Budo: A journey from the mountain

Views of mount Fuji, Hiroshige #32 - Dog Eye Pass

Views of mount Fuji, Hiroshige #32 – Dog Eye Pass

The journey of the budoka is often described allegorically as that of climbing a mountain, its a great allegory! A long difficult journey, many paths joinging into one, getiing lost and finding ones way, I’ve mused on it myself and found it quite helpful.
Recently I have wondererd if the reverse a useful truism, that is we start Budo at a mountain top and journey to join the ocean eventually. Its not a new idea of course ( rarely am I accussed of anything original ).

Maruyama sense’s. Famous Doka reads  “Every river has a name. However, these names disappear when they flow into the great ocean. Aikido has many styles, many names, but Aikido is Aikido. It is my vision and hope that, like the rivers, they flow together and unite as one”

When you start out on the journey of Budo its pretty straight forward and much like walking down a mountain.  Initially the way is clear and easy, there are not to many hard decisions along the way , and like a flowing stream you meet a growing group of people to share the path err river with. Pretty soon you’re wizzing past the milestones grading regularly, in fact  with alarming regularity and all the while caught up in a growing momentum to help keep you moving. And the more you practice the more you see similarities with other rivers in your art. And as you join them at the tributaries and perhaps even in other martial school and eventually completely different arts too start to have more in common that different.

However its not to long before the pace of the river slowsup, it becomes tidal, brackish and maybe even a bit smelly. Its here many slip off into the shallows and in time maybe come stuck there ending up in a stagnate pool or a billabong over time. But pressing on we arrive at the river esturarys and fertile marsh lands as we get closer to the great ocean. This is often around the time we exit the formal school gradings systems, where having done all the kata and learned all the techniques (at least externally) and its difficult to know where to go.

The great ocean lies not far away but here too at the estuaries are the great cities (dare i say martial  organisations) of the world to delight and bedazzle, and here in the marshes along with the guides can lurk the crocodiles and predators too ( yes the skilled and near great – growing their followers but perhaps not able to guide them to the ocean)! too. The great ocean lies not far away but the way is now often occluded, perhaps directionless wandering ensues, trudging through mud ( sweat and great effort) in the hope of making progress. In time though you can hear the ocean, hear the delight of those that have found their way their to the shores and are diving in, but for now the trudge to find your way through by effort,studying , listening out and following blindly one you trust are often your only guides. In these time the company of like minded Arganouts is a treasure

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.

An Aikido Conversation in Melbourne

Aikido in Melbourne at Aiki-Centre

This past week I found myself in Melbourne for work and had opportunity to catch up with budo buddy Catherine Schnell Sensei at the Aiki-Centre, whom i met quite a few years ago during a Budo tour of Melbourne (See trip report Budo Bums Aikido in Melbourne here). During the course of that nights regular practice we shared some ‘conversation’ about Aikido. Schnell Sensei has long been a fan of describing the Uke-Nage interaction as ‘a conversation’ rather than winner/loser etc.. Its something that harks back to when Ariga sensei taught in Brisbane some years ago at the Aikikai, but I think her breadth on the topic goes wider, owing to her background in several other schools of Aikido. Schnell sensei opened the class, including warmups with some core strength components and we dialogued back and forth a few times, hosting a workshop rather than class, with everyone participating in the exercises. I think i let down a few training partners when i was paired up by asking questions of sensei rather than practicing 😦
For me it was a chance to learn sensei’s world view as well as experiment with body positioning for Kuzushi and using insights from the ‘toppling vector’ to guide how to throw Uke, – leading to the pre-formal conclusion that you must go up first to throw Uke down (See Aiki Physics II – Biomechanics of Throwing). This led to how does Uke respond? and in this context Schnell Sensei suggests the role of our core (Tanden) is in the correct and striving of an orientation and alignment that allows Uke to recover their centre and thus ‘continue the conversation’.

