Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Open Your Umbrella Under the Shelter of the Eaves

Probably misquoted, but the gist is there. The title is taken from one of the chapters written by Dave Lowry, a favourite budo author of mine, in his book Moving in Stillness. Alas, I've lost his books amongst the other favourite books that I have when moving out of my parents house. But since I've read his book numerous times, occasionally events in my life trigger a recall of certain anecdotes and wisdom hidden in his gem of a book.

Today's training was good again. Miles is serious about improving our ukemi. Up to the point of doing jumping ukemi over a partner doing a standing bow. Its been years since I've done those athletic showy ukemis, that doing it today must have pulled my adductor muscles in the inner thigh somewhat. So coming back home from our late night practice, I was suddenly overcome with a muscle cramp down there whilst staring at this notebook. Its quite an uncomfortable experience, but I relaxed the muscles as best as I could and proceeded to hang from a chin up bar. Subsequently, I thought hmmm... lets put some muscle balm there and speed the healing a bit.

Let me tell you this. Protection is critical at anytime you ever want to use a muscle balm near certain areas of your body. As I was burning up and trying to wash it off (making it worse because the water actually spreads it around more), I thought to myself what a funny thing to happen to me. Here I am, talking about zanshin all the time, and the best I could do now is to practice kokyu to take my mind away from the pain. Then I thought about the protection bit, and that's when the phrase from Dave Lowry overtook me.

The meaning here is simple. In a heavy rain, taking the time to open your umbrella, you will be drenched out in the open. The wisdom is to take immediate shelter first, and then open your umbrella to move in the rain. Just like soldiers, if suddenly come upon under enemy fire, the worst thing to do is locate the enemy and fire from your current position. Statistically speaking, in the event of gunfire, your highest chance for survival is to move. A moving target is harder to hit. Take cover and fire from cover. Actually you can derive many meanings from this phrase. It applies to almost anything in life, even business. If we focus on trying to fight head on and oncoming assault, we will take huge losses. Sometimes its good to take a step sideways and duck under shelter, even if its a temporary shelter and one that is leaking before putting forward our plan for revival.

Yesterday's extra class, we did a moving drill. Too much is spent on waza from a prepared position, where nage waits upon uke's attack and executes a waza. Even in kinonagare, most times nage stands there and does his waza. Yesterday we tried first to just move naturally and escape naturally. In our mind we are to mimic a child's innocent single mindedness. When you see a child grab something, he grabs with his whole heart. Similarly when he does anything, all his focus and body move harmoniously towards that single thing. Its not in his nature to struggle as yet. A baby's grip is surprisingly strong because of that (plus he is very relaxed).

Using this thought, we move and release our selves from uke's grabs like its the most natural thing to do. Brushing away mud from your clothes so to speak.

From there we started to do Ushiro ryotedori sankyo. Instead of staying on the spot to struggle, or pulling, we now project the feeling of moving forward, but we only take half a step. Using the projection we move our hands forward and bring it into position for sankyo. Done right, uke is almost propelled forward without him realising it. There would be no pulling sensation for him to fight with.

I brought it up today after class. Saying that we learn a principle in class and practice it, and by the next class we forget to apply it. How can it be that we go to class, do something for 2 hours and the next class we just wait to practice something else? But that's the reality even for me. This reminds me how most of us study for tests in this country. Mostly its about memorising the correct answers. We do past year test questions in the hope that a similar question will pop up and we'll know how to answer it 'properly'. At the end of this years test, everything is forgotten in the following. We don't learn to learn, we learn to answer tests.

Getting fixated on an attack and staying there to address it is a habit that we can get rid of. Doing this intentionally will lead us to a more relaxed approach in facing oncoming attacks. We then acquire the skill to really move naturally in ki no nagare and have now taken the first step towards takemusu aiki.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Reminiscing the Childhood


As I sat quietly to my lunch over the bustling crowd gathered under the poolside terrace with its gigantic overhanging screen playing the latest football match, I looked at the pool and remembered my time as a kid here in Lake Club. Those were the days that I swam under the noon sun and thought nothing of the blacken skin. There were times the sleeping lifeguard came to my rescue as my brother tried to practice his own informal lifeguarding on me (drowning me in the process), that I was quite thankful for.  

I remembered how it was in my first Tae Kwon Do lesson in the club. Halfway through class the master called a break. I immediately went up and bought a mushroom pie. My master found me as I scoffed it down and laughed. It was a water break, and this greenhorn went and bought himself a snack. That's the first anyone did anything like that in class I'm proud to say...

