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Old 12-03-2011, 12:58 PM   #29
George S. Ledyard
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Dojo: Aikido Eastside
Location: Bellevue, WA
Join Date: Jun 2000
Posts: 2,670
Re: O Sensei observation

Hugh Beyer wrote: View Post
What is the principle of aiki? That, for me is the heart of the question, and that's what I've spent >20 years trying to understand. I suggest to you that it is a legitimate inquiry--that reasonable people can have different views, and it's not an insult to anyone's teacher to explore different ideas.

Your definition of aiki is widely shared and up to 10 years ago I would have agreed with it. Timing, body positioning, blending: over-simplifying a bit, all adding up to getting out of the way--and then using uke's over-committed attack to lead them in a direction they are already weak.
Hi Hugh,
What happened after the war was a progressive movement towards the idea that "aiki" was movement that "blended" with the attack. Now, I am not saying that movement isn't important... In fact Saotome Sensei tended to emphasize movement over everything else at the beginning of our training. The problem with "movement as aiki" is that at some point you still have to connect with the opponent. Aikido is an art that is fundamentally the study of connection, in my opinion. Yet it has tended to attract the folks that somehow felt moved to do a martial art but really don't want to connect. "Movement" based Aikido tends to train one to have the attitude of "escape". Too quote Ellis Amdur Sensei's recent article on "irimi":

Irimi in aikido occupies space the same way. This, by the way, is the true essence of atemi—not pugilism—but using the body (particularly the limbs) to take space the opponent is trying to occupy. Sometimes one steps off line, but sometimes one steps across line or even in line.
This has not generally been the way Aikido has been perceived or taught, although it is precisely the way Saotome Sensei presented it to us. The Aikido I was taught was essentially about owning the space the attacker needed to occupy to complete his attack. If one did this, issues with combination strikes, continuous attacking, etc became moot. If one really understood how to use the principle of "irimi", there was no possibility of a second strike. This was something Saotome Sensei emphasized and it formed a central part of what Ushiro Kenji Sensei was trying to show us at the various Aiki Expos and his appearances at Rocky Mountain Summer camp.

Over the years I have come to realize that this was only the physical aspect of "irimi" and that at a deeper level "irimi" was about "entering" with the Mind. So, when one understands that it is the Mind that moves first, that the intention is a linear connection to the opponent / partner, while the body movement itself can, as Amdur Sensei stated, take different forms as appropriate, one starts to understand that there isn't really any off the line as some sort of first action. The idea that the first thing you do is get off the line is wrong and it is bad martial arts. Saotome Sensei in Aikido: The Harmony of Nature has a wonderful illustration showing two opponents on a log bridge over a chasm. So, your going to get off the line? Well that puts you into the chasm. The essence of Aikido is to own the space. I often tell my students that rather than think about "blending" and moving away from an attack, the attitude one needs to cultivate at first in ones training is "This is MY house..."

When I joined Gleason Sensei's dojo I found that he and just about all the other ASU teachers I met had a very different idea of aiki. The aikido I've found in the ASU focused much more on immediate connection and immediate kuzushi, and I was taught to look for those principles in every technique. So even in a movement like tsuki irimi-nage, where the initial irimi movement doesn't require touching uke at all, as soon as the touch happens there should be connection and uke should be off-balanced.
For quite a long time Saotome Sensei trained us to do what I described above. It was enter, enter, enter. My earliest memory was the idea that tenkan simply did not exist without an initial irimi. It was fairly easy to see how this worked when you went straight in on the line... the partner either took a fall or he was struck. It was harder to understand as Sensei started to emphasize more of the "connection" aspect of what happens at first touch. I was taught that the phrase "katsu hayabi" in a technical sense meant "instant victory". Kazushi on the touch. None of us could do that however, certainly not with the light and effortless touch Saotome Sensei had.

As a substitute for an understanding of how aiki and connection functioned, it was clearly not what our teacher was doing... he'd touch up and you'd break... he could get kuzushi with a feather touch. Your brain would be sitting there going "why am I moving"? You always ended up feeling as if you hadn't delivered a good attack... You'd say "Ok, do that again... thinking this time you'd really get him, and he;d do the same thing.

There was a Daito Ryu teacher whose name I do not remember at this point, that stated, "If you understand what was just done to you, it wasn't "aiki". After all these years i am starting to understand what was meant.

