told him of my disgust and my recrimination that the man will die alone without friends. He told me, that to let it be for that was his nature. Don't try to put people on your pedestal. However, if it so happens that that person ever needed his help, he will help to his ability. I was taken aback; he doesn't deserve to be help, its insane! Yet, here was my dad, not the most religious of fellows. Saying he will help the man if he needed it, because this is between him (my dad) and God.

There you have it, a lesson in Spirit. For a more aikido centric version, do read Sensei's Nishio's recounting of Sensei Tohei's missing jacket and Mifune's house getting burgled story at

Friday, February 26, 2010

Experimenting and Spirit

Today we did something I've not done before let alone practised. It's something that I saw out of Sensei's video, one that one of the students brought back from Jakarta.

Ryotedori iriminage. Easy enough. Usually its done with a cut down for the kuzushi or a tenkan, at around uke's elbow, and then proceed as normal. But this time, using awase, we bring uke's hand straight up and lock it with each other. Done right, uke will be on his toes and his arms will be locked across each other at the elbows and straightened. One of your hands will be in contact with his elbow to maintain the lock and 'carry' him. Proceed to iriminage as normal.

I was watching the video and I thought we should practice this. Of course I was hesitant to try it out cold feet, but we can only do our best with what we have. I tried to understand the mechanics of the move. Although we always emphasise feelings and trying not to think about the technique, even Aiki elements are based on natural principles or laws. So we should at least try to ponder these laws.

Then I thought perhaps it is doable. The idea is to have uke 'overreach' on his grab, and slip under his axis and bring him up. To make him overreach, nage has to bring his center down without disturbing uke's hands. Thus we do it like shihonage. But shihonage allows us to move with the half step close towards uke's center and thus make it easy for us to dip under. With ryotedori, forward movement is all but impossible. So, dipping under uke's center will not be as easy.

In this instance, we have to rely more on intention or 'men'. Using the intention of going down, and at the same time projecting ki upwards, we get him to overreach himself and at the same time position our ki under his hands. We actually bring our center forwards without moving down or forwards.

Surprisingly, it worked well in class. Once you have uke's hands locked, release one hand by making it 'empty'. Proceed normally from there.

The other thing we did was work on spirit projection. We started out empty hands but I saw some of the students having trouble projecting their shomen attacks. So we worked on weapons. Cultivating the feeling of using a live blade, I had them working on drawing the bokken and shomen. By feeling like we hold a live blade, we will project diffidence. This diffidence will affect uke as well. If we feel we're holding a toy, then uke's belief in us becomes shallow.

We practised on of the movements for shomen irimi. We did ken no awase previously. This time we moved irimi to uke's right side and cut. In this movement, there are several key points to note. First, moving with stillness is necessary. Jumping out, running away, aggressive entering are all negative movements that affects uke. Move with calmness and harmony with uke's forward movement. Move like its a paired dancing event. Like the space opens up to you and invites you in whilst uke takes your place.

Secondly, you must project the spirit of the cut and not just move and cut at the side. If you just move out of the line and cut, uke will track you and cut as well. But if you cut into him in spirit and move at the same time, uke will be diminished and you will then have a superior positioning.

Sensei's movement is more advance, thus empty handed, sensei will have projected the cut straight into uke thus freezing him as he comes to shomen. For us, our practise must follow some form. We need to shomen up and cut down even as we move. This will cultivate our spirit before we do the shorten version.

Closing the practice we did some kyoku nage based on awase.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Seminar with Sensei Hakim coming up!

Ok by now, everybody should know about the upcoming seminar with Sensei Hakim, this 28th March (Sunday). As of now the venue is still at the dojo. Once we get more early bird sign ups we will consider to upgrade into a bigger venue.

For those who hasn't seen Sensei in action, here's a teaser clip. In this video, the first time he demonstrates a purely physical technique for kotegaishe. The 2nd and 3rd, he demonstrates ala Takeda style. No form but with Aiki. The 4th time he demonstrates with form but with Aiki. As with everything we do, its not enough to see it with your eyes. You got to feel it. Especially when Sensei demonstrates practising with spirit.

