Friday, September 9, 2022

Stages in learning Aikido

 Learning Aikido is not complicated and in fact it could be very simple. However the reason why we call it keiko and not shugyo is that we have to be patient in learning to peel away the layers of our training. 

In traditional martial arts typically we have foundation training and that would be the body. So we start by training the body physically and for most traditional martial arts it would be the strength of the legs and the core or hips foremost. Typically one wouldn’t train the extremities too much because it distracts the use of power away from the Danton’s. It’s not for all cases though, osensei has an iron pincer grip. He used to train by hanging by his fingertips on the branches of trees in order to gain sufficient height in order to enlist in the army. And grapplers have to increase their grip strength as a matter of course. How we want to train today however is to focus on the legs and core. The legs will be the foundation. And after this we should train our endurance and flexibility. Next would be to master breath power. In modern analysis of breath power they have gone beyond the esoteric explanation of breath flowing through the body and the source being the dantian. They would talk about vascular pressure, fascia cohesion and the primary driver would be reverse breathing or creating pressure in the body through breath and coordinating that with specific weight exercise.

This domain would be for th truly enthusiastic and youthful students. For the general public imagining the breath flowing through the body is sufficient. Using vascular pressure can be harmful in the long run. And traditional schools have training methods to counter act this.

After the physical training can only we really focus on the techniques. Techniques really demand a certain level of physical competency and ability before it could be performed well. In aikido keiko the training of the techniques or the waza itself accomplishes this need to a certain extent and each waza levels build up the capacity to unleash the next level. Foremost on this is ukemi or the art of receiving attacks. It also encompasses the art of atemi or strikes, of awareness of blending and of taking the falls themselves. Understanding ukemi is knowing how to react safely but not in total overtness when receiving the technique from nage. In order for both parties to learn uke cannot run away from the technique rather must receive it safely and correctly to such an extent that in advance practice there will be little difference between nage and uke because reversal techniques will be employed and attacks are only initiated when there’s tsuki.

After the outward expect of aikido is trained one can graduate to the inner and Aiki aspects of aikido of which the meat of the matter is. Despite its harmonious and soft ways you cannot learn Aiki from the get go without going through the hard technical aspect. It’s like immediately going to cursive calligraphy without understanding alphabets. 

Within the 1 is the 0. And to understand nothingness you have to understand somethings first. In Aiki training a lot of the intangible understandings is needed. Be it the spatial awareness of openings of danger of opportunities the surroundings and the mind of your opponents. You’ll also need understanding of kuzushi of kamae of chushin of your connection the ground and of connecting with the opponents center and mind and spirit. And this is why you can’t immediately jump to aiki from the get go. 

The final level of training is takemusu aiki. When your very being has understood the essence and principles of aikido and the emway you talk think walk and do things is the manifestation of aikido. In this regard you don’t actively think you’re a Malay or Chinese a man or a woman. You know who you are and you don’t need to advertise it. Just like that is the natural manifestation of aikido in you.

Friday, July 2, 2021

Aikido is atemi

 I last wrote 4-5 years ago, so forgive my long absence. Over the years I’ve questioned the validity of speaking so much about aikido rather than doing it. Given however my martial encounters revolve around the dojo (of which today remains in limbo thanks to COVID) alone, I didn’t think there’s really anything much to talk about.

However I was reviewing a few of my old video collection and I remarked to my wife who was watching an  embukai video, you can’t blame people for thinking that aikido is dance. The nage is definitely a good aikidoka but the demo is pretty much a dance. All of ukes attacks are of course predetermined, that’s not the problem, the issue is that nage is totally open. And for the sake of demonstrating the techniques, uke doesn’t take advantage of those openings. So it looks like a well rehearsed dance.

I explained to her about a video on Silat. I like this Silat because it resembles the one I trained in closely. The teacher demonstrated his movements, and within his movement is a pair of shield and strike. As he utilizes the movement against an attack, he performs a technique. The technique wasn’t the answer to the attack, his movement was. He didn’t complete either the shield or the strike, but midway, it transformed into the technique.

This is how aikido has to be performed I exclaimed. We shouldn’t jump to the technique, but everything starts from the atemi. As atemi meets the attack, the technique is manifest.

Newer videos of Saotome sensei are a good demonstration of this. He is never open. He is always controlling chusin, he meets uke with atemi (that’s not obvious) but perfectly cuts their chusin, and using awase and then musubi, naturally a technique is manifested.

