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A bokken is not a proxy sword. It is made of wood, contains no finely honed edges to cut with and no sharpened point to thrust and puncture with. As such, I am able to use the bokken in ways that would be unwise to attempt with a sword.
Bokken practice affords me the opportunity to perfect my movement, strengthen my center, condition my body and perform complex motions while employing all my tools simultaneously. Working with the bokken from the inside has had a profound impact on my approach to teaching/learning Aikido and my technique.
I don't teach the bokken katas I learned in Kokikai. In fact, I have dispensed with katas altogether. Instead I employ short 3 or 4 step forms that I make up as I go along. Some contain simple transitions between strikes and parries; others are much more intricate. We practice them for a while, concentrating on the motion, not the specific blows and blocks. We'll then move on to something else. I tell my students to forget the specifics and feel the dynamic that arises between them and their weapons. I don't want them memorizing long sequences of prearranged movements. This kind of rote learning stifles spontaneity and creativity. The student concentrates on learning the moves and as a result loses the meaning of the motion that connects the individual techniques.
In bokken practice the emphasis is on the motion and locating and occupying the center that is common to both the me and the bokken. This gets really interesting in mul
Is an eddy in the river or of the river? Is it distinguished from the river in any fundamental way other than my perception of it? If the configuration of the river changes and the eddy disappears has something been taken from the river; is the river lessened by the disappearance of the eddy? I am like that eddy; a temporary arrangement of matter/energy of the continuum. I come into existence and, after a time, cease to be and become another arrangement. The universe is not increased by my appearance nor lessened by my absence.
Self awareness allows me to ponder the larger totality of being around me but in no way separates me from it. For there to be a real distinction a boundary must exist. Where is the boundary that separates me from the universe? Can it be perceived, measured, touched or otherwise empirically proved? Does it have an effect on my surroundings so that it's existence may be inferred from the measurable behavior of other objects? If not then the implication of a "separation or distinction from other" cannot be a boundary in actuality. It must arise from something else.
The equating of self awareness and separation is learned. I have to be taught to differentiate myself from the universe, to individualize. Having learned this lesson has led to my perceived isolation from the universe. The road of Aikido is my path to reintegration with the universe.
All that makes me "me" is drawn to and concentrated at my center. The study of Aikido has taught me t
You can't see ki; can't touch it, taste it, smell it or hear it. Ki can't be measured in the physicists' lab; can't be shown to have any measurable effects on massive objects. While it is elusive in the manner of dark matter or dark energy ki can be felt by human beings. And it's at this point where many Aikido practitioners lose their way regarding ki. Invariably they are wont to ask ‘What is ki?' One might as well ask what is love or hate or envy or any other feeling. For ki is feeling. It is the feeling one has when one's mind and body are coordinated (same place, same time, same activity). Relegating ki to the realm of feelings precludes the question of whether ki has independent existence in the physical world.
Released from the burden of having to determine whether ki exists or not, the student is free to develop an understanding of what ki feels like and this is where the use of metaphor comes into play. Human beings use metaphors to explain and make sense of the universe. Metaphors can be simple such as "saving time" (good) or "wasting time" (bad). Metaphors can also be complex such as E=mc*2 (a mathematical metaphor used to show that mass and energy are inexorably related, the essence of each contained within the other). Feelings are depicted metaphorically all the time "love is sweet" and "the bitter fruit of jealousy", for example. Indeed, much of poetry is concerned with describing feelings in everyday terms through the use of metaphor. Viewing ki as a feelin
Curiously, even though I am of the universe rather than in it, I can, on a conscious level remove myself from the universe and ponder its nature and my relationship to it. I think that this is what gives rise to the notion that I am a part of the universe but not necessarily fully integrated within its fabric. I don't remember the awakening of my consciousness, that point at which my individuality asserted itself and began the process of differentiating me from everything else. Perhaps this is because it occurred as a gradual process rather than a sudden explosion of realization.
My earliest recollections of individual awareness go back to when I was 3. Memory, it seems, is the marker for awareness. Prior to that point I have no awareness of my self as myself.
Since I am of the universe, I am it which, in turn, can look out upon what I have created with my minds eye and see itself for what it is. So I am both of and not of the universe; it's a matter of perspective.
Aikido training allows me to home in on my connection to the universe via the practice of technique. The most pervasive characteristic of the universe is motion and Aikido is the study of motion. Aikido technique when executed properly enables me to feel my relation to the larger existence from which I have been cast. The coordination of mind, body and spirit I experience when practicing integrates me with the universe in a way I last experienced when I wasn't aware that I am me. In essence, my study
Get in a right stance and extend your right arm straight out in front of you. Make a fist and keep your arm rigid along its entire length. Have your partner grab your wrist and push. Feel how his force travels up your arm and settles in your shoulder. Have your partner note how much force is exerted in order to bring you off balance.
Get in a right stance and extend your right arm out in front of you. This time let your fingers relax and curl and let your wrist relax and bend. Let your elbow relax and bend slightly. Have your partner grab your wrist and push with the same amount of force required to bring you off balance in the exercise above. If you relax and keep one point the force of his push will distribute itself along the various angles of your arm and very little of it will reach your shoulder.
