Friday, April 30, 2010


I was annoyed looking at the rows in front of me and my neighbour beside me... waving people through even though the gap is in front of him directly. I thought, this guy is irritating. Not only was he black berrying away during the Khutbah, and now he's not taking responsibility for filling up the gaps. Making others work for him, what he should be doing himself.

A brief intention to tell him something crossed my mind and then, I thought to myself, what would sensei do? Thinking about it, he would have either filled the gap himself or remain silent. Ah, a slap on my ego.

This reminded me about his lecture one time... his father told him that he doesn't expect him to be rich and give him money, or to be famous or to be a politician, an engineer or anything like that. He asked him only to be a leader. In anything he does, be it a floor sweeper, an office worker or whatever it is he does, he must be a leader.

To some people, that will construe taking the easy road. After all, you're not asking him to be a corporate magnate, anyone can be a leader of a trishaw puller right? Instead, think about it. One of the things a leader has is responsibility not only of himself but to his followers and people who are affected by him. A leader of a nation is responsible for his legion of administrators and executives but also to his citizens and neighbours. A leader bears the sins of all those under him. If they have done wrong, the leader has done wrong because he has not led his people to a better way. Being a leader, if you're a muslim, is very hard. That is why, seldom are those who would vie to be a leader, at least for those who are learned. They all know of the fate of a leader should he do wrong or should he fail to lead well. Yet, ironically, the learned also know it is expected of them to be a leader. It is a decree that they lead well for the sake of the people and the world. The animals and environment requires salvation, and human beings are the leaders who can defend their right to exist.

Yet it is cruel to see how unreasonable today's so called leaders are. How they think less of people and more of their own status and their family and friends.

So what has this go to do with Aikido? A leader does not order people around, he leads. Try and force your workers to do as you want, and you will see that will be the quickest way towards dissent. Similarly, the practice of Aikido is for the immediate harmony with your opponents, the universe even. Stop. Don't think about leading the sun, just try to lead a goat instead and see how you fare if you force it do something.

How can that happen if you're not a leader. If you just follow? You lead your opponent with the mind, not force him. You cannot follow from his strike, its power or direction. You need to lead him from the start. This spirit of leadership is important. Understanding that you lead and not force is also important. Believing in this path throughout your practice is important.

A martial artist does not have to wait to be a black belt to step up and be a leader. As long as you've put your mind to learn, and you've step through that door in the dojo, you have to lead. As a sempai, as a kohai, as a seasoned veteran or a raw beginner. You have chosen a path of enlightenment, it is your duty to lead.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Thoughts on Teaching

I make it no secret that I have more to learn than I have to teach. But I realised a few months back that in order for me to progress I had to start teaching. Don't ask me how that revelation came about, cliché or not, it's something that I really believe in, because it didn't come from anyone else but my inner heart. Somehow, I felt it.

So mysterious orders aside, I do like teaching what little I know. It has made my Aikido better I dare say. Not that I would recommend everyone go onto the mat and start yapping about their new profound knowledge of Aikido. But seriously, once I start thinking about progression in class from principle to waza and from waza to waza, things start to click.

Even as I try to demonstrate elements of waza, when you start to show others the 'correct' way, you inevitably become more conscious of how the technique is performed and what similarities it shares with other stuff. In a way, its really about looking at practice from a different perspective and to me, that's always a good thing.

An example of how to do tenkan, would be to look at your opponent's viewpoint. It really becomes something else, when you use that feeling of looking at his viewpoint. Instead of manipulating your hand or position to be beside him. It feels different to uke as well. Anyway, when you putt, a friend told me you shouldn't only look at it from the ball's perspective. But also the hole's perspective. It's true. Angles from the balls appear one way, but from behind the hole, it becomes something else. Combining the two almost always leads to a better putt.

I was also thinking that sometimes as students we make things unnecessarily difficult for ourselves. Even I'm guilty of that. I was looking at how I got into trouble in some of sensei's class. With simple mistakes that I've pointed out to others in fact. What is it about taking classes that makes you foolish, forgetful or less careful? What makes you move awkwardly or forget the principles that often guide your class?