So please sign up early and help the dojo out.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Wrinkled Hakama

I open my Aikido bag the other day to wear my Hakama. It's been one week since my last class due to the long holidays coinciding with Chinese New Year. Happy belated CNY everyone!

Back to my Hakama. To my dismay, the carefully folded Hakama has been displaced somewhat in my bag, causing some of the pleats to appear wrinkled. Certainly not a life threatening moment, but one of reflection for me.

Here I was going to class, expecting to have everything that I need in good shape. Kept out of sight was my Hakama that I assume would appear as pristine as I had left it a week back. Yet, when it come out wrinkly and out of sorts, I felt surprised.

The fact that I felt surprise is a lesson. We might sometimes store things somewhere and when we come back to it, it wasn't exactly as how we left it. Paper might have discoloured, chocolates might have gone moldy and that soda has lost a bit of pop. Of course, since this is true most times in life, we tend to expect it and not get too surprised when it happens. What about knowledge though?

Its been years since I had to do an Accounts. I know for a fact that were I to go back to the books today, I will have a lot of problems getting my figures to balance, much less finding errors or elaborate tinkering. What about our Aikido skills though? Some of us may have learned martial arts and other useable skills like tying knots, or climbing rope/walls and etc. Might we have fooled ourselves with the adage, 'you never forget how to ride a bike?'.

Fine skills especially requires constant practice. Grinding the stone, polishing the mirror. That is our motto. Training has to be everyday if we want to maintain and improve. Leaving it alone, if only for a few days or worst, weeks... and you will find the skills you've worked hard to achieve have deteriorate somewhat.

Getting the Hakama out of the bag all wrinkly was not life threatening at all... trying to pull your wrinkly Aikido skills out of the bag when you need it most however, just might be.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Revisit - Atari, Awase and Musubi

Today we started out by exerting our selves using strength to force an ikkyo lock. Nage initiates and is countered by uke, back and forth until the 5th time when nage must relax and use the force of uke and return it back to him.

The sequence is:
Katatedori Aihanmi
Katatedori Gyakuhanmi
Ushiro Ryotedori

For Ushiro Ryotedori, the focus was to get center to move behind the hand, thus bringing the hand in front of us without 'thinking' about it. By bringing our center to move behind the hand, we apply consistency in all our Aikido waza. If we move the hand for ushiro, we will also move the hand for katate and etc. Uke will feel this hand movement and resist or counter. So practice doing everything from center movement.

For shomenuchi, we did Ken no Awase. The idea is to pick up the feeling we used to raise uke's arms in the Ushiro ryotedori practice. Using that 'light' feeling we project that to meet the oncoming shomenuchi by uke. Do not wait to do this upon contact; it'll be too late and you will clash. The feeling is meeting like a wave, upwards 'lightly'. Start with synchronised timing in the forward movement by both uke and nage. Later, nage can stay in position, as long as the intent is good.

The key here is to imagine a wave meeting a wave and it rises up to the same point. Two opposing forces cancelling each others force by moving and converging to one point.

Also another key point is to remember to relax and breath. We don't tense up in a ready position when meeting someone with a handshake right? A handshake comes and we meet it naturally. Similarly, a punch, a shomen, meet it naturally.

Lastly, sorewaza kyokuho. We revisit Atari and Awase.
Uke pushes nage's hands down to his knees, keeping it tightly in place.
Nage starts by using strength to lift his hands.
Then start again. Extend ki and connect with uke. Now, receive the force and bring in your hands slightly, then return the force back in a circular movement straight back 'into' uke. Uke will be lifted lightly.
That's atari using uke's impetus in. You can also provide the impetus to uke, and then receive him inwards bringing uke down.

