View Full Version : M: Maai, Metsuke, and Musubi

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09-27-2012, 10:35 PM
Breathe in, Maai
Breathe out, Metsuke

True change is transformative and generative, and often goes by without us even noticing. Perhaps it goes unnoticed because it is not the content that is transformative and generative, it is the process itself. It is not just what we do, but how we do it that changes us. It is not the individual techniques of Aikido that change us, but the training itself. Perhaps it is the opportunity and experience of connecting-the-dots differently that helps us accept and appreciate the constant and continual changes.

Maai: spacing, distance. Proper spacing from one's opponent before combative engagement. (Pranin, S. 1991. The Aiki News Encyclopedia of Aikido)

I don't always think that finding meaning in foreign words can be directly made without error. They say to translate is to betray. Yet, if the liberty of that translation and interpretation is useful, then perhaps we can take some license. The further we are from the original speaker, the original context/culture, and the original language the more likely we are to make errors in what they mean. Perhaps that applies to many things in life.

In the movie the Godfather, we were given the advice to keep our friends close and our enemies closer.

There are many different distances that we may experience. There is a distance so far that we do not know we are connected. Yet the butterfly effect may suggest there is an inter-connected and inter-dependent web to which we all belong. Within any system of inter-connectedness the inter-action of a change is one part of the system (any part), creates changes in all parts of the system. Notice that distance refers to both the amount of closeness and the amount of separation. Perhaps that is personally perceptual.

Some things are so far away that we do not perceive them or feel connected to them. Yet, the butterfly effect would suggest that everything is inter-connected and that a butterfly flapping its wings in one place could create a tidal wave somewhere else. The domino-affect would suggest that one thing affects another which affects another like dominos falling in a line. The idea of only six-degrees of separation suggests that everything is connectable in six steps.

Things at a distance only appear as a threat or support based on our awareness and interpretation of them. As they get closer, we may perceive and interpret them differently requiring a different response or reaction. The more distant they are, perhaps the more avoidable they are and the more time we have to observe, orient, decide, and act. The closer they are the less avoidable and the less time we have. These are the times we orient and decide what actions to take based in our personal experience, history, and training.

In the dojo, I tend to want to bridge that gap of distance, enter, blend, and include them within my sphere of influence. This is the way the training is arranged. The more comfortable I become with the inter-action, the more confidence I gain and the more appropriately I respond.

In life, I too need to assess when to walk towards and when to walk away. There are two ends to a magnet, one that attracts and one that repels, at the same distance. Gasoline and fire are fine as long as they remain at a safe distance. Wisdom and serenity is knowing the difference.

Metsuke: eye-to-eye contact without focusing on a single point which permits awareness of the total field of vision. (Pranin, S. 1991. The Aiki News Encyclopedia of Aikido)

I remember a scene in Enter the Dragon where Bruce Lee told a student that if he looked too much at the pointing finger he would miss "all the heavenly glory".

We are told to focus on what we are doing. Often this gets us to miss the larger context in which it occurs. We often focus so much on problems that we do not even look at or for solutions. Therefore, the tasks may be how to focus and not-focus at the same time. Perhaps it's focusing the mind, but not focusing the eyes.

There is an interesting concept that the de-focused eyes, soft-focus, actually allows the eyes to sense or pick-up one movement faster by using the periphery vision. We talk about extending our focus through an object or target to extend our ki or energy. This is how we break objects like boards and bricks and throw people.

Perhaps the idea is to see the bigger picture and to see through what is in front of us. Very often, the solution to life's problems is lost because we focus too much on the problem and miss see the available solution at hand. Often becoming solution-focused is very different and produces very different outcomes as being problem oriented. An open mind and an open heart prevents and solves more problems than being closed. The same may be said of our hands.

To transform a belief we must not avoid it or deny it but actually hold it mindfully until we actually see through it. This is not what we are taught to do. We often attempt to rationalize and justify a belief, even if it doesn't seem to work, instead of looking at it and seeing through it. The content or context of our problems is perhaps less important that our problem-solving and solution-generating skills.

Just like in our discussion of distance, the sooner we can see something coming, the sooner we can respond to it mindfully and appropriately.

Perhaps the lesson is to keep our eyes open through life.

Musubi: knot, tie. The concept of a link between the attacker and defender permitting the smooth execution of technique. (Pranin, S. 1991. The Aiki News Encyclopedia of Aikido)

As we discussed with distance, there is an inter-dependency, inter-action, and inter-connectedness with all things if we can conceive of it that way.

Many of life's issues such as anxiety and depression often have the existential element/angst of believing we are alone. I once wrote that psychological (mental and emotional) health is being okay when we are alone and that spiritual health is knowing we never are. We are often looking for some connection to something bigger than our own individual learned ego/self. Perhaps it is letting go of the "I" that we eventually find the "we" we have all been looking for.

We often think of musubi in our practice as the connection we feel when our structural alignment physically touches the structural alignment of the person we are working with. I remember a Shihan telling me that I have to think of my technique as including the other person within my sphere of influence and movement. It was not something I did to them, but something I did with and through them. Of course, at the time (and probably to some extent now) I had no idea what he meant. However, his technique worked far better than mine did, so I became curious.

The concept of how we connect with another human being is an important consideration and concept. Perhaps the better question and quest is how do we see through the illusion of the distance and separation of all things.