Thinking about TKD... I enjoyed it. I mostly enjoyed the sparring, but the training was good. Even at the club we had some really adventurous training. Flying kicks over punching bags and then crouched students was the most fun for me. Others like forming a boat "stomach isometric exercise", wasn't that fun. But it got fun when the instructors started jumping on our stomachs as we did that.  Imagine, I started at 7 and by the time I was around 12ish we had full grown adults jumping on our stomachs and it was fun. Going to boarding school after that exposed me to even more advance training. But its a wonderful feeling to hit a target hanging 8 feet with a jumping spinning kick. Nothing beats seeing your progress as you get to hit targets you couldn't reach before. Sparring with people whom you couldn't beat and beating them, or breaking more and more boards as you get better. This sense of progression... it helps a lot when you're a teenager trying to prove your worth to the world.

It's sad to hear then about the latest victim of school ragging or bullying, this time from RMC or the Royal Military College. A student was ragged by his seniors to do pushups and when he couldn't complete it well, he was kicked by one of them. Which later caused him to bleed internally and die at the hospital. I told my friends that bullying has been going on in boarding schools for goodness how long. Even I had to go through it. But we are all ultimately responsible for our own safety and treatment by others. Sure, playing the role of a junior member to the seniors is important; tradition, discipline, gratification for the ego and all that. But playing that role and being a victim are 2 different things. A line has to be drawn and that line has to be recognised by you. Ultimately, you cannot allow anyone to cross that line. As a human being you have your rights and this include your right to your health and safety and respect. As the seniors or bullies test that line, you have to make known to them that you are willing to fight and defend your rights. In this fashion, they will respect and leave you alone. 

But tying this incident to our TKD training. You can see the force of someone jumping on a prepared stomach against a kick to the torso of an unprepared person, can result in very different outcomes. Even in our TKD sparring session, we didn't have body pads. We had gloves and some padding around our feet, but in no way does it save a person from side kicks or back kicks from those pads that are designed for the instep only. I've seen many friends on the floor wheezing. Heck I was one of them. I still remember seeing black as I rolled on the floor trying to catch a breath. My friends looking worried, and trying to help. Its never fun falling down from a flying kick because your partner managed to kick you in the gonads while you're show boating. But none of us died. This boy died because someone kicked him wrong. 

I'm not saying that being prepared can save you from debilitating injury. But it does help. So does having the proper spirit. I swam in the hot sun thinking of the fun I'm having. Not of sunburns, or skin cancer, or heat stroke, or fever... thus, we rarely had that problem. The spirit that we had protected us. Instead, try to force a kid to swim in the hot sun, you're likely to have him contract one of those afflictions I mentioned. 

Today, we trained from Katadori. Ikkyo, nikkyo from the static position. First using our empty step, then with shifting step. Next we used the outer triangle method, and last we worked on Ashi sabaki. It was smooth sailing until we got to the last part. Too many times along the way though, the students had problems of connecting with their uke's. Pulling in a myriad of fashion and concentrating on the hands are the main mistakes, but wrong facing chushin was notable too. But when it came to ashi sabaki, everyone was looking blank.

I then had us work on yokomen where we demonstrated how ashi sabaki felt like. Moving away engages uke in a fight. Going in blank gives him a perfect target to hit. Doing it right, stops his flow, and cripples his intention to strike. Using this projection of the spirit allows us our many different resolutions using the hands. So once everyone got into that feeling, we tried katadori again. Always the hand is like brushing a mosquito, and aimed at the outside triangle of uke. But the key here is ashi sabaki first. I can say that some have gotten it, a bit at the very least... but more training is required to ensure it becomes second nature for us to project our spirit without the impression of Jaden Smith's scrunched up face in Karate kid showing up.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Good ukemi training today at KD

Its always refreshing when going to class to train instead of thinking about teaching. You can just listen and do and leave the thinking behind. Though, I don't mean training dumb. In learning from someone, be it a Sensei, Sempai or Kohai, understanding what their objective of teaching is essential. Besides mimic'king their movements, it is also a good idea to reflect on your current experience and knowledge and apply. Applying the principles you've learned is always a good idea in Aikido. Beginning students stick to Kihon Genri, advance students can add Fudo Genri, Aiki Genri and so on.

Today we did a lot ukemi with Miles. It seems everybody is of a mind to improve their ukemi and fitness in preparation for Jakarta. There's a lot to be said of about this sort of events. Just like Sensei Marcus once remarked. Its good to have seminars and grading to look forward to. It gives an added incentive to train harder in preparation for it, thus if we keep that level of training, we have improved ourselves and hopefully our Aikido too.

What is preparation so important? Remember Sensei told us of his student that once left training for quite sometime because of work. But he never stopped applying the principles in his daily life. He soon realised a lot of the meaning behind those principles whilst applying it in his life. Later he came back to class to train, every body remarked that his Aikido has improved a lot. They all suspected him that he has been training secretly somewhere. In fact he didn't do physical Aikido at all. In applying the softer side of Aikido he has brought balance to his martial skills. Kancho Inoue mentioned this too in his seminar. Aikido has a physical side and also a mental side. In order to be good, you need to train your physical side a lot. In order to be very good you have to train so that your mental side equals your physical side.