She then says ah I got to start practicing again. And I then answered, you’re not going to like it. We don’t start with the soft and elegant looking aikido to get to that level. We start hard and strong. And through that pain, only we will get to that magical place of ephemeral and effortless aikido. 

Friday, December 8, 2017

Aikido Down Under

It has been more than 20 years since I last went to Sydney, almost as long as the last time I wrote in this blog it seems like. Much has changed but the way of Aikido hasn't. How it is perfectly normal for aikidokas to travel the world and take time off from whatever their itinerary is to find a dojo to practice in. Lucky for me, I have friends in Australia.

Practicing in a dojo instead of teaching in one is a different game altogether. Despite my dojo being called aiki Shoshin, or beginners mind, I was lamenting not too long ago how difficult it is to keep that frame of mind. Especially as the years of practice adds up. You tend to think, I know most of this, what I want is to delve into the secrets. Pretty soon, instead of having a sincere learning experience, you start to analyze whoever it is that's doing the demonstration. Looking for their good points and bad points. No doubt, being analytic helps and stealing techniques is a valid way to learn. But honestly, nothing compares when you just let go of preconceptions. And become an empty vessel.

That was how I felt last week. A complete misogi in training. No worrying about who gets it and who doesn't, just focusing on myself and my partner. That, and catching my breath.

Obviously you tend to see this in older aikidokas who delve into teaching. Being attentive to class and the students, other daily routines taking up your time, all would inevitably lead to less personal training time. And consequently too much talk too little action. The age doesn't help either, and as things goes, it's a worsening spiral.

Therefore, before your aikido becomes more of a rethoric and a case of slow methodical examples in front of class, people like us should find time to practice aikido like when we first tried for our dan grade. Hours and hours of grueling honest work.

Having an 'Aiki mind' doesn't mean it's an excuse to having blubber around your tummy. And it's not even a good example for your students. Some of the best shihans around remain as trim and as fit as they were three decades ago. Kobuta sensei, takeda sensei, saotome sensei to name a few...

I guess what I wanted to share was how important this training was for me. I felt really clean afterwards. I think above all, practice should be like this. It must produce this cleansing each time we train.

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

22nd December Class

Today we looked into beats. Just like the musician that reads his music following a particular tempo, the beginning student of aikido too can practice using tempo.

As uke attacks nage, nage takes that as the first beat. For nage to be successful, his harmonisation must occur in that first beat. Its better to have harmonise at zero beat, but for now, uniting with uke at the first beat should be the goal.

If for example the attack is katatedori aihanmi. Nage cannot start his technique after uke has grabbed him. There is latent potential power within uke that immediately follows that grab, that would overwhelm nage who moved after that first beat. Instead, nage unites with nage at the first beat and the first contact and lead him into the technique.

The second part of the class we concentrated on fulcrums. Again, this has a tie in to the first part of the lesson.

In order to understand unity, we need to understand distinct parts of our power. Again using katatedori ai hanmi, nage tries to move uke using his shoulder as a fulcrum, then his elbows, then his wrist. Finally, he tries to reconcile uke's power on his arm and uses that connection as a fulcrum instead. Done right, nage is able to move uke with ease.

We did explore a few key points on how to actually establish that connection. Simple things like making the connection gapless, not using bone to bone contact, stopping desire to move uke from overwhelming the movement, and other key basic principles being established beforehand.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Searching for Balance

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Balance is like a buzzword in martial arts. If you look at movies and books, everyone talks about balance. Whether its balance of your internal energy, balance of left and right, balance with the opponents... and so forth. Yet for all its ubiquity not much depth in explanation or exploration is given to this very important aspect of life.

Osensei asked us or actually he told us, to observe nature is to study Aikido. (paraphrased). Well, again with these martial art saints, a one liner wisdom. So we have some students go out to nature, sometimes alone and sometimes with friends, to be with nature hoping that one time or another when he gets back to the dojo, Aikido's secret will open up to him somehow.

It is true that a lot of wisdom is garnered from observation. In the past, masters seek inspiration from animals and the forest and wisdom. But those things have been there for a millennia. There's been billions of people too, so why aren't there billions or even millions of different martial arts? I believe though that for for most people, true observation is beyond them. If we cannot even observe our own body and mind and spirit, I doubt we have much to learn from observing nature itself.

Right now, we are in the middle of the muslim's fasting month or ramadhan. Muslims around the world are observing fasting from before dawn to the after dusk each day, abstaining not only from food and water, but also other desires driven by the ego. Abstaining from 'wants' and 'desires' so to speak. They are also asked to perform more good deeds, such as charity, learning, helping and worship of all kinds. Yet this month is also in the pinnacle of the 2014 world cup. Life goes on too, we have work in the morning, traffic jams in the afternoon and the Palestinians are dying by the hundreds.