Frankly, the things you keep emphasizing in your posts don't seem to me to reflect the aikido I've found in the ASU. Yeah, body positioning matters--because it puts you in a place where you can connect and take kuzushi. Same with timing and blending. But what knocked my socks off 10 years ago wasn't the elements you list but how they're used to create connection.
Movement and positioning is central to the idea that Aikido is an art that should be about multiple attackers. That's when movement becomes crucial. More than most other Aikido teachers I have seen, Saotome Sensei has tried to get people to recognize that the movements of Aikido, omote, ura, irmi tenkan, etc are about positioning relative to multiple attackers. When one is talking about a single opponent, this isn't that crucial. Much of what Sensei shows, especially when he is talking about martial application, it's straight in and take the space.

This is, of course, more the old model derived from the Daito Ryu. The footwork in Daito Ryu is really simple... it's almost entirely about owning the space the attacker wishes to occupy. And it's definitely about messing up the other guy's structure at the instant of contact.

There have always been Aikido teachers who tried to emphasize this "first touch" aspect of the art. Yamaguchi Sensei was a giant of post war Aikido and influenced a huge number of teachers. Once I started to discover who the different players were in Aikido, I started to realize that every time I saw some Aikido teacher whose technique really impressed my, it always turned out that they had been a Yamaguchi student. Saotome Sensei was an uchi deshi and certainly considered himself, as Peter Goldsbury pointed out, to be a student of O-Sensei. But one of his first teachers was Yamaguchi Sensei and he continued to train with him the entire time he was at Hombu Dojo. You can see Yamguchi in Sensei and you can se him in Gleason Sensei, Endo Sensei, etc Each of these teachers has a different temperament and emphasis, but each one makes "connection" a central focus of what he is doing. The kuzushi on first touch is simply the hallmark of this training.

These days, most of the people I work with are involved in the IP/IS work, and that introduces a new idea of aiki--that you create aiki in yourself and then use that to control uke. I've found these ideas to be continuous with the approach that already existed in the ASU and that teachers like Ikeda are still pursuing. The IP/IS idea of aiki adds stability and centeredness before the attack and provides a vocabulary and set of concepts for what it means to "take center", "connect", or "take balance"--concepts which are embodied as physical skills and which can be trained with specific exercises.

Note that Endo Sensei seems to be talking along these same lines in the video linked to in the "stance of heaven and earth" thread. I talks about not bracing yourself or being "on your guard", but standing centered in a stance that "connects heaven and earth."

You've picked up the idea that IP/IS stuff is static, but that's nonsense--the whole point is to move dynamically while maintaining your center and controlling uke's. There is practice that starts from a static position, but that's practice--no more "realistic" than kokyu-ho.
It is important, I think to remind folks not to judge a teacher by an encounter with someone purporting to have been a student. Often, it turns out that this person wasn't actually very good, didn't train that long with the teacher, or in some cases is simply making inflated claims about his relationship with that teacher. You need to get your hands on the teacher himself or herself. It's truly amazing to me how many strongly held opinions there are that are based on not one iota of actual first hand knowledge. Also, lower level students may totally misunderstand what their teacher is doing and end up misrepresenting it. For instance, there are any number of folks whom after finding how solid they can make their structure, set about showing everyone how immoveable they are. That is a total misunderstanding of what is really being taught. I am fine if you wish to make yourself immoveable, I just hit you. Saotome Sensei always went out of his way to emphasize that,"If the other guy knows you won't hit him, all techniques are stoppable." This whole "you can't move me" non-sense is a distortion. The guys with real internal skills are moving all the time. The balance they have achieved in their structures establishes a solid center but that center is moving constantly. It is fluid and sensitive while remaining very strong.

There are several issues here. There are folks who think they understand all about internal stuff, the "oh, we do that too" folks who have no actual hands on experience with anyone operating at this level. It is interesting how strongly these opinions are held while no willingness to actually see if the opinion is correct by meeting one of these teachers exists. It's almost an energetic balance between the strength of that belief and the unwillingness to find out if it's true.

