So... we went through 5th kyu techniques just now, and it wasn't too bad. Next week we will begin the 4th kyu techniques, all nine of them sequentially and hopefully have everyone prepared for December. I've emphasised this many times over, and its Kamae. Kamae, this state of readiness that almost everyone assumes is the posture. But a posturing posture really has nothing behind it. That's why its called posturing. Within Kamae resides zanshin. Within it resides the Fudo Genri, and later Kihon Genri. So all in all, whilst there has been improvement we will have to work on getting this idea of Kamae ingrained in our practice.
Also, whilst it has been stressed that we are going to work slowly from Fudo Genri to Kihon Genri to Aiki Genri, those are still only principles. The way that works is, you must adhere to it or you don't have it. Its as simple as that. But, in training, there's other things which link those principles to waza and connection to uke. This is what we have called Ki Shin Tai. Ki Shin Tai, if memory serves is the natural law of Ki, Mind/Spirit and body. However, it has also been mentioned that Koichi Tohei once discussed Shin Tai Gi. Which is in principle the same as the unity of Spirit, body and technique. Not just Tohei but quite a number of notable 1st generation students make reference to this unity of 3 aspects. I must have either heard sensei wrongly and mistook Gi for Ki, or Sensei is talking about something else entirely. Whatever it maybe, we can just concentrate on the natural laws of Tai first. Because its what we may call the building blocks or bridge from our principles into concluding our encounter with uke.
I've written about the exercises when we first came back from Jakarta but besides that, there are also other aspects that you must be aware of when studying the physical aspects of Aikido. Exclude all that you know of Ki and Aiki for the moment if you will.
The first exercise that I remember clearly we did was moving from the finger tips. You will see this closely relates to what sensei has mentioned before in terms of physically extending like you're stretching naturally. The body is strong in a natural stretch and its never hard or stiff. Similarly moving from the fingertips will bring our focus away from muscling through movement because it feels like overkill. This is an aspect which is important. Moving naturally as opposed to muscling through. If we continue to force through opponents, then we must take a step back and ask ourselves is this what Aikido is all about. Moving naturally though is a skill that must be learn which is really an oxymoron isn't it? What's so natural about something that you have to learn how to do it. The thing is, its a natural movement that we have blocked from our pscyhe either by ego or bad habits and years and years of unnatural movement. Much like how pilates seeks to develop our connection to unused muscles and posture, we learn in Aikido to move in ways we have never done before... or so it seems. Why don't you brush your hair now with your right hand... see how natural that movement is? Next time some grabs your hand, why don't you brush your hair like that and see how easy that movement is. Instinctively though when someone grabs your hand, most people fight back. So today for our basic kamae position, I told everyone to think as if we're fishing. We're baiting the fish, we are lightly testing the rod, the rod remains connected to our center even as we move our hands up and down. We do not push the rod, or pull the rod, instead we are feeling the line as it tauts and slacks.
As a scout we learn how to trap monkeys... for fun. Find a knot hole in a tree, and making sure the monkeys see it, we put some berries and nuts in the hole. The hole is just big enough to put an unclenched fist in... but the monkeys will grab those berries and thus make a fist. We then jump on the monkeys, they will try to run, but instinctively they won't let go of the berries so their fist remains clenched thus they are stuck in the knot hole. Try it.. it works. So you see, its ok. Its perfectly fine that you get stuck doing things instinctively because even monkeys do it. As budoka however we expect you to override that instinct, and instead react in a more natural way.
The next exercise I remember we did is to work in concert with uke. Uke is holding your hands, but imagine that uke is in fact helping you carry something. So you both work together to carry that load, and finally you hand him the load all together. This is a good exercise which again trains you not to fight with your opponent. By changing the way you move, your opponents reaction becomes confused. He expects you to fight. He doesn't expect you to do something crazy like this.
Now, I know I said forget about Ki and Aiki... but then, the way body laws work is also closely tied to the innate energy of the opponent. Thus within the physical body is the innate energy. In physics we also have what we call latent energy. Sometimes someone can use latent energy, sometimes they only have it but they don't use it. In the 3rd exercise we practice the leading of ki or in particular that latent or semi latent energy. For the uke that uses the latent energy, we need to also have a semblance of understanding how to use our own latent energy to move our hands before trying to lead him. For the ukes that only have latent energy, its more of a question of being sensitive to the energy flow. The basic precept is not to fight against the flow of energy, instead move with it and lead it to where you need it to go.