I've always mentioned to my kohai, Osensei wasn't just a man of martial arts. As a budoka, he has never forgo his training of the mind and spirit. He trained in Chinese and Japanese literature since he was 6 years old. In his library collection he had books of Einstein, Newton and famous philosophers amongst his collection of war manuals and martial books. A man who is only good at fighting cannot be a true budoka, at least not as an Aikidoist.

Anyway, I'm getting sidetracked here. About the student who left class and came back better. Don't try this at home kids. Not everyone can apply and learn Aikido's softer skills in their daily routine. Sure I do try to apply it 24/7, but we seldom succeed. That is why you will find very very good Aikido teachers far far fewer than just good or ok teachers. Everyone can do 10s of thousands of hours in practice, but can any make all those hours alive in our hearts?

The ukemi we're doing will help us in many levels. To improve strength, fitness, flexibility and muscle memory. Just like Tiger woods hitting thousands of balls a day but also doing gym work to build muscle tone, doing Aikido waza alone is not enough. We need to increase cardio work so that we can take more ukemi. The easier we can do this, the more we will be able to act as uke. And the more we act as uke, the more we get to learn. Sometimes Sensei will go through us students like flies. Everyone drops in exhaustion past the 2 min mark, myself included. Sometimes when he goes really really aiki like, we don't get near 1 min when we already start panting. This is bad, because if we could take 10 minutes ukemi, we are getting 10x benefit to learn and feel his techniques.

The breakfalls were pretty routine, but I would like to talk more about the shihonage ukemi that I pointed out tonight. Uke and Nage must carry the feeling of being armed at all times. Even as nage holds uke in shihonage but has not thrown yet, the feeling is as if uke and nage are pairing with swords, feeling each others center. Uke is not resisting, but he is connecting to nage. As nage moves, uke moves, he follows harmoniously nage's center, always keeping his center under control. Uke shouldn't go rigid, or go halfway down to a fall. Uke should be light on the feet and extended in everyway. If nage drops, uke drops... it doesn't mean he has to fall. Nage goes up, and uke can go up too. Somewhere along the line, if Nage loses control, Uke can take initiative of Nage's center and throw him too without changing hands position. But if Nage does throw uke well, uke should be light in taking the fall. I.e. not resisting the energy but going through it.

The other one that we did was koshinage. In koshinage, the principle here is to displace uke's center. You do this by unbalancing uke and entering so that you form a T to his chushin. The back of your heels in line with his exact centerline. Your body is bowed at a slight angle. Your arm is like a see saw. The arm being held starts extended up, the other lightly touching his knees. As you displace his center with your hips, you extend your hands up and away and cut down, the other hand brushes his knees and legs to swing him over your hips, and you pull your rear leg closer to your lead leg, the effect is like having someone roll over your hips. How you displace uke's center is important. You really want your hips just below his center. Going in and under, then springing up is basically like a shovel motion.

The last thing we did was to kokyu sorewaza. This time I wanted nage to maintain proper zanshin with uke and  throw him around the mat. Decide on which direction to throw, and as he comes up, go to the proper location and enter into his center so that he is force to move into that direction being the easiest for him. Waiting for uke to come up, is like waiting for the enemy to attack the base. Instead, we have sent out mobile units or raids and engage him beyond our borders, i.e. attacking him in his discomfort zone. Not that we should have the intention of attacking. More like being overly harmonious, like a fog enveloping the car hiding and obscuring the path in front of us, instead making new paths that lead inevitably down the cliff.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Aiki Taiso, Tai Sabaki, Ukemi... the Basic Building Blocks

The last few classes we've been really concentrating on working our Aiki Taiso, Tai Sabaki and Ukemi down pat. I've introduced a couple of new or variant ukemi's.

We've been comfortable so far with front and back ukemi. Even to the point where I've done combinations in class with front to back, back to front, front and change legs. We also did back-mae ukemi and back yoko ukemi.

This time we've introduced ushiro yoko otoshi (which sensei showed last time he was here), the worm ukemi and reintroduced how to do an easier yoko ukemi. For Ushiro yoko otoshi ukemi, we're not doing the spectacular somersault back drop into the ukemi. Instead using paired practice, partners walk towards uke's outstretch arm in a pseudo irimi fashion and do a limbo. From the limbo, he stretches one arm down and keeping one arm as light support on uke's hands. Dropping on the outstretch arm (yoko style), he rolls around his shoulders to the other arm, releasing one of his bent knees at the same time. This ukemi is nice to do when irimi comes into the chin. Instead of hanging there with the neck chopped off, go into limbo and flow with the energy, then roll out.

