Reflective practice in aikido

reflective-practise-aikidoIn the early days of aikido, when the cup is well and truly empty, it’s pretty easy to make progress just by turning up and soaking up information like a sponge. The learning pedagogy follows the learning pyramid down a few levels and by green belt you’re confident and by brown belt a little cocky. By shodan there is usually a confrontation with self as you probably don’t measure up to your own preconception of “black belt” awesomeness, and by the time you exit sandan there’s a faint sense of disquiet creeping into your soul as you have run out of things to do.

It is here that the other aspects of aikido take on a greater role. Rather than a perfunctory practice that seems culturally appropriate, such as mindfulness meditation and breathing or finding the stillness of yoningake, students might be asking, “Where to now?”.

learning styles aikidoIn a previous blog we looked at pedagogy and it is timely perhaps to revisit that. We can ask ourselves, “What are the mindfulness practices we see in other spheres of education?” whether in vocational training or preparation of athletes. There are significant areas of overlap with traditional study of aikido in honing skills and bringing a maturity to our learning. They also start to bring us to the lower levels of the learning pyramid.

Unfortunately, many students don’t progress beyond practising technique, which is really just the beginning levels of aikido. It is a weird journey and a long one to reach out for the extra planes of aikido. After 30 years of wondering I feel that Dan Sensei and Andrew Sensei are discovering new ground and looking forward to getting together for the Autumn workshop this weekend

words: Jim Nicholls
image: Dan James

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Advanced aikido workshop

advanced-aikido-workshopGreat Ocean Aikido Community
Autumn 2017 Workshop
Sunday 19 March, 11 am to 4pm

Alstonville Leisure and Entertainment Centre

Alstonville is around half an hour from Byron Bay in the beautiful Northern Rivers district of NSW (see map below).

Advanced Aikido Program

11 am: Welcome and introduction; Jim Nicholls

  • Welcome to our mat and aiki-body warm-ups
  • 2-kyu grading: all attendees invited to participate
  • Introduction to Great Ocean Aikido and advanced aikido program

11.45 am to 1 pm: Ground power; Danny James

  • The physics and biomechanics of unbalancing and throwing
  • The science built into traditional aikido practise
  • Measure your “ki” precisely

1.15 to 2.30 pm: Atemijutsu; Andrew Sunter

  • A tool to explore some of the hidden teachings of aikido
  • Cutting through myths about weapon taking
  • Making aiki work reliably

2:30 pm: General discussion and questions; Jim Nicholls

  • What does all this mean?
  • How does it affect how we practise?
  • How does it advance aikido?

4 pm: Centre closes

 

Fee: $40: Pay by 12 March and state name to: BSB: 062 514  A/C: 1003 4795

$20: Concession with ID:

$50 on the day

 

Hosted by Alstonville Aikido ( Webpage,  Facebook Alstonville Aikido )

Jim Nicholls Sensei
Jim has over 30 years experience in several aikido styles. As a trainer and facilitator, Jim brings together the Great Ocean Aikido Community in a way that allows students to perform and develop to their potential in a school structure free of hierarchy.

Danny James Sensei
Dan is a sports scientist and professorial level researcher who brings these disciplines to bear on aiki-physics. He will have an instrument available to test balance and demonstrate off-balance (or toppling) techniques.

Andrew Sunter Sensei
Andrew is an aikido phenomenon known to many for his rigorous ongoing exploration of martial arts. His theme is drawn from O-Sensei’s statements that aikido is 70% atemi.

Photo: Neil Kendall

One year on…

Festival of the boof: Great Ocean Aikido Community founders

Great Ocean Aikido Community

What a year! Somehow a year has passed since the founding of the Great Ocean Aikido Community and quite a year it’s been, and on many levels.

