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A friend of mine, and a senior student at the dojo I attend asked me several weeks ago what I want from my training. I gave him an answer at the time, but I'm not really satisfied with it. In the intervening month or so, I've continued to think about the question. As my blog posts over the past year indicate, I've been coming to terms with a new paradigm at a new dojo. The result has been a bit of frustration and a lot of confusion over the past year -- confusion that has been exacerbated by some big events that have cut into my training time. First, a bit of background and a caveat.
In December of last year I started training at a new dojo, Itten Dojo in Mechanicsburg PA, that is much closer to my home than the one I had trained at for the previous nine years, Susquehanna Aikido in York PA. Proximity is one-half the reason I switched. The other half is that Itten Dojo is implementing Ellis Amdur's aikido training concepts, and I've been fascinated by them since I attended one of Ellis's seminars several years ago. I still heartily recommend my old dojo to people looking for Aikido near York. If you want Aikikai/AAA style aikido, there are few (if any) places as good in Central PA. However, if you want to follow Ellis's deconstruction of Aikido, there is no other place than Itten dojo. Simultaneously, I started training in toho iaido at Itten Dojo. At this point, everything was new: new paradigm for aikido, internal strength training, and new sword wo
Sometimes I need to quote myself. Yesterday I wrote in a thread about what's missing in aikido:
Peter's series of articles on "Transmission, Inheritance, Emulation" (best to start at the beginning: http://www.aikiweb.com/forums/showthread.php?filter=Peter%20Goldsbury&t=12008) deals precisely with questions of what aikido was for O Sensei and he passed it on to his students.
From what I've read, I don't think we can assume that O Sensei was concerned about his students being able to replicate exactly what he was doing. I'm also not convinced that the ranks he gave correlated all that well with the students' ability to demonstrate a deep understanding of aikido as O Sensei saw it.
I don't doubt that his students were darned good martial artists. Nor do I doubt that many of them got an appreciation for internal skills. It's just that (based on what I've read by Ellis and Peter), O Sensei didn't have transmission of the art as his primary goal. Rather, aikido was a religious expression for O Sensei, who saw himself as a shaman dedicated to the divinity of the Japanese emperor because of his understanding of Japanese creation myths, and (at least until his move to Iwama in 1942) who was tightly associated with right-wing militarism. O Sensei saw the power of aikido coming from the kotodama -- which contains mystical word-sounds with innate power. O Sensei did not see it as his responsibility to explicitly teach what he was doing, nor did he expect his students to adopt h
My father spent a few days in the hospital with heart problems this week. His bypass from ten years ago is starting to fail. Dad is doing better now (as I write this). He's home and about to embark on a new regimen of medications. The end result was a scary week, but a good prognosis.
But all this got me thinking about death. I train in large part because it's fun, but also to learn an effective way to defend myself if the need arises. Yet being diabetic and overweight, I'm far more likely to die from heart disease or a complication from the diabetes than I am from some sort of violent encounter. Hell, a car accident is more likely to take me out than a mugger or home invader.
But there's only so much I can control. Training does nothing more than help give me an edge -- or at least improved odds -- in the event of a violent encounter. The same thing with driving: I can do a lot to improve my odds of not getting in a car accident (be alert, don't speed, don't talk on the phone when I drive), but all that does is improve my odds, not guarantee survival.
I need to take the same approach to my health. My diet and exercise regimen has helped me lose 70 pounds (so far) and get off my diabetes meds, but that level of effort takes dedication and a willingness to continue even when it gets hard. It's very much like a "do" of its own.
I need to continue to approach my health like an extension of my training: just keep doing it as often and as well as possible. That way
Every so often, I wonder why I study martial arts -- not why I study aikido or iaido, but fundamentally why I'm attracted to the arts. For that matter, most of my hobbies are centered on war and conflict. I like building scale models (mostly of warplanes), I play board war games, I study history and military history and write magazine articles about those subjects, I like going to airshows and visiting warship museums, and I regularly compete in high power rifle competitions.
To be sure, I'm not completely off balance. I've got hobbies that aren't related to war or human conflict. I love baseball and regularly go to our local minor league team's games. I'm a huge Penn State football fan. I'm on my church's council. I'm also a computer geek and write magazine articles on Linux. For that matter, I enjoy my work and love learning more about my profession. Naturally, I enjoy my family and participating in the things that are important to my wife and child.
But still, war, conflict, and violence are implicit in a lot of my activities. My personality and temperament are such that I tend to embrace conflict. Healthy debate and sincere disagreement/engagement over something important energizes me. At the same time, I profoundly dislike violence. I've used my training in real situations twice so far -- both times I felt good about the way I handled myself and my opponent, but regretted that physical force had been necessary. I love a good fictional fight scene, but I know t
My schedule is somewhat flaky right now, but I plan for, and manage to attend, at least two internal strength classes each month. I must be starting to learn a little bit because I'm getting sore after that training despite the fact that it's not particularly strenuous. Most of the soreness was in my legs, lower trapezius, and upper lats.
My particular challenge right now is to get much better at the taikyoku kuzushi body movements and learn how to incorporate the internal strength principles and movements I'm practicing into the taikyoku kuzushi -- and ultimately into my waza.
This is where the rubber hits the road -- as the tired cliche goes -- stuff that I've been doing for a while isn't working anymore. I'm starting to learn why.