I'm not sure of the right answer for that. But I found that when I try to 'copy' what my teacher does, it usually ends up wrong. Instead, gather insight from what is demonstrated, and feel how it should work with you. Everyone walks differently, move differently, operate differently. No one can emulate perfectly how another moves. That is why, there will always be some who get it and some who don't. Those who got it, found it with the guide of teacher, but they found it on their own nevertheless. Those who don't are those hoping that the teacher will teach it to them one day.

Peter Goldsbury in his amazing essays on Osensei's transmittance of Aikido to his students, espoused that Osensei never really taught his students, or cared that they've learned anything at all. Mayhaps, it is true that most teachers of that era, bestow this gift of knowledge fleetingly and sporadically. After all, Budo is knowledge of life and death. Knowing another's secret techniques, eliminates any advantage he might have against that you. But I think, Osensei really taught or tried to teach, principles and ideas. He tried to cultivate spirit by example. He was less interested to show his techniques, but show them he did. Albeit in the fashion of an eccentric. His one objective was to have Aikido change the world. Not by overpowering others by virtue of its strength, but to change others by cultivating our spirit as better men. A hard ideal to follow, but one I believe is shared by Ghandi although he did it in a different form.

Even as Osensei taught his skills to his students, his waza changed as he matured. Sometimes he will call his students and show them his techniques have changed. Looking at that point, nothing should be construed as absolutely correct. Everything changes and is imperfect. So if we fixed our minds, we inexorably become relics or statues. With aliveness in our minds and body, we change and suit ourselves. With knowledge of Aiki, suiting ourselves in harmony with others becomes easier so much so that people who are not trained that way, and who are fixed in their ways, becomes something like meteors dragged into the gravity well of a planet.

I write this to remind myself, that when shown a technique to practice in class, I will strive to grasp the principles behind it, the ideas behind it and to use it as best my body is able and as suited to my uke. I will not limit the training to copying their physical movements, instead to capture the feeling and duplicate that as best as I possibly can. Through time and practice, this method of training I believe will cultivate understanding. And from understanding alone, can we make Aikido our own.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Truly, the last class at our Crush Dojo :P

Ok, somehow we managed to hold on to Crush till last Friday so there was one final class before we move to the Yoga centre next Wednesday. In the last class, we concentrated on Ikkyo.

1. Gyakuhanmi tenkan ikkyo
We've done this before from different ways. Basic level Aikikai style will have you cut uke's chushin obliquely from the forearm/elbow angle as you move off center. Examples of the dropping centre with hand awase was shown during the seminar.
This time, we're doing it from tenkan.

2. Morotedori ura/omote ikkyo 
Morotedori happens when uke grabs one of your arms with both of theirs. Several different scenarios exists that makes uke give up his two hands against one of yours. One possibility is that you have a weapon in that arm, reflex usually dictates extra danger to that hand thus they divert all their resources against that hand. Another is that they have multiple help thus, holding on to your hand prevents your escape whilst the others close in. In any case, grabbed by morotedori, you definitely do not want to compete strength to strength, 2-1 does not favour you. Thus you must learn to relax completely instead. Also because of scenario 2, you must be aware of your next positioning.

You can choose to irimi or tenkan depending on the positioning that will favour you and that gives you greatest surrounding awareness. Relax the hand completely but extend ki into uke. Raise your hands softly as if offering something to uke's face. Or you can drop centre slightly and tenkan whilst raising your hands to scratch your ear. After that, a few choices are open. You can opt to take the closest hand for ikkyo, or you can choose to turn uke around with a lead and take his other arm, or you can maintain uke in that position but cut down his hand and soto to the other side for ikkyo.

