Thursday, August 28, 2014

Two Hundred and Forty-eight

I begin with the following definition of power: "Power is the capacity, ability and willingness to act." which I have taken from, What is Power, and How Can It Be Used for the Common Good?; an essay by Robert Linithicum, IESC.

If I am to wield power I need the capacity to wield it, the ability to wield it and the willingness to wield it. I shall look at each requirement (capacity, ability and willingness) individually as it relates to my Aikido practice.

In order to wield power I must first have the capacity to do so. This means I must develop or otherwise amass the resources required for me to exercise power. In the case of my Aikido training the resources I need to develop are exemplified by the following:

"To practice properly the Art of Peace you must:
Calm the spirit and return to the source.
Cleanse the body and spirit by removing all malice, selfishness and desire.
Be ever-grateful for the gifts received from the universe, your family, Mother Nature and your fellow human beings."
              - Morihei Ueshiba, The Art of Peace, translated by John Stevens.

When I remain calm in the face of adversity (calm the spirit), keep one point (return to the source); when I rid myself of emotional negativity (Cleanse the body and spirit by removing all malice, selfishness and desire.); when I celebrate the gifts that are mine by virtue of simply living in the world (Be ever-grateful for the gifts received from the universe, your family, Mother Nature and your fellow human beings.) I possess the capacity to wield power as an expression of my Aikido.

The practice of Aikido gives me the opportunity to experience the peacefulness associated with a calm spirit while all around me chaos ensues in the form of my partner(s) seeking to breech my defenses. In the course of my study I experience the loss of my center over and over yet am able to return to it with increasing ease the longer I train. Aikido training has helped me immensely in ridding myself of the negativity that has plagued me for much of my adult life. Aikido is a learning experience that contains within itself  the resources I need in order to develop the capacity to wield power. Capacity to wield power is built up slowly as a consequence of dedicated study and practice.

The techniques of Aikido are the tools I need to develop the ability to wield power. Practice and mastery of the technique syllabus enhances my ability while simultaneously providing feedback that I use to further hone my capacity. Training is the key. Again, from The Art of Peace, Morihei Ueshiba implores us to:

"Day after day
Train your heart out,
Refining your technique:
Use the One to strike the many!
That is the discipline of a Warrior."

Aikido practice transforms by nature. Body, mind and spirit are all impacted, individually as well as indivisibly. I get on the mat, I teach, I learn, I train and each session sees a slightly different me leave the dojo. The ability I develop to execute technique becomes the physical manifestation of the power I have the capacity to wield.

As I continue to study and practice Aikido, my capacity and ability grow. I become increasingly more adept at dealing with situations calmly and centered. I have a set of tools at my disposal to draw on as the situation dictates. All that is left for me is to have the willingness to exercise the power I have developed. I don't decide to exercise power. The situation gives rise to the decision and to succeed I must act in accordance with what I have learned and not second guess myself. Willingness is the purging of voluntary action in favor of giving rein to my training.

Morihei Ueshiba in The Art of Peace puts it this way:

"Free of weakness,
No-mindedly ignore
The sharp attacks
of your enemies:
Step in and act!"

I train to unify mind and body. The more mind/body coordination I possess the closer I am to being able to operate in the moment. To wield power in the moment capacity, ability and willingness are concurrently brought to bear on a situation. The power is sharply focused on a contracted frame reference and I experience high state of awareness.

The power I seek to develop in my Aikido study is not the power to do something to someone; it's not the power of dominance. Rather my power lies in my ability to to do with me as I will, in accord with whatever situation I find myself in. Having internalized the fact that power is an expression of my actions, I realize that all the power lies within me and is mine to wield in varying degrees determined by circumstances, in the moment.


Saturday, August 23, 2014

Two Hundred and Forty-seven

Before I began studying Aikido I didn't know anything about the study of mind/body coordination. I didn't know that tasks performed with mind and body coordinated required less energy and flowed more smoothly from beginning to end than tasks performed with mind and body working in disharmony. Surely I had encountered phraseology that hinted at the fact that mind and body should be singularly focused on the task at hand, but it was Aikido that opened my eyes to the fact that mind/body coordination could be taught in a structured manner that would, over time, strengthen the unification of both; which. in turn, would allow me to perform close to my maximum potential no matter what the task.

