Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Joe Thambu's Restrain & Removal Seminar

I was at his seminar last Sunday and it was interesting to see in addition to Aikidokas, we had people from Silat and law enforcement agencies coming in as well. Sensei Thambu is his typical humble self, not much on ceremony and ever willing to share whilst Sensei Ramlan as earnest as ever. You won't want to mess with his family because it reminds me of the TV show No Ordinary Family... you know the guy who plays the Thing in Fantastic Four? Sensei Ramlan not only looks like the guy, but his wife, his daughter, this 2 sons (that I know of) were all on the mat that day as well.

Anyway, Joe Sensei started the day with a simple demonstration of the difference between Reacting and Acting. Uke stands in front of nage and positions his finger a couple of inches away from nage's nose. He will touch nage's nose if he sees any movement from nage's hands. Nage tries to grab the finger before uke can touch him. If you try it, and you're not Bella from Twillight before she got turned into 'one of em', you'd probably be able to grab his finger even though your hands started far off from your nose compared to his. The reason is very simple and that's because your uke is not reacting to you. He's waiting for something to trigger his response, whilst you are just acting. That's why Acting is faster than Reacting.

This really translates to the street situation. Most bad guys know their potential victims, most victims don't know who the bad guys are. The faster your ability to gauge or discern a threat, the better your chances are simply because instead of reacting you can then act. But typical of LEA (Law Enforcement Agency) standards,  we can't attack a bad guy just because of a potential threat not unless the threat has manifested itself. If however we go by that rule all square, we won't last in the business very long. Thus, the job of the good guy then is to turn the situation so that the bad guy has to react and this can done in an assortment of ways. Typically you can engage him by positioning yourself more dynamically instead of waiting, this can even start from a hand shake or a misdirection, but typically just interrupting the attack line and getting a superior positioning is the order of the game.

To start things off, we did the basic Yoshinkan H-tai sabaki set. This set is really great stuff. In most Aikikai schools we show the students all sort of tai sabaki movements and it takes ages for them to remember anything. But with the H, you're immediately trained to move 3 ways left and right in a matter of minutes.

After that we did several techniques throughout the day that were basically Goshin waza of the typical Aikido sets. We did 2 primary pins, one from that had us kneeling on a point on uke, and the other where we actually sat on him and controlled his arms with our legs. In both pins, a single arm free and mobility had to be present to deal with additional threats.

We also did a few come-alongs, one from a modified gokkyo, another from a reverse guillotine. Joe Sensei didn't advocate a normal choke and walking backwards unless you have a partner pulling your belt along to guide you.

After that we did some knife drills where both uke and nage are armed and doing deflect and strike drills. It wasn't as complicated as Arnis drills but was probably sufficient for those exposed to knife work for the first time. Joe Sensei really knows how to maximise the transmission of knowledge to the participants, anything more complex and it would have been a total mess. The drills we did weren't without some food for thought. In blocking we're not aiming to stop the hand, but more about diverting it from our centerline and we achieve this by creating our own path to uke with our hands, some cross attacks require redirecting into a trapping position. We're not moving much but when we do, we are to imagine a line between uke and nage's head and maintaining that distance. Joe Sensei emphasised awareness of the opponent's triangle and not his arms. For most of us that means eyeballing the shoulders. For me I prefer shoulders to feet, but Joe Sensei can look at his opponent's eyes and still get the same awareness going. That's good if you're doing enforcement a lot because minus eye contact and the other party is going to get jumpy.

We also did some chokes and pressure point compliance. Those were not too fun because some of the participants here think they need to break uke's neck. Most of those didn't know the difference between a choke and a break the other guy's windpipe. Especially with my scrawny neck, things were getting decidedly painful until I showed them the difference. This especially highlights the importance of maintaining your safety awareness in seminars. More than once I had uke's going for a real strike to the throat that would had been injurious if I hadn't reacted, it was a miracle no one had real serious injuries that day.

One thing I have to remember is using hara and chushin at all times even though its a departure from typical waza. That is probably a reminder that we've become too much a creature of habit. When it comes to kihon and nagare, sure we're using what we've learned... then when things fall out of pattern and become spontaneous, we lose control of our chushin and hara movements as well...

At the close, Joe Sensei helped check out my kamae. It was great, he didn't impose his way on me but he showed me how it could be done and what makes it work. There is a single plane from the back heel all the way to the top of our head. I told him how we were expected to move, i.e. center drops and the feet shift to compensate. He showed me his back feet pushing the body forward and in alignment. Obviously its easier to do and understand that way. Makes me wonder if that's a better proposition for our beginners.

