And it probably brought me over the arch of downward decent following yesterday’s stress induced journey into central Tokyo. Went to watch Lin Dan, arch nemesis of Malaysia's National Shuttler, play another Chinese player.
Here's a photo of Day 4 at the Badminton World Federation's Yonex Open at the Tokyo Metropolitan Museum.
1) When you are distracted you miss a step. When I found myself not responding to what I see in front of me, I was more, if not, always likely make a mistake. You see, the simplest aikido techniques have layers of things going on. Like a professor said once comparing acting Shakespeare to eating a burrito with fifty different ingredients, it’s all there. With each training session, you add more layers to your repertoire. Practice regularly, and they all will come instinctively.
Aspiring for competence in aikido fundamentals is a valiant goal and one that is made more challenging when the class is heavily attended. Senior students have always timed their throw to ensure that I avoid other falling students. You have to look out for your partner. With the cacophony of students falling and being thrown around you, this is particularly difficult and can only be attained if you are aware of your surroundings.
Thoughts enter and exit the mind all the time, the danger is not the flow of these thoughts but dwelling on any one of them while you are executing a throw. For the throw to work, you have to anticipate your partner’s forcefulness, contend with their range of mobility, move in the right direction in relation to your partner, and have the right hand holds, all of this while keeping your body balanced and relaxed. If your mind is preoccupied with what you will have for dinner, or the effortless set up you just did, then you are bound to throw your partner onto another person. Even if you know all the steps to a wrist lock and throw combo, and achieve a level of seamless flow from one step to the next, aikido requires that you encounter your opponent on a level where unspoken forces are exchanged.
Thinking in aikido is a tactile exchange of information. If you lose contact with the information flow, then you play catch or cover up. These moments are dangerous because you fail to pay attention to how your force is affecting your partner, potentially causing more harm than you intended or they are capable of receiving.
This mode of awareness requires focus on the immediacy of what is occurring while achieving your task without conscious thought. In zen Buddhist terms, this type of awareness, pertinent to the martial arts is known as mushin: complete awareness without the fettering of conscious thought.
2) Intimacy is key to ensuring an effective take down. Putting your arm around your partner’s neck inching them backwards as they arch their back is less effective than turning your hips in place. The idea that pulling them back as you guide their neck makes them fall is only half true. As you straddle their upper body with your hand around their outstretched hand and other around their neck, tugging on the hand so that they are slightly off kilter, rather than stepping back to execute the neck lock, you keep your pelvis in the same spot, turning it, and by doing so effectively turning theirs as well, creating a larger arch in their back.
3) When you don’t understand Japanese, kinaesthetic learning is the most powerful way, and the aikidoka (practitioners of aikido) are experts in this. The guy who taught me to turn the pelvis in place conveyed his message only by executing a throw on me. I felt an instant pull backwards as my head and hips were going in opposite directions.
Most aikido sensei teach by having you ‘take’ the technique from them, i.e. you get thrown. They use little or no words at all. If you need guidance on a particular part of the technique, they will be sure to point out the right way using you as the subject. The feel of each technique is important to it’s being mastered.
4) You keep moving.
In an aikido partnership, each person practices a technique four times before switching roles. Techniques with a front and back variation mean that you only get to do each side once, i.e. front left, front right, back left, back right.
The most effective use of this set up is that if you do not understand how to execute something completely, one you are guided through your four chances, you switch roles. Some senior members encourage white belts to start executing a technique first, giving them more chances to control another person’s body. From the position of the attacker, the senior student can guide the novice. Many instructors move a little quicker so that you too move faster. Being one step ahead of you, they force you through tactile means to commit to your actions. I learnt many techniques more successfully this way.
 Mann, Jeffrey K. When Buddhists Attack. Tuttle Publishing, 2012. 28. Print.