3. Ryotedori Ikkyo
Aiki age will be emphasised in our daily training regime since it forms a crucial skill element in understanding aiki. In basic aiki age, we bring our centre down and connect to uke's center before raising his centre with us. Another way to capture the feeling of relaxed movement is to raise your hands without shoulder or elbow strength and instead just do a 'whatever lah' gesture or touch his shoulders like a dance routine. In any case, there is a rotation of the forearm that brings uke's elbows up and raises his body to his toes via the shoulders. The indication is the shoulders. If uke's shoulders doesn't move, then you really haven't achieved control.

In any case from that position, drop centre but keep the ki extended. Keep one hand high, one low. Take ikkyo on the high hand.

4. Shomenuchi Ikkyo
In shomenuchi, we looked at method 1 and 2 of entering. We left method 3 alone for now. Method 1 is to cut uke whilst stepping offline. The irimi intention is important here to avoid doing avoidance. This has been mentioned before so we'll skip to method 2. Method 2 is ken no awase. Blending of the tegatana instead this time around. Do not move forward. Instead enter his mind and chushin, lower your centre as the attack comes and blend. Lead his ki upwards. It doesn't matter if the strike is coming down or coming from below. In each case you will bring the ki upwards.

As you achieve control take a look at your space using a mirror if you can. 50:50 spacing means the advantage lies with uke. He has the momentum. Or it'll come to a difference of height, strength and skill. The control stage usually offers you 70:30 in terms of space or positioning. Your posture is erect, whilst uke is reaching or compressed.

Dynamic Shomenuchi Ikkyo, multiple ukes
In our training, I emphasised more dynamic and zanshin. As we progress to striking waza, nage becomes more and more aware of multiple attackers. Thus in our session, uke's give nage a few seconds to complete a technique and then attack him. Nage thus must complete each technique within several seconds and move on to the 2nd uke. Most times we take too long to think how to complete the technique. Training this way makes you use 'feelings' more and train your mind not to become myopic.

5. Yokomenuchi Ikkyo
Attacking yokomenuchi, most uke's will skirt around to the sides and attack nage's neck whilst tilting their body or extending their strike too far. A good yokomenuchi looks very similar to a shomenuchi. You enter by moving forward starting with an empty step and move 1 line away from nage's centreline. You cut directly to the temple or neck and can use both hands in the attack. If you can attack by reaching out with only 1 hand then, you're giving yourself away. You also use yokomenuchi to attack from nage's ura side. Going into his omote side allows nage to enter into your opening easily.

From yokomenuchi, nage can choose to draw out the power or entering into uke's strike to meet him at a balance point. His strike follows and arc which achieves full power at its final target point. During the apex you can meet him as the power goes outwards to the tip of the arc. Irimi is done into uke's centre and not the hand. Nage does not move forward into the striking hand either. Instead, shift chushin and extend ki through your hands. Use kokyu for now. Touch uke's striking arm and connect immediately to his power source or centre and relax your hand against that. Drop your centre. From there compress him and use awase to raise his arm and cut for ikkyo. If there's a lot of potential forward movement from uke as you compress him, give him more space as you transfer towards ikkyo.

Hanmi Handachi Ikkyo
Same thing that we did in the last class. In Hanmi handachi, pulling or trying to press down uke by force will definitely not work. So extend into uke's center, once connected, drop your hands and let all the ki flow downwards. At its peak, softly raise the hands and cut for ikkyo. Use suikomi often to ensure you do not disturb uke and give any signal for him to react. Also if you try to raise your body you will still be at a disadvantage over a standing uke, thus keep your centre down and body relaxed. For this exercise don't move around, stay in seiza. Pushing uke's arm as you get ikkyo will also be a problem since you cannot move. Instead you must draw uke's ki and lead it besides you. Get rid of the habit of moving around a lot to compensate for poor control. By doing this in seiza and not moving you have to establish control from ki extension and awase alone.

As we finished the class, I tried to practice skin awase. I thought I understood it a bit. In order to make it easier, I pushed uke's bone using bone first. And then I tried capturing the feeling of skin to skin connection becoming one before moving uke using that captured feeling. It seemed to work and uke could feel the difference.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Makoto...for now

A student asked whether Makoto could be conceived as naivety or object innocence. Somehow, I don't think that is true. Perhaps thinking about a pure heart, one wonders if one should accept that everyone has a place in the universe and that we must not assume the worst of anyone. Well then, I think a proper definition of that would be unrealistic expectations.