These simple exercises illustrate the idea that when you are centered and relaxed you are much stronger than when you are tense and stiff. A relaxed body will naturally form angles at the joints that will cause forces applied to move around it's center and not be concentrated at a single point where the force will be most effective.
I use this and other Ki exercises to help students determine what Maruyama Sensei calls correct feeling. I have students experience both feelings and leave it to them to decide which is better.
Thinking I have all the answers. I don't. And thank goodness for that. Can you imagine the responsibility?
Others who claim to have all the answers. They don't either.
Accepting students' power. Students are always trying to give away their power to their instructors. I have plenty of my own power and don't want anyone else's. When I sense a student doing this I go out of my way to give it back. If you're an instructor and don't know what I'm getting at, you should.
Needing recognition for my efforts. Being an independent and no longer affiliated with an organization sometimes has me missing that nth dan designation after my name and looking forward to my next promotion. When I feel this way I realize that I'm just looking for a way to be mean to myself, feel sorry for myself or succumb to the fear du Jour.
Falling into the I'm tough trap. I am capable of hurting people. The skills I have acquired over the years give me the ability to do this. Fortunately those same skills, having tempered my temper, have shown me that tough is a relative thing and that as tough as I may be there will always be someone tougher.
Via the proper application of Aikido principles; from conflict is born something beautiful to watch, from conflict is born reconciliation and mutual understanding, from conflict is born a synergy of opposing viewpoints, from conflict is born resultant harmony. Aikido is the engine of creation that takes the raw material of conflict and transforms it.
If I defeat an opponent he continues as my opponent with the insult of injury added to his beef with me. In the long run this is counter productive. Better I should find a way to convince him that from me there is nothing to fear and his need to act on his fear is unnecessary. Conflict is, at it's root, all about fear and where there is no fear there is no danger.
Aikido is not the art to study if my primary interest is learning physical self-defense techniques that I can use to overcome adversaries. What I do learn from the study of Aikido is that I carry my enemies within me all the time. My enemies are my fears, those feelings that make me dangerous and so someone who engenders fear in others. The offspring of mated fears is conflict.
Aikido training helps me to purge myself of my fear. And if I can become fearless then I will be of no danger to anyone. If I'm not dangerous no one will fear me or what I do and hence will have no reason to enter into conflict with me.
I move through space and I am solid, yet when viewed from my one point space is what occupies most of what I am. It's a matter of perspective. Choose a sufficiently small frame of reference and I become as empty as the universe vast distances separating my constituent parts; expand that same frame of reference enough and I become a point source without dimension. Perspective. Frame of reference. Relative. Will the real me please stand up?
Sometimes, when I'm taking a breather, I watch my students move and notice how some of them move freely as though any resistance to their motion is non-existent, while others always seem to be moving through a viscous medium that hinders their progress. Watching, I wonder at the nature of motion. Why isn't it the same for everyone? Is it simply a matter of anatomy? Are some people inherently stiffer than others? I have seen students become supple in their movements as a result of many years of training and it's always amazing to behold. One day I'll be watching someone and I'll say to myself -- hey, she's really flowing through that technique, where'd that come from? -- and then smile.
Friction impedes motion. Aikido training, I have discovered, reduces friction within my body and, consequently, improves my ability to move. When I extend Ki the space within me expands resulting in less friction and freer movement. Relaxation is product of reduced friction within the body. This leads me to the conclusion that practicing Aikido will
Relativity Theory teaches us that motion is, well, relative and that there is no preferred frame of reference in the universe from which absolute motion can be determined.
Aikido is all about motion. The very heart of the art is revealed in the motion of bodies relative to one another; motion born of conflict (be it staged or real) and resolution. As nage I seek to find a place of calm amid the flurry of movement; a place where my motion is minimized and uke's is maximized. The center about which our centers move is that place. That is where my balance and stability are greatest and where I will expend the least amount of energy to achieve the desired result (conflict resolution). Maruyama Sensei calls this minimum effort for maximum effect.
The linking of nage's and uke's individual centers with the common center to form a unified whole is a manifestation of Ki. The ability to feel, occupy and control the common center (extend Ki), forms the basis of powerful, effective technique. The internalization of the notion that the common center is continuous and ever returning is the goal of my practice.
Consider; the universe is composed of a finite amount of stuff. All of this stuff was created at the instant the universe came into being. All that was then still is today long, long eons from the beginning. Reaching back to the beginning of time our bodies are composed of material that was created in the death throes of early stars, sent on its way through the cosmos in cataclysmic super novae and eventually condensed into us. Our bodies, on a very fundamental level, are literally billions of years old.
Aikido has forced me to reevaluate my view of the universe and my relation to it. Indeed, after years of practice I realize that I am not in the universe; rather I am of the universe. The distinction is not trivial. ‘In' implies contained within but somehow separate. ‘Of' implies integrated with and not separate. If I am of something then that something is part of the fiber of my being and all of what it is becomes available for my use. Thus by proper unification of mind and body (of, not in) I am able to ‘extend Ki' and realize strength that would otherwise not be available to me.