Saturday, 19 September, 2015
Many revelations during this morning’s class, and was at both beginner’s classes this evening. In the second evening class, the teacher did well to facilitate clear breaking down of the important steps to shiho nage, the four direction throw. In it, he emphasized aikido’s fundamentals. Namely, Ma-I, or harmony- by ensuring your partner’s body is in line with yours, and within an appropriate distance to facilitate ‘harmony’ between you, as you head into the throw.
This morning I felt a sense of ease doing katatetori hanmi hadachi shiho nage for the first time. The standing attacker grabs the seated nage by the wrist, who proceeds to twist the uke’s wrist and throw them. Body movements are codified in aikido, no unnecessary shuffling is needed when the nage is certain about their technique. Only adjustments are made to tailor the movement to the partner’s movement and body.
As I watched the sensei demonstrate, I became obsessed with feeling exactly as he is. I would imagine seeing my opponent, and move my body accordingly, feeling the areas of contact and how they move through space. This was incredibly useful when it came to doing the movements myself. I could see my partner and visualize the technique from my point of view. When we swapped roles, I would imagine how I would move in relation to my partner’s body.
Other Revelations today about certain aikido techniques:
- Line of attack. Shiho nage so that your partner is lined up with you.
- Tenshin so that your partner doesn’t run into you. Keep balance, use back leg.
- Tai sabaki so that you don’t run into your partner.
- Maintain Zenshin so that you are vigilant towards your partner after throwing them. Remain facing them.
- Back arches. Move into your partner when the fall so that you use your waist to propel them. Tenchi waza today with the idea of moving right past your partner, your forward momentum pushing them back.
A new world of sensing is opening up as I continue to practice seeing through my partner’s eyes. I feel what another body feels as it moves, as well as instilling a playful sense of mimesis in my imagined simulation. I know how to pull, push, hold, swipe, in my mind’s eye, and what I am doing is learning a sequence of movements in relation to another body. It matters less that I know where they are going to fall in relation to me but know my obligations in completing the throw, in my relation to my partner. Whether attacking or carrying out a technique, the partner becomes a fixed point. They are the only thing my body is in relation to, so all my movements matter because what I do will have an effect on them.
When I imagine carrying out the technique while it is being demonstrated, I make sure I start from the very beginning, from a point of familiarity, then venture into sequential movements. This is important as I start from a familiar point, where I know where my body is. Then move from there to relate to another human being. Grabbing attacks are the best because the relationship is concrete. Moving attacks, such as strikes or with weapons, are more intimidating and require you to respond to another person’s timing rather than initiate the movement.
I now relish the satisfaction from feeling a technique via the imagination to actualizing it effectively. A lot of corrective steps taken today, thanks to directions from all over, teachers and partners, telling me how to move.
My first partner today exemplified taking full responsibility for the person falling, he would step in to use his hand to shield me from any potential hits from other falling students. I later noted how it was important to guide your partner according to their way of moving till they reach the ground, ensuring they are alright, then making sure no one else attacks them.
Each consecutive time a sense of safety is instilled in the situation, you and your partner will have a chance to be more attuned to each others movements. Repetition and attention are important to keep the communication lines open between you and your partner. I have now a strong desire to teach aikido. Nonverbally, using only key words, body parts, and tactile demonstrations.
The big hurdle of feeling competent has been overcome. I feel that any technique shown I can through observation and tactile feeling instill a sense of knowing in my body so that I can engage in curious experimentation while maintaining the broad strokes. Each correction and feedback my partner gives me I can assimilate it into my repertoire. This feeling of being filled up is too linear a movement pathway.
The practitioner is reminded in each scenario, particularly when facing a partner for the first time, that they are in three-dimensional space. Their bodies are capable of any number of configurations in relation to the technique. An aikidoka is constantly sensing and responding to their environment. What is correct for one partner, may not be applicable to another. In order to learn how to do something correctly, they need to intuit relational space. The effect force and motion have on another body will signal how to best proceed with a technique.
Knowing a technique’s end result will not get you there. The journey towards the throw or lock is not, again, linear, nor is it open to interpretation. The givens are your partner’s body and their movement. You are to take this external source of information and given the ingredients of the technique, make things work for you, and, ultimately, them too.
Thursday, 24 September, 2015
Very helpful class today. A lot of taking my time and learning the steps. Eased into many partnerships. Avoided some less helpful partners.
First partner taught me that I should use my legs when executing the final throw. She noticed I had been bending at the waist. She showed me by bending at the waist herself, mimicking my movements. Great tip.
Next partner was forceful, swinging me around while we did ikkyo. I attributed his abilities to his footwork. Towards the end of our partnership I felt him swinging around me as well. I had tried pushing forward with my arms a little more, but doing so produced a resistance against his body, making things harder.
With my third partner I learnt the miniscule tekubi (wrist) rotation in shiho-nage preceding the irimi. I am more and more convinced about the hand lock’s importance in relating to your partner. Learning this made the entire technique smoother from the beginning.
My next partner taught me from scratch. He would show me how it was done in steps. I emulated and had difficulties knowing how to hold his wrist and my footwork. I seem to require utmost certainty before moving. This is a change from my former tendency to equivocate.