A pure heart, or sincere heart to be more exact, I believe is more about doing things whole heartedly. Without guilt, remorse, regret, hesitation or rationalisation. Take your pick. It is about doing things as they should be. Its about acting in accord with the universe.

The example I gave was in an encounter with a beggar. We are often approached by those seeking funds for charity on behalf of others, on behalf of themselves and so on so forth. At times, it is easy to see a scam, more often than not it is difficult. Especially when it comes to professionals who make it their business to look legitimate. Normal people usually think to look for clues as to whether these people deserve the money before doling out the cash. We rationalise sometimes, if for example we have given the other day, maybe we'll say no this time around. Or sometimes we're with someone, and its embarrassing not to give because it gives an impression that we are stingy. All sorts of things come to mind when you're reacting to a beggar who approaches. Sometimes when you see one, you pray inside that he won't approach you because you'll have to go through the whole rigmarole. Sometimes you are already speculating if its a scam as he approaches.

In those instances, I would hazard that we have not yet reached makoto. Nor would it be makoto if you give everything you have to everyone who ask of it. I believe that at the stage of makoto, you will act as it happens. There will be times you will give them money, and at times you will refuse. You will do those things with complete sincerity, without thought of reward be it praise from your peers, or thanks, or satisfaction that you are able to give as opposed to the one who is begging. And in those times you refuse, it would be perfectly natural for that refusal to happen. No malice, no speculation, no care to the impression of those around you.

It will also hold true that in makoto, you will strike without fear and receive without fear or hesitation. You will enter when the time is true, and you will cut down the person in front of you without anger. Being in a state of makoto would be like Saidina Ali cutting his enemy down. Yet stopping when the man roused his anger by spitting at him. When he was asked by his enemy why not carry out the deathstroke, Saidina Ali calmly replied... It was right when I had to cut you down as God wills it, but it is not right to cut you down when I have anger towards you.

This ties back to the origins of Budo. To serve a higher purpose. As Budoka, you serve not yourself but a higher and more noble purpose. In serving that purpose you will achieve a state of makoto. But serving your needs and wants, those are not makoto.

Hopefully, my current understanding of makoto will not differ so much 2 years or 10 years down the road. But that's how I see it today. Also think, why Makoto is part of Fudo Genri. What has a sincere heart got to do with the Immovable Principles. To me, if you don't form expectations or anticipations, you won't plan to react a certain way. Instead you accept and do what is necessary and it becomes so true that it happens before something affects you.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Videos posted for last beginners class

Check the video link for class vids on tenkan and stuff we did last Sunday. I'm playing around with the compression so bear with the poor resolution. I'll get it right some day :D

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Important Notice: Video password

I've passworded the video album for our last seminar and classes. The password is sensei's second name in English. The videos are here for you to study and share amongst fellow Aikidoka but because I don't want it spread public, let all of you who see it watch it from vimeo and not upload it to youtube or something like that.

Revelation:From Form to Function , Form follows Function

Its something that's been oft repeated. Everyone is different. When asked to repeat a technique, Osensei replied each technique exist only once. He didn't mean the waza, he meant the way he did it. Each partner comes with their own set of variables, each attack different. For us to do waza perfectly, we need to intuitively adjust to those variables.

Keeping to form will inevitably lead to failure. However, in the process of learning, Form be-gets Function. Practice form to understand the principles behind it and to apply waza. Even entering ki and kokyu is form. I think only awase onwards is formless.

I was just looking over the videos for shihonage again. Empty step, float the hand but extend ki, feet keeping with chushin, center down hand feels light, compress uke's center, don't lift the hand, shear angle in keeping with awase, enter, keep connection, cut center, wrap, keep head position safe. These are just some of the points I can see. Yet, if you understand shihonage, its just control uke's center down up and down again.

