Sunday, March 28, 2010

Hakim Sensei's Seminar 28th March - a synopsis

Calling this a synopsis when I'm writing from memory is incredibly is really pushing it, so take it as you will.

We started with Kokyu training because I had to blab to everyone that they should get some last minute warm ups before the session starts, because Sensei practices budo. Budo does not wait for warm ups to be effective, but since we're going to be at it for the entire day I thought it would be best for them to do a little bit. It is in effect true but also just a snip snap of the entire reason why warms up are not practised under Sensei's typical class. Sensei explained that Kokyu training is enough because if we focus on the energy moving in us, we then also learn to relax our physical bodies more. Relaxing is the real way of preventing injuries in training. Whilst warming up but remaining tense just serves no purpose really.

From the Kokyu training we did a pair exercise. Uke remains static and resists. Nage is suppose to match uke's projected ki and lead him into ikkyo without using any strength at all. This is harder than it looks. I had quite a bit of trouble here especially since my uke was very earnest about resisting any movement. Which is good. So in the end I didn't do a full version and really led him typically in one direction and unto another because it prevented him from adjusting. Whilst that was interesting because it can be done without strength at all, it showed how weak my ability to lead another's ki if the guy knew what was going to happen. That also means that I still use a technical method in addition to ki/aiki in my normal ikkyo.

After that, the exercise was cut short. Because sensei saw everyone was struggling. It was a pity. Because Sensei always tries to evaluate his class before teaching. He thought he was going to start at kokyu because that's already pretty basic for his school. Apparently all of us suck bad. So we had to do ki projection. That's pretty much 10th kyu level exercises. So ok not all of us wearing coloured belts had a good Ki background.

Ki projection exercises were simple projecting it to the front and getting pushed from the front including arm bending. And then we projected to the back to see the difference. Then we did pushes from the side and accepting it to our hara, and then once we've established connection with uke, we move him by moving our center.

After that, we added a bit of awase by doing iriminage. But ushiro iriminage because of the space constraint.

Another aspect that Sensei touched on was how to take ukemi. I know many-many senseis talk about taking ukemi and some really mean uke must follow like a puppet. But taking ukemi here means understanding how to attack and how to receive the counter from nage. Imagine we have weapons instead of empty hands and a lot of the typical response from uke after being received by nage just becomes so unrealistic. Most times with uke ending up dead because of how we position our hands and body. Since a lot of students come without fighting background, this is a real problem that has to be addressed. Luckily enough our students have been drilled on this many times, but still lack of knowledge on my part on sword handling also means that I have much more to learn.

So if we look at it, the major components about being uke has been covered. Projecting Ki and realistic positioning.

Another skill we were taught later is Aiki Suikomi. Which is the method of grabbing nage. What I call grab is really best described as wrap. A good and effective Aiki Suikomi also allows nage total 360 control of uke. You can employ pulling aiki, pushing aiki, dissolving and etc as well but it is different. With Aiki Suikomi, uke doesn't feel that you're pulling him in one direction with force. Nage is also thinking like he's thread pulling not pulling a bull. Hard to describe, but I really concentrate on wrapping uke's essence and moving that instead of the body.

We did many things again, and running it one by one will be lengthy so I'll concentrate instead of identifying key points. One component is really about being relaxed. Relax means power. Sensei narrated an account of an arm wrestling competition in a university which was joined by none other than Kimura, touted to be the strongest Judoka ever. He was placed top 3 with none other than Gozo Shioda and another Karateka whose name alludes me. Finally the top place was to be decided between Kimura and Shioda. Kimura is a giant, and Shioda was barely 5ft tall. But Shioda not only won, but Kimura was practically thrown from the arm wrestling position. Kimura told Shioda, Aikido people are small but strong! Shioda told him, no I'm not strong I just use my Aikido.

Now, I won't suggest all you aikidoka's go arm wrestling tomorrow. Not until you master aiki of course. But here is the point. Strength is sometimes not all about muscles. Actually, static strength is probably all about muscles. But dynamic strength, i.e. strength against human beings, now that's where relaxing can come in handy. Because you're actually using relational strength with Aiki. You're forcing your opponent to divide his strength by fighting himself, thus you become stronger.

One way we practised that was to tenkan from katatedori and then to lead uke forwards by changing hands and having uke bend back wards. Hard to picture but I haven't sorted out all the pics yet.

