Saturday, October 23, 2010
Anyway, its not about 'The Love of Violence' and its not about canning the child. So I thought, the Harmony of Violence is an accurate description of my blog today.
The reason behind it was because someone remarked about the roughness shown in class sometimes. Well its kind of hard to judge what exactly is rough and what is gentle, its a very long slide of relative measurement. Someone might consider a shove as rough whilst some only consider something like an atemi to the face as rough. Be it as it may, we do not emphasise bodily strength in our class. Ki Shin Tai as it stands require that we forge our bodies in the early stage so as to understand technique done using bodily strength. But that is a stage of learning, in order for us to move to and understanding doing techniques using Ki, mind or intent. So it was quite surprising to be given such a comment by a student.
I then wondered in what way is it rough or violent. If strength was not a factor, was the technique rougher that it should be? Surely not, since the ikkyo was done without a face plant nor a dislocated joint. It wasn't clash, nor did it originate from a strike or a block to uke's attack. So where does the violence creep in?
What we did today was really practice chushin. Chushin in ourselves without question, but more about chushin to chushin connection. Being able to understand this relationship allows us to deal with attacks without getting caught up in them. It is easily demonstrable that fighting an attackers shomen, or jab-straight combo, would inevitably result in an all-out melee. One that could have you blocking strike after strike, or having both of you duking it out like a couple of school yard bullies. Attacking uke's chushin directly however, using just kamae alone will bear noticeable difference in the outcome. Done right, uke will have no power to continue his attack.
Doing this however requires establishing a connection to uke's chushin over a distance. This requires understanding of maai, zanshin and spirit of atemi. Without these components, and without a good hara and extension, it would probably result in a melee again.
To demonstrate it in equal fashion, I had uke attack again and again. Then I pre-empted uke's attack. Just controlling the attack line and uke's chushin just walk over or pass through uke's space, if he attacks you just sort of roll over him and ikkyo might be a result. This ikkyo is often compact and would have uke landing with his legs folded under him with him on his back. But it won't feel forced.
I was wondering if this was what the call on rough was all about... surely not.
Still, if it was, then we'll just have to work on that a little bit more I guess. It got me thinking though. That violence isn't generally something that is attributable only to a fight or chaos. Harmony can be violent too. The ikkyo I did could lead to a violent end, even though it wasn't done to cause harm, nor was it premeditated. But the fact that uke's attack was immediately and instantly return onto him including the force behind nage's casual irimi through him, it could have resulted in a tremendously powerful finish. That could be violent if seen from the receivers point of view. See... nage doesn't fight. He does not block and he doesn't attack uke. All he did was go through uke's attack and give it back. Uke's force and energy comes back to him violently, as violently as uke tried to attack nage in this case. Nage's encounter was harmonious but uke's receiving point was violent and that's where we can establish that harmonious encounters need not be all flowery and lovely and round and round and stuff like that. It could be equally as harmonious as a steamroller going through its motions, flattening anything in its way, including Arthur Dent's house.
Sensei mentioned things like the Tsunami, earthquakes as harmonious. Well, if you tell it to the thousands of people who have lost their lives, loved ones and property in those calamities, you'd probably get a punch in the nose (unless you irimi and do ikkyo or rokkyo on him - heh). But to earth it is harmonious. Its just like lightning. Nature is seeking balance. Harmonious doesn't mean feathers and flowers, rain even monsoons are harmonious and very natural. The volcano erupting is harmonious. One wonders, what would really happen if all the earthquakes, tsunamis, lightning and volcanic eruptions were kept in tightly in check. Maybe large populations of now extinct animals might still be alive, and human beings would be in the bottom of the food chain, or maybe disease would have been so prolific that barely a handful of human beings are still normal, the rest have become mutants and zombies, or maybe entire plains are now deserts, or maybe water tables are virtually nonexistent and earth is decaying from the core. See, what we microbes err I mean people selfishly think is violent, might be the only thing that keeps every living thing on earth in balance and by that we mean in harmony.
