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Posts about aikido

Aikido: beauty and practicality

Posted by Kelvin on 07 Mar 2005 | Tagged as: aikido

2 unrelated events plus something on my mind for awhile crossed some wires and exchanged some bodily fluids. Something new and unexpected came out of it.

On the backburner:
Aikido's obvious elegance and harmony with the universe, but its (to me) equally obvious inability to truly protect a practitioner in a real-life street fight. The question is: how can being "one" with the universe be less effective than other methods of self-defence?

Unrelated event 1:
In a lecture I recently attended, the lecturer talked about how messy the world is, and how ideas or concepts, from their archetypal stage, gets increasingly gross and deformed as they become more manifested, to the point where the physical version of an idea offers but a faint glimpse to the beauty of its archetype.

Unrelated event 2:
Reading some downloaded ebooks about street fighting and survival, a mantra constantly hammered into readers: if you want to live on the streets, leave all your martial arts training at home – the harsh realities of the oft violent streets share nothing in common with the controlled environments of the dojo.

Putting them all together, a realization: Aikido is beautiful because it represents, or very closely represents, the "laws" of the universe. At the very same time, because the current condition of the human race is nowhere close to being in a state of harmony with the universe, its little wonder that they don't resonate well with each other. In the near and present future, the domain of the physical does appear superior. Aikido, however, rather appropriately if I may add, does point to the fact that there really is something to look forward to – Aikido masters are known to increase in power and fluidity the older they get. It seems as if the less physical strength they have, the more they need to "let go" and strive for harmony in mind, body and spirit. And so it is hopefully for all of us, that as we evolve as a race, that which is beautiful and true eventually triumphs.

In the meantime, though, I'm going to pickup some real self-defence.

A letter about teaching

Posted by Kelvin on 14 Nov 2004 | Tagged as: aikido

Dear KT, in relation to our previous discussions on Aikido, I have something to add:

I have been pondering on 2 different questions:

1. I've read somewhere, perhaps apocyphally, that when O-Sensei was still alive and teaching, he never told his students how he did something. When someone asked, he would demonstrate again, but he never told them how he did it. Why?

2. Why is it that it doesn't seem common for students to surpass their teachers. Taking Aikido for an example, why is it that no one ever surpassed, or even came close to O-Sensei in terms of realizations or technique?

Its gradually dawned on me that these 2 questions could very well be related.

Perhaps another question that may prove instructive, is, why one teaches, and why one starts a system/path/way, like Aikido, or Tai-Chi for instance. My hypothesis is that the person, in the search for something, has presumably attained or found it, and hence expresses his findings/realizations via a system through the introduction and codification of methods which, when applied, should lead the practitioner to the same or similar realizations. These methods, may be ones in which he himself used and applied, but they may also have been invented by himself. The purpose of the system is presumably to make it easier/quicker for subsequent seekers to attain the same realizations or abilities he has.

In the absence of an existing system, one attains a goal or acquires an ability in a more-or-less haphazard fashion, that is, by using whatever means or existing methods which seem to point in the general direction of where one wants to go, then adapting along the way.

Now, here's the problem: the founder of the system, by definition, has not undergone the system, and hence cannot really know if the system can indeed successfully and efficiently lead a student to the same realizations he has. I define an efficient system as one that has a higher probability of success in a shorter period of time than no system at all. Initially, in providing some structure, it may lead the student faster and further than no system at all, but ultimately it may be that the very structure the system provides is the ultimate undoing of the student.

In that line, my Aikido sensei often told us to throw away the system (the rules) when one has mastered the rules. And perhaps that's the answer.

Looking back, my greatest failing as a student was failing to keep in sight of what I really wanted, that is, applying the methods of the system without knowing what I wanted to learn. Or perhaps I needed to go through that, to reach the realization I have now!


A trouble with the Ki-Aikido syllabus?

Posted by Kelvin on 01 Jun 2004 | Tagged as: aikido

Many of us in class have great difficulty following. Following (or uke-mi, the art of uke) in my opinion, is of grave importance.

