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Sunday I watches the shodan exam of one of my training partners. It was a nice exam and almost everything went well.
Time is a funny thing. Some things change, that is the natural way things are. I remember seeing the exams of the committee members 10 or 15 years ago and somehow I cannot escape the feeling that the standard at exams has changed. Would the same committee members have passed the current exams? Is that something that is important? And if so, who made it important?
During class I jokingly tell people that the only difference between an advanced student and a beginner is that advanced students are better in covering up their screw ups. I know this is absolutely not true and I want my fellow students to discover that this isn't true.
Persistence is what shapes the student. Just showing up, putting on your gi and stepping onto the mat is all it takes. Weird part is that for a lot of people this can be the hardest part of Aikido. Still, all the places I have trained had one thing in common: you are welcome whether your last training was yesterday or long ago.
One thing I wonder about, and I know my teachers did the same, is whether everything can be taught independently or whether a certain level experience and physical training is necessary to be able to be taught more advanced stuff. Are shortcuts possible or not. I know there isn't consensus about that among aikido teachers.
I believe that you have to learn to be fluent in your technical repertoire to be able to let go of that technical repertoire and look beyond. I look at aikido the same way I do look at language. Techniques are the aikido equivalent of words. If you don't know the words it will be nearly impossible to write a nice story. So learn the words. The words however aren't a story yet.
How come I cannot do what you do? Because you are learning words. No use being flabbergasted by my story in which the evil stepmother happily lives ever after. Learn the words and
4 new women turned up for class last night. For the strong men this is a challenge and I always am amazed who enjoys training with as many partners as possible and who just try to stick with their small circle of clunky men.
One of my earliest encounters with technique vs. force was in my second or third year of training. There was a small Japanese (although nationality is completely irrelevant here) lady (small meaning about 140 cm and compared to my 193 cm that is very small). She trained about as long as I did. Of course she didn't use brute force on me, how could she. When we were up to speed I noticed how fast I found the floor every single time. There was a very important lesson I learned that day. I decided that I wanted to study Aikido like she did, small girl's Aikido instead of big strong guy's Aikido.
Looking back I am grateful I had so many different partners to train with in my early years. All the different partners opened my eyes to what I am searching for.
I hope enough of the women will stay to have the same impact on the clunky men I now train with.
Last week I had a nice experience. Knowing there were exams at our dojo and I was asked to be uke. Now normally people are paired during the exam so that there isn't a big difference in experience. This was different as there was a huge gap. The person doing the exam is ex-military, unfortunately burdened with PTS which manifests itself in a disruptive fear of hurting someone. Aikido has a very strong impact on his well-being and he has progressed a lot already in trusting himself during aikido. Up till now however, doing exams has been one bridge to far for him.
So here I was, being uke at the exams and the one really important task I had was to make him feel safe. No matter what happened, he had to feel safe. Soft, compliant, happy and friendly. Smiling moving along with whatever he did, and he did well. Halfway through he realized he was doing well, a smile came on his face and he loosened up even more.
In my brain there is a clever little monkey. It is a nice monkey, a smart monkey. He is very good at solving problems, that is, he is very good at coming up with different technical solutions to problems. This monkey thinks he is the best, he can solve everything and even if he couldn't solve the problem he still has a dozen of other solutions he wants to try.
I am a mathematician and this monkey is very useful.
He used to come with me during training as well, but he no longer is allowed to come. He wants to and if I let my attention slip he joins me during training instantly.
In my brain there is also an observer. My monkey thinks he is a boring annoying fellow. Doesn't do much it seems and certainly isn't working on solutions to problems like the monkey is. Monkey wants the attention and will at any moment try to push the observer away.
The monkey does stuff. Monkey does this to uke and does that to uke, cause once you have done this to uke you can do that other thing that the monkey came up with do to uke.
The observer observes. He sees what is going on. He has no fancy tricks, no quick solutions. He watches and can direct me to move with what he sees/feels. The observer wants to move with the intention, to move with the flow, to move with the union. He watches to see how ma doesn't change. He simply watches to see what begun end.
I know this. My observer is replacing my monkey ever more often. I know it is true, but if I read it it sounds
In my aikido life I have seen and felt many teachers. Some had more of an impact than others, which of course is the natural way things go in life.
With some teachers the things you learn are just another training methode for the same thing, but with others there is something more.
One of the teachers that influenced my aikido was Henry Kono sensei. He talked about balance, not about taking balance of uke, but of maintaining balance. This was very hard to understand, and obviously also something very hard to explain. Henry Kono sensei tried. He had all kind of gadgets to help explain the idea of maintaining balance. Sticks, wheels and even balloons. And he tried to explain it with words. He tried so hard. He even voiced his hopes: even if you don't get it now, I hope that some of you will get it in 5, 10 or 20 years.
O'Sensei why cannot we do what you do? Because I know about Yin and Yang.
So, I am this simple academic who thinks he knows about knowing stuff. I studied Yin and Yang, it's dynamics, it's meanings. It didn't help.
I was doing it wrong, or I didn't understand what Henry Kono sensei was trying to say.
I was lucky enough to overhear Henry Kono sensei speaking with a Japanese lady in our dojo. They were talking about the same thing: how you had to understand Yin and Yang to understand Aikido. (This is what was explained to me later, because I don't speak Japanese). But one of the things that I found amazing, is that when he was speaking with this Ja
Why do so many people have an addiction to grabbing their partner.
I give an attack, they grab me, rearrange me and then they start their technique.
I try to play the nice uke, I try not to block what they are doing while trying to adjust my ukemi in such a manner that it doesn't halt, that energy and intent keep on flowing.
What is this obsession with grabbing and rearranging your partner? Is it the idée-fixe that you have to actively do something to your partner to be able to do a good technique?
I am starting to understand a bit of the frustration of my own teachers. How is it possible to practice the things you find worth while practicing when those surrounding you have no clue what you are doing and have no clue that they aren't doing the same things.
Today during class I was asked to explain something I was doing before class started. Something very basic, something so fundamental. Something my teachers taught me, not once but again and again and again. Probably one of those secrets you only get after several decades of training.
Now I know a lot of people are wondering what this big secret aikido technique might be, and I will try to explain it.
It is so basic so profound that I have difficulty understanding how people cannot get this, yet when I look around me or feel my partners then this is missing.