Wanting to do something a particular way is a mindset that is trapped by Form. Feeling uke's energy, let the form follow the function of the waza. To reach this however means going through the form countless of times until the feeling is etched within us! At our stage, we shouldn't abandon Form. I think we will know when Form becomes unnecessary at our own time.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Post Mortem

As Sensei left us to head home for Jakarta, he spent some time discussing on how we want to continue our training. As a big proponent of feeling techniques and not discussing or watching them, Sensei knows our frustration of being unable to train regularly with him or his senior students. Nevertheless, given his history of learning to peel away the secrets of Aikido from his Japanese teachers who inherently protect Aiki as Japan's national treasure, it is not inconceivable for us to do the same. Especially with Sensei guiding us as he can.

A strong advise was to hold extra training after class especially for black belts. It used to be common practice in my old dojo that somehow died down as more and more senior belts left and work and family life became more important. We must however strive to do this in order to be better. In Kimura's book, he describe his tactics simplistically in winning the Judo Tourneys of his day and retaining championship over a number of years. He started out training 3 hours a day that became 6. And soon after he realised that his opponents will train harder so he started training 9 hours a day instead. When he succeeded in winning the championship again, his opponents said to him in awe. "I thought you trained 6 hours, so I started doing 6.5 hours a day. I didn't realise you had started training 9 hours!".

Malcolm Gladwell in his book Outliers basically hypothesise that it takes about 10,000 hours to achieve mastery. He uses examples like the Beatles and other notables in his book and creates a plausible account of why the greats are greats and the good are just good. For the Beatles, they happened to have played a lot during their Europe gig when they first started out. It was the time when you played every single day for more than 10 hours and get paid nothing. Even so, the Beatles gained endurance, gained flexibility, gained a vast repertoire of tunes and they refined themselves. It was a back breaking experience that ultimately forged them into one of the best musical group ever.

So what is 10,000 hours to us? If we happen to practice 2 hours a session and maybe 3 sessions a week that would roughly make it 300 hours a year. So 30 years should be about it really. Now of course if you're talking about mastery of 1 technique that makes it 30 years of training Ikkyo alone. If we're doing all the other stuff as well, like katatedori nikkyo, morotedori sankyo, ryotedori shihonage, shomenuchi iriminage and etc etc... then those techniques will also eat up on your mastery time. Just to put an even darker spot on your glimmer of hope, this is to say if you're training 'correctly'. If you are training 'wrongly' then, those 10,000 hours won't really do much would it?

If you haven't asked yourself 'What have I gotten myself into?' by now, you must either be strangely abnormal or you have a true heart of a budoka. Sensei himself likes to refer to practitioners of Aikido as budoka instead of Aikidoka. I'll talk about that later since I don't want to digress.

Going back to conviction. It takes time to get to mastery. Some however have innate talent. And some are given enlightenment. That is why once in a while this world is blessed with a spark of genius. They are like beacons of light that other people stared with wide eye wonder and are occasionally blinded by. Mozart, Ibn Sina, Da Vinci, Tesla, Ueshiba... the list is there for you to look at. They did not take the full 10,000 hours journey to achieve mastery. Not because they lack dedication, but because they achieved mastery beyond normal human ken.

Sensei says there are 4 levels of learning in Aikido. This I have mentioned in my earlier post. In some arts it could be as many as 70 or 100 levels. Each level taking years to master. In an art like budo, one questions what kind of person would dedicate his life to mastering such a knowledge. We no longer serve Lords, there are no samurai's with land and peasants to guard, army to fight. Why spend so much time doing something that won't bring us wealth or prestige or position? For some, it is their calling to be a warrior. A modern day warrior as it is. For some, budo trains the heart and soul that is distinctly being less and less regarded by modern society now days. Call it what you will, the path of budo is just one of many that can lead a man to greatness. And the first step is to understand that that greatness is not us.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Musing about Training

I've been looking at our past 8 classes with Sensei Hakim. Sensei splits each technique into 3 distinct levels, Beginner, Intermediate and Advance.