Therefore, what we could take from this is do not be afraid of violence, instead only be discontent with disharmony. Sometimes, to be harmonious calls for an act of violence. Yet, this act of violence could only be achieve harmoniously if done in a state of emptiness, of acceptance. Done in a premeditated manner, this violent act could only have transpired through internal persuasion which inevitably will lead to disharmony.
Monday, October 18, 2010
In as much as why Sensei has gotten much following now in Indonesia compared to several years back when he was effectively ridiculed, the decriers have tried it out for themselves and have felt it for real. Yes, those senior Aikidokas are living nowhere in our region, but they've met other experienced Aikidoka's and martial artists who have similar abilities. Those experienced teachers however have a more substantiated background however making it hard for anyone to just dismiss them, typically they are older, very experienced and have made a name for themselves. Yet, even then we have very junior Aikidoka's who give them one look and still think to themselves what an old fraud. We can't blame them, when most Aikido teachers lack the whole substance behind Aikido, Aiki itself. So much so, students are seeking teachers from Karate, Traditional Chinese martial arts and etc, this knowledge of Aiki.
It is perfectly alright to be suspicious of course. What with so many charlatans around out to swindle your money. But in martial arts, there really shouldn't be a question should it? If you want to prove a charlatan, bring him on the mat. That's what happened to Sensei, most of his students were naysayers or came from dojos of naysayers and then they got curious. What if? What if this thing is true. So they took courage and tested him out. A lot of us though like to offer our views from the sidelines, most of us would not really like to get our hands dirty. Some of course give excuses like distance, time and other nonsense like "I don't have to prove anything to you, you prove yourself to me"... in the end it all boils down to what we're looking for. If we're looking to make ourselves look good by decrying others, then you can call white white all you like, and the other guy will still insist its black. But if you're there really looking for the truth, then nothing will stop you from getting to it, even to put yourself at risk.
What does this mean for the rest of us? Well absolutely nothing unless you are serious about training. Being a student of a good teacher does not make you any better than you were prior to that. Learning from Sensei does not mean attending his classes or taking notes and videos. Learning means to put yourself at risk, to challenge yourself against failure. If we stick to the comfort zone of what we can do, when are we going to learn about the things we can't?
Certainly this would work out well when working with people who are already experienced and already know the things you're trying to learn. In our case, where there are no senior students around, then it'll be a case of the blind leading the blind. Yet, we cannot lose hope and must persevere. Knowledge exists whether we like it or not, there are teachers who come to revelation without any person guiding them. Some of the greatest geniuses out there intuited their findings, gleaning it from observation, logic, dreams, imagination and rational discourse. With us, we've been given basic knowledge and ideas, we've been given key after key, now is for practice and practice and more practice. Not just normal practice, sticking to kihon all the time, but practising Aiki in every which way possible.
I read a quote recently about this scientist who basically had had it with faith dwellers, mystics and all these religious warmongering. He wished he could draw a line put all those people who couldn't be reasoned with scientifically, on the other side and ask them to use whatever magic, prayers and faith to attack his side. When all measure have been exhausted, he'd nuke em. Well, we all probably feel like that one way or another at one point in our lives. Sometimes you just wonder if all politicians came from the same mother the way they talk and the way they screw you whilst looking like an angel. You'd want to put the blame on others, like what's happening to the world economy, the environment, the wars and terrorism... yet are we really innocent? Is it not us who put those despicable people at the helm of our state? We who elected capitalism as God of the world? If all of us could travel to the future and see what would happen to the world because of our failure as its guardians surely we would understand. Yet time is what it is. We only live in the present or we dwell in the past. We do not foresee the future. For all its glory and hubris, science and its fellows have not been able to convince the world of a better future either.
Everyday you live you risk making mistakes. Some of those mistakes you can shrug off, some you'll bear the scars till the day you die. But the worst mistake is to do nothing at all. In trying to avoid making mistakes, you'll end up accomplishing nothing at all and that would the greatest mistake of your life. There are no second chances in life and the clock is ticking. We know we have a limited time to live. We know we are going to die. We just don't know when. So truly, the thing that we really don't have much to spare is time. Every second counts and we should use it. Train hard, but life is not about training. Its about living. Train to accomplish something, train to learn something, learning till the day you die is a worthwhile endeavour. At the same time, teach what you've learned to others, use it in your daily life. You could learn all the knowledge in the universe, much good it'll do to you if you die with it unused. Let other people share in that knowledge, let them use it to help others. All of us have a duty to make the world a good place, to protect it, our mother earth. We can't do it if we waste time, or if we have nothing in our heads, or if we choose to do nothing with what we have.
