Sunday, September 18, 2011

Limits and Their Possibilities

I think we live in a world that's afraid of losing. As much as they are afraid of losing, they are even more indignant of imposed limits. Strange considering we live by so many laws.

The problem being, we see laws most often as an injustice. Something imposed by those more powerful than us, and exploitative in that they predominantly become one sided. These are human laws of course, created by whims and fancies of rulers in the guise of benevolence and the 'I know what's good for you, because you sure the hell don't'. This line of thinking is not new and exists since the time of masters and slaves, colonization through the 'white man's burden' appeal and a slew of other motto and slogans.

This innate fear and distrust of laws and limitations then psychologically affects us and scars us and see us shrink from laws and limits. It doesn't help that we have so many motivational courses and television shows that inspire us to break such limits. But inadvertently, it would appear that there's a caveat to just who can break those limits. Heroes and heroines yes, second rate characters (i.e. you and me and cousin bob need not apply please) a resounding NO.

So whilst the carrot hangs from the string saying we can break do limitless things if only we TRY, success rates of course depends on how good looking you are, or which pedigree you come from, or some other random factor of the day. The masses get to look on with awe and enthusiasm how one person overcome the odds and defeated the bad guys.

What in the world am I talking about and how does it relate to Aikido? Well its those said limits you see. As I've mentioned there are man-made limits and there are natural limits. I will go on to define that natural limits are limits imposed on God to us. This limit is different to that of man-made limits, which is absolute in how it rules upon others, but it can be broken and it can be redrawn according to whims of the PTB (refer Anne Mccaffray on this). Whereas God limits are absolute yet has different tiers.

I believe God limits not because He wants to impose on us, but because He is benevolent. Most times those limits are absolute barriers to entry, but they can be surpassed if you reach a higher tier of understanding.

Now most will answer to this, what crock. Here's a man who can't achieve anything with his own strength and ability and is now blaming God. Actually no. I believe that limits imposed by Gods do give us targets to live by. Live within the limits and you will be happy. There shouldn't be this all encompassing greediness to see what more can I have. Yet at the same time, there are avenues that you could use to surpass some of those limits. And that's through knowledge, hardwork and sincerity. Therefore, in His eyes, everyone is an equal. They are all equally limited and they are all equally gifted. You decide who you want to be.

If I wanted to explain more about man made limits, I'd think about matrix. Its so extraordinary that such a film  could be so profound in its observations. 'Human beings couldn't survive without the remote possibility that a single hero can bring them freedom' obviously reworded through memory but in essence, the Matrix which is a simulacrum of a normal life human beings have on earth was created perfect without even a hint of it being a  program that is basically a virtual prison. But the AI discovered that the perfect matrix caused the human batteries to wither and die. The mind couldn't accept the perfect world. It couldn't accept the matrix as reality  because it wasn't. Somehow the mind knew it was a lie, and that lie needed an outlet of escape. Not that they  or every human in there would choose to escape, but enough that the knowledge of the lie is there and that should someone try, the possibility of escape would be there. Isn't that cool?

Also, limits are there sometimes in the form of our physical capability. You limit your range of motion so as not to injure yourself. You limit your power so you don't injure others. You limit movement so you can practice or isolate on areas that are weak. In so many ways, limits are really really helpful.

In our daily practice, sometimes we have our ups and downs. And surely one time or rather you wish you lived without limited capacity. You wished you could do this and that. Yet... is the time right?

Dave Lowry once wrote that his Sensei made him fumble through a Kata all summer until finally gave a simple line of advice, to shift his weight at just this point. Amazingly it allowed Dave to finally complete his Kata flawlessly. Only 1 bit of an advice that surely at some point in the future he would have found out on his own. Also, that surely could have saved him some 3 months of pointless training!

Yet... thinking about it. Would it really? Would that advice have worked 3 months ago before all that hardwork, that failure, the experience of living through it all? The knowledge was capped until he was ready. Too early it would have been useless, too late... well then it would have been too late.

In our practice, don't see limits as limitations. Think of them as beneficial steps that act as guides to our journey. Going over at the wrong time would send us to the cliff below without the necessary equipment to save us. But remember only men believe in absolute limits that are imposed. We however should live by God's rule instead.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Atari and Chushin, the Gozo Shioda demo or something like that...

Well, for want of a better word I'm using Atari here for a particular training exercise. You see Gozo Shioda doing this very often. And Inoue sensei as well, following his teacher's style. Though it is impressive, it doesn't require you to have a stronger body than that of your opponent. So how is it that an apparently weaker and smaller old man can let fly an uke stronger and younger and who is charging at him at full speed?

Pic from Koshinkan Aikido Website
According to Kancho, its all about timing. I think though, its a whole lot more than that. Sensei does this type of demonstration too, however nothing too frontal. Most of the time his frontal demonstration which is similar starts from ryotedori instead. However, with uke charging against his shoulders or chest, sensei invariably always turns on his chushin. Uke always flies but not back to where he came from, instead it feels like pushing against a secret wall that turns on you and your hands got sticky glue so you can't let go until of course you find yourself falling...