The 4th exercise we did is to sink our hara. This is no big secret. So many schools of martial arts understand that just by dropping the center we create a large amount of force. Think about it. How much mass is in your hands and how much is in your torso? Mass and acceleration becomes force. You don't need to generate acceleration with muscles when you can just use gravity instead. The only thing about this is how do you actually connect this force that you generate to your partner. Ok so that's where the skill comes in. Sinking hara is just the way things are done, the how is what we're practising in this exercise. This connectivity with uke requires that we create a unity with uke before sinking our hara. You can jump up and down all day, but if you and uke remain as two separate entities, nothing useful is going to happen. The key to creating unity with uke is above all, extension. The second is to ensure that together both of you equal to the power of 1. Do not exceed it or be lesser than it. As a start we can work on cutting away the slack. Another step is to 'fill' the gaps.
The 5th exercise was relaxing. In fudo genri we have relaxing the mind, body and spirit. In Tai we are talking about relaxing the shoulders especially and our connective muscles. The more relaxed you are, the better your body becomes a conduit for the power being generated by your center. Sensei will refer a lot to elbow power and this comes from there. You can't generate elbow power if your shoulders are tensed. But you can't generate elbow power, if you try to power it from the elbow also... everything comes from the center. This exercise also ties with 'floating' hands.
By the way, all this talk about center... there's really something you should know in relation to Tai. Center or Hara is often referred to the spot 2 inches below your navel in the approximate center of your body. It is approximately your center of gravity as well coincidently. In other arts there's also a lot of reference to this particular area. Most however will refer to the hips. Certainly you will hear martial arts in Japan especially always refer to the hips. To them, working from the hips is a crucial aspect so much so that when you appear top heavy you are looked upon with disdain. If you look at a lot of martial artists in Japan traditionally, and you compare them with western fighters you will see the difference. In the west where big shoulders and height epitomises power and strength, in the east you see bulging abdomens. Abdomens that are large but not necessarily fat. Don't question the strength of their arms and legs, far from it, but you don't see those big bulging muscles there. In fact they are more of a wiry nature. If you look at asian labourers you will see their body is being very wiry. They are strong, and they have lasting power. Big bulging muscles look impressive and is very intimidating. But they cost a lot to maintain, and sometimes become dead weight. In fact the emphasis is on the core muscle and the torso in general. Whilst in the modern world, we refer to the hips as the area around the buttocks and waist, in Japanese martial arts it actually refers to that and also the whole torso. Power is generated from the core, and it is only now that modern 'western' body arts are beginning to talk about the core... pilates again being one of them. What I'm getting at is, whilst the center maybe this invisible spot of power in our body and we should be training to perceive this, do not underestimate this area we call the hips because certainly in Tai we need to be developing this part as well.
There are other aspects to Tai that I suspect sensei has not begun to teach us yet. I don't want to assume, but here are some other things that I would like us to study and train. The first is what I used to refer to as the empty leg. This is the point that I say is where our uke really should have an additional leg in order to remain well balanced. In Japanese martial arts this is called shikaku or 'dead zone'. Actually shikaku is more than that I believe. When we do our sensing exercise, we use extension to feel uke's energy and balance. We are using this feeling to feel for shikaku and we actually try to unbalance uke from there itself. Later when we do ashi awase, we are killing uke's ability to move by attacking that shikaku but in a more dynamic fashion. But at the beginning, we understand shikaku as the dead zone that exists in any stance. Given time, anyone can find the shikaku for any stance. Just move around and push uke as he commits to that stance and you will eventually find the sweet spot. In systema, practitioners try to avoid having such a dead zone by remaining limber. We create a straight trunk by bringing up the pelvis and bending the knees and moving with a straight and limber posture. When you are dynamic and relaxed, your shikaku is harder to find, though it still exists. Later when we get better practised at extension and we can extend ki throughout our body, it would be significantly harder for anyone to find the shikaku even if you're standing still. This then becomes what we call the immovable body and mind. Right...err, getting uke's shikaku is the start of achieving kuzushi. If you don't have kuzushi, don't affect a waza.
As I said before, I think there's a lot to Tai and probably trying to learn it all by rote is going to be counter productive. But I write this blog not only to go over lessons, and help our students remember those lessons, but also as a reminder to myself in training. We go over only a few techniques each class, but the more we can be mindful of these principles and practice, the better our Aikido will become. I will write more about what I think is part of Tai later, but those would be my assumption. And we all know what Assumption can lead to, so take it with a pinch of salt and be wise.