Thursday, January 9, 2014

Two Hundred and Forty-four

'When walking in the river, if you think “cold,” it feels much colder. If you think “hot”… it is still very cold! So, eventually, I found out the best way to walk in the river. Don't think “cold.” Don't think “hot.” Just walk. I understand this idea from this experience, not from words.' (emphasis added) - Shuji Maruyama Sensei

With much thanks to Sensei for teaching me this early on; I understand Aikido from experiencing it. Whether practicing Ki exercises, waza or weapons, understanding comes from the experience of doing. I train and I find what works and what doesn't. I leave behind what doesn't work and make what does work part of me. While training I don't think "right", I don't think "wrong". I just train and experience how I feel.

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Two Hundred and Forty-three

Below is a short video clip that introduces a very simple exercise using heavy arm to demonstrate the idea of weight underside. I begin with uke attempting to lift my arm while I maintain a relaxed posture with weight underside. Testing weight underside this way can be accomplished with uke lifting anywhere along the arm from wrist to just below where the arm meets the shoulder. For the purposes of this demonstration I have uke place his hand between my elbow and wrist. Once I have established a state of equilibrium with his lift I can apply weight underside in a more active manner by dropping my arm. If he maintains his connection with me and continues to try to lift my arm throughout my movement he will be taken off balance. 

This exercise can be employed:

1. As a demonstration of the difference between using a coordinated mind and body and using muscle alone to achieve a goal. In this case the goal is to move uke and take his balance.

2. As a test to gauge individual progress in coordinating mind and body.

3. As a development tool to first establish and then strengthen mind/body coordination. The more I practice this exercise the easier it becomes for me to slip into that state of being characterized by mind and body acting in concert (mind/body coordination, correct feeling, extending Ki).

What I want to take away from this exercise is the awareness of how I feel when performing an action with mind and body coordinated. The small successes I achieve when first learning how to do this build upon one another, reinforcing correct feeling via a feedback loop.

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Two Hundred and Forty-two

"Seeing me before him,
The enemy attacks.
But by that time
I am already standing
Safely behind him".

- Morihei Ueshiba, The Art of Peace

"The success of a movement, defensive or offensive, depends on whether we perform it at the right time or not. We must surprise our opponent and catch the moment of his helplessness.

That little fragment of time (one beat in a cadence) which is the most suitable to accomplish effective action is called 'tempo'". 

- Bruce Lee, Tao of Jeet Kune Do

Well, I'm not precisely behind Charlie here, but offline enough so that his punch moves harmlessly past me.  The picture is a visual metaphor exemplifying the idea described in the above quotes. The point isn't where I'm standing, but when I got there. The interval between Charlie's intent to punch and his actually executing the punch afforded me the time needed to move myself into a position of safety. I call this moving on uke's intent.

To successfully move on uke's intent I must be able to sense his intent to attack. The ability to sense intent is not the same as perceiving an attack that has already begun and using excellent timing to evade or otherwise neutralize it before its completion. In order to successfully sense uke's intent and act on it, I must allow uke's intent in and not shut myself off from it.

"One should be prepared to receive ninety-nine percent of an enemy's attack and stare death right in the face in order to illuminate the Path".

- Morihei Ueshiba, The Art of Peace

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Two Hundred and Forty-one

"Keep one point" is a phrase I've heard maybe a couple of million times since I began studying Aikido. It's a simple three word declarative sentence in the form of an instruction that begs the answers to a number of questions:

What is one point?
Where is one point?
What does it mean to keep one point?
Why do I want to keep one point?
How do I train to learn to keep one point?
How can I tell if I'm keeping one point?

What is one point? - One point is mind and body that are temporally coincident (coordinated); to the point that the temporal separation of the behavior of both is too small to be consciously detected, that is, thought and deed become one. "At" one point the workings of mind and body become so indistinguishable that mind and body become mind/body. One point is synonymous with correct feeling.

Where is one point? - I was originally taught that one point was an infinitely small point about 2 inches below my navel where Ki cycled in and out of me. I could take Ki in, store it at one point and then "extend Ki" out when needed. As a starting point of my training this was an easy concept to grasp and it served me well for a long period of time. But after considering the first question above, I deduced that the "where" of one point is largely irrelevant. The explanation of "what is one point?" lead me to the conclusion that one point is a state of being and, as such, isn't located in any specific place at any given moment.

What does it mean to keep one point? - Keeping one point is my ability to maintain a very tiny temporal separation of mind and body behavior as explained in "What is one point?" above. "One point" doesn't do a particularly good job of describing the state of a unified mind and body. Mind and body are always unified. What can vary is the degree of unification that I exhibit at any given moment. I see myself depicted as "one point" as the temporal difference separating my mind and body approaches zero. Keeping one point is maintaining that degree of integration over a period of time.

Why do I want to keep one point? - Keeping one point enables me to operate at the peak of my abilities. When keeping one point I am in my most dependable and powerful state where thought and deed converge to a single point of unconscious action.

How do I train to learn to keep one point? - My vehicle for training to keep one point is Aikido. Other people follow other paths; as O Sensei said, "There are many paths to the top of Mt. Fuji". My path involves the practice of a combination of Ki exercises, technique, weapons work, resistance training etc. Specifically, my Aikido training turns my gaze inward so that I may realize my full potential. Only then will I be able to truly express the outward form of my Aikido in an effective manner. Ki exercises are performed either standing or in motion, with or without a partner and sometimes require that I deliberately lose one point in order to give me practice in regaining it while I am being stressed. Technique  practice requires that uke provide me energy and resistance in correct proportions to insure I am provided with proper feedback as I execute a throw or immobilization.