Anyway, I love the session and have the deepest gratitude for Sensei Joe, and Sensei Ramlan for the invitation.  Back in the UK, the BAB doesn't make any distinctions when it comes to the sharing of knowledge, senseis from Aikikai, Yoshinkan and Ki Society are all invited into the same event to teach and learn from each other. Ultimately this benefits all of the students and Aikido itself, and isn't it a wonder... create more harmony? Here in Malaysia, we're still a bit petty when it comes to things like this, perhaps drawn out of fear from what Hombu would do if they found out and yeah we hear stories like that all the time... but at the end of the day, are we learning Aikido from Hombu's pat on our head or from the teachers and partners who are willing to teach us and train with us?

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Duty and Responsibility

Sensei has just gone back. Yet the burden which is not a burden has not lighten in the slightest. In this 3 weeks that he has been here, he has taught us much. Some I have seen, some totally new. Whilst I can say that I have learned much in the time he was here, there are many things left that I have to learn. Not just the refinement of Aikido waza and tai sabaki, but also the principles and foremost.. the matters of the heart.

In Budo one requires 3 things:
1. Self Abandonment
2. Self Sacrifice
3. Duty and Responsibility

Every human being, implicit in his nature, cultivates self preservation. Even with the foreknowledge of death, we strive to continue our existence by procreation or other youth fulfilling endeavours. To embrace its opposite, or Self Abandonment is perplexing. And truly this can only be achieved if we are able to understand self sacrifice.

I've mentioned earlier about sacrifice. Perhaps long ago, people understood sacrifice. Nowadays, sacrifice is becoming more of a rarity. You sacrifice time, blood and sweat for something. Its not a trade. You are not buying something in exchange for those, you're sacrificing. It is the hope that with that sacrifice that something good would arise out of it, but its not a barter trade, or a guaranteed exchange. That's the meaning of sacrifice.

It also entails a purpose. Usually a purpose of higher calling. That's where Duty and Responsibility comes to play. We are able to perform Self Abandonment because we can begin to Sacrifice, but in order to sacrifice our purpose is carved from Duty and Responsibility.

Besides this, Sensei reminded us of Knowledge, Wisdom and Truth. Most of us have gathered to train under him seeking knowledge. But how many intend to use that knowledge with wisdom? And how many of that to seek the truth? Sensei has said that Aikido is not his ultimate aim in life. You cannot bring waza or Aiki skills to the grave, you can't leave it behind to your children to trade with, surely there is a purpose to all the hours spent training and teaching others this art? Aikido is a perfect tool to understand spirituality, but only if you understand what it is you are looking for and only if you understand the meaning of its practice. As sure as some of us are stuck in the fixed forms of religion, most Aikidoka's are stuck in their waza practice. But seeking the essence, one can begin to understand of the existence of a true path. Not just an implied 'Do'.

Before his arrival here, I have wondered at what are the steps that I have to go through to achieve his understanding. Surely I cannot start at where he is now. Should I follow on his steps through Yoshinkan, Shin Shin Toitsu, Aikikai, Daito Ryu and Kashima Ryu? Follow sensei I think to myself, yet he is showing everything and I don't understand where to begin. Luckily I did not even have to ask, because Sensei has formulated a system to practice now. Where before we did basic, intermediate and advance skills interchangeably... now we have a more basic methodology in training using our waza. From Kamae, to half to hanmi. In this very simple methodology, one can strengthen the core or the first set of principles using Kamae waza than the 2nd set of principles using half hanmi and the final set using hanmi. All the time the stances being a starting point to develop both body, ki and aiki understanding. What an amazing system! Simple but effective.

My only worry is that there's no one here to monitor my mistakes whilst training this way. It can only mean that I have to be more vigilant in my training more than ever.

Something Sensei Ramlan said last night striked a chord within me. Much as Sensei has sometimes mentioned why Kobuta sensei always taught something new to the Indonesians but only repeated what his done the year before with the Malaysians, I thought it did not apply to us. (Whilst the Indonesians will train hard in the year what has been taught before, and Kobuta Sensei could see the progress and teach them something new the following year, the Malaysians will practice during the visit and completely forget to train that way the entire year. Thus by the next visit, nothing has changed.) But I can see that we too are culpable. Maybe some of the students have failed to show what they have learned, but as Senpai's we are responsible. Maybe we ourselves have failed to improved on what has been taught to us...

For me, our responsibility foremost is to our Sensei. To learn what he has to teach, and to practice diligently. Sometimes we forget some things that has been taught, sometimes we practice wrongly and make mistakes and sometimes we misunderstood the lessons. To make it all the more difficult, we are without anyone else to guide us here. Our next responsibility is to the junior students here... to guide them as we would ourselves, but to also cultivate them individually through understanding. This is part of our training, to be sensitive and learn about feeling instead of just blundering through or being a robotic parrot.

At one point in time, I thought about stopping to write in this blog. It seems so self righteous or self indulgent to write of things that I can barely understand. For all I know my writing can lead other people astray. But I realise, that to write this down is to record my understanding at every stage and that to use the mind we have been given is our own responsibility. Thus I do my duty, let everyone do theirs.