Friday, October 15, 2010
Anyway, I went there with not a little trepidation, mostly because I really don't know what to expect from Post-graduate students who study Islamic degrees and come from all over the globe. I didn't want to jump in with the guns blazing so to speak.
The first impression counts and so I started with the essence of Aikido as how our school sees it. Basically reminding all our students that Aikido is built upon 4 stages of development:
1. Harmonising with ourselves
2. Harmonising with others
3. Harmonising with the universe
4. Harmonising with the Source
This 4 stages must be at the forefront of how we train because if we don't have it in our practice, we can't call what we're doing Aikido, at least not as how Osensei sees it.
In learning to harmonise with ourselves, basically we are doing the mind and body unity thing. Most Aikido schools, especially those influenced by Tohei sensei will undoubtedly know this. Some teachers talk about Gi, Shin, Tai... same thing.
The tools we use to harmonise with ourselves include Aiki Taiso. Sure meditating works, but working the body and mind together gives a good building block to start of with. Just meditating the mind alone may work fine when you're alone, but it'll be difficult to hold it together when a partner starts to get involved. Because of that we did the Standing and Sitting ki test first. After seeing the new students caught on to the whole moving with the center thing and how much power and balance they achieved with it, I started on the next drill.
Center... now instead of explaining the esoteric aspects of center and ki and all that, I related center to the 'core' which is often used in modern sport sciences and body work methods like pilates. Certainly as I've seen it in old jujitsu books, hara was predominantly seen as the muscle group of the torso, not so much as the internal aspect where ki is generated or pooled. You can also see that most traditional martial artists of that era have an overly developed torso musculature area. If you look at the UFC fan favourite, Chuck Liddel, you can see what I mean. He has an unsightly protruding stomach that is probably 99% muscle. Its not the trim flat stomach that most models sport, but it bulges out beyond his chest. Now this is exactly what I'm talking about in terms of the old martial artists... therefore, it makes a lot of sense to assume that a lot of the mystical power attributed to the center comes from a well developed 'core'. Well, at least at the 'tai' stage of learning anyways.
Having explained that, I showed them the difference in doing a front ukemi with center and without. With center, the roll is smooth, rounded and easy to perform. Without center, you are likely to collapse and injure yourself. Then we practiced rocking back and forth from the agora seated position. Concentrating on moving using the core and keeping a rounded form. Having done a lot of ukemi, made me realise that beginners have a hard time doing this simple exercise for prolonged periods because they do not have the muscles for it.
Next we went to 'rei' Now... this was the stickler. I'm here at an Islamic university dealing with foreigners who may have different ideas to what is allowed in their religions practice. Bowing has been a major contention amongst some muslims and jews. Knowing that my sensei who was trained in a religious studies and has no problem with this helps with my own conviction that at the end of it all, its what in our heart that matters. Nevertheless, it doesn't augur well to antagonise the university that open its doors to you. So we approached 'rei' from a different angle. Instead of focusing on bowing to each other at the beginning, we emphasise the use of rei as a form a measuring respect and controlling the spatial relationship. In bowing physically we are also respecting the opponent with our hearts, so 'rei' is an exercise that helps develop that inner aspect of ourselves. With such a respect, an opponent who tries to engage us whilst we are bowing, we are still able to deal with their attack because we've established a connection with them which is entirely not physical but palpable.
When I demonstrated that bowing in a nonchalant manner or in a disrespectful way, the opponent can overpower us immediately, I see that they could accept this training exercise. And so we did the ki test for rei.