Oops, it appears this blog now contains political inspiration and religious connotations. Where is the Aikido then? Well today, we are speaking about balance. True Aikido requires its assimilation in the daily life, and balance is a key component. Not just balance written in the first paragraph, but also a balance of self and others, of the worldly and the spiritual. When Osensei kept harping about spirituality as the key of unlocking Aiki, most of his students (I mean almost all of his students) just could not accept it. Some, true to human nature, mocked him quietly that the old man's lost his marbles. Yet, this is a fundamental aspect of human balance. The atheists and the secular would say their piece now, let them. I'm not judging and I'm not preaching. The purpose of writing here is to remind myself of my journey. Perhaps looking back at it in another 10 years, I might have gotten everything wrong... or then again, maybe it was the right step at the right time that will lead to my future progress. Who knows.

There are money examples that we can find to make sense of this actually. A lot of people find faith strengthens them. But faith is meant to soften the heart as well, and .... harden it. We are asked to show mercy because God is merciful to us in his bounty and gifts. But we are taught to be merciless in fighting oppression and injustice. Being kind is not just by helping someone with money and food and love. Sometimes a greater kindness is to cut him up. A doctor saving a patient with gangrene may cut the person's leg off. Sure we understand its mercy now and its medicinal knowledge. But think about it... centuries back, no one knew. The first doctor to cut open his patient to conduct a heart surgery and a cornea surgery was a muslim doctor. (turkey or India, I can't remember). Back then it was a game changer. How could he have every convinced someone to allow him to cut their body open to fix it up?

Yet again this violence done, it was done with knowledge and faith in that knowledge. That knowledge gained through hard work, experimentation and the gradual building up of experience through lesser components was also in the end Godsent.

How true then the art of beheading for the samurai. The way to kill is not anything new. Hit a person's head with something hard enough and he will die for sure. But the Japanese have it down to an art level. Beautiful someone would say when watching a master wield his sword. Elegant. Simple and yet so deadly. Is the art of killing so beautiful that one would praise it? Life is not that cheap that it should be ended by a stab in the dark, a bullet in the head, a rope around the neck, a needle in the vein, or a missile in the dead of the night. To kill someone in combat with skill and faith in oneself is to appreciate death. To feel its close embrace, one would appreciate living all the more. When you can see your opponent's sweat, tears, pain and fear, you see a human being. It makes killing him all the more momentous. Because if you can emphatise with a human being, how would you be able to harm him. Harming another being is like harming yourself. Yet, if in harming this person you are doing great kindness, and you act with full conviction of faith that has its foundation on love and mercy, you shield yourself from destruction with spirituality.

It is a fact that combat veterans comeback with many a disorder and malady. Research shows that in most modern military conflicts, at least a while back, that most soldiers shoot their enemies deliberately aiming to miss. and vice versa. That for most human beings, killing another is apprehensible and unnatural. For most of us, we would like to be kind and happy with other people. Think about it. Would you like to go out there and fight with a total stranger, or would you rather make new friends so that you can enjoy his company?

That is why, when you do go to combat, you have to go there for the absolute right reasons. Human beings lie to each other, most human beings are selfish. We know that, because its a genetic make up to ensure our own survival... over other if need be. So you don't actually know whether going to combat is for the right reason especially if you are a career soldier where questions aren't asked. But a bushi... a bushi or a warrior is not a mindless beast. He has a mind and he has a heart and he needs his faith to justify and bolster him. A samurai is a servant to a higher ideal. He is not a gangster with a sword. He dispenses violence in the path of greater good. A person who actually does that will not find himself rotting inside and expressing this outwardly with hard to pronounce diseases. A person who is selfless and kills other human beings because of faith and conviction would have balanced his deed.

And this understanding is desirous in our pursuit of martial arts. We cannot continue to learn a martial art like Aikido as if it is life's answer to everything. Like a dance routine with our partners. Like a temple to spew koans like a grasshopper's master. Like a hobby we get off after a long day. Aikido in all its temperament find its roots as a martial arts. Osensei may have told us about love and harmony. Yet what is harmony? I believe we have misunderstood harmony as rainbows and pink unicorns. Harmony is the balance and assimilation of the hard and soft. Skewed either way, and human life would be imbalanced. We would suffer within ourselves if the balance remains unaddressed. I don't mean to advocate killing and violence in our practice, but understanding it in our practice is crucial. Using it with faith when called upon is an absolute necessary. You cannot practice a warriors heart without tempering your heart to wilfully enter the path of upholding justice. In whatever form it takes, physical, words or mental, you must stand with the higher good. Otherwise there is no balance.