Typically, Beginner level requires application of Fudo Genri, kokyu and waza is done from static. Intermediate introduces Ki no nagare and some awase whilst Advance will use awase and musubi.

Practice is always done slowly to reinforce a good and sound foundation. Sometimes, its easier to do something dynamically. But from a static position, uke feels our movements better and has a better chance of readjusting his force to counter ours. By skipping this step, we sometimes jump to ki no nagare waza because we have a higher chance of completing our waza. Maybe if we want to impress our girlfriends we can do this, but since we're trying to learn something when going to class and not to show off, it would be better to do each waza as slowly as possible. No doubt, sometimes I too let loose especially with an eager beaver uke who jumps and attacks hard. Its good to practice dynamic waza too, because then we can better forget to overthink and instead just do. But always go back to static to make sure what we're doing is correct.

In our application besides the 3 levels mentioned above, we have also 3 stages of waza. One, again using fudo genri or the immovable principles. Next we use influencing principles. Lastly we have irresistible principles. To develop aiki we have to master fudo genri first. Next we practice influencing principles where we direct uke's ki and later mind and spirit to accomplish our technique. A branch of this is irresistible principles. The last principle is not 100% aiki but is relevant. It is actually more a ki technique. You do waza that your partner cannot resist. However, against a better uke who has stronger ki, this becomes useless. In that instance, you have to rely on Influencing principles. The most powerful and hardest to take ukemi would be using influencing and irresistible principles together. Much like what sensei mentioned when one of his students combined the use of aiki and hypnotising his uke in a previous class. Using Aiki, you eliminate uke's ability to use his power. Whereas Irresistible principle overpowers your uke with your ki.

Another aspect in training. Practitioners of Aiki are expected to have good ki. But not as specialised as though who practice exclusively in ki or internal strength. That is why it is harder to affect your seniors and better trained practitioners. Also note, Sensei has varied students. You have MMA fighters who are dedicated to forging their body into weapons, you have Ki fanatics who don't really try to use waza and instead focus only on their ki, and all manner of other generally weird people. Welcome to Geek Country. Most times you join a Ki Society in UK, the members are all typical nerds with a Star Wars fetish, I know cause I was one of them. Nothing bad about it really, but there you go. We're practising something that not many people understand including the students, what more with outsiders. Nor is it something that can be comprehended visually. Since it almost requires feeling for us to know that what's going on is absolutely real.

In Japan, a magazine called Hiden (or the hidden) is published regularly. It features only masters with exceptional outwordly abilities but with the caveat that they must be able to explain how they perform their extraordinary feats. Would it surprise you that Sensei was featured in this almost always Japanese only exclusive club? I don't need to convince of our students what sensei is all about, but I would like to reassure you that no matter what you do or say, others may not believe you.

Last night we did floating hands and aiki age from morotedori. I know how to do this, but it wasn't easy at all especially against sempai Shanti. Sometimes I can do it, and most times not without trying again and again. Its theoretically easy to imagine how it works. With hard structure chained together, uke will feel your center easily and overpower you with his two hands. Float and relax, that link to center disappears from Uke's grasp (although it still remains since you have to extend ki from hara to make this work). But since you're more relaxed then uke, you can feel his center easily and connect with it. Then, all you need to do is just drop your elbow without using any muscles at all. Try to move your partner, think about your hand and it wouldn't work. The crutch would be using your other hand to move your elbow, this will give you the feeling with which you have to try and match with only one hand. It helps but its better not to overuse this method.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

4 stages of Aikido

1. Unification of self
2. Unification with others
3. Unification with the universe
4. Unification with the Source.

In stage 1, this is what we call Fudo Genri or Immovable Principle.
a. Keep centre
b. Relax the mind and body
c. Extend ki
d. Mushin
e. Makoto

Keeping the centre is really being aware of Seika Tanden which is 2-3 inches below the navel. This one point is of 3 points in the body that forms Chushin or centre line. Keeping centre requires that we become aware of this point in our body. At first it is a physical point that we keep track of. It usually correlates with our centre of gravity. As you become more skillful, this point can be moved at will.