During kokyu nage I partnered with a guy more than twice my size. I did well the first eight times then was tired. It was a tremendous task to summon up my energy to push him back and down. I thought it a curiosity that my ki ran out.
A note on the start of class, my ankles strained as we were in seiza. I wondered if I ought to have done some zazen to prepare.
Thursday, 24 September, 2015
The women’s class had eight people in total. The daijin (Minister) came again. Impeccable timing on her bow to the guy partner.
I found it difficult, as was this morning, to imagine my partner’s body movements in relation to mine. Even with movements formerly studied and vividly visualized from both the attacker and defender’s perspective I had lost such a capability.
This realization was not startling. A four day break from aikido classes due to national holidays had reduced my contact time with the movements.
While I did get better from today’s lesson in this visualizing process, I found it much easier to do this time around than if I had started in my first week of practice. Fear leads to intrusive thoughts, which prevents a continuous focus on what is going on around.
The inverse relationship between focus and fear impedes many basic ongoing functions allowing learning and continuous processing of the physical world. If a student can’t learn how to move through watching, then perhaps they can learn through being dictated the necessary steps. While there are ways to circumvent visual learning of physical relations, I still am intrigued by such loss of perception prompted by a block between the part that stores visual memory as physical stimuli and the limbic system. What if the people who want to take control of their body cannot do so because their minds shutdown in the face of an opportunity for physical agency?
Friday, 25 September, 2015
Today’s class made me believe in Tan Twan Eng’s young protagonist in The Gift of Rain as he obsessively trained aikido with an older Japanese man at the break of dawn. Over time, he took to the martial art, running each morning along the beach.
I felt every second of today’s class. It all mattered. No time to ponder method. Only trial. Repetition. Feedback. Move forward.
My partner felt like a gung-ho track-and-field star wanting to run laps again and again. He used to work with the Self-Defence Forces (Japan’s version of the military). By the second technique practiced I felt my legs giving-way. Standing up after being thrown met with shaky knees and hands propped on them. I have heard of aikidoka taking ukemi from a sensei until they are barely able to stand. Then again, those two seconds of fighting gravity disappear once the next attack is made. You have to be right there feeling it all lest tension arise in your movements, giving the partnership generous attention, soft attention, and hard, strict holds, locks, and distancing between you two. A technique flops when the necessary pressure is misplaced. Keep to this line of accuracy and everything flows effortlessly, the locks become second nature.
Tips for Intensive Aikido Training:
- Let loose when the going gets tough. You will get more than you thought possible if the pressure is off to get it all right.
- Readiness spells improvement. When you enter a class feeling inadequately prepared, you tend to make more mistakes, breeding frustration and possibly leading to mental blocks. Steady your mind using meditative or breath techniques before coming to class. Enter the dojo with a state of mental preparedness, not expecting anything in particular but also being able to give full attention to anything that comes up.
- Use your breath as much as possible to remind yourself how present the work is. Find moments to either physically take a breath, or keep a journal of your class experience. Checking in helps to keep you focused in the long run.
- Always say 'yes' to your partner, not out loud, but in a way that tells them you are there and for them to “bring it on.” You keep their energy going. Conveying, verbally or non-verbally, that you are eager to take or give a technique affirms a commitment to mutuality. You are working in tandem towards creating a flow in each technique between the two of you. Saying yes is a way of provoking the partnership into gruelling territory that maintains a flow of exploration and discovery. One teacher would to say to me in mandarin: “lai zhou,” with an almost-smirk on his face, literally “come walk,” or more accurately “come on let’s go” and would begin showing me the technique. His approach gave me little time to prepare myself for learning but it also was a generous invitation to be challenged, which made the jumping a challenge.
- Take no additional time to think through a technique when you are familiar with it. If you find yourself thinking with a real opponent, then you’re probably going to get hit in that split second of mental wandering. Within the aikido dojo, thinking about a technique when you ought to be experiencing it with your partner hampers your learning. You will not learn as quick as your body is capable of, especially when you try and rationalize your movements rather than letting them flow from one to the next. Tactile instruction is much more efficacious than verbal descriptions. An instant information downlink occurs when you are the receiver of a technique.
Take the technique. And when you are performing the technique, learn how to get through it with seamless momentum. This means doing it as far as you can go, assimilating all corrections, and keeping an eye on your partner till then get up. Think cycles, revolutions, completion. Yet, each time is a different time, so pay attention to what is happening between you and your partner. Make a mistake, have a blip in your concentration? Fix it, get it right, get help, switch sides for review, you keep going because there is no reverse gear.
- If you get stuck somewhere in the middle of a technique, receive the corrections, ask questions for clarification. Never ponder the blip in your abilities for more than a second time. Move on to finish the rest of the technique, i.e. complete the larger picture, then zero in on the details upon further repetition. Although getting everything chronologically as it happens helps to master a sense of flow, broad strokes can be helpful when some intermediary movements are technical.
When the specific movements are unfamiliar, you need to paint with broad strokes. Start with ‘the knows’ then go to the ‘dunnos’. You are always getting somewhere as you carry out a technique, whether it be to a certain hand hold or body posture, take note of these fixed points and gradually fill in the connecting lines even if they are dotted.