Thursday, July 29, 2010

You Start with Rei

Rei, or bow, is also known as the character of Etiquette in the 7 traits of Bushi. Represented by the 7 pleats in your hakama, the other 6 are:

a. Jin - Benevolence
b. Gi - Honor
c. Chi -  Wisdom
d. Shin - Sincerity
e. Chu - Loyalty
f. Koh - Piety

How you Rei will determine how your training proceeds. Do you bow by rote? Do you bow nonchalantly? Do you bend down and offer your neck? Or do you nod like a feudal lord?

In our school, part of the ki test is done during bowing. Resisting nage's bowing as he comes down and up and also pushing him sideways when he's down. The idea is, if bowing from center, the bow itself will be very steady. But add to that a bow of sincerity, imagine as if you're bowing to your most respected hero, and the bow becomes even stronger. This exercise teaches us not only how to bow physically well, but also mentally well. To bow from the heart.

In Aikido, the heart plays an important role. That is why we place a very important emphasis on cultivating Aiki no Kokoro. Without which your techniques are but empty husks.

Bowing with spirit will also command respect from your opponents. A lifeless bow begets an immediate attack. Whilst a forceful bow has a feel of challenge and violence. A bow that emits ki, but with a feeling of caring and attentiveness, will resonate with your opponents mind, heart and intention. Whilst it doesn't kindle fear or aggression, it elicits respect and attention.

When you have cultivated such a bow, you're less likely to think of unimportant things in class. You have shown proper respect to others, it would be hard for you to take it back and become disrespectful again. You enter a state of seriousness but without the rigid tension of a marching soldier. You are soft yet alert. You look and see but do not stare. You are poised but not posturing.

There has been many issues with regards to bowing. Culture and religion being the most oft brought up issues being discussed. Certainly in Islam, bowing looks similar to how we pray to God. Its been narrated of our Prophet Muhammad that we should not bow to anyone but God. I remember when I was a kid, some Ustad even described the angles that are allowable for someone to bow. However in our country, we even have sembah or (salutation) to kings and typically in Silat matches. Some of these sembah can be downright submissive. So I don't see how we can on one side go around with our sembah here and there and at the same time dismiss bowing as inappropriate.

I personally believe that physical bowing has no ramifications in our religion unless it really mirrors our prayers. To me the most important is the unseen rather than the seen. We see people bowing in prayer or Sujud and Roko', up down up down, yet what are they thinking when they're doing that. Are they actually submitting themselves to God? Similarly we have Aikido people bowing this way and that, some just do a bend the knees and touch the floor with one hand bow, sort of like a malformed curtsey. What are THEY thinking inside I wonder?

Lastly, if I or any other trained martial artist can tell how vulnerable someone is when they bow, can't God in his infinite wisdom differentiate between Rei and Submission? So... let us think for ourselves and follow our hearts. When we go to class, try to feel right, try to feel truth. Start with Rei and end with Rei.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Fudo Genri and its Permutations

Coming back from Jakarta has given us a good placemark in terms of training. Notwithstanding our efforts so far, the students seem at loss what with so many things to think about. If it were only a cut and dried thing.

In terms of stages there are 4 stages towards learning Aikido as paraphrased by from Osensei's teachings;
a. Unification with self
b. Unification with others
c. Unification with the universe
d. Unification with the Source

In terms of the first item, we would hold fudo genri as key. The immovable principles runs a similar course to many martial arts and body systems that is designed to improve our self awareness. Physically, emotionally and so on. Centering is not a word trademarked by Aikido, it is used in arts such as Yoga, Pilates, fencing and even dancing. Other martial arts might use different words, but the value of Dan tien is never dismissed.

Relaxation too plays a pivotal role be it in moving or employing waza. You need to relax to move well. Try being stiff and typing. You may very well still be able to type, but probably not all that smoothly. Try driving stiffly. No better not, we don't want you to suffer an accident. In Aikido though, our training reinforces the relaxing of the body and mind, but not into a catatonic state of flaccidity. The core remains strong because of our centering, and going into Extending ki, our limbs are still strong but in a 'cord of rope' like kind of way.