The worm is when you are compressed by nage then he lets you bounce up and enter's with irimi. Let your feet fly up, spin your body horizontally face down and land with the hands curving your body, so that the torso comes next, then the legs using your toes to touch the floor first not your knees. Arching your body back as you come down helps too... but carefully. Not stiffly.

The yoko ukemi, we begin by doing a roll. Sort of like a baby. Rolling side to side and making circles on the floor with our hands stretched out. Right hand paired with right leg and move together. Then standing up, imagine you're a big fat drunk, swaying side to side and as you tip too far out to one side, you just roll over your hand shoulder and to other other hand. Typically because this roll does not stop the force at all (unlike some forward rolls), you'll find yourself immediately standing up from the roll. That's fine. If you do end up with legs splayed (like the initial rolling on the floor exercise), just swing your body around to get up. You'll tend to use less energy this way to get up and makes for good ukemi during strenuous seminars.

Today, we did a lot of tai sabaki movement. Exploring our kamae using the triangle supported by the circle and line. We started with tenkan, then we did awase from kamae four directions, then we did the drop center from kosadori, then morotedori irimi and tenkan using the outside triangle. After we did this using physical tactics, we tried using the float and drop elbow method. After that, we did ikkyo from there and let uke fight it out, and repeat until complete. Lastly, we had uke start with yonkyo on our hands and then drop shoulder, elbow and center and perform ikkyo on them as a counter.

Awase and Musubi not withstanding, Aiki taiso and tai sabaki exercises requires our extension and chushin to be properly utilised. This is our building blocks to a better aikido.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Ukemi and Other Places to Improve...

Its been so long that I've done any new ukemi that I thought I could get away with what I have presently. Given that I've also had a break of 2 years from intensive training, getting back my original level of ukemi is harder than I thought.

Even so, taking faster and faster throws from sensei has been getting harder and harder. Conventional breakfalls is not cutting it anymore. I realise there's a need to have more spring in my step now. Training as I am right now, with very little movement and strength is gradually stripping my fitness level. Therefore, I'm going back to the gym for more running and a little strength training to build muscle tone.

On top of that, I will have to master 2 more ukemi which I've never been officially taught. The first would be the worm'like ukemi taken by flipping 180 degrees and doing the worm. The second would be the ushiro otoshi ukemi which sensei showed the basic level in our last seminar. Doing the first one requires me to toughen up the arms and improve the flexibility. The second requires flexibility of my spine and hips/psoas, which is definitely going to take a lot of work. Last night in the extra class we worked on this for about 15 minutes. Too short by far but we'd get no progress if we start to get injuries.

The problem I'm having is with the 2nd ukemi. Jumping up and falling on my shoulders is definitely going against my instincts right now. I think the remedy here is better stomach muscles to maintain torso integrity while doing the rolling on the back/shoulders.

The other thing we did was to run from center and drop down to make a running sweep by running sideways on the ground. This is to help us train our movement so as not to stop when dropped by someone.

We focused a lot on aiki taiso last night. The better part of the class was going through aiki taiso. This is our fundamental building blocks. Just like in the Yoshinkan they have Kihon Dosa, we have aiki taiso. I took a page from Kancho's training the other day, I had everyone do happo undo left and right and with their eye's closed. Later I might try this for the entire set. Even sensei has advocated training in the dark before. We will explore this method of training from time to time to improve our connection with our surroundings. Thinking about this, maybe we should have an occasional class using normal clothes and shoes outside. In order to take what we've learned in class into a more natural environment.

Traditional training will be our Shu. But to make our Shu more meaningful, we have to sometimes enter Ha. Not enter it completely thought, not at this stage, but to take peeks from time to time.

Last night we also worked with 2 techniques differently. Morotedori kokyunage and Ryotedori tenchinage. With morotedori, we're not parting curtains or floating. Last night we worked on uke's triangle in his kamae, omote and ura. Using that angle we achieve tenkan and irimi without force. This movement is basically shearing. We're not abandoning awase though. It works better with good awase, but the focus was whole body movement entering those angles.

Similarly with Ryotedori tenchinage. We're trying to first synchronise our hands and body to move as one. Then with the partners energy. We didn't do aikiage here or drop center, but instead we move into the angles.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Addendum to Inoue Kyoichi's Seminar

The trouble with composing a summary when you have the time is that, sometimes you will forget a few details. Compounded by the fact that most Aikido seminar's are quite lengthy with lectures and activities interspersed between each other, means that you'd have to a wonderful memory to recall everything. Its not an excuse, but hey I got to justify this post right?