Sensei described it so well today: it is the way of moving so you're almost one step ahead of the person performing the art. You move in such a way that he has no way of knowing whether it is him or you that's moving. Reminded me of dancing, by the way..

Because we are predisposed to not extending ki, and also have been cut-off from knowledge of how ki works, then I believe that regaining this know-how is of utmost importance! So, I arrived at the conclusion that what is needed in the syllabus for ki-aikido is not more doing (albeit trying to do things differently through ki), but less doing and more following. Of course, following is a form of doing as well, just an active receiving doing. But we don't know this when we start out!!

So, have the senior belts just practise practise practise on the juniors, and to keep throwing them and working on them till they've mastered the art of the uke. THEN we can worry about the doing.

Of course, as Ai Wei astutely pointed out (which I also concluded), you'd probably not find any students at all.

The importance of following and extending ki

Posted by Kelvin on 01 Jun 2004 | Tagged as: aikido, life

Spent over an hour today watching a 1st kyu grading session (a poor one at that), so had plenty of time to contemplate.

Ki flows when we are relaxed. We are born relaxed (babies). As the astral body impacts into the lower complex, we become tense, anxious and fearful easily. The fight/flight syndrome is a reflex action; it is encoded into the very nature of our physical selves. The consequence is that there is a significant predisposition against extending ki, i.e. as "natural" (in the sense that it is in harmony with nature) as extending ki is, it doesn't come naturally to us at all.

Abit of cosmology is appropriate here. We started out pre-personal; one with nature but without a 'me'. We are now at the personal stage where there is a gulf between us and the divine. We need to move towards the trans-personal stage of being one with nature, and yet retaining the sense of self. From a physical perspective, this means that we need to learn how nature works so we canintegrate with it. From an aikido perspective, we need to learn how ki works so we can integrate with it.

I believe the best way of doing this is to follow. And that's what I'm focusing my efforts on now: how to follow completely. Following can be passive (moving when you are moved), but it can very much be active too (moving to be one with the mover). And when I know how ki works (knowing from a know-how, not an intellectual perspective), then I can integrate with it.

The state of ki extension is the most natural and powerful one. In the presence of fear, anxiety, tension, ki is cut-off and we lose our power. Implication: ki extension is the antidote to fear, anxiety, etc. Be aware: are you extending your ki if you're feeling afraid? Instead of an intellectual discourse of why there's no need to be afraid, just extend ki. Try that next time.

Mind over body, or mind + body

Posted by Kelvin on 26 May 2004 | Tagged as: aikido

Speaking with Francis sensei, a realization hit me: the physical body is a real challenge to _know_. But that isn't even the final stage…

Stages of mind+body coordinated:
1. Know your mind (mental awareness)
2. Own your mind (meditation)
3. Know your body (physical awareness)
4. Own your body (owning your mind + physical practice working it into etheric?)

From this perspective, are ki building exercises important? If ki power is in all of us, and in our natural state there is "unlimited" ki power, then perhaps the focus of training should be attaining mind+body coordinated (as tohei sensei advocates), and ki power will be the inevitable result. Can it also be approached the other way – coordinating mind+body by building ki power. Likely, they are one and the same. If that's the case, then I would like to approach my training using the four-fold model highlighted above. Gives me more structure.

Of these 4 stages, 1+2 and 3+4 are sequential, but you don't need to completely attain 2 to move on to 3 (duh).

Francis sensei recommended that I learn how my body behaves and reacts, when practising hitoriwaza. Good idea. To know your "enemy" is to own him…

Henry Kono on O-Sensei

Posted by Kelvin on 25 May 2004 | Tagged as: aikido

Excerpt from an interview with Henry Kono

You've been practicing for a long time.

Practice doesn't mean anything. What O-Sensei was thinking is important. He was basing his moves on an unseeable matrix we can't comprehend. Everybody thought he could do these things because he had 65 years of practice. I didn't look at it that way. For me, what he knew was important. Not everybody looked look at it that way.

[Henry shows me a quote from Sugano Sensei, which says: "It was as if O-Sensei was doing aikido while everyone else was doing something else."]