Prior to formation, we followed a traditional path for many years through our individual dojos, augmented by our own wider Budo and professional networks in education and sports sciences. It was a terrific time. Cultural shift with the resignation of Williams Sensei and change to a more Koryu model saw rapid change and we spoke sincerely of what the art meant to us (“Ars longa, vita brevis”) and of what we felt was unacceptable. Eventually this lead to the founding of Great Ocean Aikido.
We chose to honour and acknowledge our past, something quite different to the general practice of pretending it never existed (“Who is Koichi Tohei?”) as we moved forward.  It very easy to slip into this traditional mindset of “old-teacher-bad, new-teacher-amazing”.
We sought to build a community rather than establish a traditional hierarchy. We decided to adopt a syllabus as a means of communication and interaction between ourselves, yet leave the grading authority within each individual dojo. We found the AJF a terrific organisation to facilitate teaching competencies and working to national standards.
Has our practise changed? Yes and no.
  • Jim introduced a sense of community and how to interact in the workshop he led at last year’s winter retreat (“Winter Retreat in Pictures”).
  • We have welcomed influences from the internal strength movement with many of us attending one or more of Gleason Sensei’s seminars to augment our knowledge of sports science and biomechanics (“Jin-ning around with the segmental topple”), together with Nash’s pilgrimage to the Harden seminars.
  • We are also looking more closely at atemi waza through Target Focus Training.
At a personal level, during last year’s World Harmony Day (and anti-bullying day) I felt challenged to write to my colleagues in a frank and honest way. I felt it was my obligation to my sempai to express my concerns as well as my responsibility to care for my kohai, some of whom were suffering quite badly. Was I threatened and vilified? Yes! Did I lose some friendships? Yes! Did my health suffer? Yes! Would I do it a again? In a heart beat!
The freedoms of Great Ocean Aikido Community are very real but came at a great cost to us. I’d like to think our choices also gave power to others to walk away from situations they didn’t like. For those with different views it also gave the power to move forward with confidence on their own path. Vive la différence!
Two quotes resonate with me now as they did back then:
“Nearly all men can stand adversity, but if you want to test a man’s character, give him power.” Abraham Lincoln
and
“He who allows oppression shares the crime.” Erasmus
My gratitude to brothers Andrew, John and Jim, and appreciation to Aran and Mike as custodians of the Aikido Republic dojo: seekers of the art, one and all.
Dan James, Founder Member

Chasing the IS Rabbit with Science…thoughts from a recent seminar

Winter retreat 2014, IS and strain

Winter Retreat 2014, IS and strain in action?, photo S. Russell

I went to an interesting musculoskeletal research retreat recently (I had to give an invited talk, though – no such thing as a free lunch). As an added bonus it also informed my IS practise. So bear with me as I make a short story long.

The insights came during a talk on investigating tendon strain, which in the achilles is a significant health issue. A multi-national group had examined various protocols for healing the achilles tendon (see reference at end). The work kept tendons, sourced from rabbit cadavers, in an artificial environment for a prolonged period of time. Rabbit tendons are very similar to human ones and easier to source.  The tendons were stretched at varying levels of strain for different time periods using a set protocol and the resultant strength measured over time. The work ultimately is to assess what might be best practice in recovery protocols.
 
It turns out there is a sweet spot at 6% strain ( under 0.25 Hz – a 4 second cycle of 1s graded strain, 1s hold, 1s reduction and 1s release).  Any less strain and there is natural decay, any more strain damages the tendon – interesting news for us IS try-hards. The cycle time was chosen from previous rabbit treadmill studies that varied the step rate ( loading time) and looked at tendon strength after. In humans and possibly related (though its muscle) we know from other researchers that oxygen depletion in humans takes place in the muscles inducing the strain after 6–7 seconds (see 2nd ref below) so its all in the same ball park.
 
From science to inferences for IS training:
 
If we consider similarities between tendon and fascia, this provides good evidence (or indication at least) of how much muscle to use, how hard to try and for how long in exercises that seek to build conditioning eg winding, reeling, bowing, balloon man, skin breathing, opening and closing qua,10 of 10 and so on. Many of these traditional methods talk about not forcing, working with intention and have cyclic periods of strain and relaxing. 6% is then something of a middle ground, where there would be good reasons to go a bit higher, perhaps to weed out the connections not wanted or for elongation. Cycle time too might be something to do with the art it is embedded in, to build coordination ( eg bowing) or historical ( eg the shinto rites of spring)
 
 
So how much is 6% strain? Good question. Neglecting the complexity of dynamic and static strain, it’s possible to get into the ball park, I think, and discover how we might be trying too hard. 
 
By putting the tips of your two index fingers together and pushing so they bend back until there is the onset of pain. Let’s call this 50% strain. (It’s a stab in the dark but a reasonable assumption – choose a different number if you want.) Try again and only push half as hard for 25%. Reduce the effort by half for 12.5% and repaet and half that for 6.25%. Its not very much by the time you get to 6%, maybe this is the illusive intention for those of us struggling with whatnthat might mean. 
 
You can also try  to find 6% strain with this method on an IS exercise of your choice if you think it’s relevant.
 