Kancho said this of training... this was mentioned during tenkan practice. One problem he sees is people doing tenkan but their minds is still with the uke. Thus they're moving into a new direction, but part of them is still stuck on uke, thus their movement becomes in balance, rigid or pulling. Shioda told him to first put your mind on uke during the grab, full attention, then tenkan and give full attention to the new direction. This is very similar to how we project our intention one way, then the other way when we do aiki taiso. Having does this directional projection, we still have connection with uke though and that's through the hands and center connection.

Kancho also said that in multiple uke situation, Aikido is just like life. You deal with one thing at a time and finish it before moving to the other. (multi taskers beware!). In the case of Aikido, you meet and throw an uke at a time (sometimes you just move past them to meet the other uke first, this can be construed as priorities). If you deal with one uke and half complete something and then rush to meet another uke, pretty soon you'll be buried in an avalanche of ukes. Similarly, in life we tend to do something halfway then take up another project, and then another, and pretty soon we're completely bogged down with half completed jobs. As I'm writing this down, I'm reminded of my own half completed projects rusting in the binary shelf of my computer hard drive.

Surely, you remember the zeal or energy that you had when you first took up a project. Enthusiasm abound and ideas flowing. Suddenly after awhile those things fade away. Maybe it takes a year, maybe even a week, but there will be times when you lose total interest in that project. I've seen it in many people who take up multiple activities like radio car building/racing, then helicopters, or maybe paintball and go kart next, swimming, then cycling or photography. Some do it because it was a fad and their friends did it so they wanted to join this group activity. Some do it because there was this famous or popular teacher teaching, so they joined because the teacher really appealed to them and they wanted to enjoy that activity like that teacher too. After awhile, when the friends have gone on to other things, or the teacher has left, you feel a little bit lost and empty. That activity you thought was so fun has now become a chore. There is where the decision comes in. Your soul searching starts here.

Not everything you do is meant to be completed. I realise that. We're not robots. In life, there will be mistakes and failures. But in Budo, where mistakes and failures can cost you your life or someone else's, we must be mindful of the type of mistakes and failures we allow to happen. Sometimes, there are things that you have to complete irrespective of whether you like it or not. Your soul searching is not so much to see if there's an affinity to a particular activity or not. Any kid worth his salt knows what he likes and dislikes. Soul searching means whether you can push past that boredom, dislike and confusion, and finish what you've started.

Remember, if you believe everyone and anything can be a teacher, then we must listen and understand what they are saying and the things they are not saying. A true teacher will help you cultivate that skill, so that it can be applied to everything else that you do. That's why its important to have a teacher who can teach you to learn, not just having many teachers with many different skills. This teacher will be your True North so to speak, whereas the other teachers gives you the other points in a compass.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Seminar with Inoue Kyoichi, Day 2

Yesterday I forgot to relate a story Kancho told about this Karate master. He met this man who told him how kamae is very important to him as it was to Gozo Shioda. In fact, Gozo Shioda did a series of video tapes about Aikido, and the producers asked him to teach the most important technique for the last tape. Shioda then agreed, and for the entire tape all he did was expounded on Kamae. Going back to this karate master, he said when he was younger but still a senior yudansha, he went to China to train under this exceptional master. This master agreed to teach him, and made him stand in a horse stance. He then circled the karate man once and left the room, returning an hour later. Class over he said. This went on for an entire year. At first the karate man grew bored doing this training, after a few days he thought of quitting. But after several months, he felt something changing in him. After the year was over, he felt he understood the importance of this kamae stance. The teacher then said, ok now I teach you how to move. So for the next year, the man trained how to move forwards, backwards and sideways. The karate man stayed for three years learning very very basic things, but in the end he felt his Karate improved tremendously.

There is a key and various levels of understanding for everything that we do in our lives. Particularly in traditional martial arts, where what is seen generally hides a deeper meaning.

Today, Kancho stressed Kihon Dosa again. This time he had us train in a kata like progression. From migi hanmi and reversed it to hidari hanmi. In aikikai we don't have this taiso in kata form, not all of it anyway. But the principles remain the same. I especially liked when he asked us to close our eyes to do the entire sequence. Doing it this way requires us to retain our balance from feel alone as well as moving to the appropriate angles correctly. Any wrong movement will lead us to clash to our neighbours or make us lose balance. Sensei too have expounded the value of training in the dark. Even in my Silat training we use to train in the dark sometimes. Of course, when mistakes means a finger in the throat or worst an eye, we tend to be very sensitive to incoming attacks. This element of unknown and danger allows our minds to be free and not be constraint by set forms and responses.

After this we did very simple exercises. One of which was kaiten irimi movement to avoid a shomen. Because Yoshinkan kamae has the lead foot slanted outwards, moving into the kaiten irimi step is very natural. Still we must get the timing just right if we are to obtain kuzushi of uke. Next we adjusted this for tsuki. Here Kancho showed a slight irimi from the lead foot before doing the kaiten irimi from the back foot. It is similar to our half step in feeling and maybe in execution. What's important and similar to us is that we do not avoid the attack but move positively and accepting it.