After that we did unbendable arm and I explained that in the first method we are relying more on leverage than anything else. Nothing mystical and entirely doable by anyone. The first method we hold our arms out relaxed and place it on uke's shoulder. Uke tries to bend our hands at the elbow. We keep our hands pointed to a spot far away and focus on that point whilst maintaining a relax form. This way, all the force applied by uke is basically given back to his shoulder or where we are contacting him. This is basically an easy trick to learn and all the students got it quickly. Next we did our school's variation. This time, I had uke curl my extended fingers and press my hand to my shoulder and keep it there. Using the other hand on my shoulder as leverage, and all the while pushing my hand to my shoulder. I now try to move it with my arm muscle, most probably the triceps and deltoids, and a struggle ensues. Of course since uke is bigger than me and has the power of both arms, its practically impossible to move. Next emptying the mind or rather forgetting that uke is there, and just relaxing my hands I move it simply like I'm stretching out in the morning. Moving freely this way instead of struggling to move uke makes all the difference. Our sensei teaches for unbendable arm to be correct, we must be able to achieve it from an already bent position and that we can move it freely. Its not unbendable if we are straining to keep it in place or if we're stuck in only one position.
After that we showed more about how we receive attacks from uke. The emphasis on the class was to demonstrate that learning Aikido is about learning to blend instead of fight or struggle. When uke resists we give them energy sincerely, if they force the energy on us, we receive it sincerely and wholeheartedly. Using kotegaishe to demonstrate how easy it is to move someone if we just hold him lightly instead of using our strength, we gave the new students a new way to look at things.
Because it was the first class and the time slotted was short, we weren't able to really practice any real techniques. I'm hesitant to even begin with ukemi here until I've seen how the students react to the lessons. If at all, this class would probably be classified as an Aikido primer and I probably won't be teaching a full Aikido class here until say 2-3 months of this. Nevertheless, I look at this class as something which is useful to the existing students whom I've pushed into training more and more of kihon waza that we have stop much of our aiki taiso and ki training. Having them work on the drills with beginning and un-indoctrinated students helps keep it almost real. That's something I'm going to watch out for, not telling them how to respond to events but rather working with how zany some people's response would be to our exercises, drills and techniques.
Sunday, October 10, 2010
There are probably two lessons to be learned here. Training in the dark removes a factor that most people are reliant on, vision. It is with the eyes that most people lead their lives, or perhaps have their lives led by. When you last watch TV, didn't that advertisement about that luxury SUV catch your eye? Its lines were really sporty and the engine had real power. Even though you may have a car already, but you wish that you could get that SUV too...just because.
Or maybe you're not really hungry, but McDonalds just came out with a lunch special... triple big mac with cheesy fries. Man! I need to dig that!
Its not just about TV. Research shows that employers often prefer to hire good looking men and women and most employees with above average height earn more than their shorter peers. What relevance does face and height have on their work? Not much, not unless you're a model or a basket baller. But these discrimination goes across the board, from secretaries to management to lawyers and even gardeners.
It is a fact that through genetically imprinted instinct, mankind look for good looking, tall specimens to procreate with because it is assumed that they have the best gene pool. It appears that perhaps the bias we have over ugly people is not rationalised, but instinctive. Well, instinct may be good and all that, but if human beings were to live their lives on instinct, we should have known a long time ago to stop cutting down all those trees. But no. We don't. Destroying the environment to enrich our lives goes against every survival instinct and yet we ignore it, but choosing your mate is decided by instinct? So which is it? Mankind it seems can choose to override instinct when it suits them. Go figure.
Lets go back to the eyes then. We have eyes that inevitably trigger desires or reaction in us to something it sees. Turning us off or on as it were. Yet behind that visual appeal or turn off, is what we perceive from our eyesight really representative of that object or person? Don't judge a book by its cover is an age old wisdom that has been spoke so often its often called cliché. But isn't it a gem of a wisdom?
Training in the dark is loosely based on this understanding. That to let our eyes deceive us will lead to our undoing. Osensei taught for us not to look at the opponents hands/weapons or his eyes, lest we be deceived. Its true. Look at any fight, good opponents feint to create openings. The majority of Silat is all about trickery. That's what fighting is all about, you trick your opponent. You destroy their advantage and you build yourself up. No one wants to go to an even match. Forget those noble fiction about fighting in a fair fight. If you're out there trying to survive, the last thing you want is an even match. 'Even matches' is for sports (or at least it was) not Budo.
