Sunday, December 12, 2010

Some Random Points Floating in my Head

To practice Aikido one uses his eyes, his ears and his feelings. To absorb knowledge with only one of the senses is akin to the story about 3 blind men and the elephant. Each of them holding to one part of the elephant and making their conclusion from only a single perspective. Needless to say, all of them were erroneous. So, since God's given us all these senses, we need to use it to the best of our ability.

Besides the senses, we also have a brain and mind. For most people this is what differentiates us to animals. Mind over instinct is not only useful, but necessary at times. If instinct prevails, most of us wouldn't be around today. The instinct to kill threats might include children and rivals. The instinct to hoard goods might depopulate animals and plants thus destroying the cycle of life.

But instinct too is not useless. Instinct is a tool we have less and less use for when confronted with the rational and logical world. Too much importance is placed on facts and figures, yet good instincts allow some people to make irrational decisions that ultimately lead to a better result retrospectively. However, since we have no scientific and fool proof way to develop instincts, it has been abandoned in place of strategy and protocol. If part of our training revolves around feeling and sensing, ultimately we require this instinct we have so long ago set aside. Instinct allows us to perform things that we would otherwise doubt. The trick of course is to learn from these instinctive movements and make it understandable and repeatable. Something easier said then done. And another point against instinct is that it is subjective. One person's instinct might differ with another. It is unavoidable when you train for war and armies that the soldiers must never act alone or by instinct.

I always get excited watching some of the videos of other masters doing things which are familiar to me by way of Sensei. It makes me realise that those things are still within the realm of human achievement and that he is not a random blip in humankind arising from God's sense of humour or some natural anomaly. There are countless of people who exhibit the same skills albeit at various levels of expertise, but it is identifiable. That I guess is the first step, to know of and identify.

The next step is understanding. As with each knowledge available to mankind, learning it requires specific skill sets. You can't learn maths without tools for instance. In China the abacus allowed children to learn addition, subtraction, multiplication and division all the way to logarithm calculations. Such a simple tool of beads on rods framed by a wooden block invented hundreds of years ago and doing almost as much as the most modern scientific calculator. Perhaps the skill set of the distant past for the Aiki student would be unquestioning faith, the willpower to endure, the focus to concentrate on every movement of the teacher and the drive for survival. Nowadays, we have caring teachers who try their best to translate their knowledge into something palatable to their students, books and videos. Not to mention of course the countless internet forums with their ever increasing knowledgeable masters discoursing the nuts and bolts of each Aiki skill there is.

To bring us back to the realm of acceptable ideas and achievable results, I'd like to note a few things that caught my eye and fancy this past several weeks. Foremost is the 'don't wait there like a dummy' observation that most sensei's make. This is a very important and often repeated wisdom that most people aren't aware they are skipping. It can be seen typically in randori situations when more often than naught, nage stands at the spot that they've just finished throwing an uke. But beyond movement, there is this aspect of the mind and ki. As I've mentioned before... Intent - Mind/spirit - Ki - body. So moving towards the next uke is all good when you're first starting out, but as randori gets more intense there will be no time to do that after you've thrown one or two. Most times its all we can do to avoid a charging uke before the next one grabs onto you. Thus the fault lies in the lack of tools that we are employing.

Uke is out to get nage, not just with their body (i.e. hands), but also their ki, mind and intent. Yet, nage is reacting only to the body and only using his own body to manhandle uke. 4 vs 1 is never good, multiply that with the number of ukes and you've got yourself a massacre. There are plenty of good Aikidoka out there who have good timing and skill and technique that they don't find the absence of ki, mind or intent as a handicap, at least up to a point. You can see this is true especially at a high level, nage who rely totally on their body ability get winded faster or more flustered as the randori carries on. There is only so much your body can compensate for when your opponents are utilising more tools than you.

So not waiting for uke is a good thing. Not waiting but extending ki to meet them is even better, instead of just moving to greet them physically. To practice this ability in randori of course is dumb and poor timing. You have to practice this during kihon even. And as you understand or perceive some understanding, you apply it in each practice be it ki no nagare or jiyuwaza or randori. That becomes the acid test of your understanding I suppose.
In kihon we have the luxury sometimes to practice one aspect or the other. We have the luxury to analyse. But when we practice ki no nagare or jiyuwaza, we are now given a platform to test our understanding and develop it further and away from the realm of theoretical exercise into application. Then, back to the drawing board of kihon to sharpen our knowledge and skill, and then back to free form to habituate it within ourselves.

Another thing I've seen oft repeated is nage's awareness or the lack thereof. Awareness goes to zero when uke attacks in that we become myopic to the attacking irritant. Be it a katatedori, or a strike. Our attention is drawn to the offending thing and we lose our overall awareness. Once we lose our awareness, our mind, ki and intent becomes narrowed and reactive instead of loose and all encompassing. We have now been drawn into a pitch battle. I've yet to see a general survive a war when his eye's is drawn only to the first encounter. It is the basic premise of silat to feint. Of course all martial arts have feints... but even a real attack is a feint and that has to be understood. Because how you react to a real attack dictates your next move and if the opponent is skilled this becomes a ploy where pawns are lost to win a king.

A beginner becomes so overwhelmed by the different principles in Aikido and the various techniques. Yet, it becomes more and more clear to me that the various understanding really originates from fudo genri. Really mastering fudo genri would generally ensure successful encounters with uke irrespective of form. It'll be rough, but it still be doable. Kihon genri smoothens the rough edges. It elevates us to another level, one that allows us to train with more sensitive uke's and stronger opponents.

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