Next, for awase. Same position. This time extend and lightly connect to uke's center. Uke's hands and your hands are now one unit connecting your center to his. All you do is move your center to move that bridge to move uke off balance. Very lightly you can lift your hands straight into uke and he won't be able to resist.
Visually this will look like you're just lifting your hands. But uke will sense and resist if you use your hands to initiate this movement. This awase is quite close to musubi. In fact if you can imagine skin to skin connection here and initiate the movement from the skin, it will help the movement a lot.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

OK... the Aiki no Genri thingey again

I know I've written about this a couple of times in my earlier postings, but here is the almost definitive guide. I'll also be putting this on into a separate tab soon, so that beginners can just click that to refer to it anytime.
1. Fudo Genri/ Immovable principles:
4 points towards Body, Mind and Spirit unity...
a. Concentrate on seika tanden/dantien or center.
b. Mind, heart and body must relax.
c. Feel the Ki in any movement and extend it
d. Mu Shin (no mind, or stop thinking too much)

2. Kihon Genri/ Basic Principles:
These are movement principles that follow the Aiki Law or Natural Universe Law.
a. Chushin: Center line. Always move from your own center line. Connect to uke and bring him into your center line. Do not move his center line separate from yours.
b.Shuchu: Focus power starting from the mind into the body.
c. Kokyu: Breath power, connecting the energy of the body and the physical aspects.
d. Enshin: Circular movement or more precisely, spiralling. You can spiral inwards or outwards.

3. Aiki Genri:
Energy principles, essential in resolving conflict.
a. Awase: Blending, to harmonise with incoming force not to avoid or fight it. Body leads the mind.
b. Musubi:  Connection, stage two of harmonising. Musubi can occur in many levels not just at the physical level. Mind leads the body.
c. Nagare: Fluid movement, there is no stop in movement or conflict. Joining with partners energy and moving synergistic-ally.
d. Takemusu Aiki: Unlimited manifestation of Aiki. This is a stage when you are living in harmony with the universe. Technique is not essential because your opponent cannot defeat you since he will be fighting himself.

5 Stages of Understanding Aiki
1. Aiki no Kokoro: Understand and belief within your heart the principles of Aiki.

2. Aiki no Genri: Know and understand the Aiki Principles.

3. Aiki no Waza: Embody the techniques of Aiki in training and life.

4. Aiki no Chikara: Resulting from training and embodiment of Aiki principles, achieve the power of Aiki.

5. Aiki no Seishin: True Aiki. Its 'switched on' without your active participation.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Last Sunday's Training

One of the students commented that some pictures would be useful. Knowing how wordy I can get, that is probably an understatement. Nevertheless, whilst I would like to include pictures in this blog so as much as the next person, I am unable to fulfil that request immediately.

Perhaps, when we have more time, we can dedicate a session to taking photos of the various basic movements. Those that we can consider essential in our daily training. Things like ukemi, tenkan, irimi and and some core techniques. There are however other resources out there that do have illustrations, such as they are. I do understand however that it would be better for beginners especially to look at figures which closely resemble what they learn in their dojo. So at us just say that such an endeavour is underway, though not for quite some time. In the mean time, there are videos of a couple of techniques that may help and is contained in the link above.

Last Sunday, we begin our training with the breathing meditation and some standard ki exercises using funakogi undo, sayo undo and the like. For funakogi undo, we have now explored using it almost (but not) like an ateru strike. The purpose here is to ensure the power generated is from the center and not from the shoulders. There is almost a whip like motion. The feeling must be captured, and used whenever we employ katedori. This way, when uke grabs we do not respond from the shoulder. Instead, just as they grab nage's wrist, the feeling of the whip occurs and uke's center is penetrated. 

We also explored positional dominance. As uke grabs square, both uke and nage are in a mutual kill position. Thus, uke who is the attacker must move to his advantage, offline towards nage outside. From there, his chushin will be employed against nage, whilst nage's chushin is now off line. Nage proceeds to employ tenkan and regains superior positioning. 