Anyway... besides relaxing. Nage has to learn how to receive. We did that during kokyu practice. Learning to receive is understanding how to be harmonised. Doing the above exercise we are greeting uke and leading him. We don't greet and pull him or push him. Having that understanding in mind and focusing on that is better than trying to manipulate uke. Sensei observed some beginners find it easy to do whilst even some seniors cannot make headway on this.

Open your mind especially your right side of the brain. Empty your cup and just do. But do not let ego cloud your way.

Another thing that sensei mentioned is when you pick up a cup of water, what is it that you are using? Body? Ki? Mind? Intent? In effect its all 4. But Intent wills it. Mind directs it. Ki moves the body. The body picks up the cup.

Thus the most basic is manipulating the body. A better aikidoka would manipulate the ki thus reducing the effort. Even better is manipulating the mind and highest is to control the will. Practice and this becomes possible.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Honourable Men of Days Old Past...

Student of this course, whosoever ye be, of whatever country, creed, or color, you are under an obligation to humanity at large, as well as to me, the humble medium that conveyed the knowledge, never to use the power you have acquired in a dishonest or dishonorable cause, or for a selfish purpose.
Let these exercises train not only your bodies, but also your chivalrous instincts, your sense of honor.
Though they give you the ability of a knight of old to rely on and use your own good right arm, they will fall short of their purpose if they fail equally to train you in the ethics of the knightly code – to battle for the right, and to defend the oppressed.
For the enemy of society at large, the Apache [e.g., an urban thug], the cutthroat, the assassin, we have in reserve tactics which will help to level the odds, since he is armed, and we are not.
In an unhappy struggle with those from whose opinions we differ, but who are actuated by motives as honorable as our own, defeat would be preferable to using foul tactics. This is simply the application of the larger rule which has actuated all good men, patriots, soldiers, citizens, throughout the ages: "Death before dishonor."
"It isn’t whether we win or lose, but how we play the game."

(Written by Captain Allan Corstorphin Smith, U.S.A., 1920)

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Studying Aiki and Goshin

The last couple of classes I wanted to explore a bit more on awase and musubi but in the context of practical applications. Needless to say, we are not of sufficient ability to express Ki no musubi at will so I put particular emphasis on doing the physical motions first. Connection and Chushin being the primary factor there. As for the Aiki aspect, intention and capturing opponents ki before contact is essential.

We started with hand grabs and variations of ikkyo, nikkyo and sankyo. Then we proceeded to ryotedori from still and dynamic situations.

In ryotedori we invited uke in and showed him into our space. The physical movement is much like an applied yonkyo gedan throw. The aiki movement just being a deep handshake.

Next we tried inviting and then repelling him away, sort of ateru like. The physical motion being like a double nikkyo. The aiki movement just skin to skin and pulse uke away. I figure its easier for me when I invite him in, unite with him, sink and extend into his center. This is not exactly ateru, but I do try to focus on the skin contact. This might help with developing ateru I think.

Next we had one hand lapel grabs. One where we scoop uke's hands down from the side towards us and then  have him fall back and pin face up. Cutting the hand is not feasible and will invite a hit from uke. The physical motion is a full tenkan and sink down. The Aiki motion you do not have to move a lot. In fact uke would be doing all the movement beside you.

After that we did an invite by stepping behind and using down aiki on his hand with our opposite hand. Its not trying to pull uke using body weight, nor is it pulling his hands down. Done either way, uke will come and rush you. Don't disturb his grab, but move together with him and down. Then touch his elbow and rotate for ikkyo but straight down at your feet into his shoulder. For physical method, we switch feet and cut uke's arm, but aligned with his chushin. Nage is offline.

Next, we just entered into his space and bow. Key here is not to disturb his hand at all and go no more than 90 degrees. Nage really has to concentrate on being one with uke, or uke will feel disturbed and choke nage. The physical motion is irimi and atemi face and armpit. Extend hands and uproot uke from his armpit and then down whilst holding his other hand close. A vigorous technique that is quite dangerous for uke if done too fast. Please be careful of his shoulder and head.