Extending Ki... ah the cliché, the oft repeated and more often misunderstood skill. We're not here to debate the existence of Ki, God and dolphins as extra terrestrial visitors. We have different methods to doing what might be the same thing. Some people like to use imagination and some like to use rationalisation. I've no idea how to explain extending ki in a rational or scientific manner, so I'll stick to how sensei does it. In the first stage, we use imagination (men), we imagine that the center is a sphere of energy that pulses and is bright. Imagine this sphere as gathering Ki from the surrounding universe and emitting the energy throughout the body. Feel as if the energy is flowing in your limbs outwards, to the tips of your fingers, head, toes and generally as a large sphere growing out of your body. To start with, we can take the analogy of turning the tap water on and letting the water run through the hose. Imagine the tap as your center and the hose as your hands. As the water flows through it, the hands straighten with energy, but its not stiff as a wood, its still relaxed on the outside. Only the inside is reverberating with energy. Letting the water run through the hose, it does not stop at the tips of the fingers. It needs to be let out, thus you let out the water and direct it at will. Of course once you've understood the men method, you'll have to move on to more 'truer' methods of extending ki.

Lets leave the other 2 principles in fudo genri aside for now.

So how do we practice this 3 principles in a meaningful and applicable way. What is usually trained and tested using the ki tests designed by Koichi Tohei, should not be left as an end to itself. Certainly, the method for training and testing in itself is a viable method towards developing ones ability in fudo genri, but in itself it does not provide much understanding.

Today we started with kamae. Both nage and uke face each other and kamae, both hands touching each other at around the wrist level. Relaxation of the shoulders is paramount unless you want to get an ache. Extending ki does not mean pushing the opponents hands. Instead the hands are still and soft. Only the energy is extending. As both uke and nage extends ki, they will begin to manifest a connectivity to each others center. From here, nage's job is to move uke's center. Using his center, move the hands inwards whilst maintaining the connectivity to uke's center. Done right, uke should not be able to spear through with his hands and hit you in the face. Nor will his hands withdraw because there is a slight tension created at the physical level. An escape will draw an automatic cut from nage... (that should be the feeling anyway). In this manner, both uke and nage learns to be sensitive to the connectivity and how they extend ki. Primary mistakes will be pushing the hands to imitate extension of ki and that would be swiftly addressed by a reversal from the opponent, or a muscle ache after a long period of time at impasse.

From kamae we proceeded to shomenuchi. In this exercise uke cuts full force to nage's center. We deviated a bit from extending ki practice to correct the shomenuchi attack.

Shomenuchi must be started with proper extension of ki towards the opponent. As an attack one would wait for an opening. As an exercise, one cuts as if it would go through any barrier offered by kamae. The attack should be directed to opponents center, not his head, not his arms nor his body... but inside of him. The attack must originate from center and not the hands or the shoulder. At all times, ki is extended through the fingertips. You do not use the fingers to make contact, only the hand blade should hit the opponent. Cutting off tangent will illicit and direct tsuki to yourself from your opponent.

So once uke has shomenuchi down pat, we proceed to block first. To create a benchmark on how contact feels like. Now try again by positioning yourself in a stronger position, extend ki strongly upwards, and use center to displace uke's center. Next try it cutting uke as he cuts you, cut strongly in spirit, and then cut back upwards to meet uke's hands and lead the energy up. Enshin is employed here to minimise physical clashing.
Next instead of cutting uke's center, one accepts the shomenuchi, and gathers the attack into your center. Keep full extension but the hands must be totally relaxed to achieve this absorption technique. (this method would need uke's cooperation in the beginning to intermediate level, that is to say a committed attack but one where uke allows his center to move as the energy is redirected.) As a training tool, it is a reversal on how our school usually teaches, but it does help uke and nage's development.