From tenkan, nage leads uke forwards and about. Nage atemis uke and shifts stance to the outside. The hand being grab is halfway to a sumiotoshi (corner drop - but not fully. Just the feeling). The inner hand cuts across uke's outer elbow of the same grabbing hand. When nage half shifts (i.e. adjusting the front to rear leg and the rear to front leg), he does so so that he still has chushin towards uke. And his alignment is such that he is able to cut the outside of ukes body vertically. (this definitely needs an illustration, but you should try to remember this in class as I explain). From there, using center to cut (not the hands), you will take uke's balance. Do a big circle movement using the natural pendulum and get into ikkyo position. 

As we have explained, relax both hands and only extend. Don't push into uke or manipulate his hand. From there holding on to uke's tension towards his center, drop your center and hands together to bring him down. For now, we want everybody to try and bend uke's elbow upwards and let uke retain his grab on your other wrist. Let the power be a leading action from that grab instead of on the uke's elbow from your other hand. 

Next technique we did was to do ikkyo from aihanmi position. I've explained this a few times already in this blog so refer to those. 

Next we did shomenuchi iriminage. Shomen occurs because uke is not at the right distance to grab and strike nage. It can occur even at that distance, but for our training purpose lets start it further away. Uke can both take a step forwards to strike or slide forwards to strike. In either case shomen is done in aihanmi relative to nage's kamae. This is so that nage does not have the advantage of uke when receiving the strike. 

Nage enters into the shomen towards uke's outside. Nage's hand extends like a spear to receive the strike along its length. Never to stop it. (we do it differently for movements towards uke's inside, but its still not stopping the strike). As you have uke's back towards you, both your feet are almost parallel to his. Your spear hand is now above uke's shomen and your other hand lightly touching his jaw/face/neck. Bringing him closer like a hug, move your center into a turn and down. Bring his centerline upwards using your spear hand in a leading fashion. Control his center so that his rear leg is planted. Now continue the spear hand in the pendulum arc to cut his through his center. Focus on not trying to bring uke's body up or down by lifting or pushing the hands. Focus more on using center to move everything and to lead using the hands. Only lightly touch uke, don't grab with force. Cutting the center for now means to move through uke (spear hand and leg slides through). Don't clothesline his neck. 

The last technique we did was shihonage from yokemenuchi. For yokemenuchi, this time we started with gyakuhanmi. Uke does a cross over step and strikes at an angle. As with shomenuchi, the hand starts from just above the forehead (not behind your head at the side). The target is the temple or jawline or neck. Shoulders are relaxed and the power is generated from the center. 

Nage can receive this either by irimi into the strike, his hands extending into the strike rather than blocking it or parrying it. Or in the case of what we did, enter without movement and receive it with a slight step back as if we are greeting someone into our house. Holding lightly uke's hand, but keeping extension into his center, shift legs and then bring chushin a level down. (not forwards down or backwards down, just down). Leave the hand alone, but the angle will change. Remember the key here is to maintain the extension into uke's arm. Do not try to bring his hand down or push in to lock his shoulders. Now, move forwards at the same lower level keeping the hands the same distance from your center all the way. Uke's hand will move in a natural pendulum which will lock his body up without undue force or stress. As you slide forward, the forward leg tries to cover as much ground so that it stops well beyond uke's current position. Kaiten and nage should now be 'behind' uke's prior position. (uke is now facing you now, so you're actually in front of him). As you kaiten, your hands remain in front of you equidistant. This should result in a shihonage position. 

From this position, your hands retains its existing extension. Cut from your center, downwards. Again do not use your hands to pull uke or push him down. Nor should you bend your elbows and bring uke towards your center at this point in time. As uke is brought down, maintain zanshin and lightly touch him to ensure you are in a superior position and that he cannot attack you from the ground. 

Last, we did sorewaza kyokuho. This time we started again with nage's hands on his knees and uke pressing downwards. This exercise is described earlier in the blog so please refer to it.