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Push or extend, resist or absorb. Which is better? What works for me? I push uke and he pushes back, I extend thru uke and he falls. I resist uke and he exerts more force, I absorb his force, redirect it and he falls.
Many years ago one of my buddies, a wrestler of high repute on our high school team decided it would be cool to attack me from behind and bring me to the ground. There was no intent to harm on his part, just the normal horsing around engaged in by sixteen year olds in those days. Outweighed by an easy thirty pounds I had no chance of powering my way out of the situation so I just accepted his force, bent from the waist, let him pass over my back and led him to the pavement. I supported his head as he landed, no harm done. Onlookers suitably impressed, I tried to look nonplussed as though what I had just done was the most natural thing in the world. Truth be told, I was just as surprised as my friend laying there on the ground. The whole thing happened without any thought on my part. This incident came to mind not long ago when I felt myself being challenged by one of my students during practice. I look upon those tests as a chance to relax more and exercise my ability to absorb the force being applied, or extend thru it.
Push or extend, resist or absorb. It's always a choice. Training is a way to strip away my ego and make my choices based on the needs of the moment.
The following story is true. It happened when I was eight or nine years old, can't remember exactly. Bobby and I (seems like in those days almost every first name ended in a "y" or "ie") were walking thru the woods, where the high school we graduated from years later now stands, when we came upon a man who promptly performed an act upon himself that doesn't require further elaboration here. We weren't so much scared as taken aback by the suddenness of the encounter. What scared us silly was the Bowie knife that appeared in his hand when he finished and him saying something to the effect "Ok, now it's your turn".
Bobby and I looked at each other and something extraordinary happened. I could hear him counting in my head and was sure that he could hear me too. I knew at the count of three we were gone and sure enough when I hit three in my head we both took off down the trail. I don't know if the man attempted to follow us or not, I never looked back because I wasn't just me anymore. The connection Bobby and I shared in those moments was so complete that we each seemed to be running on four legs. Needless to say we didn't stop until we were safely back on the streets of our neighborhood. When things returned to normal, we sort of just went back to being kids again and we never talked about the incident. Bobby died of an OD a year after graduating high school so I'll never know if he actually shared the same connection I felt with him on that day.
I trod my path and the journey is long, no end in sight. Not that it matters for the journey is, and not the end which brings to a close that which is worth traveling. And enjoying it so much why would I want to hurry it along? Is it the promise of attainment; the acquisition of mastery? Or perhaps power only just dreamed of, quickly gained at the expense of… what, if anything? If I could cut it short, gain in a year what otherwise would take most of a lifetime, would I want to; would I be crazy not to? What of my students? Do I short change them because I realize the value of the road long traveled?
I think not. My students are free to seek their ends wherever they desire. They aren't bound to me or forced to stay with me on my road. There are alternatives available to them. Many of them, over the years, have availed themselves of those alternatives. Some have returned, some not. It's the way of the world.
Besides, I see myself more storyteller than teacher. My Aikido is my story, my practice the telling. I'm continually amazed when I see people still interested in the tale, still showing up after 10, 15, 20 years and more. I realize that the story is no longer my own, but ours. Together we weave a tapestry that contains a part of all our lives. And of what importance is mere power in light of such shared experience?
"The techniques of the Way of Peace change constantly;…The Art of Peace has no form - it is the study of the spirit." - Morihei Ueshiba, The Art of Peace, Translated by John Stevens.
Regarding techniques; I learn them, I practice them, I perfect them. I use them to condition my body, to train my mind, to purify my spirit. Technique forms the core of my practice, yet my ultimate aim is to free myself from the constraints imposed by the very technique I practice day in and day out. My personal challenge is to transcend technique, to break through into a realm where responses to situations arise from the situations themselves and are not imposed by me or my partner.
When I paint I start with a blank canvas, usually white, sometimes black or gray. Using a variety of brushes and techniques I apply color to the canvas and as I progress a scene gradually appears. The clarity of the scene is dependent upon the distance from which the painting is viewed. The optimum distance for viewing a painting will vary with each observer; but generally, too far away and the scene will fade to obscurity, while if too close the scene becomes just a collection of blobs and streaks of colors.
Uke and I are a blank canvas upon which we will render our Aikido. Practicing randori we employ a variety of attacks and defensive techniques, and as we progress the breadth of our Aikido gradually appears. Viewing Aikido being performed is akin to viewing a painting. An observer too far away sees an obscure blur of motion, too close and the synergy of uke and nage is lost as the frame of reference of the observer becomes too narrow.
So what is blending anyway? Simply put, blending is congruent motion. Initially, when uke attacks and I move to blend with his motion, I seek to align our paths such that there is no point at which the arcs of our movement intersect. In so doing, if my timing is accurate, I will leave behind a void in which he will find no support for his structure. He will, of course, try to correct his balance and I will follow his lead, still parallel with him, slightly ahead of him, adding to his energy. In this way I will choose where and when we do finally intersect. The point of intersection is where our paths will diverge and the technique will happen. Blending makes it all possible.
"All the principles of heaven and earth are living inside of you." - Morihei Ueshiba, The Art of Peace, Translated by John Stevens.
The Ki of heaven, the Ki of earth; the knowledge of where I'm from and where I'm going; the principles and techniques of Aikido; all right here inside of me, growing and blooming as I continue my practice.
I was very fortunate to have had a teacher who understood that Aikido is a process that is learned from inside; that as a student, I needed to discover Aikido myself and that his job was to guide my process of self discovery and not spoon feed me the answers. I owe Sensei Maruyama a debt of gratitude, the repayment of which I hope is continually being fulfilled as I carry his teaching methodology forward with my students.
I offer my partner one end of the jo and he moves to take it. Following his lead, I lead him along the path he has chosen keeping the jo just out of his reach. I never try to force a direction on him; it's enough to simply let him decide where he wants to go as he tries to grab the end of the staff. Changing directions in response to him I may move my hands to the other end of the jo and offer him the end I have just relinquished. On we go, continuously shaping the pattern into randomly varying simple and complex weaves, forming a threefold tableau of interconnected energies. If he does manage to grab the jo he just lets go and we continue as before.
Descriptions and instructions regarding Ki development are all just metaphors folks. They're pictures used to aid me in identifying and strengthening what I feel to be going on within my body as I perform the various exercises. I use metaphors to give my feelings illustrative substance that I may continue to draw on and further build on as I continue to learn and grow. When the feeling has been reinforced to the point where I can summon it at will I dispense with the metaphor, it's no longer necessary as the feeling itself becomes the reality without need of external support.
Aikido is simply the method I have chosen to engender the growth and strengthening of my Ki. That Aikido technique has varied applications is a nice side benefit; but my primary goal has become, over years of training, Ki development. I make no secret of this. Others have other goals and there's room for all under the tent. I have my own training to tend to in addition to the nurturing of my students so I leave the "whose right" debate to the people who have vested interests in being right. Not my problem.
Debating over Ki metaphors is like trying to debate the blueness of the sky on a sunny day or the sound of music. All are intimately entwined with the feelings of the observer and, hence, subjective in nature. Scientific analysis of Ki is just another set of metaphors attempting to describe the underlying reality, no more or less correct than any other descriptive endeavor. I use whatever metaph
There are times when I have to step back from what seems important to reflect on the fact that importance is a relative concept. What seems important to me in the moment may actually be inconsequential when I realize that out there in the world all sorts of events are occurring that trivialize what's going on in my reality. Times like those call for gratitude on my part.