Then, there are the folks who actually do get some real hands on experience but simply can incorporate the paradigm shift required into their world. There were hundreds of people at the three Aiki Expos. We all saw the same folks, we all went to many of the same classes. A small group came away changed forever, revamped their Aikido top to bottom, and haven't looked back. Ikeda Sensei would probably be most prominent in that group, and he was one of the top "head table" teachers at the events. But i have talked to other people upon whom the event made no impact whatever. They looked at Ushiro, or Kuroda, or Angier, or whomever and said "yeah, I saw them, they were good..." And? And? What came next? Nothing! These folks went home after having a chance to train directly with some of the finest "aiki" teachers in the world and didn't change a thing. To me this was totally incomprehensible but that's what happened.

Finally, on the subject of the big cooperative throws, which seems to be a hot button with you-- People I respect highly don't believe in them, but I'm not there yet. I see a lot of value in them, especially as a training tool early on. You've seen it: people arrive at the dojo falling over their own feet, moving like stick men--and within 6 months their whole movement and posture is transformed. A lot of that is from ukemi. The flexible tension you need to deal with the mat is the same as you need to have connection with your partner.

Large, fast attacks are useful for learning timing and body positioning (which are important--just not the whole story). What's more, they're wonderful for learning to apply the IS/IP principles under pressure. But they're also a training tool, and they're only going to take you so far. You should expect that as you get better and as the attacks get more realistic, nage's movements are going to become smaller and more direct. If you remain wedded to big movement for the sake of big movement you'll always be limited, and you'll never be able to deal with a real, skilled attack.
There two levels on which classic Aikido large style kihon waza functions. First is quite simply taking a set of principles and enlarging them, as one would use a microscope, to get a good idea of the detail that exists in the movement. When you look at someone like Saotome Sensei, often what he is doing is so subtle that folks miss it entirely.

But the real reason the larger Aikido movement and technique exists is, in my opinion, spiritual rather than functional. Anyone who trained in a lineage that emphasized the spiritual teachings of the Founder, especially the Shingu line or Sunadomari Sensei's linage has been told that on a certain level the whole point of Aikido is to open up the heart chakra. On a less esoteric level I think that Aikido was always meant to teach people to meet conflict expansively and not to contract. Aikido kihon waza is big for this reason. You greet the incoming attack energy by expanding to meet it, not to contract and defend against it but to embrace it. The ability to do this is also important for martial application but in that case the waza will be very small indeed, potentially very explosive and impactive. The large, beautiful, classic waza of traditional Aikido is where a lot of the trans-formative effect of Aikido can be found, I think. It isn't about "application" it is purposely impractical. It is difficult to have a focused attitude of conflict when the movement is so expansive.

It's funny because this is precisely where the Aikido hard ass martial artists, who want to make it all about fighting, actually agree with many of the non-Aikido "aiki" folks. None of them find the idea of Aikido as a trans-formative, spiritual practice compelling. Yet it is clear fro virtually everything the Founder talked about that this was really the whole reason for his creation of Aikido. Certainly, there is a lot of Aikido that is entirely focused on this aspect. Martial application simply doesn't enter into it. The martial folks rightly point out that what these folks are doing isn't effective and the 'spiritual folks" replay that it's not about fighting anyway.

Anyone in the least interested in an understanding of how the Founder viewed his art needs to understand the balance between these two streams. For him there was no separation. But most folks pick the "easy:" way which is to go with the stream that fits their own personality and then that maintain that the other guys didn't get it. You can constantly see this in the threads on Aikiweb. Many of these discussions have people talking at cross purposes. There cannot be a meeting of minds because each person is starting from an assumption that is polar opposite from the other. In my opinion this actually does complete injustice to what O-Sensei, as I understand it, was trying to put forth. Everything about Aikido is meant to be about balance and connection. But if one really understands that balance in the microcosm of the body as well as the macrocosm of the larger world, even the universe, then, I think you have some sense of the Founder's Aikido.

Anyway, I don't see that agreement is possible with many folks. They want Aikido to be what they want it to be. They don't transform themselves based on their pursuit of the art but rather transform the art to fit who they already are. No shift is likely with these folks because their Aikido is simply meant to be a validation of the stroy they are already telling themselves. There's no room for another interpretation.

Last edited by George S. Ledyard : 12-03-2011 at 01:02 PM.

George S. Ledyard
Aikido Eastside
Bellevue, WA
Aikido Eastside
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