We did a few things around these exercises, and finally we had uke and nage both face each other using various non Aikido'like kamae. The only difference, in our minds we are replicating the principles. It matters not the outer form. From here we explore each others openings. We have uke try to attack nage and vice versa. This training exercise revealed the meaning somewhat of sensei's physical openings exercise that we did previously. In using feeling alone, we try to determine our opponents opening or weak points. Openings in this case does not mean we are assured that our attack is successful. Only that the opponent would be forced to defend but leave him otherwise unable to perform a counter attack.

Attack each other at all available openings. Face, body, legs using hand or leg strikes. Obviously if you want to have a long lasting relationship with each other, do not hit with force. Limit the strength, not the skill. If nage allows himself to be drawn into a fighting competition, then end the exercise. It is useless. Instead nage must grasp his innerself and focus. Extending ki and keeping the mind and body relaxed. An attack comes, he must cut uke's center immediately. Nullifying not the attack but the opponents mind.

Finally, we go back to shomenuchi and have uke strike us again and again. At first cut uke like in the previous exercise. Then as you get a better feel of the connectivity, greet uke's attack and accept it. Uke will feel completely helpless but otherwise unthreatened.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Aiki Camp : Day 1 and Day 2

Day 1: Saturday. This may look like its going to be written like a diary, but its not. Cause, I can't really promise you that I would be able to have a perfect recall. What I can try though is to give you a glimpse of some of the things I gleaned from the trip...

1st session. Sensei Hakim.
Ki Shin Tai. The study of Aikido revolves around the laws of body (Tai), Ki and Mind (shin).
Before we progress to Ki and Mind, we have to first study Tai.

A. Relax, shoulders soft - we performed several exercises that helped us recognise the connectivity and impact of a relaxed shoulder. Without a relaxed shoulder, power generated from the body will be disconnected or get dispersed. Furthermore, tensed shoulders also allows uke to get a stronger feel of nage and allows him to overpower him.
B. Fingertips, ki at the finger tips - by using an exercise of joining our fingers together and moving it, our focus becomes drawn towards the tips of the fingers. A lot of sensei's have stressed the need to concentrate power on the finger tips, but with an exercise like this, visualisation and feeling it becomes easier. Sensei explains this easily by showing how we can lead someone's ki from the fingers. Which direction they point to becomes the direction their ki flows. Even if they close their hands into a fist, this ki direction spirals in their hands and can be directed.
In this exercise, nage waggles their fingers together and keeps the focus on both hara and their fingertips moving all at once. Uke tries to separate nage's hands apart as strong as they can. If you get it right, the finger tips feel like they are magnetised to each other or welded lightly together. The trick is not to press it together but to move the fingers in synchronisation to each other. Later, when we have captured that feeling of the fingertips generating the movement, we use only one hand and move it.
C. Extend, moveable hands exercise.
In extending our appendages outwards, we tend to use a lot of physical power. But moving with extension eliminates the need to push or pull. Just think of it like a fluorescent light stick. When it lights up, you don't see the stick extend physically but there's power in it now. So imagine lighting up the hands with ki. In this fashion, you can still move the hands. The old method of unbendable arms had nage standing there motionless whilst uke tries to bend the arm at the elbows. But if we have extension correct, we can start with our fingers touching our chest and uke tries to hold it in place, and then we move it out lightly using just the extension and not the muscle.
D. Hara center sinks - This is basic. Using the hara to move and sink instead of pushing down or bending the legs. Sinking the center is a known method for generating tremendous power in our movements across all martial arts.
E. Allowing uke to move like the river - this is a principle that we must understand. Its both the understanding that we don't push water around, instead we channel them and also the fact that such a potent fluid power could be channelled to travel into directions that we wish for it to go to. Learning to harmonise with an opponents power requires first for us to recognise that power and not stopping or clashing with it. Allowing the power to move through, we then learn to channel it.
F. Sharing the weight - in this exercise, uke grabs ryotedori. Nage imagines carrying something heavy and move uke around. Then lets them have all the weight.

