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Go Back   AikiWeb Aikido Forums > AikiWeb AikiBlogs > But Why?

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But Why? Blog Tools Rate This Blog
Creation Date: 09-18-2006 01:15 PM
Erick Mead
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Status: Public
Entries: 11
Comments: 6
Views: 118,671

In General The missing Kokyu training -- Farming? Entry Tools Rate This Entry
  #3 New 03-23-2007 09:34 AM
O Sensei spent a great deal of his time in early and later life not in the dojo -- but on his farm. George Ledyard Sensei has attributed this to a desire to be more connected to nature as part of O Sensei's overall spiritual journey. http://www.aikiweb.com/columns/gledyard/2004_06.html

I think that this overlooks a less mystical and far more practical contribution of farming to the development of kokyu power as a physical sensibility. My critique is not a fault lying in the training or curriculum of any lineage, but is a systemic condition of the cirsumstance in which they find themselves teaching. The critique is common to all aikido training -- in Japan Europe or the United States, i.e.-- wherever aikido is typically practiced -- which is in cities. Almost none of their students do agricultural labor, and very few do any significant routine physical labor at all.

This may seem trivial so to some of you. I assure you it is not. Saotome Shihan and Ikeda Shihan both find a strong commonality in Ushiro Sensei's Okinawan karate budo with that of Aikido. The only direct connection between Kenji Ushiro Sensei -- a master of Okinawan karate -- and O Sensei is in fact the common element of farming. Okinawan arts are famously derived from the tools and movements common to the farmers of Okinawa, who were were prohibited from possessing ordinary weapons.

If I am correct, then this, in itself, explains the complaint by so many that the "basic" or kokyu skills of body efficiency are seemingly lost/not taught in the aikido curriculum as they once were. For the record, I don't agree with that complaint so generally, but I do acknowledge that there is a significant swath of aikido around that lacks a certain fundamental to its practice or that seems not to develop it routinely in its students.

Having come from Saotome's lineage and that of Saito along the way, I feel these two do not suffer generally from that problem to the same degree, largely because of their focus on weapons. The reason why this may be so will become clear as I go along.

Having grown up in the Florida panhandle, I have done my fair share of grass-sling work, cleaning up my father's property, chopping and splitting wood, handling and shifting various bulky goods for my father, who worked in construction all his life. I also climbed radio towers (on the order of 300-500 ft.) in the summer to change lightbulbs. These activities and farming have one major thing in common with the warlike arts. They all place a premium on developing body action that conserves energy with minimum muscular effort.

While I used a grass-sling, the more conventional two handed Western scythe demonstrates the principle easily. You do not push a scythe, nor do you pull it. You use an alternating cutting/gathering motion with each arm together to make it work efficiently, driven by the walking rotation of the body core. Similarly for a hoe, or a rake: the most efficient way to use it takes the same motion of both arms in the vertical plane as for the scythe in the horizontal ( the most efficient hand position for these is with the forward hand turned thumb-toward the body. A chopping motion, conversely, using the arms instead of the body to drive the motion will swiftly wear you out.

The Japanese kama scythe (which is one-handed) is used in actual pracice with both arms and both motions alternately -- gathering stalks with the free hand while reaping them below in a gathering motion with the scythe in the other hand, then flinging the cut stalks to the side with a cutting motion outward of the one hand and recovering the scythe with a cutting motion outward to the reaping position again. All the while the motion of body steping forawrd alterntely on either side drives the motion of the arms -- which are hardly using muscular strength at all, and therefore do not tire as easily. Try doing that for twelve hours, and you will discover the meaning of efficient core movement, as I did with a grass sling.

An axe is used properly to throw the ax-head with the whole body as you would throw a ball, but in the descending arc defined by the handle intersecting into the wood under guidance. Beating at the wood with the head using the arms is not efficient to cut , and is also extremely tiring.

These examples are provided to give some practical demonstrations of a class of two reciprocal body motions -- gathering/cutting that lie in the rudiments of farming and other forms of manual labor. These differ in principle from the conventionally understood motions of pushing/pulling.

Mechnically, they are also quite distinct. The relative rotation of the limbs in the class of movement called gathering/cutting is reversed from that found in the class of movement called pushing/pulling.

If I push my right arm out in front of me from my upper body and you watched me do it from the side , you would see that my upper arm is rotating counterclockwise, while my forearm is rotating clockwise. If I then pull back they do opposite -- the forearm rotates countercloskwise and the upper arm rotates clockwise.

In contrast, if I gather my arm forward from its relaxed hanging position at my hip, the upper arm still rotates counter-clockwise, but in this case, so does the forearm, and for that matter, so does the hand about the wrist joint if I extend the sequential progression. If I continue this outward, curling extension I end up with my arm in a distinct arc above my head.

If I then use a cutting motion, it reverses -- the upper arm rotating clockwise, as does the forearm, as does the hand about the wrist, in an uncurling, outward extension. Both movements are fundamentally about extending.

These are in a different class of motion from pushing/pulling. They use progressive, sequential rotations of the limb segments, driven from the center core using pulses of applied angular momentum generaeed by the hip/spine axis, and without muscular effort of the limbs.

Similarly in moving bulky goods typical of farming, the same motions are involved. To lift a large bale or sack, you hug the load (gathering motion of the arms) lift from the center. Very often such bulk goods (like bales, or large bundles, or bags of grain) are thrown or tossed to load or unload them. This motion begins with a rotation of the center of the mody and then progressing out the limbs with the typical cutting motions to project the load with acceleration.

Long answer short, if you want to improve your fundamental kokyu motion and power, one thing you can do is take up farming, gardening, land-clearing or some other form of manual labor and intuitively find the ways that let you work efficiently.

Like bujutsu and budo, they involve moving big unwieldy things and wielding implements with maximal efficiency using the body core.
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