After this we did shomen ate. This shomen ate came after the first kaiten irimi movement and when uke comes to attack again, having the same feeling as kaiten irimi, we proceed to deliver shomen ate. The way we do it is to attack the chest and irimi up into the chin. This exercise is best when you have full understanding of extending ki. Also you do this immediately upon uke's attack, such that it is not telegraph. In fact uke will perceive your shomen ate as very fast an unavoidable. Incorrect extension or timing will allow uke to see your movement and connect his attack first. Shoving the chin should not be the intention as well. Nage's who do this inevitability move their fist in a linear fashion. Whereas this movement actually orginates from our center (to the Yoshinkan, it originates from the movement of feet and fingers in unity). It is also circular in fashion, since it leads uke's energy from chu tanden upwards, and you cut his chushin. We have a similar move in silat, which I like to demonstrate from time to time. Attacking our attackers using it allows us to bring them down with out effort. The strike hits the chest. My teacher calls it 'pinjam tenaga' or borrowing opponent's energy. In a way that's true, because shomen ate should not be a force generated by us, rather it should be a natural movement that guides uke's energy back to himself so he will fall.

After class, Sensei Joe Thambu kindly introduced me to Kancho so that I can relate my story about Hakim sensei. I asked Kancho to show me. Kancho obliged by showing me the awase with uke's arm that guides his shoulder into the forward movement. Whilst this is a better version than attacking the elbow that locks uke and forces him to take ukemi to avoid an elbow break, it was not the one that sensei described to me where uke fell on the spot. I suspect Kancho did not demonstrate that for fear I am unable to take the ukemi. Certainly, I felt when he rotated the shoulder up and down, the ability for nage to bring uke's head down on the spot is there... I'm not sure whether I should have pursued this to my satisfaction, but seeing that I'm a guest and the majority of the participants were Yoshinkan boys, I thought it best not to overstay my welcome.

All in all, it was refreshing to train in the Yoshinkan way. The house of building the spirit certainly has deep meaning within it. Having a very senior teacher making real effort to develop the basics for his students really shows how important it is. Despite the fact that he knows its a boring subject for most, especially for the beginning student who is impatient to 'graduate' from basic movements. This seminar is different then the clinic he did in PD last year in that most of the participants were Sensei Ramlan's students. Whereas in PD, the participants were international and very mixed, thus Kancho showed a lot of aiki waza. Nevertheless, for the uninitiated Aiki waza brings excitement to the crowd, here Kancho has shown his emphasis is still the basic stemming from Kihon Dosa. The secret is here, he repeated often enough. We can only hope that someone was listening and can understand what he's trying to say.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Day 1: Seminar with Kancho Inoue Kyoichi

I've been looking forward to this seminar for sometime now. Sensei visited kancho over 10 years ago and ask him about Hiji Ate. He wasn't impressed with the way it was normally done. Kancho did one that wasn't forced, but put sensei on his back on the same spot without him understanding what happened.

When you hear feats like that, usually its done by some dead person a long time ago. Or someone so insanely improbably for you to meet that they might as well be dead before you'll get a chance to meet them. So it was totally surprising to hear that Kancho has already visited Malaysia before. Now was the chance for me to see him in real life.

Kancho began the class exactly on time. It was amazing to see the Shudokan boys in action. They're all proper, structured and behaved as an organised and disciplined unit. No doubt Sensei Ramlan with his teacher, Sensei Joe Thambu played an important role developing the mindset and relationship that these students readily accepted as part of their training regime. Anyway, going back to Kancho. He lectured us on the importance of the spirit. The heart. That's the most important thing. Most times he says, people get caught up with bodily training and techniques. Moving is Aikido no doubt, but so is sitting still. In seiza we learn discipline, we learn mind over body, we learn many things and pain is just a small aspect to it all. So whilst the boys are all geared to get it on, sitting still must have been an endurance test like no other. Since he spoke for 1 hour.

Glossing over the spirit part is not intentional. But it reflects readily what sensei has been trying to instil in us with Aiki no kokoro, makoto and mushin, muteki and all those other mus I haven't gotten down pat yet. Aside from those, kancho says that Osensei used to refer to the spirit not only as our heart or spirit, but also as Divine Spirit. i.e. training in Aikido is not only to train our body, but also to train the Divine Spirit within us. He also mentioned that, in order for us to progress, we need to train the mind so that it matches or balances with our body (i.e. techniques and physical ability). No doubt, the Yoshinkan way is probably the best methodology to train the body. Its Kihon dosa effectively builds all its students with the knowledge needed to perform all kihon kata/waza at the very least in proper form. There wasn't any fumbling about that I saw. Yes, minor mistakes like forgetting chushin, intention and the like... but in terms of movement or steps, without a doubt, all the students knew what to do. And that is simply amazing compared to Aikikai students.