2nd Session. Sensei Kaoru.
In studying with Kaoru sensei, we need to understand that in Takeda shihan's methodology, students study to be a good uke before getting the understanding to be a good nage. The idea is that, by taking relaxed ukemi, one gets to capture the feeling of the technique and finally gets to replicate it. This is not so far from our own understanding. After all, a major part of learning Aikido requires us to capture the feeling. We can't do this rationally nor by just mimicking. We need to feel the correct technique thus, take ukemi from a good nage.

So, the exercises that follows really engenders a more cooperative style than we are used to. But it nevertheless helps us to be more sensitive to feelings and energy flows. It's also a good way to learn ukemi, because its more uke centric that our nage-centric training style.
A. Boss. Employee follow - in this exercise, the employee lines up behind the boss. As the boss moves, the employee follows, smoothly and surely. If we resist, we are essentially an 'idiot' employee.
B. Boss. Know employee heart - in this exercise, we have 3 uke grabbing morotedori and pulling the boss's hand to the floor. Boss is relaxed and moves around freely with his hands in place on the floor. He feels and tries to connect to all 3 employees. Then without forcing them, lifts all three easily and move them around.
C. Relax shoulder. Feel center. Drop - Ushiro ryotedori, uke grabs either the hands, elbow or shoulders. Nage relaxes and does not use momentum. Instead its pretty static with uke at the back. Soft shoulders until uke cannot feel resistance in nage. Then nage extends and cuts uke's center then drops forwards.
D. Sleep together. Uke grabs nage, nage is half lying down. As uke grabs, nage does not pull uke down. Instead embraces uke and lies down to sleep.

3rd Session. Sensei Hakim.
In this session we practised trying to fill the space of uke's body. This is an effective awase technique that is used when faced by grey situations such as when opponents are not striking us or outwardly doing a criminal action. Things like compulsive buskers, or beggar or pick pockets who crowd you in. Learn to feel for the places where Uke feels empty and the fill those spaces. Once done, just move naturally and uke will move too.

Progressing from learning to feel for these 'gaps' or 'empty' spaces in Uke's body, we gradually will learn to feel gaps or empty spaces of Uke's energy. As nage becomes more sensitive to this energy gaps, he can then fill these up with his own ki and move uke in more subtle movements. This is what we call Tai no Awase to Ki no awase.

Other exercises done was to achieve dissolving/loosening musubi from ryotedori.

4th Session. Kaoru Sensei.
Nage is half lying again, uke walks towards nage and hands him a hand. Nage receives the hands and brings it to his center. Attaching it to the center, nage moves uke with just his center alone and then returns the energy back into kotegaishe.

In this session, uke's movement is analogous to a bodyguard protecting the president. He anticipates the president's intention and moves to accommodate him. This is a crucial technique for uke to take very difficult ukemi from very good Aikidokas. If we only move because we register the movement, it would be too late sometimes to take a safe ukemi. Being sensitive to the movement, means we can position our body safer for better ukemi.

Day 2.
5th Session. Kaoru sensei.
Nage does Shihonage but stretches his back leg. Front leg is touching uke's body and pins him lightly. Uke
s hands is touched to the floor in a continous circular movement.

6th Session. Sensei Hakim.
Awase and musubi and exercises. Uke touches nage in various situations or nage touches uke. Bear hug, reverse bear hug. Punching motion. Grabs, etc. Easiest is if uke touches firmly nage's shoulder.
Nage needs to feel the touch and connect it into your center. Capture that feeling, now imagine moving that feeling alone (not your body, not your center, not uke).

7th session. Kaoru Sensei.
Shomenuchi Ikkyo, uke move into nage's center. Let the water flow. Nage displace uke's center. Nage can help uke by lifting his back leg with his own back leg (but its not a reap throw). The displacing of the center is very subtle, not like a bump or barging in. The hands play very little in this training session. Nage must flow into a good position so that uke seems to fit into a puzzle and that puzzle happens to be an ikkyo position. Done right, their legs automatically comes up.