Understanding 6% or intention benefits other IS exercises that aim to recruit deep rather than surface muscles. For example, opening the hips (or that component of the qua), where applying too much effort tends to recruit superficial muscles. You can explore this by placing your hands on your buttocks or glutes (or other muscle of choice) to ensure they remain relaxed as you practise. Using only 6% strain in opening the hips should ensure only deep muscles are engaged (with practise), whereas using more effort engages superficial muscles and is potentially counterproductive.
 
Anyway, the ideas above move from a reasonable scientific foundation to inference and conjecture by a relative IS neophyte. Please take what’s helpful if any and let me know about the rest. I would be grateful for your thoughts and comments to inform my personal practice.
 
Best Wishes,
Dan
 
Many thanks to Andrew, Mike and Aran for feedback in the writing
 
 
 
The papers
Find then on google scholar, you may need an .edu.x domain to download for free though
1.
Programmable mechanical stimulation influences tendon homeostasis in a bioreactor system
 
Tao Wang1, Zhen Lin1,2, Robert E. Day3,Bruce Gardiner4, Euphemie Landao-Bassonga1, Jonas Rubenson5, Thomas B. Kirk6, David W. Smith4, David G. Lloyd7,Gerard Hardisty8, Allan Wang9, Qiujian Zheng2 andMing H. Zheng1,*
Article first published online: 4 FEB 2013, DOI: 10.1002/bit.24809, Copyright © 2012 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.
 
Issue
Biotechnology and Bioengineering
Volume 110, Issue 5, pages 1495–1507, May 2013
 
Abstract
Identification of functional programmable mechanical stimulation (PMS) on tendon not only provides the insight of the tendon homeostasis under physical/pathological condition, but also guides a better engineering strategy for tendon regeneration. The aims of the study are to design a bioreactor system with PMS to mimic the in vivo loading conditions, and to define the impact of different cyclic tensile strain on tendon. Rabbit Achilles tendons were loaded in the bioreactor with/without cyclic tensile loading (0.25 Hz for 8 h/day, 0–9% for 6 days). Tendons without loading lost its structure integrity as evidenced by disorientated collagen fiber, increased type III collagen expression, and increased cell apoptosis. Tendons with 3% of cyclic tensile loading had moderate matrix deterioration and elevated expression levels of MMP-1, 3, and 12, whilst exceeded loading regime of 9% caused massive rupture of collagen bundle. However, 6% of cyclic tensile strain was able to maintain the structural integrity and cellular function. Our data indicated that an optimal PMS is required to maintain the tendon homeostasis and there is only a narrow range of tensile strain that can induce the anabolic action. The clinical impact of this study is that optimized eccentric training program is needed to achieve maximum beneficial effects on chronic tendinopathy management. Biotechnol. Bioeng. 2013; 110: 1495–1507. © 2012 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.
 
 
2.
Lumbar erector spinae oxygenation during prolonged contractions: implications for prolonged work
SM McGill, RL Hughson, K Parks – Ergonomics, 2000 – Taylor & Francis
… HICKS, A., MCGILL, SM and HUGHSON, R. 1999, Forearm muscle blood ¯ ow and … and magnitude of blood ¯ow changes in the human quadriceps muscles following isometric …LANOCE, V. and CHANCE, B. 1989, Noninvasive detection of skeletal muscle underperfusion with …
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

Winter Retreat July 25-27 with Guests Sunter and Nicholls Sensei

Bell Misogi - Winter retreat 2011

Bell Misogi – Winter retreat 2011

winter-retreat-2012-kumijo

Kumijo Winter retreat 2012

winter-retreat-fire

Pre dinner fireside Winter retreat 2013

Hi Everyone,

An open invitation to our 4th Winter retreat. Winter retreat is just a few short weeks away. This year we will have both Andrew Sunter and Jim Nicholls Sensei as guest Instructors. This years retreat will examine the purpose behind Kata, weapons training and the meditation disciplines as well as on Sunday morning a led open discussion on Budo and community in the West

You are welcome to come for the full weekend of a day. Camping should be booked via the Biggriggen website. Bunkrooms through the dojo,  Costs are $15/bed/night which you can pay to me on arrival. The Saturday night dinner err.. feast is $25 which i’ll need before so the Naughty Chef  can do all the shopping.

 

Catching up with friends

TDSC_01841he dojo was unexpectedly closed this weekend (our TKD/HKD brethren we share the space with had a 40hr training marathon for charity), so with a car load of Hakamai (plural of hakama) we headed to the North coast of NSW early Saturday morning to catch up with Aiki-friends. The occasion, a residential seminar by Williams Sensei, that we managed to sneak into.  A few Nikyo later and lunch courtesy of the NSWIS Northern Beaches High Performance Centre (always good to eat like an athlete) we headed back home.