Put simply, it's this: my concept of "moving from my center," or "leading with my center" doesn't work. I learned how off I've been in a recent class where we were working on establishing the center to center connection and then throwing. I'm not bad at establishing the center to center connection, but when I go to throw, I move my center to where I want uke to go -- thereby severing the connection! I think this is why (and how) I have a tendency to lean when throwing _and_ why I tend to "bear down" when I throw by using my mass instead of my center.
In the past, I think I was guiding uke and ahead of him, but not really leading. My throws relied more on timing and momentum than true connection. This is not necessarily bad. Being able to catch timing and use momentum is a great skill, but it is not a complete skill set in itself.
I seem to need a weapons-related metaphor to help me visualize a concept. The best I can come up with right now is that the center to center connection should be like that in jo-nage or jo-dori. With jo-nage, the attacker and thrower are separated by three or so feet of wooden stick, so to throw successfully the thrower needs to have a good connection that leads from his own center _through_ the attacker's center.
I started studying iaido in December. So far, training generally consists of paired kata and exercises with bokken and solo kata with shinken (real, sharp swords). Last night's class was entirely with shinken. Although I studied aiki-ken and aiki-jo (based a lot on Saito's curriculum), there was very little carry-over from my previous experience to iaido. Not being able to rely on my previous experience means it is a lot easier to approach iaido training with a fresh, open mind. As a result, I'm seeing my aikido training, and the crossover from sword to empty-hand, from a different perspective.
This gets to the difference between received wisdom -- something we learn based on others' experiences -- and earned wisdom, which our own experiences create and reinforce. Good learning requires a careful mix between the two. One needs both a teacher to demonstrate proper technique, and many thousands of repetitions of actual practice to become proficient. The interplay between received and earned wisdom happens in the constant iterations of practicing and getting corrected and then working on the corrections during practice.
With that in mind, _what_ one practices is as important as _how_ one practices. I strongly believe that there needs to be some empirical validity to one's practice, otherwise one could learn to perfectly perform techniques that don't work. This is especially true in the relationship among aikido, the sword arts, and aiki-ken.
I posted the following in response to a thread asking how aikido might have changed my life:
When I first started aikido in 1999, I read a lot about the spiritual aspects of the practice and aikido's status as a "do" or spiritual way. What I got from reading this board, Aikio Journal's web site, and books like "Budo" by O Sensei, "The Spirit of Aikido" by Kisshomaru Ueshiba, and "The Magic of Conflict" by Thomas Crum was the ideal of aikido as a metaphor for conflict.
The idea of aikido presenting a third option to either fighting or running away appealed to me. I particularly liked the concept that one needs to establish a connection with an attacker in order to properly execute a technique, and that the more committed the attack and throw, the better. Conversely, if two (or more) people only tentatively engage, then true conflict resolution is very difficult.
That concept has helped me a lot. I'm 35 now, but when I was 25, I tended to be a lot more rigid in my thinking about the "right way" and "wrong way" to do things, which made personal relationships rather difficult at times. Learning to apply the idea of establishing a connection first and then being receptive to my opponent's arguments actually made it a lot easier for me to get along and stay happier. That attitude has helped me to respond to arguments with my wife, attacks from my former boss, and tantrums from my 3-year-old by saying, "I understand you're frustrated by ..." (establishing the connection)
I've been attending Weight Watchers meetings since September of 2007 -- only ever missing one weekly weigh-in. I've lost 70 pounds so far, and I'm much healthier.
What does this have to do with aikido? Two things really: (1) aikido by itself isn't necessarily a great form of exercise and (2) weight loss itself is a kind of "do" or way, much like aikido.
Point one may end up being controversial, but my experience was that, while aikido training raised my overall level of fitness and flexibility, it did nothing to help me loose weight. Part of the reason is that classes typically consist of periods of somewhat intense exercise followed by periods of rest that are long enough for me to completely catch my breath. One's level of effort is not sustained. Additionally, over time, we get better and more efficient in our movements so that doing the work takes a lot less effort.
The end result for me was better overall fitness, but not a whole bunch of calories burned during aikido practice. In almost a decade of practice, I consistently gained weight or stayed the same.
In some ways I had it backwards. A lot of people start eating better and then figure out they need to exercise. I was exercising, but figured out that I need to eat better. That's where point 2 becomes important. I've had the success I've had so far because I'm treating my weight loss (and eventual maintenance) as a lifestyle change. It is sort of a "weight loss-do." There's no way I can make long-lastin
I attended my first aikido class following my dojo's second seminar with Mike Sigman. I did not attend the seminar, so I was anxious to hear what my fellow students and our instructor thought. Evidently, Mike Sigman was impressed with the amount of work the people at my dojo have done in the past year and all parties felt the seminar was very productive. Having just joined the dojo last December, I'm really just getting my feet wet with the internal skills, but I'm encouraged to hear that the people I'm learning from are doing it well.
So during the first class after the seminar, our instructor emphasized some of the things that Mike highlighted. I was astounded! So much of what our instructor said is stuff that I'd been hearing numerous times during training for nine years at my previous dojo: create kuzushi by moving the the third point of the triangle (with the other two points being uke's feet); move from the center; unify the body don't break it; relax! The difference is not in the concept, but the execution.
Here I will focus on what I do, not necessarily how I was taught because I'm more than willing to take responsibility for my own training mistakes. :-) My previous dojo had ki-society roots through Toyoda Shihan's association as a student of Koichi Tohei. We learned Tohei's "Four Basic Principles to Unify Mind and Body":
1. Keep One Point: this is the natural place of physical, mental and spiritual balance. By concentrating on our one point and keeping