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Janet Rosen 01-15-2013 09:40 AM

Playing with Others
 
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This month's "The Mirror" column was written by Janet Rosen © 2012, all rights reserved.
This month marks sixteen years since I was taught how to bow in, to a framed photo of O Sensei that was leaning against a folding chair beside a thin, folding mat perhaps six feet by eight laid out in the middle of a dance studio, and did my best to do suwariwaza shomenuchi ikkyo with my instructor.

My curiosity about the art keeps me going, working on new puzzles, attending seminars, learning from a variety of people. And the directions I choose after learning new things are never random. I act initially on instinct and gut feeling, but then between flow of consciousness, brainstorming, and more rigorous thinking, I progressively dig more deeply to understand who I am and why I train.

I've long been willing to admit to being a "hobbyist" - family and livelihood have always been more important than aikido. I train because I enjoy it, and am not willing to make the sacrifices needed to kick my aikido into the levels it can theoretically attain.

One thing I'm not willing to do is devote time regularly to exercises from the internal martial arts, even though I know they would enrich my aikido. I have a lifelong history of being lousy about any exercise regimen. If "solo training" were attractive to me, I'd still be doing an exercise routine at home and would never have gone off in search of a martial art to keep me moving without getting bored.

Initially, pondering why this is, I would just shrug and tell myself "I'm lazy." That's probably not quite accurate in describing somebody who fulfills her obligations and has never once missed a deadline. Maybe it's closer to the mark to say that I rely on the social context of training with others. Well, alright then. Going on 58 years of age, having tried a variety of tactics and "discipline" to get myself to engage in solo exercising, I'm not likely to change this aspect of myself.

The catalyst for where my thoughts flowed from this point was a series of recent discussions here on Aikiweb in which the rhetorical question has been posed: "Why wouldn't you want to do O Sensei's aikido if you could?"

In being challenged to consider what appeals to me in aikido, what it is I truly value and want to get from it, it always comes back to the opposite of solo training: it's the process of "training with others." At the level of training I enjoy, I'm not explicitly working to learn to defeat an attacker. I'm interested in connection and how it works hand-in-hand with intent to allow me to move and affect my training partner within the forms of a martial art. And no, as those of you who have met me on the mat know, I'm not talking about "aikibunny dancing" with people who tank. My enjoyment definitely includes the puzzles like how to engage my own structure in order to affect a partner who's strong and isn't going to move just because I'd like him to, or how to work with the partner who surprises me by "outsofting" me.

The challenges I seek are not those of a combatant or contestant. Sometimes in an informal give and take with no designated nage/uke, I find myself not taking the decisive initiative because it's the playing back and forth, the physical and energetic process, exploring all the little things that lead to the moment of undermining another's structure enough to move him, that fascinates me and makes me smile.

So, yeah, to be totally honest, I'm just not interested in being invincible like O Sensei. I'm interested in feeling and connecting with my fellow human beings. Call it martial playing if you will, or - as O Sensei demanded - training joyfully. I suspect that's the ineffable fascination I felt the first time I experienced the two sides of suwariwaza shomenuchi ikkyo and that keeps me coming back for more these sixteen lazy years.
"The Mirror" is a collaborative column written by a group of women who describe themselves as:

We comprise mothers, spouses, scientists, artists, teachers, healers, and yes, of course, writers. We range in age from 30s through 50s, we are kyu ranked and yudansha and from various parts of the United States and styles of aikido. What we have in common is a love for budo that keeps it an integral part of our busy lives, both curiosity about and a commonsense approach to life and aikido, and an inveterate tendency to write about these explorations.

Janet L. 01-24-2013 09:01 AM

Connection
 
Practicing Ki Aikido, Sensei stresses connection very heavily, but while I can feel it (sometimes) I have to admit to having been a bit sceptical about its importance.

Then one day, not so long ago, he taught a technique with me as uke, where, when the throw came, he did not have a have a hand on me (or arm or leg or shoulder or. . .) and I went down anyway, wondering how the h* did that happen. It was that connection he's always talking about - a connection at the Ki level.

Now I have to admit, I still have a very hard time approaching that degree of connection, but then I have a long, Long, LONG way to go to get to anywhere near his level.

- Janet. (Who is furiously practicing for her 4th kyu test.)

Krystal Locke 01-25-2013 12:30 PM

Re: Playing with Others
 
A comment and a question....
First, I think you are swell.
Second, church for the unbeliever?

Janet Rosen 01-25-2013 06:17 PM

Re: Playing with Others
 
Quote:

Krystal Locke wrote: (Post 322645)
A comment and a question....
First, I think you are swell.
Second, church for the unbeliever?

Thank you both for comments....
Krystal, I admit I have no idea what you are asking. Can you rephrase more completely for my feeble brain?

Mary Eastland 01-26-2013 06:43 AM

Re: Playing with Others
 
Since o'sensei no longer walks the earth I guess he is not invincible either. Everyone is merely human and what we do can be enough. Thank you for your column.