8th session. Sensei Hakim. Atari to Ateru. Atari exercises is to develop uke's understanding of providing proper energy to nage to play with. Nage accepts fully, neither resisting nor running away from the power. Nage is also reminded to advance to an attacker, projecting his ki and enveloping uke.

In ateru, we are to concentrate the feeling to one point and then let it go explosively. Not physically trying to attack but to touch uke away.

I think, that's about as much as I can recall now. Later I will try to capture some of the training ideas, methods and principles we have been exposed to in the Monday and Tuesday training sessions.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Back from Aiki Camp 2010

Well, I just landed at KLIA and I'm back home, well not exactly, but close enough anyway. Its been a fully packed 5 days in Jakarta with training for everyday except on our arrival day. Even as I write this, I regret we didn't have more time to go over some of the things I have niggling issues with. At that, I must say I'm guilty as everybody else in trying to learn Aikido within a time line. Unfortunately, that's not realistic nor is it in line with the philosophy behind learning a martial arts like Aikido. Intellectually I know that, but having the responsibility of teaching kind of puts you in a tight spot. Normally this wouldn't happen when a dojo would only have a Sensei of a high enough level in skill, knowledge and training attached to it. When your sensei and sempai are in another country though, that luxury no longer applies.

In any case, our last lesson with Sensei in this trip really stressed the need for us to train to the order of our abilities. Nominally this would mean kihon waza for all of us with some ki no nagare techniques thrown in for spice. Everything will point back to our command of genri i.e. fudo genri and kihon genri. For the yudanshas, we need to also try to apply aiki genri as much as we can in the course of teaching and training.

Sensei's experience is that, you can only teach and show so much. The student has to work hard yes, but in the end...knowledge is a gift, not a right. Some receive the gift faster than others, others... well, some others might be gifted in other areas.

Now, I'll be going over the things we've done in our Aiki camp soon enough over the course of the next few days. But this is it for today.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Consternation: Shihonage

Dang, I did it again. I thought I had it down pat. I mean it wasn't perfect, but it looked ok. Today, I find myself slipping. What is it that I'm forgetting?

Katatedori Shihonage

1. Kamae and Chushin. Check.
2. Extension and relaxed. Check.
3. Half step, sink and keep extension. Or is it entering musubi? Problem here, definitely.
4. Kuzushi. Not happening. Well maybe 10%. Disaster is looming.
4a. Cut through uke's center? Awase on the tegatana... Check. Doesn't have the same feel here.
4b. Absorbing musubi... not working. Should have I started with the musubi drills first? I think we'll have to revisit that again. Like urgently.
5. Big circle lead. 50:50.
5a. Connect to center and sink. Check. Still no where close to kinonagare. Need to improve my kaiten.

Playing with expanding the chushin line... say maybe 15-30 degree's. Sort of into Watanabe's stance-like. It seems to help everyone. Makes them think about the thin red line besides their elbow and not cross over it. The big expansive movement helps give them the picture in order to proceed to the smaller movement.

Kosadori Shihonage. Not much of a problem here. Floating hand is quite doable. Would work harder to make it lighter though. Imperceptibly, now that's the goal.

Yokomenuchi Shihonage. 
Entering the spirit. 50:50. Losing my focus. Why must I use 100% focus to achieve this? Sensei says playful mind and acceptance. It feels like I'm having to project a lot of energy to reach their minds when entering for omote. Somehow, ura is easier. That's more chushin and extension. But a forward irimi is harder it seems to me. I'm keeping the attack line though. That's a start.

It was good to play around with Ikkyo like a story being told.
Nage goes for the sword, uke grabs. If nage turns and pulls, uke enters and disables nage.
Nage doesn't, keeps extension. Uke tries to go in, but nage counters easily.
Impasse. Nage brings center without intimidating uke. Drops center and turns chushin. Draws the sword and cuts!

