Saturday, April 3, 2010

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.

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