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| General Notes On Aikido...
This budo stuff is too serious not to have fun.
Sandan Essay: General Notes On Aikido
At the very beginning I was planning to write something on uke’s work and especially on the correct posture of the tori (Mitsugi Saotome sensei described that posture as very straight, full of dignity and at the same time humble, calm, peaceful, positively looking towards people and the world – but not at all weak; just like the main character in the “Ame Agaru” movie – A man is like steel: once he loses his temper he is worthless; Anger is a luxury - one that you cannot afford… - as the old Japanese proverbs go), and also about off-balancing and regaining one’s balance (in my personal opinion a highly underestimated issue), breath control, injuries, safety, positive aikido influence for our daily lives and so on and so on, but later on, when I realized that it is just too much (and I am actually no expert in those areas – yet), I finally decided to focus rather on general ideas regarding aikido, the ones I myself find vital.
The first thing that comes to my mind when thinking of aikido is shame. I just cannot imagine how I dared to teach aikido before I came to practice under Frank Doran sensei. At present, even though I have spent about 14 years on the mat training systematically and in a serious way, I somehow feel as if I was in a deep aikido forest. And the farther into the forest, the more trees I can see. The complexity of aikido sometimes scares me. Anyway, after those 31 months spent at Aikido West Dojo, all I know is that I know … not much.
The reason I started aikido was strictly utilitarian. I began trainings because of my previous job. I used to work in a correctional facility in my town. Our inmates got into countless fights almost every day and those fights were not at all fair – forget the one-to-one rule. We also had many physical (not to mention verbal) attacks against our personnel; our inmates were usually extremely aggressive and violent. I thought it would be better to be prepared in a way. Later on, when I felt that aikido suited me very much (and also being under the strong influence of MA movie heroes like Bruce Lee) I just continued the studies even though everyone else resigned after more or less 3 months. Since then aikido has become a very important and actually essential part of my life – also thanks to the people I had a chance to meet on the mat. I just cannot imagine my life without regular aikido trainings; I do not have (and probably I could not even find) any replacement activity.
Soon after I began my present job (in an office by a computer desk with a broadband internet connection) I started to read. I’ve read and watched anything I could find on aikido. All the Aikido Journal articles, movies, video clips, interviews, blogs, forums, DVDs etc. This essay is to be a kind of compilation of those deep researches mentioned above.
I do know the difference between “jutsu” and “do” (theory at most ):
BUJITSU - Martial Art of Self-Protection; includes the Art of Killing
BUDO - Martial Way of Self-Perfection; includes the Art of Protection (1)
BUDO - The Way of a Warrior, the Art of Politics, is to stop trouble before it starts. (2) We can find two meanings of Budo: one – a way to avoid a fight, and two – a way to stop a fight. The "bu" in budo is generally interpreted to mean "to stop the halberd of the enemy". In aikido, however, our interpretation is more like "a halberd is stopped," in other words, to stop one's own weapon, to refrain from drawing your own weapon. Ordinarily budo is thought of as a way to stop an enemy coming from without, but in aikido we prefer to interpret it as a way to change ourselves within. (3)
My perspectives on aikido widened vastly, my view on aikido – also thanks to numerous talks with my sensei Frank Doran – has refined within those years spent far from home and I started to get the view I always felt somewhere deep in my heart: aikido is actually not a simple Martial Art; it is a Martial Way. There is a “but” however… Aikido is OK. You have got good technique? OK… Flowing movements? Nice… You believe in Ethics and Harmony? Beautiful… But can you defend yourself? (4)
So (as I see it) to be a martial way aikido first needs to be a martial art. I am well aware that I may be perceived as “politically incorrect” writing down such heavy words – but that is the way I feel at the present stage of my aikido training. (Nobuyoshi Tamura sensei once said that those times what the uchideshi really wanted was learn the martial secrets that that "Old Man" knew, to win over the guys of judo and kendo…)
The main point that I find of extreme importance is as follows:
Aikido technique - that which we practice so much, and seems so open to criticism by folks who recommend adding a touch of boxing and a tad of judo - is the EFFECT, not the essence of aikido. Properly, technique drops in one’s hands after the aikido’s already been done. (5)
An Aikidoka should be able to consistently CUT DOWN an opponent in the first blow. This is the true BUDO aspect of AIKIDO. It is precisely because we are confident that we will always be able to do this. This CONFIDENCE gives us two things: our STRENGTH and the ability to CHOOSE a less deadly outcome, both of which we should have as a prerequisite to our keiko practice. (6) Only the strong can show mercy… (7)
Aikido is Peace and Harmony... but Peace sometimes doesn't work… ( 8 ) Avoid intense action of the nature of violence as much as is reasonably possible, but NO MORE. After that, do what you have to do. You only have two cheeks. What happens to the attacker is God's business and if he fails to learn from his error, it may perhaps even become devil's... If noone is hurt, that's great. (5)
Morihei Ueshiba's honest suggestion was: "When attacked – leave everything in the hands of God and the Universe and LET THE KI FLOW." Such survival is the ultimate act of faith, subject to the Laws of Physics, Timing, Spacing, Energy and Matter, in other words - the quality of your training!!! If you survive, just say another prayer of thanks... We are entitled to protect ourselves. Rather simply deal with what is, as it is, in each moment, with simple clarity, as best as you know how. Regular training helps…(5)
As one of my favorite authors said: Repetition is the core training method of all Budo, and has been for centuries. Aikido practice, as we have all discovered, is endless applications of ikkyo, nikyo, sankyo ... tenkan and irimi. (…) I believe strongly that if they have practiced their movements 10,000 times, the movements will be there when needed. (…) My students hear me say: “tenkan ... irimi”. What I am really saying is: “PULL, PUSH, TAP, AIM, FIRE”… (1).