Don't forget, awase on the hands. Without this, sinking and kuzushi would be impossible to achieve properly and you will be opened to attack. Extension is key too. Without which, any movement will encroach his sphere of power.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Purpose in Life, Purpose in Training

Are we masochistic people? I mean, we go to school and we know there's an exam, we can graduate and leave for high school, college, whatever. There is this finality you know? But here in the dojo, there's no ending. There's a beginning though, I'm just not sure if we've gotten past it or not that's all.

Only towards his end, did Osensei say he finally understood Aikido. Was it a prophetic moment? Does that apply to all Aikidokas around the world? Are we fated to train till the day we die before we achieve this elusive understanding of Aikido?

Awhile back I wrote that the secret is there staring right in our faces. Even as Shihans around the world, exclaimed in their 200,000th Ikkyo that they finally 'get' it... it looks strikingly similar to their 999th Ikkyo awhile back. When we embark on this journey of 'DO' or a Way, it is something of a road that we undertake. When you're on a road and it leads somewhere, you follow the road or lose your way. Sure, some roads have forks to choose from, bumpy roads, and hilly roads... the choice is yours. Osensei and your teachers have left signposts to guide your choices, but ultimately the choice remains one of yours to make.

You could even abandon the road altogether. Maybe make your own road and call it Ahki-do for laughs. But once you've abandoned the road, you cannot say you're taking the same journey Osensei made. Maybe you'll end up at the same place, but it still wasn't the same road.

Now the question is... is it the road or the destination? There's another saying that goes, Its the Journey not the Destination, and I really like that. It even applies somewhat to what we're talking about here. Though, the destination here in Aikido is Harmony. Harmony with oneself and with the universe. I mean, say what you want, but that's a great destination to aim for. If you happen to find yourself in another road just like it, by all means stand by it. If you're aiming for the destination, then no matter the road, your heart is in the right direction. But if you're here for the road... now, ask yourself why.

I have no idea why people take those long slow Sunday drives. For me, get into the car and its, lets get somewhere quick. Petrol costs, tolls and jams are not what I would consider delightful pleasures. Walking down a road aimlessly, now that's weird too. If that make sense, then should we rational adults walk a long winding road aimlessly?

I saw my wife's aunty buried this morning. We've been praying for her the past several weeks. She was a source of strength for my wife when I was sick those couple of years, even at the same time she was having her cancer. She's been subject to 240 chemo sessions in the last 10 years. Can you imagine the pain? Back when she was first diagnosed, the prospects weren't that good. It was a miracle she remained strong as long as she did. She even got to see 3 grandkids along the way. Alas, her fight is over. The suffering is over. For most of us it is a mixed feeling. Sadness to see a kind lady pass away, happiness that she is no longer in pain.

So when you die, do you leave behind people who treasured the time they had with you? Or is it just a significant will to be disbursed, or a popular name with some fancy tunes on the radio? Did you leave behind a legacy? Are you prepared to meet your maker, to be judged on how well you dispensed your charge in life? What is our charge in life? There's no occupation here called, employee of God after all.

So there you go again. Walking down a road aimlessly after all.

An afterthought with respect to epitaphs:

Here lies the Man, who did Aikido;
Broke my elbow with an Ikkyo,
Made the girl scream from Yonkyo,
Stopped that 5th kyu with a loud bellow,
Won a bout in UFC and more,
Became the talk of internet forums galore.

and the other guy...

