Thursday, November 25, 2010

Why Practice Kihon?

I ask this question as a student as I'm sure many out there are also asking, some out loud, some in their hearts. Its nothing new is it? Every master will ask of his students to stick to basics, yet they themselves go out of their way to perform masterpieces of performance that sometimes have no bearing on basics. Trust me on this, no one studies something to perform basics. Everyone wants to be that master.

So why is it that you cannot practice those flourishes as well? Why can't we do henka waza, or more of kino nagare, or randori? I'm sure most would logically think that if you don't practice those, its going to be impossible to master them. The difference between kihon and ki no nagare is pronounced, much more when you perform advance Aiki applications. In fact, kihon doesn't look anything close to what Sensei is doing...

Have you ever watch those old movies? Not Charlie Chaplin I mean, but movies or series like Pride and Prejudice? Or even some of those westerns... Even better, have you read books of that era? The language they use is masterful. Its flowery but without being contrived, its enigmatic without being presumptuous. It strings together words that bring uncommon familiarity yet is no less in its complexity. Most important, it is beautiful. The English language hasn't change that much from that era to our modern world. Yet when we talk today it sounds almost clipped. Little better than a robot speaking the language. Our concern is now to communicate in as precise and shortest amount possible. No longer is the language a subtle contest of words, or a subtle courting of love.

The language; widely different in its use, starts with the alphabet and grammar and the lexicon. The alphabet are the blocks we use to structure words from the lexicon, the grammar strings the words in an acceptable fashion for common understanding. Maybe the lexicon is something like techniques. The more words you know the greater your choice of creating ever more precise sentences. The grammar is perhaps principles, without which your words lose their meaning in improperly formed sentences. Yet good techniques and good grammer can exist in both modern and old usage. It doesn't result in poetry or an exceptional and moving essay.

What then becomes this contributing factor, or the soul of the masterpiece one would ask? I would hazard that understanding may be an important component. It is not enough to know the words or the grammar. One would have to understand its nuances and even more importantly, to understand the listener or the reader's heart. Without understanding, one can compose the most eloquent phrases and the only one pleased with it would probably be you. This understanding of people... where in English class do we learn how to do this?

If we take that back and ask where do we learn how to understand feelings in the dojo, we would probably be stumped. I doubt kihon practice allows for this. Yet... it does. On the surface it doesn't, to most it will be an oft repeated kata to be done just right against different ukes in the hope that it will nurture a semblance of muscle memory and instinctive application in the face of danger. Dig deeper into your training and you will find that kihon does allow for that and much more. Much in the same way that you can keep drawing lines on a piece of paper, and it will be nothing but a bunch of lines, one could also draw the lines and make it look like a person, or a house or a sheet of music.

In practising kihon, one should dissect each part. The approach, the uke, the maai, the intent, the attack, the awase, the musubi, the kuzushi, the waza, the zanshin and so on. In this kihon we are given a canvas to practice our strokes, to refine our lines and to experiment with our colours. If we were to abandon this prematurely, we would approach waza as something that changes according to uke's attack, thus we contrive Henka waza or Kaeshi waza as its solution. How many times have you seen this? Oh, uke is attacking this way... thus I will change my technique accordingly. Then they justify this further that if you keep trying to force your technique then you are clashing or being stupid and myopic. True... but probably not all true either. To be honest, all this is to the cover for the lack of all those little things listed earlier that are missing in our practice. Sure your kihon and my kihon might not look exactly the same. Just as Osensei once said mysteriously said his techniques are ever changing. But doing it the 'correct' way even though it is difficult, one will practice harder to develop those small bits that make up Kihon. Only in this fashion would those small bits develop into something better.

Nevertheless, whilst I understand more now on the importance of Kihon. One should practice it in an 'Alive' way. One should also practice ki no nagare and aiki methods on occasion, not with the purpose of copying it but to put our kihon to the test. To see how far our understanding goes in structuring beautiful phrases with the words and grammar we have at our disposal.

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