Additionally: we don’t win the fight with the techniques that we want. The opponent gives us openings. He tells us what technique he wants to lose the fight with. He says with his actions: “Here is my arm!” and we take the arm. We create a chaotic situation for the opponent who, out of desperation, offers opportunities. We take whatever he gives…(9) Defense is at the same time offense. (4)
We need to be like water: “Water is useful to us in part because of its multiple forms, changing to vapor or ice and back to liquid. Water controlled and made to flow through pipes is useful to a degree but natural water flows widely and freely and has many sources, like the Mississippi or the Amazon. Do we want to do aikido that’s like tap water or aikido that’s like the Mississippi River?” (10) Empty your mind. Be formless shapeless like water. Now you put water into a cup, it becomes the cup. You put water into a bottle – it becomes the bottle. You put it into a teapot – it becomes the teapot. Now, water can either flow, or it can crash! Be like water, my friend. (11)
There exists no measure of time - fast or slow. At this particular level of technique (tori) takes control of the “timing” by manipulating the “spacing”, this begins to make considerations of “fast and slow” in technique irrelevant. The practitioner begins to operate outside the temporal zone as he begins to control the issues associated with timing and spacing… (12)
As O’Sensei said: Do the aikido that cannot be seen with the human eye.
This is the point where the connection between technique and principles apply:
Principle and Technique are firmly tied together: At the very heart of every technique lies a basic principle. Technique is the hammer that drives the principle into our consciousness. Without technique - the principle has no tool, although it is absolutely essential to a trainee’s appreciation of budo for him or her to try to understand its basic spirit and not to overvalue its byproduct - technical skill. (1)
O-Sensei also said that Aikido is ichi go ichi e. You must do the technique as if for the first time and the last time. And when you meet somebody, it is the same thing: like the first time and the last time. This is why the ultimate victory, the best fight/war, is the one that does not happen and where no harm is done... (13)
Actually I have a strange feeling that every single time I do a particular technique it feels different. It is never done the same way twice. The question arises if (at my stage of aikido training) it is OK…
Aikido for me is a complete and ultimate martial system. There is only one rule: “No Rules”. There are no matches, no rounds, no tapping, no referees, no audience or TV cameras. There is an aggressor (one or more); there is an attack and the neutralization of the attack.
In aikido it is the neutralization of the attack, not the aggressor.
When someone invades your space, even for the purpose of hurting or killing you, the first thing is to make him welcome – prepare to receive him as an honored guest, but on your own terms. There are good tactical reasons for this: You can’t afford to be afraid of him, if you hope to defend yourself effectively; and you don’t want to let him know you are afraid of him, even if you are. The message you want to send to a potentially violent man is that he has no reason to be afraid of you unless he forces you to defend yourself. In which case you will deal with him – possibly in a lethal way – but with no intention to become violent yourself. (14) Aikido is a balanced, proportional response to a given situation (15):
You take my skin – I take your blood;
You take my blood – I take your bone;
You take my bone – I take your life… (1)
I do not think that efficiency (which literally means: whatever it takes!!!) in a hypothetical fight would require any other additional skills that could not be achieved thanks to a regular and serious aikido training. I am not trying to state that so called cross training cannot help in a way. I am just saying that aikido itself can be enough.