So what were we doing?! What we were doing on the mat wasn't what he was doing."

Showing me another quote from Bob Nadeau's article in Aikido Today Magazine, which says: "Once O-Sensei told me one day clearly and emphatically that the truth of aikido could be caught in a very short moment of time. If you catch the secret," he said. "You can do what I do in three months."


Posted by Kelvin on 24 May 2004 | Tagged as: aikido

What is Aikido?
Aikido is a Japanese martial art developed by Morihei Ueshiba (often referred to by his title 'O Sensei', or 'Great Teacher'). Literally, the Chinese words of Aikido translate to, "The Way which follows Ki". Ki (chi in Chinese) refers to the subtle energy that propels the universe, the vitality that pervades creation and holds things together.

Aikido focuses not on punching or kicking opponents, but rather on using their own energy to gain control of them or to throw them away from you. It is not a static art, but places great emphasis on motion and the dynamics of movement.

Aikido is a reactionary martial art form. Unlike other martial arts such as Karate and Taekwondo, it is not possible to initiate an attack using Aikido. It is possible, though, to provoke an attack, but to do so is a clear violation of the fundamental principle of Aikido: the principle of non-dissension. The moment an attacker ceases to attack you, and harmony is restored, Aikido stops "working". This is a distinguishing trait of Aikido, and is a direct result of the principles upon which this art of peace is founded.

The art of peace
O-Sensei was a superlative martial artist who, as a man of eighty, could disarm any foe, down any number of attackers, and pin an opponent with a single finger. Yet, above all, he was a man of peace who detested fighting, war, and any kind of violence.

If, for one to win, others must lose, then victory is relative. Is there such a thing as absolute victory? This was a question O-Sensei asked himself in his youth, as he was travelling around Japan learning mastering the existing martial arts before founding Aikido. He arrived at the realization that winning on physical terms, i.e. being faster, quicker and stronger, is transient. A man may be physically strong in his youth, but strength wanes with age, and today's victor will be tomorrow's vanquished. O-Sensei subsequently transformed his practices from the violent and destructive arts, into gentle and harmonious ones, in accordance with the principles of Nature. Through this practice, he attained a state of absolute non-resistance.

An old warrior code said that the three ways to win are:
1. winning after fighting
2. fighting are winning
3. winning without fighting

O-Sensei doubtlessly chose the finest of the three: winning without fighting. Interestingly, this method is also the safest, since you cannot lose if you do not fight.

Shin-shin Toitsu Aikido, or Ki-Aikido
Ki-Aikido is one of the "modern" schools of Aikido, founded by Koichi Tohei. Tohei Sensei rose to the position of Chief Instructor at the Aikikai Hombu dojo and was the only person awarded 10th Dan by O-Sensei, the highest level attainable by an Aikido practitioner.

With O-Sensei's death in 1969, his son, Kisshomaru Ueshiba, took over as the Aikido Doshu (leader), and Tohei Sensei continued to be the Chief Instructor. Tohei Sensei had clear ideas on how to teach Aikido based on his exposure to Japanese yoga and attempted to introduce changes into the organization. However, he xperienced severe resistance from the existing senior teachers. Thus, in 1971, he founded the Ki no Kenkyukai, to teach the principles of Ki and Unification of Mind and Body, and soon resigned as Chief Instructor. He subsequently devoted his time to teaching Aikido in accordance with Ki principles, and Ki-Aikido was the result.

Ki-Aikido has a similar concept as Tai Chi, whereby practitioners learn how to use breathing exercises and martial arts movements to develop the Ki in their body. A Ki-Aikido martial artist strives to make full use of his Ki to strengthen the mind and body, and also to heal.

Aikido, in particular, Ki-Aikido, brings focus back to the importance of unification of mind and body. We have been too obsessed with all things scientific and intellectual, and ignored the significant roles intuition and awareness of the body play in our lives. By rebalancing these two forces, we will be able to better cope with life's trials and tribulations, and find that we're able to stay calm and peaceful easily.