When we ask a student to relax, usually we get a floppy reaction. i.e. he becomes like a jelly. This is not relaxed, this is lifeless. It is lacking energy. Relax does not also mean the body only. Relax the mind is to invite calmness and from the calmness we gain strength. Not strength of force, but strength of character. So relax the mind and the body will become energised. When we tense up, our blood flow is affected, and our muscles bunch up. Small things affects us more. When we relax, it is harder for outside influence to affect us negatively.

Extend Ki. No doubt, beginners have received many advise on how to extend ki. Some will say imagine your hand like a tap that has running water. Or pick a point and touch it from a distance. Extending the Ki and Spirit is almost similar in the sense that you are really relying more on imagination than a real physical movement. However, most beginners do the same mistake.
1. They extend physically; i.e. they push or they tense.
2. They put their mind out of their body, i.e. when asked to concentrate on a point and touch it from a distance, they put their entire mind at that point. Forgetting their centre.
So the best way is to put the centre as a source of ki and extend out from there. Making a connection.

Mushin or no mind, is not having no thought. It is acting at will or naturally as if what you are doing is the most natural thing in the world. It is not analysing your waza or your opponents point of balance, counter techniques or strategy. It is doing because doing is right.

Makoto or pure mind. This can best be described as being honest and sincere. It is a trait, an Aikido must cultivate if he wishes to attain the true meaning of Aikido. Sincere in your actions, sincere in your interactions. Be sincere but do not be naive.

Bottles and Aikido

What is it with martial artists and bottles? Some line them up and chop them in half. Some use it as a weapon. Some just use it to put water and drink. Others like my sensei, talks about bottles for half an hour.

There is this etiquette that one must observe when studying martial arts. Especially one deeply ensconced in the way of Budo. Bruce Lee talked bout emptying the cup, but a bottle is also fine. We come in and ask the teacher to teach. Just like a beggar with a bowl asking for a handout. If the beggar comes to you with a bowl filled with 50 dollar bills, what are the chances you'll be giving him your hard earned cash? Typically you have students who come to seminars especially, but sometimes to classes too; they come saying the want to learn something but on the other hand, they treat everything you teach with scepticism. They feel they already know more, or some compare what they've learned with what you're teaching. Actually there's nothing wrong about comparing knowledge and trying to peel it for understanding. But sometimes we jump the gun. We think what we're doing is correct, in actual fact we're trying to compare apples and oranges.

Learning aiki we try to compare with bio mechanical movements. We compare it with tai chi, with Internal Strength. Basically we're making life more complicated for ourselves. That is why most teachers of olden day's say, just do it. Don't ask questions. Unfortunately, for better or worst, children nowdays are taught to question everything, including words of wisdom. Sometimes its for the best, but sometimes it is even better to follow instructions to the T.

Anyway, one thought came to me when sensei talked about bottles and water. If you happen to use bottles a lot for putting water, you notice how sloshy the water gets when its just a little bit left in the bottle. You shake it and the water goes everywhere. But notice also, if the bottle is half full and you shake it. This time the water doesn't shake but instead rolls around and adds momentum. Sometimes even to the point of making the bottle heavier than it really is. Fill it to the brim and shaking becomes a physically demanding task.The water doesn't shake anymore, instead it just is. The bottle is now the water, the water the bottle. You shake the water but the bottle moves, the water doesn't anymore.

What this analogy means is probably something I can't explain well. It led me into a tiny bit of wisdom but I'm not sure what it truly means. You can compare this to your knowledge, or to your aiki, or to your ki practice. It has relevance in each and everyone. Such is the depth of bottles.