Here lies my friend, 
Made me laugh as he dropped me below, 
Surprised a girl with a painless nikkyo, 
Got the old lady to walk again.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

To Think, Compare and Reason

Firstly, lets remind everyone reading my blog that this is a continuous and winding journey that I'm writing about. Don't take my wisdom and make it yours without scrutinising it for a bit. I've said it before and I'll say it again. My understanding of Aikido, martial arts, life, whatever... will change with time. There's a famous sensei who refused to write anything about Aikido because he didn't want to come back to it in his later years and deal with all the mistakes and presumptions that would inevitably be there. Even Osensei was reluctant to stamp his mark on what is Aikido until his later years. For us greenhorns, its highly presumptuous for us to say, this is the way to do so and so, or this is what so and so means, and this is the secret of blah blah and blah. I'm guilty of sometimes writing that way occasionally but I reiterate that it should be taken as only my understanding at that point in time. Each one of us will have a different understanding at any point in time, much like the six blind people asked to described the elephant he was touching. Each man described accordingly to which part they touch. A pot (the head), a winnowing basket (the ear), a plough (trunk), a granary (the body), a pillar (foot), a mortar (the back), a pestle (tail) and a brush (tip of tail). Only one who is not blind or has gone to all the stages of touching every part of the elephant would know the animal for what it truly is and even then... only to an extent.

Look at this wisdom, its nothing new. Its been around Buddha's time and oft repeated by knowledgeable men. Such is the point of knowledge that it could last lifetimes and guide men to a better way. It is to this standard that anything of worth should attest to.

When we study Aikido, we sometime gloss over the needful things. Part of the problem lies in that Osensei did not structure a one and true method towards learning Aikido. Be reminded that as he began teaching he first taught Aikijutsu as per the Daito Ryu style to a bunch of people who already had years and dan grades from other arts. Even so, he taught it the way he understood it and ingrained within it his other martial knowledge. Some would counter with, how much knowledge could he have gotten from other arts when A. He did not learn them much or that many arts and B. He lost to Takeda using those aforementioned arts.

Well the simple answer to me lies in the man. As a person first studying a martial art and only that art he has one view in life. After studying two, he has two views... but as he journeys further and trains more, his two views become 4, then more and more. A newly minted black belt in Tae Kwon Do may think highly of his speed and high kicks, whilst a travel worn senior would as soon as throw him on the floor and be done with it. The saying, ripe with age, is not without reason.

So yes Osensei lost to Takeda when he was young and unbeatable. Already he was a remarkable man at a young age to be undefeated. To be defeated by an older and wiser man, and then to learn from him shows Osensei's thirst for knowledge and understanding of the value that Takeda's art has to teach him. Taking that knowledge and splicing it with his own is the mark of a master. Some people like to comment on Bruce Lee's idea of taking the best of everything and making it into a single comprehensive art. The problem I see there is that, that single comprehensive art is now going back to a single view of life. Anyway, that's one possible reason why Aikido has a neglected structure. Osensei first taught Aikijutsu, that later became Aikibudo and finally found its way to Aikido much much later. His students find issue with the change in name. What exactly is Aikido and what is Aikijutsu.

Much of what was taught earlier in his life became more and more refined in his later years. Some techniques have changed completely and some were taken out altogether. In any event, Osensei kept on and on about not looking at the techniques but the spirit of Aikido to understand it. Aiki no kokoro was what he was driving at. To learn the heart of Aiki. Yet this was not taught in DR Aikijujitsu and those guys had Aiki! In fact, there were indications of various high level martial artists in Judo and Karate who had Aiki even at that time, and they didn't have to think much about this Aiki no kokoro thingey. So what's so great about understanding the spirit? Surely its all techniques and secrets? Certainly, Osensei taught his students in layers. Definitely, Aiki is not contained in Aikido alone, because its secrets were in DR Aikijutsu long before Osensei used it in his life. And just because DR is famous for its Aiki, we cannot say high level masters elsewhere does not have the same knowledge.

Our beliefs is that Knowledge is a gift from God. Its not meant to be kept under lock and key by men, nor is it to be purchased. Knowledge can be learned not just from men alone, but through nature, through observation and thought. The mind is a gift for men. The mind of men is unlike any other. Not only do we have minds to to think with, we have ego to flavour our decision, we have virtues to guide us. Osensei's training seeks the betterment of mankind. To learn to harm, even under the guise of defending the weak, flirts very closely to the ego of wanting to be better than others. Nothing wrong with wanting to be better, but a lot of wrong when you seek to prove it, and more wrong when you use your fist to do it. Thus his guiding principle is to defeat a person by not wanting to defeat the person. Instead to control him, by seeking harmony and balance.