The Kihon dosa was done in a pretty regimented way. Simply following it like the Yoshinkan guys would really be hard for us soft Aikikai people. Even after they do it, they too must loosen up their bodies because of the rigidity. But seeing Kancho performing it, it is very natural. Indeed, if you studied Total Aikido by Gozo Shioda you will see him mention the same thing. It starts out very hard and rigid, but later you'll be able to do it all in a relaxed fashion. This was also true about chushin. When you start out, it is imperative that chushin alignment remains unchanged. But Kancho demonstrated that it can be done when you get better, out of alignment (at least physically). Through it all, I pursued kihon dosa using our kihon genri. In the end, the effect achieved is pretty much the same, minus the strained muscles or joints.

We started out paired practice with tai no henko and something like sokomen dosa. The emphasis as Kancho said is not to pull or move in a linear fashion. He talks about chushin and filling up the gaps in the grip, but really its similar to what we understand as awase and connecting with uke's center. So there's no real difference there. In sokumen nage, the movement in, included a slight center displacement by nage into uke. This is achieved by sliding in with the back leg shearing/cutting through uke's space. The hands as reminded by Kancho's assistant instructor leads the body movement. Kancho mentioned 2 holes. The 1st being the holes in uke's grip/fingers, the 2nd being the hollow of the space between his chest and hands. Nage takes advantage and move into those 2 holes for this technique.

We then did morotedori kokyu nage. This morotedori is done in ikkyo undo fashioned and cuts down. Most times we try to project forward to throw uke. But really, if awase is done right, we keep uke's elbow extended upwards and outwards, dropping our hands with awase would move uke's hand like glue and thus unbalance him into a fall. I myself was guilty of at first trying to project outwards. But when I did our relaxed method it drew a more powerful throw without much effort. Sensei Thambu's take on this is quite fascinating. He really enters to displace you and throws through the elbow in a 45 degree's angle. Not quite what kancho is doing, but very effective and not strength based at all. It was very comfortable to take ukemi from but it was an unavoidable ukemi because his control over your center was absolute.

I forgot. In the tai no henko, as explained by Gozo Shioda to Kancho, when we lead uke, it is important to extend our energy or ki forwards. Shioda told him that energy goes all the way around the world and comes to uke's back. In fact, Kancho experienced this feeling that his small back got pushed or felt like it was pushed by that energy, and he had no choice but to follow the lead.

After morotedori kokyu nage, we did katatedori aihanmi kokyunage. Done from soto, at first with the tai sabaki similar to sumi otoshi beginning. Moving front leg out and turning chushin, extend hands to the corner. Then bring our raising our hands in a circle upwards to control uke's elbow up, we bring our body out of line and chushin facing him again. Then still controlling the elbow we lead it down into a throw.

We then did iriminage from aihanmi using ura tenkan. Here, Kancho showed the use of atemi when uke is down that goes into the irimi movement which done with proper hand awase to the side of the face is actually a neck break in the old days.

We then did nikkyo from same as above. Sensei Ramlan's take was to cut like a sword in a big circle cut. Because the hands were quite far, it was uncomfortable to me against our usual way. But the center to center connection remains pivotal here. Cutting always in a circular  motion, not the hands but uke's chushin is important.

Throughout the class, Kancho emphasised circular movements, correct chushin, correct response by uke and such. Uke he says must hold strong but not resist. Instead treat each and everything as training the body. In fact, receive the nikkyo well he says. Like a lover. Doing this will build up the hands to become strong and supple. Dumb resistance will just cause injury over time. Uke moves too, and don't release the grip or stay rooted in one position. One wonders, because this is similar to the Aikikai doctrine. Moving though does not mean you lose balance, in fact you move to a place which has good balance and position. There are certain movements that he points out is driven by the legs, back legs especially. Moving the body in a disjointed fashion loses this power. Also, he mentions that Aikido is moving naturally, and being as harmonious as nature wills it. Standing and walking shoulder width is the only way to do this. Any smaller you will be less stable, any bigger you will forfeit mobility.

I might have missed some things here, but I hope the gist of the training was captured. Unfortunately I had to leave before the final session so I only had 2 sessions to write off. Since I still haven't managed to get him to do hiji ate on me, tomorrow will be my final chance.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Recap over Saturday and Sunday's class.

We did a lot of Ikkyo yesterday. Going through kihon from kosadori, to gyakuhanmi, morotedori and shomenuchi. We also did shihonage from dynamic open door movement and also sorewaza instead of hanmi handachi. All these training is motivated into training the center to be the strong foundation, not the legs and also to practice floating the hands which is essential in Aiki Kenkyukai methodology.

