Internal Strength: How we got started

internal strength aikidoIts about a decade ago since Andrew Sunter and I dropped by the Aikido Yuishinkai headquarters for Kansai (See Budo Bums in Japan). While we were there Okajima Sensei showed us some ‘other budo’ that in time was revealed to us through Aikido Yuishinkai. Dial forward a few years and the material was presented in Australia, fortunately Catherine Schnell captured the moment and we practiced these exercise for the next 4 months as our warmups and the teaching began to reveal themselves. Over time the connection between these and the internal strength movement became clear (see getting an internal strength baseline) as we plod along

You can see the Okajima Sensei’s exercises here along with the back story http://internalstrength.aikidorepublic.com/Home/c-foundational-practice

This week is Mike’s last download of the Hawaii seminar on Sunday, the week after are some Dan gradings and after that Steve Seymour Sensei has kindly agreed to give us a report card.

Solo training in Aikido

Solo training in AikidoSolo training is not a new idea in aikido, when you think of all the taiso at the start of class and the weapons kata there is plenty of it. But what is relatively new (well what’s old is new anyway) is the idea of purpose behind solo training.

“Your aikido will only improve when your concept of aikido improves”
Kenjiro Yoshigasaki
Founder Ki Society Internationale

Any new idea is helpful and the idea of a purpose for solo training as new concept is something that can enrich our aikido practice. Aikido is often included in the list of internal martial arts, particularly those from China. These arts are by and large solo arts and at the interface between these arts the advantages and disadvantages of paired practice of aikido is laid bare somewhat. Local aikidoka doing these solo arts have had some terrific development in their aikido as a result, though it takes some time to integrate and in the short term has led to awkward aiki at times and some disruption to the dojo pedagogy.
So along comes the internal strength movement in the aikido circles, clearly its a new concept , or at least new packaging on elements that are already in our art. The premesis is that we need to understand our own bodys, how they move and generate and recieve power before we can hope to apply that in two person practice. And indeed it would seem to be the case, though only through paired practice can this be learnt and expressed. In this then we see that aikido kata are examples of aiki rather than the definitive set of ‘aiki’

” they see the kata as the art itself instead of a sophisticated teaching tool that is only a surface reflection of an arts core concepts” Yukiyoshi Takumura, Soke Takumara-ha Shindo Yoshin Kai http://www.advdojo.org/shuhari.html

Books like Ellis Amdurs “Hidden in Plain Sight” and “Transparent Power” on the life of a Ueshiba contempory, namely Yukiyoshi Sagawa point the way to solo training as being valuable and an integral part of the founders aiki abilities.

So where does that leave AIkido Yuishinkai?  Through the window of a recent  internal strength seminar and interaction with others in this movement in and outside our school does it become clear that we have this method built into our art.
Maruyama Sensei has been teaching for years through his 10 basic forms and his tanden ball exercises much that we see in the internal strength movement, its just that we didn’t recognise it. Here are Okajima sensei’s (Maruyama Sensei’s successor) exercises we saw in Japan almost a decade ago and more recently in Australia at his first international seminar. Catherine Schnell sensei captured these then and the review of them continues to shed light..

Here we see exercises reminiscent of the wave in Systema, the centring exercises that are a precursor for reeling and winding in many of the chinese martial arts and strongly reminiscence of the exercises in the Dan Harden bodywork seminars (from what we can gather), the universal exercises of Mike Sigman’s method. Through the various testing methedologies for movement and partner feedback we see the Ki Society methods now as a tool, rather than egoic practice to reinforce the status quo or worse a tangent to the etherial adn intangaable (at least in this moment of time anyway). We see shades of theopening and closing of the creases that Bill Gleeson Shihan often  talks about

Further sharing this through the Yuishinkai community Mike Haft Sensei from the UK shares with stunning clarity here are the ‘rites of spring exercises he has been doing for 10years, through the Hikitsuki Sensei that O’Sensei reportly practiced for more than an hour every day.

Mike writes

The first exercise of the Rites of Spring is Shinkokyu which is almost identical to Okajima Sensei’s first exerecise he demonstrates in the video, the difference being that there are four claps when hands are held aloft in the Rites of Spring. Also I don’t think there’s so much leaning forwards in the RoS as Okajima Sensei does.
The third exercise in the RoS is Furu Tama which is very similar to Okajima Sensei’s third exercise, but not quite the same.

O Sensei’s stuff is clearly shinto and shingon buddhism influenced, but I’d bet that if Okajima Sensei’s exercises are DR derived then they contain some overlap. Apparently O Sensei would do practise the RoS daily from anything like several minutes to several hours.

Recentky Stan Pranin shared O’Sensei’s warmup exercises…where you can see some of these in action

http://store.aikidojournal.com/morito-suganuma-o-senseis-warmups-alive-and-well/

So what its taken to get to this point, here at the beginning of the importance of solo practice. This slow learner, by way of the scientific method, likes to know the what and how, rather than just do and copy. The former being the pedagogy of western science and the latter the observational basis that is eastern science. Everything has advantages and disadvantages. But whats most important is here is something new (thats not new) , something to chew on and reinvigirate/reinterpret everything that Maruyama Sensei has been teaching for years but with now an understanding of the purpose and a critical eye that can help cut to some core emelments of the practice.

Schnell Sensei visits the Republic

catherine schnell aikicentreLast night, owing to dojo renovations, we descended on the Mt Gravatt showgrounds, Eric with a ute full of mats, and in due course dojo members appeared and those from dojos across Brisbane kept coming out of the dark attracted by the bright lights of the showgrounds Pavillion (as our own dojo is being renovated with air conditioning, showers and a hot tub*). I’d say they appeared like insects to the lights, but we had those too, but using creative aiki, and selective lighting we were able to lead them out the shed by nightfall (the ants that is).

Sensei’s first session focused on personal protection and drawing on recent experiences of clients from Melbourne was able to lead us through the processes of awareness, assertiveness – though posture, control of distance voice – and finally physical escape. Drawing on the aiki skills she was able to relate them to personal protection which we all practiced.

Sensei’s second session focused on tanden development (aka core strength) and maintaing that under movement of uke, she related that through maintaining a connection to nage that doesn’t fight nor flee (two typical ukemi behaviours) but rather seeks to maintain a conversation. In this way sensei explained that this is our job in training, not to have winner nor loser but 2 persons working together to find ‘Aiki’. I especially appreciated sensei working one on one with a few of use in the group teaching environment and got to see ideas in action as a method to understand what aikido is able through working with a newer student, an experienced student from another art as well as someone thats been around the traps for a while (i.e. me). in each of these cases she talked through how uke might respond, why that might respond that way and the purpose of her style of response in uke.

In many senses the practice was challenging to our world view of ukemi but something of great importance to our art. Sensei, as a senior instructor (6th dan) in our organisation provided some terrific insights.

Its been great to share a dialogue over many years with Schnell sensei in Melbourne and Brisbane, and for my part been a rich interaction of ideas and insights into Aikido and being about to verbalise and inculcate in to the body. Its something to treasure all the more as we learn that in 2013 Maruyama Sensei won’t be able to visit Australia and that a collegiate approach may help foster continued progress in the art

* NOTE;: Actual renovations may differ from those described

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