Having said that, how does training in the dark give an advantage to us? Well, training in the dark in itself doesn't really give you much advantage unless you're specifically going to fight in the dark against someone. But its more about building up other sensory perception that you have besides your eyes. We of course have sight, hearing, touch and smell as the basic senses, but some have improved sensitivity than others whereby their tactile sense is finely hone, their hearing is very precise and etc. Some even border into the 6th sense where they have unerring predictive powers knowing your every step even before you've made them. Wow! Will training in the dark help me get all that? Well... let's just say that the jury is still out there on that one. But what we can see is that, in eliminating one of our senses, we learn to use our other senses to compensate and that's always a good thing.
Imagine a fighter jet where the control is solely in the province of a pilot. He has to eyeball everything and make snap decisions. Yes, fighters in world war 1 eyeballed and dogfight all day long, but modern jets shoot opponents 5 km out, the enemy is not even a speck of dust in our eyesight then... so how exactly is eyeballing going to work? To help him get a target and verify if its a friendly or not, to help him compensate for the relative speed and trajectories, the pilot needs a lot of information. Certainly this information couldn't be discern by him alone. So his other 'sense's' help... command, satellite imaging, radio signals, laser targeting and etc, they all mesh together and create an information package that effectively identifies targets and friendlies leaving the pilot to make a conclusive action. So, what it means is reliance on eyesight is like handicapping yourself, when really you could have all the other senses combine their input into a more comprehensive information package for you to decide over.
In more esoteric terms, you can't wait to see if a strike is heading your way in the dark, you need to 'sense' it. If you hear a movement and you can feel the incoming wind, you have an information package already. Your brain makes a snap decision, overriding the need for visual confirmation based on the 2 out of 3 positives so that you put yourself out of harms way. This is sensing it rationally. Develop this so that it becomes so intuitive and that it operates below conscious thought, and it becomes almost 6th senselike. Sometimes you know when your opponent is planning to do something. Just like when you know someone is about to say something...
The other thing that you may learn from practising in the dark is that the eyes is a frequent distraction. Not only that, it often lies as well. Learning to make judgements beyond the sole providence of the eyes, often reveal that we might have taken a different path had we listen to the other senses as well.
Often teachers will show you what they want you to do. Sometimes they focus on a few things and try to make you see it, but different people see different things. For instance we write about the chicken crossing the road, and one guy might look at your drawing and say it looks more like a duck than a chicken, another might say that the chicken is jaywalking, whilst another might say that there's really no point for the chicken to cross the road, what's the chicken running from? Or where is it going to? and so on and so forth. From the drawing of a chicken crossing the road, you can come to so many different understanding/assumptions, yet were we to just forget what we saw and instead ask why is the teacher talking about the chicken crossing the road, and what is he not saying when he does that... that is when we start to see the whole picture. In other words, the way we should practice is not to get stuck or let our eyes lead us where it desires, but to use our mind and guide our eyes to where it really matters.
We look everywhere, and what I see is seldom what you see. My black is not your black, we just assume it is. Working the dark is not similar to blinding yourself, it is about opening your eyes and seeing in a different level.
Tuesday, October 5, 2010
But in that song, which means 'throw away the dirty and take the pure' basically epitomises the traits of staying positive. In any given situation, you have a choice, if not to avoid the situation in the first place at the very least a choice on how to deal with it. As in Fight or Flee, man's characteristic is dualistic in dealing with situations like that. Both optimism and pessimism exists. However, again with the Fight or Flee scenario, leaving it to nature to decide which action one should take is akin to playing the roulette. In Budo and as a martial artist we have to train ourselves to override or control 'natural' urges.
In some arts, being negative means being prepared for the worst and enjoying good outcomes as bonuses. We assume the scenario will turn bad and are more than prepared to ensure our safety and security through any means necessary. It means that without sufficient information, we will turn the dial all the way to maximum and use extraordinary force to ensure our maximum chance for survival. In some arts there is a dial, in some the dial is perpetually at maximum. It is in this scenario that one should consider whether it is suitable for application in the civilised world we live in now.