How do you teach a want? How do you structure a method for grinding the ego? Sure, you can teach the techniques which is the outer form much like the skin of the elephant. But would they help in understanding the inner? The dilemma of it all. But as a martial art there can be no ifs and buts. To think about a counter to every single attack in the world is to have you sit safely tucked in bed without the need to venture out into the dangerous world. So, techniques are taught a certain way. The spirit, well lets leave the spirit alone for now and hope that the kids will grow up the way I did. Yet, such is life, that no child ever resembles his father 100%. Some saints bring up devils in their midst and vice versa.

In our quest to learn Aikido, we find a teacher who can teach us the outer form and hopefully inner essence. We abide by his instructions so that we don't have to make a journey mirroring Osensei's life. For even were we to travel the river road, the water has passed us by making each journey different. But interpretations of a good teacher will retain the essence of an earlier journey, much like a photograph or a narration of poetry would capture the spirit of the moment.

For us, we use our minds to compare and reason, and to think. But if we jump start this, we will miss the narration. For how can we understand the tragic of Romeo and Juliet without first understanding their love for each other or the hatred that their families harbours for the other. In class, we must concentrate first on getting our techniques right, because in practising good techniques as uke and nage, our questions would be answered. The techniques are tools for learning and are not the goal onto itself. They are tools, that we use to learn about the inner aspect of Aikido. But if our tools are chipped and unaligned, it would be very difficult for us to discover the inner aspect of Aikido. Think about it like a sculpture that we have to uncover from this big block of rock. Using our techniques we chip away at the block. Using our eyes, we rough hew the rock to a shape. Using our heart, we divine the sculpture from that shape.

Let me recap for the moment, for I am known to be a wordy person. I lack structure in my writing because I think and write in the fly. I like to write this way because of the spontaneity. I don't know what I would be writing even as I put the title to this piece, but gradually a picture comes to being.

Aiki is not the sole provenance of Aikido or Aikijutsu or the Japanese people. The Japanese do regard Aiki as their natural heritage though. Aiki is knowledge created by God for mankind to discover and use much like any other knowledge. In silat as we have seen from Cikalong, they too have Aiki in their practice. Don't talk about Ki... almost all arts utilises Ki to various extent. Remember the famous Budo instructor. A feudal lord seek a teacher to teach his guards Budo and called for a contest. The teacher came and said he did not want to fight. He called for the strongest guard to hold on to his arm whilst he wrote a calligraphy smootly and without hesitation. The strongest guard could not endanger the masterful strokes much less prevent the teacher from moving his hands at will. This is Ki and it can be manifested in many forms.

Knowledge too. Einstein didn't pick up a book and learned relativity. He dreamed it all up. Of course he had an exceptional brain to begin with, and an exceptional education. But so had his teachers since they taught him! Yet, the theory was his to discover.

We have not gone over the study of Shu (traditional wisdom and to obey implicitly) Ha (detachment, to break away from this rigidity and one life view) Ri (transendence or takemusu aiki, becoming one) in our classes. Perhaps next week when we meet up with Sensei we will ask him to discuss about this. Certainly, even if we don't teach it formally, we practice it by enforcing Kihon genri and waza first. Genri is atypical of Shu, since within the principles one must follow a form. But even so the principles provide us a way to break away from the physical Shu i.e. to move away from Kihon waza but retaining the use of our genri. Later, much much later I would assume, we will come to a new understanding of our genri, allowing us to breach Ri. True formlessness.

Lastly, going back to this Aikido structure. These techniques... its not just waza alone that I'm taking about. Even Aiki to me is a tool, albeit a high level tool, but still a tool nevertheless and not the ultimate goal in Aikido.