The development of the core is n emerging intrest of mine, as the biomechanics of throwing (the base, the topple vector etc..) suggest that this vital aspect of the power train from the ground out to the limbs is a vital component. Of course its nothing new, the martial sages and Kami have been saying this forever, but its somewhat new to me and in a different constructshowing some legMany thanks to sensei and members of the dojo for such a warm welcome, again, and for contributing to such a healthy practice and learning environment.
That night I caught up with Maruyama Sensei and had some burning questions from the Byron Seminar answered as well as some bigger picture stuff shrouded in the midsts of time. Next morning we saw Maruyama sensei and Kondo San off on their way to Wagga (Yikes they nearly boarded a plane for Kickatinalong), before heading off to Geelong for the real reason for my trip with a busy 3 days including a workshop, bootcamp and conference on sports and technology – unfortunately there wasn’t a chance to show the Hon. Kate Lundy, Minister for Sport my modest progress on Nikkyo…maybe next time 😉

Thanks also to Asunta Sensei for some nice insights too with some Kenkyukai? inspired movements. Schnell Sensei is up in Brisbane for the Shimamoto Shihan Seminar in December so I’m hoping she can teach a little on Core development at the Republic

Here are some Photos from the nights practice from the dojo camera (not sure who to credit).

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Actioning ACT

I like to read, and I read from a wide spectrum of sources. Over the past 12 months I have been reading a lot about ACT: Acceptance and Commitment Therapy. The basis of ACT is that we find it challenging to find harmony and happiness in our lives when we constrict the space around our problems. The remedy, and it sounds almost counterintuitive, is that we give our problems more space, not less. Sounds odd when you first hear it, but it’s remarkably obvious when you think about it a little. To use a flippant analogy, would you prefer to be sharing a confined space with a very angry bull, or would you prefer the ring to be kilometres in diameter?

Our Aikido training benefits immensely from good use of physical space. Our training partner, uke, presents a “problem” for us if we let her/him break ma-ai (safe distance). Conversely, if uke is beyond ma-ai, then we’re more or less safe. But training would be a weird experience indeed if we spent every class just standing 3 or 4 metres from our training partner. At some point on the mat, we have to deal with broken ma-ai and the (potentially) very angry bull. What then, in the absence of safe distance? Does ACT’s central premise no longer apply?

From my limited understanding, the ACT model as applied to Aiki can be thought of as prophylactic in terms of space, and antidote in terms of mind. We seek to create space between ourselves and those who would do us physical harm by putting distance between us – this is largely a preventative measure. But once safe distance is broken, we must not concentrate wholly on re-establishing it – this might not be possible, and we have to therefore deal with the physical confrontation that has entered our sphere. This is where the mind comes into play. This is where we sometimes experience a limiting mind rush: “Aaaaargh, what was the technique again?”, “Oh no, I’m going to look bad doing this!”, “This person scares the heck out of me!”, “Mummy!!” etc. These are symptoms of a temporary lack of space in one’s mind. What to do, then? Apply the antidote, or at least practice doing so. Many years ago I was taught a neat trick, and it’s precisely about creating mental space. Instead of letting the panic get hold, think zealously to yourself, “Aha! Now I have a chance to practice!!” Sound simplistic? Good. It is. And it works. Perhaps not 100% of the time, but it has a much higher success rate than the constricted panic way of doing technique. I find when I apply this antidote, the confrontation pervading my mind dissipates considerably, and I can concentrate better on the task at hand.

I am always amazed to see Aikido masters demonstrate techniques; I never tire of it.  You can see by the wonderful expression on their faces that panic is not a state they entertain very often, if at all. I see the techniques working out for them time and time again. But that’s not what repeatedly grabs my attention. It’s the sense of grace, and calm, and happiness, and acceptance that powers their infectious smiles. I cannot say for sure that they’re thinking “Aha! A chance to train” every time they demonstrate, but I can safely bet there’s no negative inner dialogue dominating their minds. They have created sufficient inner space to deal with whatever uke throws at them.

Space… Something to think about before bowing on to the mat. And off again.