Historically, old world countries always had their civilians ensure theirs and their family's safety through personal weapons and ability. Those who are born into martial clans or castes offer the best tools and skills to their children, while peasants and farmers are left with tools of the trade to stave off bandits and pillagers. In the modern world where overriding law and the advent of a systematised police force, more and more people are leaving their safety and that of their families in the 'capable' hands of the government or powers that be. Much to their consternation, the result leaves a lot to be desired.
Now, going back to the topic. Aikido as I see it symbolises a positive art. Inherently, to practice Aikido, one needs to be in harmony with oneself and with others. Being negative from the start contravenes that ability therefore as Aikidokas we need to cultivate a positive attitude. In our practice taking attacks from uke, we do not respond in kind nor do we address the threat as what we perceive it to be. If we were to do so, we are probably enforcing a negative attitude. Uke too will sense this response and thus the struggle ensues. In being positive however, and 'throwing away the dirt' we do not of course go out there and assume everyone's a boyscout and that mugger in front of you doesn't have a gun under his shirt. I know its dicey and thrown into that situation, the question of would I really stay positive or would I just make sure the guy doesn't breath again will only be answered at the end.
Still imagine armed confrontations and hostage negotiations. Police who decide to stay positive and try to talk their way into diffusing a situation, retain the positive attitude. If they were to question their ability or assume the worst of the other party, we do not doubt that the situation will turn nasty. Also given that they have the arsenal behind them it is easier at times to just be done with it and give the bugger what he deserves. As an infamous army commander once remarked, "shoot em all and let God sort it out", we can't tell what's in another persons heart. So some people don't give other people the benefit of the doubt. Like some countries assume the worst and initiate what they call pre-emptive strikes. As I've mentioned, with 'might' behind them, it gets easier to that everyday. It is only when such an action might illicit an unquantifiable response that one might hesitate to use force. That's why generally you 'pre-empt' someone that you ordinarily would be able to take out anyway, but you would hesitate to 'pre-empt' someone whose capability you are unsure of. This unknown factor has uncertainties that creates fear. Fear that he has more power than you in fact.
In this sense the 'Staying Positive' and making no assumptions have the most mutually beneficial outcome. By staying positive and creating steps to build the relationship and resolve misunderstandings, we eliminate the need to destroy or the attempt of such.
If you were every involved in Finance or Economy, you might have heard of Nick Leeson. Nick here was jailed in Singapore many many years ago for fraudulent trade that ultimately led to the demise of Barings Bank (UK) with losses amounting to USD1.4bn. Imagine that just a single man effectively lost that much money and caused the departure of an entire bank and its hundreds of employees. In this scenario, the directors of the bank were 'deceived' by Nick who earlier in his career made substantial profits for the company. In the end, Nick fooled them and himself in trying to recoup bad trades with even riskier trades. This is not 'Staying Positive', this is what we will call unrealistic expectation. It is similar to what gamblers are afflicted with when they bet against the house. Statistically, you know the house wins 60 times to your 1. Yet, millions flock to casinos to gamble their lives for the chance to turn rich overnight.
'Buang yang Keruh, Ambil yang Jernih' applies to a multitude of scenario, not just the martial or the economy, when in fact it was derived from a song about a relationship between man and wife, daughter and father. At the end of the story our hero actually resolved the entire situation by bringing harmony back to the family and reconciling his siblings with their wives and father in law, minus of course the lynch pin lawyer who was behind the whole tirade. P.Ramlee who is famous for his wit, charm and multi facet talent in singing, composing and playing instruments was fond of putting such little ideas and wisdom into his movies. Remember the lynch pin that destroys the 'family or relationship', oft times they have more to gain than both parties have to lose.
The caption also exists in a time where water filters do not exist. If you were to be handed murky water, you would have to separate it painstakingly by hand. This symbolises the difficulty of embarking into this venture. To stay positive in the face of calamity is arduous indeed. Stand fast and advance onward!