Today we did more iriminage. Starting with basic sokumenage, then into gyakuhanmi iriminage, morotedori, shomenuchi. We also looked closely at extension and a bit of musubi pulling and entering at the end. On the whole, the idea today was to look at how we extend during static movement and how that translates into dynamic movement. We also looked at moving body with kokyu. Sinking center using kokyu for both static and dynamic movement. Half step and letting uke through (which revisits our opening door training yesterday). This extending from kamae, sinking as uke attacks, and half step is the key to allowing uke through and not clashing with him. Our zero power hand ensures we accept his energy without stopping the movement. Both hands leading him in equilibrium means we control his center, not his hands or neck.

Much of the mistakes we caught today lies in:
1. Avoiding the attack or attempting to deflect it.
2. Moving the body from the line of attack, instead of creating space through sinking and using half step movement.
3. Moving backwards i.e. pulling uke instead of going forwards and leading him.
4. Once sinked, attempting to throw uke upwards instead of letting him go up and fall on his own. Cutting centre.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Dreams, Reality and life as you know it...

Its been made into a big deal for serious practitioners of a martial arts to have dreams... well at least in Silat. You know, after you pass the initiation, you'll probably get to dream of a final showdown or test somewhat with the tok guru who has long passed away. That sort of thing. I sort of waited and waited, but never got such a dream. Frankly, I'm happy. Because everyone I know who fought in the dream with the Tok Guru always woke up injured. Typically because they cause the injury to themselves. I'm happy I don't have to poke my throat and suffer for a month to graduate.

Funnily enough, I noticed even westerners dream. Well the ones who posted their dreams on Aikido usually have things like Osensei in the mix, or them vs serious fighters. I don't really know what to make of it, but hey it probably means that they love Aikido so much they still want to train in their sleep.

So... what has dreaming got to do with anything? Well I dreamt of an encounter last night. I was in my old kampung house with my wife (which is odd cause she's never been there and it has long since been torn down). I hear a woman screaming outside the house for help. I look out and see 4-5 armed men, potentially aiming to sexually assault her. I go back in and look around for a weapon. I pick up my kali sticks and go out.
The men notice me coming and they too hold sticks plus each one of them had a sharpened metal rod which they threw spearlike at me. But it didn't bother me, it felt that it wasn't important even to dodge it, because I knew it wouldn't hit me. Anyway, the fight ensues and I start hitting them. But it wasn't like real hitting. I know I was hitting them everywhere, but it didn't cause injury. They were obviously in pain, and losing their weapons but they didn't suffer cuts or blunt trauma or anything like that. Soon I notice someone is missing, and so I stepped back and notice he was flanking me. Finally after a few minutes everyone has lost. And I look at them in annoyance. Each look contrite and apologetic. So I told them to go and think about this. A couple look ready to turn over a new leaf. But I couldn't find the girl. I left hurriedly hoping the police don't ask me about this. I feel bad that if the police ask me to identify those men, that they will not have a chance to become good again as I will be forced to help the police apprehend them.

If you know me personally, you will realise how far out of character this is for me. I will be the first to advocate an eye for an eye. And I prefer to have rapists, murderer's (even the rempits who cause injury and death from snatch thefts) to be hanged. Saves the tax payers money and rids the world of parasites. Yet, I felt bad if these 4 men who were going to rape that girl, get caught by the police before they changed their ways for the better.

Also, I was thinking as I left the house to confront the men. Why am I taking kali sticks? I've only dabbled in them. Why not Silat and Aikido? I've not been able to understand this at all. But its not strange to understand the need to have weapons when confronting armed men. Also, in the fight, I did not cause injury with the weapons. Only disarm and defeat the men. This in very unlikely to happen if you really used Kali Arnis to fight.

Dreams have meaning for some, and for most its just aimless fantasy to occupy the mind. I do not know how to interpret dreams but it is enough to evaluate how I feel about things. Also, I've thought about something long before sensei mentioned this in his various lectures...

When I see something, will it look exactly the same for someone else? Sensei will say, the high level budoka will see the truth behind the fa├žade. Something out of nothing, and nothing out of something. In the lowest understanding, take the story of the the Lord who had 3 sons and wanted to see who would be his heir. He invited them to see him one by one. As the first went into the room, an apple dropped on his head. Without missing a bit, he drew his katana and cut the apple cleanly in half. The 2nd went in but did not cross the door. Soon enough, the apple dropped in front of him. The 3rd went in and as the apple dropped on his head, he caught it nimbly and took a bite. The Lord obviously made the 3rd his heir. For the simple reason, that he alone reacted appropriately to the situation.

You will get good someday from the constant practice. Even as we train our minds to see beyond the physical, we must be aware that the proper response is every bit as important as identifying threats. Remember sensei's tale about his frequent jokes on his TKD friend. Let us not be fooled.