Sunday, April 24, 2011

Comfort zone

No man is an island, is such an apt saying for what I'm about to say. Where men exists, so does competition thrive and rivalry grows. In sports that is fine, in Judo and Kendo you can have the shiai. Yet, in budo, there is only an end to conflict, there can be no sporting ending.

In all the days that we've trained in the dojo. When was the last time you tried to improve your tenkan? Or even your kamae? When was the last time you honestly believed that your ikkyo is capable of putting your opponent down in any given situation. Has there been any urgency in your training?

With boxers, fights can occur every two months or so. Each time both fighters will study the other fighter's videos and look for their strengths and weaknesses. They then concentrate on either improving their own standing weapons or develop an arsenal to counteract and exploit the other's weaknesses. For a boxer that continues to build himself up like this cumulatively and gradually, his strength will grow from fight to fight. For another who only builds himself to match his opponent, his career will be shortlived.

Yet, in both cases, those boxers have 'improved' themselves from their baseline. But its different for us Aikidokas. We who do not have competition and matches, we who do not have rivals, where comes our drive and where resides our goals?

Its easy to say, a belt ranking or a generalised 'improve everything' but are we really getting better? Or are we just going to the dojo, doing the same thing again and again without a thought to its development. Are our uke's testing us for weaknesses each time?

I wondered at one time not long ago, whether a technique could later become a skill. I guess it could, if we only develop it to become one. Irrespective if there's a partner to help us or not, we need to train like we are fighting the greatest threat of our lives. After all, this is not a game. There are no comfort zones, there's only death if we are slow and too sure of ourselves.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Step by Step Learning...

I've been trying to incorporate more ashi sabaki practice in our classes. Its amazing how just a part of the entire whole makes such a difference. Thinking about how Osensei and Gozo Shioda always hinted at the power of the toe, I found to my surprise that the toe is in fact very much an important tool in Boxing too... It makes sense after all, you can move all you want from your center, but if your the feet that's holding you up ain't up to it, you won't be moving the way you should be moving.

So, its great after all to be able to do stuff efficiently and naturally. Still if your efficiency level is 100% of a say 10HP leg as opposed to say a 50% efficient opponent who has 100HP legs, than it doesn't take a genius to predict whose going to be coming on top.

Basic training is wonderful. It builds our bases right and it will eventually lead to greater things. Discovering that greater thing though must come from some live experience or random chance. If the teacher tells you, it ain't going to work. Kinda like the Wizards 4th rule or something. So unless you so happen to enter fights every so often that forces you to do stuff on the go, you aren't likely to tap into that greatness. Then, what does it mean in the end? To keep doing Kihon again and again on the off chance that would suddenly discover its secret benefits? In the end, its tantamount to faith. Faith in doing something good without prospect of rewards. That is the way... to go forward even though there no promises of riches at the end of the road. And in that aspect, one of the secret is revealed; development of one's spirit.

Anyway, we practiced moving forward again but this time using ayumi ashi instead of suriashi. I was trying to convey the importance of moving forwards in one continuous cutting motion, continuously expending the spirit onto the opponent. To begin the cut long before we reach striking range and to do so from the first step. It is only then that we can intrude upon their space without being hit first. If we just move and then strike, since they are prepared and we are intruding into their space, they will get the first strike. But by moving and extending our cut long before we reach their space, we have taken control of the moment.

Also, its simply amazing to see suriashi 5 when applied to the shomenuchi drill 2. It makes the whole movement simpler. The key of course is to maintain our kamae on the attacking line and letting the half step be invisible to uke. Then our movement becomes instantaneous on their attack.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Random, disordered meanderings...

I was a bit happy last week when we had a gathering of seniors to practice. Culminating towards Sensei's visit this June I guess. But once a month to gather everyone is really pathetic. Not to mention of course that half the time they'll be training with the beginners in my dojo. Still I do like the fact the practice becomes more intense when the 'outsiders' come in. In a way its a treat.

Still what came after is deflating. Without going into it, I'd want to remind myself that as budoka, its expected for us to go against the odds. Sure a big part of martial strategy is to create winning strategies. Zanshin embodies that concept. The understanding of maai effectively puts that into practice. But in a situation of utter hopelessness, we do not abandon hope. We do not curl up and surrender. We sink our center, tighten the guts, calm our hearts and cut forward. Yet, to be confronted by people who wither away before even the sound of war drums can heard, is utterly mind boggling. What are they doing here in the first place? Tagging along for the fun of it?

Well enough of that. I was thinking I discovered another secret the other day. I was thinking it was possible that a method of extension is imagining your center in your hands. I thought it worked well, but on some people it just didn't happen. Maybe I got it all wrong but I'm going to keep trying it as I move along. Afterall, Sensei said that Kenji Ushiro can displace his center at will. I still don't understand that but... hey here's hoping.

Then quite recently we've been practicing hara projection more and more in class. Not the drills sensei left me because its too difficult for the beginners (actually its pretty difficult for me, so it'll be pointless for the blind leading the blind right?) so I did a variation of it... or what I would think would be a level lower to the original. Instead of a throw, nage walks whilst displacing or uprooting uke.

I think that curving the energy back and emphasising the hand to not lift or sink makes it more target orientated or simpler to do. Practice on the suriashi movements also really help when making a point. The problem with harmonising/awase is that most people become a brick wall when waiting for the strike to come. So by committing nage into a suriashi movement, slowly body unity will override individual hand movement. And hopefully hara gets trained to boot.

I'm really really losing a battle with the kids class though. I've got half the lot monkeying around and half the lot probably getting frustrated with the stuff we're doing. I think its time to do sorewaza techniques instead. Makes all the kids level and removes to much footwork confusion. But some of the kids are not going to handle seiza very well...

I closed today's class with some mumbo jumbo thought that I got whilst closing. We were sitting seiza and I kept still for a few minutes. The funny part is even as I felt the blood in my veins, the breath in my lungs and the, energy tingle in my body... I was pretty still. Yet in this calm and still situation I was anything but still. Everything seem so alive. And I was looking at the others fidgeting about, until I was a bit sorry for them. So I told them that we are human beings and that its impossible to keep still like a statue. Instead thinking about the movement in our body and being calm, we will look utterly still on the outside. Yet we remain alive inside. Its like that in Aikido doesn't it? Not too much external movement if you please, but inside or invisible to the eye, the energy flows enthusiastically.