The difference is that we do not train to fight – we train not to fight. Just like in the story about wolves:
There are two wolves inside a man.
One symbolizes good, love, and harmony.
The other is like anger, hate, fighting.
The main question is: "Which one do YOU follow...?"
The answer depends on which one you feed more... (1)
Such a level however CANNOT be achieved without continuous work on basics: Basics are like the block-style of Japanese calligraphy. In block-style calligraphy you write each stroke distinctly and clearly. After practicing that you move into semi-cursive and from there into flowing cursive style. In other words, you gradually add flow to your writing as you progress. If you try to write flowing cursive calligraphy without first having mastered the block style then your characters will be no more than imitations, dead lines lacking essential energy. (16)
As I am supposed to be an aikido teacher I will try to open my students minds for the fact that the instructor teaches only one small aspect of the art. Each student through incessant practice and training must discover its versatile applications. The rules are very important, but people have to discover them for themselves. The good teacher is one who makes you discover the rules you need in order to continue to live in harmony with people. A bad teacher is one who rules, or who sets up rules that have no meaning. (14)
Open mind, beginners mind - "Shoshin". It refers to the spirit, mindset, and posture that we have when we first start learning something. In various disciplines in Japan, practitioners are advised, "Do not forget the spirit of Shoshin." O’Sensei directed those of us in aikido to "train with joyfulness." It is clear that he understood the nature of learning. (17) George Leonard sensei writes in his book Education and Ecstasy: "To learn is to change." He further writes, "At its best, its most effective, its most unfettered, the moment of learning is a moment of delight." (17)
That is why I first planned to name my new dojo “Shoshin Dojo” – but our friend Karl did it first. So, taking into consideration all the above words, I have come to another solution: should I ever have a dojo of my own, I am going to name it: Ri-Ai Dojo.
What is ri-ai? It is the Japanese word to describe when the warrior has the five core disciplines working together in the correct proportion. The five disciplines that make up ri-ai are kamae, zanshin, sen, ma-ai, and kiai. Kamae are the combative engagement postures, otherwise known as forms. Zanshin is essentially awareness, although its full meaning is to deny the existence of weaknesses (suki). Sen is timing, or the selection of the correct instant to launch your attack against the enemy. Ma-ai is the combative engagement distance, or how far you are from your problem. Kiai is the unity of mind and body – in martial arts this is accomplished through breath control and the kiai.
Ri-ai is the right proportion of each element and the blending of these major elements of technique in support of a genuinely meaningful combative action sequence.
As any martial arts practitioner knows, there are more than one discipline used to improve your abilities. If you only focus on one discipline then your training is incomplete, so it is like trying to learn martial arts only by sparring. You miss so much, and your skill is marginal at best. ( 18 )
So be it in my future teachings. Also I am going to follow the words of Robert Nadeau sensei: I don't want to teach you my color. I want to teach you to open to your color and improve upon it. We need to help people find themselves, not to imitate someone else's quality or color. I will also try never to forget learning myself – “Teaching is half of learning” actually, as the Japanese say...
And last but not least: I will always keep Saotome sensei’s words in my own mind: Dojo is not a place – Dojo is people.
(and the best examples are Aikido-West Dojo and… Shin Dojo Poznań)
Finally – “we are not here to kill each other, we are here to get along” – a memorable quote by Everybody-Knows-Who…
Maciej TJ Gostomski
PS. Purposely I tried not to use the word „KI” in my essay. This is why: If you talk too much about ki, students may become “ki no doku” (when one’s ki becomes poisoned), so there is no need to really emphasize it. Instead, let have them explore ki through steady, regular training and movement. Ki is everywhere in our life but it’s not something to be understood intellectually. Even if you understand ki intellectually, it’s not useful until you can integrate it into your physical movement… (10)
(further information on the sources upon request)
(1) – Frank Doran
(2) – Morihei Ueshiba O’Sensei
(3) – Shoji Nishio
(4) – Mitsugi Saotome
(5) – Nev Segiba
(6) – Hiroshi Tada
(7) – Maciej Jesmanowicz
(8 ) – Gaku Homma
(9) – Rorion Gracie
(10) – Toshishiro Obata
(11) – Bruce Lee
(12) – George Ledyard
(13) – Christian Tissier
(14) – Richard Ostrofsky
(15) – Russell Pearse
(16) – Takafumi Takeno
(17) – Hiroshi Ikeda
(18 ) – Gordon Warner & Donn F. Draeger
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