Lastly, this is also the path of Aiki. Aiki is neither soft or hard. But appropriate.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Receiving shomenuchi - The Three Ways

Firstly, the truth of why you are seeing less and less of my postings here is that I'm taking more time to digest my lessons. Learning now takes longer and while at times I feel I understand certain things better, I also realise that I still don't understand enough.

Anyway, in today's training I was thinking of the three ways we meet shomenuchi.

1. The wave
2. Opening the door
3. The irimi cut

Before this, I've taken all three as seperate methods or techniques. But as I explored it today, I feel I understand that the three are levels of the same thing. With the wave, the no 2 won't work as well. Without no 2, no 3 wouldn't work either.

In the wave, the attackers power is diminished upwards upon contact. And we follow this with a cut through his center using our center as impetus. The sword doesn't cleave, it shears and so should our center movement.

In opening the door, for it to work we cannot wait for contact. The wave must be implemented well before contact and this as his power dimishes, we can safely contact his attacking hand and at that point in time, use chushin to move his center away.

In 3, we cannot irimi and cut without diminishing uke's power and then changing his line of attack using no 2, and only then irimi and cut. If you try to avoid uke's cut by sidestepping, inevitably, the uke will change direction to follow suit,

Well practice this more. For now, its bed time to reflect.

Saturday, March 2, 2013

Kenjutsu seminar March 2013

This is going to be a real quick post for the current seminar I'm having, a sort of forget me notes come sharing. There's a lot of nuggets of information he is sharing and its great to experience koryu based kenjutsu training. For those of you still practicing aiki ken only, it'll be a good step up from there.

I'll probably do a rewrite soon after this. But don't expect any photos or videos. Too busy training to get any of that....

Practise without opening the mind is wasted energy. With goals and laced with principles the practise is a step by step method of approaching mastery. Winning is reward of concentration. Concentration is like a tight beam of light. As you shine it to various spots in the darkness, you will eventually be aware of the entire surrounding. As practitioners of budo we must pay attention to that.

Gripping the sword at the hon line or natural line. The sword is held by sticky hands. Awase.
The little finger holds it in place and has a small hollow.
kesa is the angle temple to nose.
Neck to armpit.
Elbow to hip. Etc.
Sword to draw is held at kesa.
Thumb is removed from tsunami maintaining oblique position and is now releasing the ken from the saya.
Butt of sword faces opponent.
This is maintained when transferring from right to left.
Tsuba is always guarded by thumb.
The peak of a draw has the sword above the head.
Employ ki ken tai. Body never moves before the sword.
Cutting is stopped using the wing muscle of the draw hand. Body is now oblique.

At kamae the situation is reversed. Left hand is strong. Right is soft and guiding.
The cut is soft hard soft but always leading through the little finger. Ki extends outwards.

Drawing also uses the chest, not the hands. Sinking is employed. Curve of the sword is maintained at all times. The sword feels like its been thrown and then held back.

12 tanjo techniques.
1. Right leg back. Lock elbow. Hon te. Overhand swing with step in. Follow strike.
2. Right leg forward. Retreat suriashi. Hand comes around and strikes. Follow up.
3. Left leg fwd. Drop with right knee fwds. Right hand holds up tanjo midsection. Strikes elbows as in wave. Strike body with left hand. Rise up to the right controlling the elbow.
4. Right leg fwds. Strike upwards follow up with high barai with left leg step in. Left hand at temple guard. Strike. Drop hands to control sword. Trap ankle with left feet. Strike armpit.
5. Uchi. Three steps end left feet fwd. Hold tanjo lower. Kaiten. Irimi with strike. Left hand comes upward and replaces right hand. Ikkyo.
6. Left leg fwd. Switch feet drop to knee strike solar.
7. Right leg fwd. Suriashi back. Strike solar.
8. Upwards strike to displace ken.
9. Upwards strike but off line. Hit ken and hit right temple.
10. Uke is drawing and kesa giri. Step back with kesa guard. Hit twice.
11. Left leg kneeling with strike to shin. Stand up strike elbow ans body.
12. Tanjo behind neck. Maai. Nage feints cut and tsuki. Parry left and enter body strike.

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