Cady Goldfield 01-26-2013 09:16 AM

Re: Playing with Others
 
"Invincible" is not the way to look at it. O Sensei's body methods simply have an integrity that, as a product of that training, impart a high-level ability to absorb, deflect and control the attacks of those who would be aggressors. It doesn't make a person invincible, but it does give one a significantly greater level of protection over larger, violent persons, than do conventional forms of physical conditioning.

I agree that pursuing this discipline is not necessary for everyone. Aikido has developed into different pathways, all of which bear the street sign that says "Aikido." That is the nature of any creative product: in the hands of different persons and different circumstances, it evolves in different directions over time. While some would advocate for staying more closely to the particular physical-development path that Morihei Ueshiba took, there is no cosmic law that states that everyone must. Aikido has taken on a life of its own, and its incarnations provide joy and satisfaction for many.

I do think that the differences of opinion about all this will be the source of division and friction on Internet forums, but in Real Life, it will matter little. Everyone will keep pursuing the path that is right for them, and calling it what they believe it is.

P.S. This column is forever going to be in my memory banks as "The Janet Manifesto" :D
P.P.S. Happy (belated) Birthday, Janet!

Krystal Locke 01-26-2013 10:28 AM

Re: Playing with Others
 
Quote:

Janet Rosen wrote: (Post 322672)
Thank you both for comments....
Krystal, I admit I have no idea what you are asking. Can you rephrase more completely for my feeble brain?

You are saying that you do aikido for the interpersonal connections, exploring the interactions between us in a specific context. Strikes me that that is much of the reason for and benefit of church. A social group looking to interact with each other and with their larger community in a specific context. Just a random thought.

Dont mind me, I am trying to wean myself from fruitless internet arguments by having fruitful internet discussions here.

May is looking good.

hughrbeyer 01-26-2013 12:40 PM

Re: Playing with Others
 
Horning in here... Krystal, I resonated with what Janet was saying but not with your mapping it back to church. What I see happening in the midst of an Aikido technique is an exchange of energy/feedback/ki/woo with uke that guides the development of the technique. (And this exchange still exists even in the IS context, but if you want to know about that, follow up in the IS forum.) From at or before the moment of first contact, I'm feeling and responding to how uke is responding to my movement and adjusting my movement to stay ahead of them. So it's interpersonal at the physical/intuitive level rather than at the persona/emotional level, which is what you might get at church.

R.A. Robertson 02-22-2013 12:42 PM

Re: Playing with Others
 
Janet,

Congratulations on the 16-year mile marker. I continue to look forward to your ongoing journey, and your endlessly extending connections.

Your Friend,

Ross

Janet Rosen 02-22-2013 03:22 PM

Re: Playing with Others
 
Thank you all - just catching up here - the interaction on the mat does have a spiritual component to it for me but I think how Hugh puts it resonates well - physical-intuitive.

graham christian 02-22-2013 05:21 PM

Re: Playing with Others
 
Wow, didn't know you now had done a column. Nice one. Good column too.

By the way your description of why you do it and how I believe is O'Senseis Aikido.

Peace.G.

Janet Rosen 02-22-2013 05:31 PM

Re: Playing with Others
 
Quote:

Graham Christian wrote: (Post 323881)
Wow, didn't know you now had done a column. Nice one. Good column too.

The Mirror column is a collective and we have been doing columns here for a frighteningly long number of years now...at least two a year are mine.

graham christian 02-22-2013 06:24 PM

Re: Playing with Others
 
Yeah, knew it was a joint thing, have read some before from Katherine etc. but somehow hadn't registered your name before. Oh dear, does that say something more about me? Ha, ha.

Carsten Möllering 02-23-2013 02:21 AM

Re: Playing with Others
 
Just came back from a seminar in Sweden.
A lot of different people from all over the world. Some I only meet once a year over there in Stockholm. A lot of what you maybe call "socializing" (?): Being together, eating, talking, laughing, helping ... living together.
On the tatami we often use the term "to play with each other": Gentle, flexibel work, soft high falls, exploring each others body an movement. The teacher of the seminar also emphasizes the aspect of understanding aiki as helping each other grow and blossom. Very spiritual also: Stillness and movement as one.

So the seminar really was a "playing with others" experience - like it allways is - and there is no way of thinking about "defeating an attacker". Just working, living, practicing with each other. As one of the attendents uses to say: "Aiki makes people happy!"

From most of the partners I worked with over those days, I know that they do solo practice: Coming from daito ryu. Coming from Dan Harden's body work. Coming from Chinese MAs, coming form qi gong.
It is my experience, that doing solo practice makes playing with others even more enjoyable.
Because it's not about defeating, but about growing. And helping to grow.

Janet Rosen 02-23-2013 01:33 PM

Re: Playing with Others
 
Carsten, that is exactly the kind of seminar I look for these days....and I was not in any way putting down solo training, just noting why it isn't something I will do....I also really liked your IHTBF on Endo Sensei!


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