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

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