Its not something you can replicate just by spinning. But I think I'm beginning to see how it works.

First off, it all begins with kamae. If you can stand in kamae with your center in advance position and you can actually move from center instead of legs then you could probably do this.

Basically its about advancing your chushin as if you are moving forwards being drawn by it but not yet quite reaching the stage where you need to move your feet. As uke touches you, your imaginary kamae is touching his centerline too (your hands are by the side in this case), turn from chushin and watch uke fly. Or at least that's what we hope would happen.

Trying to stablise your posture with your legs, you will find that when uke comes, invariably their power will snag into you and in the worst case plant your weights on your feet. The give of the body also sucks any power that you could have utilised.

Conversely, toughening up your body or meeting forward with body movement when Uke comes will usually lead to a clash of power that dries up any force you could have used.

Its not muscle power, its centerline. Its not timing, its sense, its not bracing with force, its atari.

I think that's about it...
Um yes, its not the actual Gozo Shioda's signature demo... but something like it. His demo has got to start from this one I think. But until I actually find out, I'm not gonna bet on my words.

Friday, September 2, 2011

Is Aiki body or Mind?

Now, take this post the way its meant to be taken. A student pondering, not a discourse of the subject Aiki.

There have been many discussion on Aiki, its origins,what exactly is it, who has it, no he doesn't have it...etc. Throughout its history, never has such an open secret be so thoroughly explored, misinterpreted and argued more than the subject Aiki amongst its fervent worshippers... the Aikidoka's and all the Aiki Jutsu related schools of Japan.

Some have even ventured into the Chinese Martial Arts (CMA) in the hopes of finding the secret from the 'source' of Japanese martial arts, or so they say. Many books have been written, obviously, most will point that the origin of Aikido's Aiki stems from Daito Ryu, and most rightly so I suppose. Because it is an accepted fact that Osensei couldn't beat Takeda when he first encountered his teacher, even though his past opponents never presented much threat to him. It is with Takeda that Osensei's illustrious career as an undefeated warrior began.

Still, some mutterings have been heard about the origin of Daito ryu, that it found its aiki from a wondering chinese martial artist. Since Daito ryu has no shortage of amazing personage who have demonstrated Aiki before, I wonder why really do we have to dig even deeper? If the DR schools have shown remarkable consistency in churning out students with Aiki, what logic is there to go through an even more obscure path of tracing Aiki into China? Just learn from the DR guys...

Certainly, on would wonder all this. My sensei however believes that Aiki in Aikido is more refined than when it was first encountered by Osensei. On hearsay, many people who had the privileged of feeling osensei  when he was alive, described amazing encounters that border on the fantastic. Certainly nothing of the sort that they believe they can get in DR right now. However, no one can discount that DR itself left 2-3 persons of note that when you hear of encounters with them, show no less in terms of great and amazing feats that left their opponents mystified.

Putting that aside however, how do we mediocre students who are not super geniuses like Osensei and his DR peers learn Aiki? Judging by the numbers, the % of success seems very very low. Unless of course there's a whole slew of Aikido teachers hiding Aiki in their sleeves.

Having been exposed to some Aiki, I find myself wondering what is it that I'm learning. Certainly there's some body elements here in the beginning. A way of thinking as well. Maybe a way of moving too. There are so many different exercises, that provide glimpses of Aiki, but never the whole picture.

I got to thinking that if it was physical and perhaps a small part of it is, how is it different then a regular physical movement. My theory that the small % of an Aiki movement could still be physical, but even that physical aspect is different then how we would normally do things. Instead of using muscles that are common,  it could be we are using rarely used groups. It takes a high amount of concentration to move your body using muscles you generally aren't even aware of, but a lot of body arts share this knowledge. Pilates, Yoga and certain house jujitsu... so it could be that using the skeletal strength and uncommon muscles and moving in a smooth and coordinated fashion causes opponents to miscalculate and misinterprate nage's movements. Consequently, they lose composure or focus and get easily unbalanced. For example, in Aiki Age, I've been thinking that aside from getting our center underside against uke's center, movement of the hands is done by the lower back instead of shoulders and arms. Thus this subtle movement will be missed by ordinary minds.

Notwithstanding that, a higher stage of Aiki development would apparently do away with the physical aspect in its entirety. But for that we have training in spirit, intent, feelings and things like that. It was never never anything to do with Ki per se. We don't have sessions of meditation to cultivate Ki to be used in fights. Always, it is understood that Aiki energy is the natural universal energy that passes to every creature.

As it gets higher and higher, I believe even the mind is given a lesser role to play. And in that circumstances, we no longer move our bodies with our consciousness or earthly self, perhaps even we are moving with out 'true' self.

Anyway, I'm just thinking about that. The nice thing is, after playing around with some wing chun people I just think that more live practice in a none Aikido environment, would be more beneficial in training for Aiki. With the Aikido guys, they just have this innate pressure to conform to what is expected. But for Aiki to work, it should work on anyone and especially everyone. That I guess would be where we can find our answers. Certainly I think, you can't find much by asking your teacher all the time.