Saturday, November 24, 2012

How are we learning?

Image from
A couple of weeks back, I returned to UK for a short holiday. There, I managed to visit my old sensei's John and Sarah, and their ex-master Sensei Kolesnikov. It was as always an enjoyable training. Somehow I feel invigorated and excited whenever I train in my old dojo... perhaps it was because of the Ki Aikido slant, or perhaps of their unique way of teaching and training.

Anyway, I've sensed the changes a few years back in terms of their relationship between the two dojos. But it was a closure for me to actually talk to them about it. For John and Sarah, they felt the need to improve themselves pushed them into breaking away from the main dojo to explore the art with other sensei's... and not necessarily with those of the Ki Society and its ilk. Having met with Ikeda Sensei and   a few others in Europe, they felt that what they had was too constraining. And so they left to pursue this knowledge elsewhere. Without a doubt, there may always come that time when we feel our paths branches away from those who are with us. All of us have our own journey to make and sometimes those paths may align together, sometimes not. John and Sarah felt the draw of new found knowledge and felt that growth can come from there.

This is one way of learning. Learning from a new perspective, or learning new techniques, methods, skill. This way of learning expands your skill set. Yet, through it all, I felt that their Aikido has not far detract from their original school. The fudo genri is embedded into their being that the Aikido they do is more familiar than different.

Visiting Sensei K's dojo the next day, I honestly think what I just said is true. The mould is set and their style is no different then their previous master. However, Sensei K has not waited or petrified his Aikido as well. Whilst he has not ventured into different ways to practice his Aikido, or looking outwards as it were, he has to some extent look inwards.

The outwards that I mentioned earlier is looking beyond your existing knowledge. Looking from somebody else to teach you something new. Looking inwards, is delving into the existing knowledge. Trying to refine it or explore it in different ways. So with Sensei K, he does the latter... perhaps venturing a bit into dance, into spirituality, or gaining insight from research.

Both methods of learning are valid. As a new born, our first task is to learn new things. As quickly as we can. At the same time, practicing each new thing until we master it... during this time our progress and knowledge gathering is at its peak. It gets harder and harder to learn new things as we grow up.

We can attribute this to gradual increase of difficulty in our knowledge curve, or memory loss, or lack of time, or our own mental blocks i.e. set and myopic views, etc. But when we were most innocent, knowledge came rapidly.

Our choice day to day, is to either keep learning or hold tight to what we have. Sometimes you can see that people refuse to acknowledge something new because it goes contrary to their current knowledge or beliefs. In refusing to open their mind, they lie in themselves but are comforted by the unchanged state the find themselves in. For most, a strange new idea is very frightening indeed.

How do we learn?

Do we keep on doing the same things again and again? Go to dojo, back home, go to dojo, back home. Day in day out, week in week out and for years... do we find ourselves in the same cave?

Or do we think on what we do? Reflect how it works? Remember and think about the messages and clues our teachers gave us? Do we practice to get better or to defeat Uke?

We have to keep this in mind everytime we practice. Its very important especially in Aikido where learning comes from feeling our partner out. If we kept practicing selfishly, i.e. imposing our will as nage upon uke, we will never change for the better. We may get fit and stronger, but Aikido may forever be beyond our grasp. Instead, from feeling comes understanding.

Think about sorewaza kokyuho. A most basic but very important exercise we do each session. What is it about two hands parallel grab whilst kneeling that can be important enough that Osensei always had it in his classes? It doesn't even make sense in reality.

Yet it holds the key to all of Aikido. For my level, I feel its understanding energy and power. We want to move uke but without 'wanting' or 'using' power. Instead we must feel his power and return it to him. How do we do this? Imagine a walkalator. If you stood on a walkalator heading your way, then you need not do anything but you will move forward. But if you were to walk against a walkalators direction, you'll most likely be held in place or at the best, expending tremendous effort to move forwards as opposed to walking normally on the ground. And that is how Uke is holding us. A walkalator in the opposite direction. So how do we use his power instead of ours? Imagine the walkalator as a conveyor belt. Even as it moves forwards on one side, the bottom side returns to its source. Thus his walkalator is in fact two directions. Similarly, uke's energy is like that too.

His hands may be pushing against you, but there is a return path. Curiously enough you may use the bottom of the walkalator as an honest analogy of the energy path. Don't push against his direction, instead use his return energy and move forward. You will find that sorewaza forms the basis of all