The Aiki world has been a bit complex lately so it was really nice to take some time out, remember and enjoy the friendships we’ve made over the last 20 years or so and enjoy each others company on and off the mat.  Thanks too, to John Ward who materialised from nowhere to take some photos –  come and visit us soon sensei

DSC_01821DSC_0170 DSC_0171

 

 

Ars longa, vita brevis, The art is long, and life is short.

Andrew Sunter Sensei and friends, image C. Withers

Andrew Sunter Sensei and friends, image C. Withers

Ars longa, vita brevis The art is long, and life is short.
Andrew Sunter Sensei’s guidelines for training
(Abridged and reproduced with permission)

We look forward to Sunter San’s visit to our annual Winter retreat for a special session on the nature of Budo.

 

1.Aikido is a principle-based art, not a technique-based art.

2. Everything has advantages and disadvantages

Everything has advantages and disadvantages: every person, every culture, every art, every situation and every moment. It is unreasonable to expect perfection. The only “one true way” is the tortuous path I navigate for myself through accidents, wrong turns and poor decisions, emulating the people I admire, trying to live up to my chosen ideals, and striving toward the best possible outcome for all. It is important to remember to include myself in “all”.

3. There is nothing new under the sun

There is nothing new under the sun. I do not believe this means that one group is right and the other group is wrong. Nor do I believe there are only two narrow options to choose between. We do not all live in the same house in the same street. Circumstances change and we have to deal with them as best we can. This is true for all people in all countries in all cultures and in all arts. If the “traditional”, “authentic”, “Japanese” way is to follow one teacher unquestioningly, how do new arts arise? How can there be more than one sword school? How can there be different branches and lineages within one school? This does not mean that any yudansha would be well-advised if they were to start their own independent style. Musashi Kensei said we must do a million cuts before venturing from home…

4. Boundaries without Aikido

Over time I have learned just how little I know, and I have been convinced of the value of diversity of opinion and approach, and the value of peer-review. I wish that I could train every week with my teacher, but that is not possible. Without that regular guidance, I rely on the feedback of trusted seniors, peers and juniors to guide me on my progress in the application of the principles.

5. It’s up to you

There was a time when Maruyama Sensei responded, “It’s up to you”, to all manner of questions, from the trivial to the profound. I don’t think it ever meant, “Anything you decide is OK with me.” To me it means, “You have to take responsibility for your own decisions, your own actions, your own training.” It is not up to Sensei whether or not I learn and develop as a result of his instruction. It is up to me.

6. Train joyously

It’s often said that O-Sensei exhorted us to “train joyously”. Sometimes, in training, the effortless application of a principle elicits a shout of laughter and astonishment from uke (and sometimes even from nage). For me, this suggests there is a possibility that some actual aiki might be in the offing. I will pursue this relentlessly.
7. Everything rests on the tip of motivation

A Buddhist aphorism states, “Everything rests on the tip of motivation”. I cannot know whether what I decide is for the best or not, but doing my best to ensure correct motivation makes the consequences a whole lot easier to live with.

8. The roles of uke and nage

Maruyama Sensei has taught us that our practise is kata-based and that uke’s role is to assist nage to improve their performance at every repetition. When uke does not support the learning process, I believe not only that this is a waste of time, but also that both participants are actively getting worse. They would have been better at aikido if they had stayed home.

9. The roles of teacher and student

A recent post admonished us all to read up on our responsibilities as students. What jumped out at me was not what it had to say about the responsibilities of the student, but those of the teacher. In some cultures, people believe that as they rise in rank they have more and more authority over others, that increasingly they can do what they please, that the rules apply to others and not to them, and that lesser mortals have the responsibility to suck it up.
In functional cultures, people take on more and more responsibility for others as they rise in rank, and their authority comes from the respect and trust of the people junior to them.
In Buddhist thought, a teacher is a “spiritual friend”: not someone to hang out with, but someone you can trust always to tell you the truth, and always to guide you in your own best interests, whether you recognise them or not.

10. Ars longa, vita brevis The art is long, and life is short.

O-sensei famously said, “This old man must still train and train.” I must not waste a minute. There is no time for ego. No time for competition. No time for talkie-nage.

