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.

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