How can I tell if I'm keeping one point? - We have may exercises (Ki tests) that are designed to test my level of mind/body coordination. The exercises variously challenge me physically, mentally and combinations of both in order to give me an indication as to how correct feeling is being manifest, or, as is sometimes the case, not. I can gauge my level of mind/body coordination by the amount of force I am able to deal with before my structure and stability (both mental and/or physical) become compromised.

"Keep one point" then is all of the above, and more, condensed into a simple easily remembered instructional metaphor. Only when I was many years into my study of Aikido did I begin to see the deeper layers contained within that simple sentence.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Two Hundred and Forty

Uke feels little
yet is entrapped;
locked in motion
along a path
that we define together.

I lead him
follow his lead
he heads for the mat.

Friday, October 4, 2013

Two Hundred and Thirty-nine

As my Aikido grows more powerful, I am struck by the fact that so too does the lessening of my reliance on power grow apace. Rough touch backed by insistence that my partner conform to my will has, over the years, given way to gentle contact that guides and follows simultaneously. The need to dictate the flow of events has been transformed into acceptance of the moment.

Growth of power emerges naturally from my practice; as does the realization that manifest power and applied power are two different things that can be individually employed to arrive at a single destination.

Friday, August 30, 2013

Two Hundred and Thirty-eight

So I was looking at one of my paintings today and noticed that the closer I got to it the more it became less and less cohesive as a picture. As my field of view narrowed, small details of how the painting was constructed began to emerge and become distinct. Backing away from the painting, I noticed the details become increasingly less evident as the picture emerged from the brush and knife work.

Watching a technique demonstrated is like viewing the painting from a distance. The technique is there in full view, like the finished painting. What's missing are the little nuances of the technique's construction and the feeling of connection between the partners that become obvious only after I get on the mat and practice it for awhile.

When I'm practicing I can feel every point of contact with my partner, feel his energy and level of commitment, notice the paths of our motions, the points of intersections and tangents. It's like looking at the painting from close up and noticing the details of the various types of brush strokes and the places where the pallet knife was used.

As my point of reference contracts, my awareness expands and details previously hidden begin to emerge. The price paid is the blurring out of the big picture that is noticeable from the outside. Conversely, as my point of reference expands and my awareness contracts the overall form of the technique emerges though the details are once again lost to view.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Two Hundred and Thirty-seven

Correct feeling isn't akin to feelings as in emotional or sensory feelings. Correct feeling is a state of being. When in the state I refer to as correct feeling, that is when mind and body are tightly coordinated and Ki is decidedly manifest, I am aware that it's not the same as my walking around town state of being. So what are some of the characteristics of the correct feeling state of being?

Correct feeling is characterized by:

  1. A contracted frame of reference and a corresponding expansion of awareness.
  2. The absence of conscious thought.
  3. Emotional neutrality.
  4. A heightened state of physical and mental relaxation.
  5. The ability to project presence.
  6. An increase in perceived mass (as felt by my partner when we come into contact).
  7. The ability to effect my partners balance and disturb his structure at the moment of contact.
  8. A way of moving that involves the entire body acting in concert that isn't what I would term consciously directed.
  9. A profound connection with my partner.
There's more, but I just wanted to provide a brief outline some of the characteristics of correct feeling in order to convey the fact that it's about feeling as being, not feeling as part of a stimulus/response loop. With mind and body tightly coordinated the perceive-process-order-do sequence occurs faster than my ability to be consciously aware of it happening.

The important realization to take away from this is that correct feeling is attainable via Aikido training. Ki exercises/testing, technique practice and weapons work all contribute to the process whereby correct feeling is first experienced then, with repetition and increased loading, strengthened. 

Monday, August 19, 2013

Two Hundred and Thirty-six

The eye of a hurricane is a zone of calm. The body of a hurricane is a whirlwind of power. Without either the hurricane would not be a hurricane. Separating the eye and body of a hurricane is the boundary layer that also serves to unite them. Without the boundary layer to separate them, eye and body would coalesce and lose their distinctiveness. Without the boundary layer to unite them, eye and body could not function as a unified whole. The boundary layer is defined by both eye and body, being wholly neither.

Using the hurricane as a metaphor, I visualize my mind as the eye of the hurricane, my body as the body of the hurricane and my spirit as the boundary layer that separates and unites both. Spirit is a synergy of mind and body. It facilitates mind/body coordination enabling me to experience correct feeling, my most dependable and powerful state of being.

Friday, August 9, 2013

Two Hundred and Thirty-five

In conflict, energy in the form of combatants is at a higher level than in the absence of conflict. Aikido is a martial art that endeavors to facilitate the transition of high level energy in the form of the combatants to the lowest energy state possible in conformance with the Minimum Energy Principle.

O Sensei (taken from The Art Of Peace, John Stevens) -

"... we put ourselves in tune with the universe..."

"A warrior's mind and body must be permeated with enlightened wisdom and deep calm."

"If your opponent strikes with fire counter with water,... it swallows up any attack harmlessly."

"...once you envelop them you will be able to guide them along a path indicated to you by heaven and earth."

"Let attackers come any way they like... blend with them...Redirect each attack and get firmly behind it."

"Enter, turn and blend with your opponent..."

"Draw him outside of that sphere and into your own, and his strength will dissipate."

"...keeping yourself in a safe and unassailable position... no one will suffer any losses..."