 

Have we missed anything?..please add to the comments section below

 

Another penny drops in IS training

figure_11I admit it. I have been mystified by the IS practice methodologies for quite a while now. However, much as I did with my Ki training in Shin Shin Toitsu in the ’90s, I’ve put that aside to follow the pedagogy in the hope of finding out more through doing. It proved helpful in the Ki Society, where eventually I found enough physical basis for some of the exercises (such as unbendable arm and unraisable body) that I could resolve the internal dialogue and also practice with a purpose that resonated more strongly with me.

Following the emerging literature on the fascia and the labelled ‘anatomy trains’, it was kind of making sense, but the purpose of the winding, pulling silk etc… was a big part of the mystery (and frankly still is). It took some prodding from Aran Bright on the subject of developing tension for another little penny to drop and Steve Seymour’s insights and use of other paradigms to explore IS

As near as I can understand, we have a skeletal structure (which is just a kind of fascia with minerals attached), some muscles to move it around, and then a kind of exoskeleton made up of the fascia surrounding it.

The Penny dropped on the ‘exo-skeleton’ (which is not a great choice of a word) is maybe a balloon man/ suit (as coined used by researchers such as Sigman and others) created by the fascia.

 

Anyways I saw this image in  “Low back disorders” by McGill as a model of the back

photo 1

 

which looked a lot like, and the next step, but much better than my toppling work’s own http://www.aikidorepublic.com/internal-strength/02stabilitygrounding

passive

and then seeing this image in this article  and structural mechanics analogies that Michael Nash found http://www.intensiondesigns.com/bones_of_tensegrity.html

figure_11

A chat with Sunter san, suggests exo-skeleton is not a great word as this implies ‘strength and rigidity’ maybe there is a better word that describes it as a flexible thing.

Conditioning the fascia by straining it appears to be the purpose of ‘pulling silk’ giving rise to mental models like the ‘balloon man’ and ‘the suit’.

Some scientific researchers talk about a sweet spot of strain (5-10% depending who you ask) being optimal, and from what I know of tendon research (with some involvement in this professionally), I can see that some strain is important for growth and healing, but too much causes damage and too little is just a waste of time.

 

Therefore, doing reps of straining the fascia through ballooning,skin breathing, pulling silk and so on, appear to be methods of developing just this conditioning. Once the exoskeletal structure is built and in place, you still need to be able to move, so winding and bows and similar exercises allow the muscles to move freely beneath the exoskeleton, so we can have our structure and use it too (Marie Antoinette would be proud).

 

Next up, the IS exercises of bowing and using the qua and Tanden (Dan Tien) teach us how to move properly while maintaining the structure, thus providing a way to apply it in a martial context.

Looking back on the exercise set given to our school by Okajima sensei, I see now the role of breathing (as a means to co-ordinate the strain of the fascia), the movements of the body (as bowing and Kua coordination), together with the Tanden ball exercises, the ground connection exercises (source of infinite power) and balance sensitivity exercises. What a terrific set of exercises, given context by IS training methodologies and meaning from the sciences.

 

Is it a complete picture? No way. But it’s an incremental step forward in intentionality in incorporating the exercises in our practise and validates our trust that the solo training, as a means of body conditioning and coordination development, can and will yield results in good time.

 

Of course understanding ain’t doing…but its a start for this keyboard aspirant 😉

 

Domo arigato teachers, friends and colleagues on the path. Dare to dream, dare to question, but above all, give voice and dare to collaborate and rediscover the source !

 

A Union of Opposites with Seymour Sensei

union-of-oppositesA big thankyou to Steve Seymour Sensei from Aikido Kenkyukai and Balmain dojo for his visit on the weekend. We were treated to a tour de force of Internal Strength as sensei shared from his current practice and further research into Internal Strength.

Its almost a year since we visited Seymour Sensei in Sydney to find out a bit more and embarked on the journey with our own study group.  Internal strength allows us to see what is hidden in plain sight in our schools kata and exercises given to us by Okajima and Maruyama Sensei’s.

Unfamiliar and  familiar teachings (like  keeping elbows in and closing and seperating the shoulders and hips)  were given context,  purpose and a framework.

Sensei shared and reviewed the practices of the body work seminar fundamentals and extended on our knowledge to a deeper level with insights from other arts and utilised exercises from physical therapists to increase strength and flexability in our Kua and Body

It was great to see Dave Kolb Sensei from Bayside Budokai and Kim from Brisbane Aikikai too.

We appreciated much also his insights in how to continue this practice in an integrated way with the aikido arts and to know we are (more or less) on the path.

I  think we got a B+ on the report card 😉   Many thanks Sensei for visiting, sharing you time and experiences