Lastly, please note this is a study. At our level, we can try to understand Aiki techniques as a transition of physical techniques. In some it looks totally different, in others it looks similar but feels different. Essentially, Aiki technique feels unstoppable because you don't understand what's happening. Nor are you feeling any overt threat by nage. In the physical techniques, the waza is done with power and efficiency. Done right, you'll find it difficult to stop or counter but you will feel the attack as a threat. You will feel the ability to counter, but pain or speed prevents you. Think along those broad rules and try to find the feeling of Aiki.

Friday, March 5, 2010

About Training

What is it about training that draws you? Back when I was a kid doing Tae Kwon Do on weekends, it was the fun that I had. Especially when we get to spar. Doing one step kata was far from my idea of fun though. Rather it seem boring after I remembered the different defences. Far from my mind was the need for endless practice to hone perfection. After all, when I was a kid, training in Tae Kwon Do was about the belt.

Even as I use to hang cardboard targets on the clothesline to practice jump kicks, because we couldn't afford punching bags, it was for the fun of it. The idolisation of heroes in movies who could jump effortlessly in the air and dish out 3-4 kicks before touching the ground. Now that's cool! So I did it, in the hopes that one day my efforts would be looked at by other kids as 'cool'.

I reached my teenage years and joined Judo because I thought having different arts would really make me into a good fighter. Learning ukemi on the first day brought me to my senses and I never showed for class again. Endless repetitions of slapping the tatami wasn't my idea of fun.

In Junior College, I stayed on with Tae Kwon Do. Effectively being a terror in the class where no one wanted to spar with me. I joined Silat just to get an activity in my Duke of Edinburgh program sorted out. If there ever was need for martial arts, it was then at that boarding school. Fights in closed door sessions was ubiquitous. Kids who had martial arts background were always asked to spar with seniors who love to fight. We, in the end, started Fight Club way before Brad Pitt found his on the silver screen. Yet, even as I ran each day, swung on gymnastic rings, lifted weights and did my katas, training was nothing more than something I just did.

There was no meaning.

Aikido was something that I just loved. Loved and looked for in my early years yet I did not find till I was in university. Even so, I waited a year before I joined because of a back injury which I thought would be prohibitive in training. Finally, I decided that I couldn't give a damn about it and that I was not going to miss my chance to learn this art. So I joined and ultimately found that my back had nothing to worry about. Funnily, enough, here I was almost 8 years down the road, doing ukemi again and I loved it! I rolled everywhere after my first class. I rolled all the way back to my apartment, on the tar road actually. (ok, an exaggeration. But honestly I did roll a hundred meters at least). Luckily my class was at night and no one really drives along lonely paths near university campuses at that time.

I was hooked and learning Aikido became a passion. I looked forward each week for class. Soon once a week wasn't enough, and I began to take the train to visit my teachers' teacher up north. I read books, scoured for videos, attended seminars and learned all I could about this art. Friends that joined with me gradually left, and I wondered what was wrong with them.

Even so, my training was based on how fun it was to learn something new each day. How cool it was to do those ki tricks and joint locks that I never knew in my kicking and punching days. Woe to my cousin who would dare try to grapple with me again.

Is there really a point to this long winded rambling cum reminiscing you may ask?

I believe there is. You see, it never occurred to me of when I started to really train. Back when I first started and even years down the road, I marvelled at visiting shihan's teaching us this cool new waza, or weapons technique or skill. It was one step to conquer at a time. Learning to break fall, learning this, learning that. One day... it stopped being about learning something new.

One day, it just became about how to get it right. Somehow, I've made the switch from chasing teachers to teach me new things, to just looking at what I have and polishing it. Sure, there's plenty more to learn from teachers. But learning from them now is more about understanding rather than acquiring. For me, I've acquired too much already as it is. Now its about mastery.

The wonderful thing about learning is, how it changes throughout your life. Nothing is constant. What I know now as true, might be far from the truth years down the road. Yet, at that point in time, it became a significant step towards getting to the next level. Some might say that learning is like peeling the layers of skin from an onion. In the end what you thought was something at first glance, looks entirely different after a few layers have been removed.

When I write this, I remind to myself that new students have yet to go through what I've gone through. Therefore, is it really fair to expect them to train the way I train now? Just because we know the value of learning one way, doesn't mean it other ways is not important.

So, each person must go through the spiral staircase. Peeling away a layer at a time until they arrive where they started, but at a different level. Understanding a bit more and knowing they have more ground to travel. It cannot be short changed by an idealistic teacher, nor an overzealous student. One step at a time is all it takes.