Breathe in, Maai
Breathe out, Metsuke

Thanks for listening, for the opportunity to be of service, and for sharing the journey. Now, get back to training. KWATZ!

Lynn Seiser (b. 1950 Pontiac, Michigan), Ph.D. has been a perpetual student of martial arts, CQC/H2H, FMA/JKD, and other fighting systems for over 40 years. He currently holds the rank of Yondan (4th degree black belt) from Sensei Andrew Sato of the Aikido World Alliance and Sandan (3rd degree Black Belt) from Sensei Dang Thong Phong of the International Tenshinkai Aikido Federation. He is the co-author of three books on Aikido (with Phong Sensei) and his martial art articles have appeared in Black Belt Magazine, Aikido Today Magazine, and Martial Arts and Combat Sports Magazine. He is the founder of Aiki-Solutions and IdentityTherapy and is an internationally respected psychotherapist in the clinical treatment of offenders, victims, and families of violence, trauma, abuse, and addiction. He is a professor of clinical and forensic psychology with an expertise in family violence and treatment. He currently lives in Marietta, GA and trains and teaches at Kyushinkan Dojo, Roswell Budokan.

09-28-2012, 10:43 AM
In my training, I was introduced to these three concepts before my instructor ever talked about "aiki". In hindsight, I think that was good. I know, I know, the aiki people want to introduce aiki sooner in training... But... When I first learned to play baseball, I remember my coach telling me, "learn to swing first, then worry about hitting the ball." We spent hours clinic-hitting, never swinging at a live ball. Once I learned to swing well it didn't matter what I swung at, fast ball, curve, slow pitcher, fast pitcher. I was 8 and I remembered my lessons right up until I gave up the sport.

Maai - proper distance. Understand your surroundings and where you should be. Metsuke - casting a gaze over your opponent to soft focus your field of vision (the eye contact is new because I was taught not to make eye contact unless I could steal my partner's spirit). Musubi - create a [physical] connection to your partner. We would practice these things before we ever took a stance. If I had proper distance, I could see the entirety of my partner's actions. If I could see the entirety of my partner's actions, I could move with parity to maintain proper distance to my partner. If I could maintain proper distance to my partner...

Great article Lynn,

09-30-2012, 05:20 AM
In my training, I was introduced to these three concepts before my instructor ever talked about "aiki". In hindsight, I think that was good. I know, I know, the aiki people want to introduce aiki sooner in training...
Thanks for reading and responding.

I have trained with many instructors who never mentioned any principles at all. It seemed that the old-school belief that I had to "steal" the technique through just watching and practicing without any verbal description or explanation. Sometimes we are supposed to find the process and principles in the technical application practice. Just never was (or am) that bright.

There is another thread here on flow or technique. IMHO, the sequence in the learning strategy isn't as important as that eventually we do both. Its a selfish thing.

OTOH, I have trained with instructors who could talk "aiki" but could not actually apply it with any technical proficiency.

So, If I have my choice, I'd rather be able to walk it hen talk it. But as an instructor, I like the idea of being able to walk the talk and talk the walk, and that's the direction I am heading. Its a very long road with no real final destination.

So if I keep my principle/techniques at a distance that my reach is further than my grasp (distance and extension = maai), keep my eyes open, forward, and through that direction (metsuke), and stay connected to my internal motivation and external goals/direction (musubi), I just might maybe make some progress someday.

Again, that's for reading and responding (and sharing space and time on the mat).

09-30-2012, 06:25 PM
Personally, I have no problem with "steal the technique". I think a flaw in that teaching is that we have a competency gap in which the student is unable to comprehend what is happening, and therefore cannot "steal" anything.

Personally, I am working on using more basic blocks on which to build instruction. For example, [for me] the concept of musubi was easier to comprehend than aiki; considering we still cannot find two similar definitions of aiki,.. It was an easier jump for me to move from mirroring my partner to joining my partner to me.

Likewise, I am seeing more seminars where the instructor is calling out students who are not doing what is shown and what is shown is completely do-able. I think it fair that if sensei shows technique, your at least try to perform what is being shown before claiming it impossible.

I've said this before, but I think [soapbox alert] that teaching adults aikido is difficult because it is difficult for sensei to express that some concepts (and their corresponding physical principles) are advanced and beyond the comprehension of [newer] students. So we drop aiki on them the moment the enter the dojo. Blam. "Good morning class, before we look at addition and subtraction let's discuss the fundamental theorem of calculus. Why do you look puzzled Billy, you want to learn math, right? Well, this is one of the most important concepts in mathematics."

Wanna know 2 other terms I learned waaayyy before aiki? Tsukuri and kuzushi. And tsukuri has done far more to help me understand position and relation to my partner than almost anything else. Best way to demonstrate technique? Show nage what the fit looks like as uke...

10-01-2012, 07:35 AM
Personally, I have no problem with "steal the technique". I think a flaw in that teaching is that we have a competency gap in which the student is unable to comprehend what is happening, and therefore cannot "steal" anything.

Yes agreed.

I didn't/don't always know what it is I am supposed to "steal"/get until some one points it out to me.

I stole a lot of worthless stuff thinking it was of value only to hear "no, not this, this" and feeling the difference from being on the receiving end.

I especially find it useful to have the mental definition/description (not a lecture) to direct the physical training.

I have gratitude and appreciation for all those who help point the way for my body and my mind.

Thanks for the conversation.