When I finally did begin my Aikido journey, it was all about making the body work in order to perform technique. I could pretty much muscle my way through resistance from my partners. The whole mind/body, extend Ki, keep one point thing began to seep into my awareness as well, but only very slowly. So while I had strength to spare, I noticed something was missing, especially when practicing with advanced people who were able to embody the four principles that I had heard so many times but wasn't yet able to demonstrate to any appreciable degree.

Time, however, has proved to be a wonderful teacher. The ability to crank out 300 plus pound bench presses and 500 pound squats has, over the years, bid me a fond farewell and with it has gone the resource to muscle past the resistance of younger and stronger partners. But as my raw muscle strength has lessened, the power of my coordinated mind and body has grown and executing Aikido technique has become, if anything, easier. While I'm not as strong as I used to be, I am proportionally more powerful. At first glance, that may seem paradoxical. How is it possible that I can be more powerful in the face of waning physical strength? The research I've begun is hinting that the idea of power is really an intricate weave of possibilities that touches on more than the physical manifestation that most everyone is familiar with from high school physics classes. There are other avenues to explore and I hope to be able to address some of them in future posts.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Two Hundred and Forty-six

I begin in natural stance, arms extended in front of me, palms up. My elbows are slightly bent. I keep weight underside so that I feel as though my heavy arms are dragging my shoulders and upper torso downward.

I have my partner place her hands under my elbows so that each elbow rests in one of her palms. My partner should feel as though she is holding my arms up. Since I no longer have to hold my own arms up my whole upper body should relax to the point where if she removes her hands my arms will fall to my sides. Once we have achieved this position I can be checked for maintenance of weight underside by having my partner drop her hands at a moment of her choosing. My arms should drop to my sides without my having to consciously relax in order for them to fall.

Once we have established that I can maintain weight underside my partner will attempt to lift my arms by pushing up on my elbows. If I tense up by locking my shoulders as she applies force my body will be tipped back on my heels and I will lose my balance. If I attempt to counter her upward push with a downward push using muscle, she can suddenly remove her hands, at which point I will have nothing to push against. This will result in me pitching forward by an amount proportional to the amount of force I am exerting; again causing me to lose my balance. Neither outcome is satisfactory for the purpose of this exercise.

The outcome I am looking for is for my partner to feel a repulsive force the moment she begins to lift. The force she feels should increase as she increases the force of her lifting. What it feels like to me is that at no point in my body does the force of her lifting come to rest. In effect, I don't provide her with a place to apply her power. I think of myself as an amplifying conduit for her force that completes a circuit whereby she receives a greater amount of force than what she gives.

The ability is built up through continued practice handling gradually increasing force loads. As I grow stronger, I can reduce the angle formed by my lower and upper arms until eventually I am able to keep my arms extended straight out in front of me. While practicing, I am continually paying attention to what is going on inside of me, finding what works and what doesn't, keeping and discarding. And by "paying attention to what is going on inside of me", I don't mean "thinking about what is going on inside of me". Paying attention to what is going on inside of me entails becoming accustomed to how I feel and observing, without judgement, how I feel affects the interaction I am having with my partner. The process enables me to keep refining my mind/body state so that over time I become more centered, more stable, more relaxed and stronger.

Friday, August 8, 2014

Two Hundred and Forty-five

Without proper coordination of mind and body my performance will be less than its optimal potential. This is a fact I learned long before I had ever heard of Aikido, though expressed in different ways in varied circumstances.

"Keep your eye on the ball", "Keep your head in the game", "Concentrate on what you're doing", "There's only you and that high bar" ... all say the same thing - coordinate mind and body. When I heard "Keep one point" during my first Aikido class I had no trouble establishing an intellectual reference point for what was being asked of me since many of those other phrases came immediately to mind.

All the phrases, metaphors and injunctions are triggers meant to bring the mind and body together as a single seamless unit in order to maximize performance no matter what the situation. It's necessary that I learn to let go of my need to direct my actions and trust that my training will enable my coordinated mind/body to perform at its maximum potential in the moment.

For it's in the moment where everything comes together and actually happens.

Ki exercises and testing facilitate the coordination of mind and body. Continued practice of these exercises strengthens the integrated mind/body structure thereby enhancing performance in testing situations. The exercises themselves are many and varied with but a single goal. Whether solo or paired, static or dynamic, Ki exercises drill down to the one essential fact that mind/body coordination is the engine that powers technique.

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.