Sensei talked about learning aiki and how he believes there are 4 levels.
1. Level of Knowing
2. Level of Understanding
3. Level of Mastery
4. Level of Being

Level of Knowing takes 10 years to achieve under tutelage. Understanding 20 years, Master another 30 years and Being 40 years. All in all, about 100 years to get there. This is an approximation. If you're 50 years old and hoping to learn aiki, I'm sorry to disappoint you. Just kidding.

As men, we use benchmarks because we understand relational differences but we love absolutes. Learning something is never absolute. Some people are blessed with exceptional insight and intelligence. Some are gifted with natural ability. My favourite author though wrote 10,000 hours as the mark of a true master. In any case, just use that number as approximation. Factor in your ability to get the right teacher, your ability to train every day, and every other variable out there, and basically you can put those years out of the window. For your information, sensei believes he is in level 2. He also mentions that learning Aiki requires revelation. One fine day, you wake up and suddenly all those years of practice makes sense.

I actually started out wanting to explain each level. But I don't think it matters really. What is really important here is to highlight that for most students of the art, they want to learn Aiki like its a subject in school. Aiki 101, 1 year to learn and grades from first class to third class available. Extra credit if you take Ki extension 121 supplementary class. When in actual fact, Aiki is a divine knowledge in that it is tied to the heart. Without wanting to understand our heart, our soul, we will find learning Aiki a difficult endeavour perhaps impossible. Taking this path, you will not guarantee yourself the ability of Aiki. You can only guarantee that you will discover something of yourself.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Training with Hakim Sensei

Our 4th class following the seminar ended just now. It wasn't the typical class we've been doing so far. Today we went back to basic kihon and Goshin. No more recharging ki. Today was more physical then usual.

While there is nothing wrong with that statement, any student of Hakim sensei should be wary of absolutes. It is true we did basic kihon and application techniques. But to say that we have abandoned ki, kokyu and aiki would be false. Application of kihon waza or application techniques can be done with good technical skills and strength or speed, but that doesn't exclude use of ki and aiki principles.

It is our duty to practice with ki and aiki principles the best we can, even though the nature or form of the classes changes. Nor should we only practice this way when we are with Hakim sensei's class or his students. We should be using this all the time and at anytime.

Sometimes it pains me to see uke attack nage with the prescribed method without sensing openings in nage first. They just walk in with their shomen or tsuki whilst nage does their waza. A good uke, waits for an opening. Or finds it and then attacks. We don't fight in the sense that we feint attacks or do rapid attacks unless called for. We give one honest attack that is meant to connect if nage fumbles. But we don't fake an attack. If nage has no opening, uke shouldn't attack anyway. Another thing.... doing aiki, nage actually allows uke to feel as if they have the ability to attack. In essence, nage shows an opening and leads uke to it. Uke tries to take advantage of this and falls into a trap. All this of course through feeling and extending of ki.

I won't go and explain what we've done in each of the classes. But there has been a gradual progression I feel. Sensei does not repeat waza in each of his class. Its almost as if he has the entire schedule planned out, which I really doubt. The basic premise remains. We lead and we feel. We accept and we do not fight.

As for me, taking prodigious amounts of ukemi from sensei has instigated a form of awareness in me. It is with sensei that I'm most comfortable with taking a fighting attitude. With another sensei, they will mistake it for resistance. With sensei Hakim, that is how it should be. Uke attacks sincerely and sincerely avoids making mistakes that leads to his demise. This is a common problem with Aikido uke's. Ever so willing to offer their necks for iriminage, kaitenage and whatever else the enterprising nage has in their head at that time. Do they not fear death?

I have once given a semblance of active resistance as an uke to a different sensei. It was apparent to me, the other students thought I was fighting him and trying to make a fool out of him. On one side I felt ashamed, and yet on another I felt sorry for the students who thought I did that out of spite. Sensei's nowdays have gone too far inculcating the spirit of cooperation between ukes and nages in the guise of 'harmony'.

I besiege you fellow aikidokas. Do your art justice and attack with sincerity. However be a good uke, attack as you can safely defend yourself from. Over extending an attack is giving charity to nage. We attack so that we can attack again.