Dojo: Aozora Dojo
Location: Birmingham, AL
Join Date: Feb 2006
Stop My Technique?
It suddenly occurred to me that a favorite phrase, which has been posited and accepted regularly in aikido circles, is actually "backward" from the problem it describes.
The phrase is "stop my technique," as in "If uke knows what I'm going to do, he can easily stop my technique."
Variants include "stopped my technique," "stopping," etc.
So I was thinking about my meeting with Minoru "Ark" Akuzawa and he asked me to do an aikido technique for his attack. He gave some gentle, obvious shomen uchi symbolic attack and I "blended" with it and was "leading" him, when suddenly, "he stopped "following" and the "connection" that I had with him, and by which I was "leading" him caused all my energetic contributions to the technique to rebound back into me myself and I was jolted away from Ark as he suddenly simply stopped.
When I remebered this today, the epiphany was immediate: "He stopped himself." I knew that, of course, but the significance was how it relates to this phrase I see so often.
Saying that uke "stopped my technique" is utterly backward. Uke doesn't stop my technique. Uke stops himself. If he can do that--simply control himself--my technique falls apart on its own.
So now we're at the key point I mentioned, which is where aikido becomes "backward." When I left Japan in 1995, I took the idea that aikido has mainly been taught "backward." This came from application of Feldenkrais awareness to the twenty years I had been actively training in aikido, the final five of those years being in Japan. I saw that the art was taught from technique back into self, as if you study a tree from the leaves into the limbs and finally down to the root. And this would explain why so few people get very far with aikido. The techniques can be made infinite and most people find it very difficult to learn infinity. They would be almost guaranteed never to see past the multitude of "techniques" to the real source of the roots, which is the individual body--oneself. If they taught you first about how your self operates, technique would come easily. But in the aikido teaching system, the plethora of variations of swirling techniques can take one far away from self and make it more difficult to return to one's own root.
Besides the Feldenkrais influence on my aikido experience, Minoru Mochizuki once told me to "look at everything backward" and anyone who knows me can attest to how backward I am. Maybe Sensei was trying to get me to see frontward, like everyone else...because, you see...backward thinking for me would amount to...normal thinking for everyone else...maybe?
Anyway, from this key point, we can go several places and return, so that I can show you a series of connections between aikido and self and the necessity of backward thinking and you can see what it might mean to you. I will appreciate any corrections.
I started to make this thread a post in the Primer on Aiki thread, but while it resonates with things I laid out there, it could also divert that thread with a whole different thrust. Still, this thread will deal specifically with ideas in the Primer thread, so if something here isn't clear, it might be clarified in that other thread.
The thrust here comes from the common idea that uke stops our technique when all he does is stop himself.
If you think about that for just a moment, you can see how odd that idea really is. Our technique is supposed to "take his center," as so many people like to say. Yet the thinking of the practitioners of this art somehow attribute the stopping of our technique to the person whose movement we supposedly control. Now, I knew that Akuzawa stopped himself and I never actually thought of it as stopping my technique. But this moment of fine differentiation explained one of my biggest irritations about aikido: why is the idea of a self-controlling uke so despicable to general participants in aikido?
I think this comes from one of Ueshiba's best-known sayings, which I will paraphrase as "When the enemy attacks me, he has already thrown his center away." Or maybe it was "spirit' instead of "center."
Unfortunately, though this statement is very true in either sense, it was never meant to be an instruction to uke to throw his own center away, but it has been taken like that and teachers instruct new students to attack like an 45 year old smoker who has recently had a car wreck and gotten drunk afterward.
So if you're actively teaching the student to "throw away his center," how hard is it going to be to teach him to have immoveable center?
So right away, this sets up an aikido that's like origami: it folds up. So the student can be both aikido guy and (turn, flip, fold, reverse) voila! Now he's the drunken attacker whose sword strikes and punches go a few inches to one side, while he flings himself like a ragdoll at nage and misses, like the guy who intends to throw himself at the ground and miss, except that he doesn't miss.
And when he is being the aikido guy, uke can "stop his technique" if he knows what technique is coming....
It shoud be simple to see that Ueshiba was not instructing us to throw our centers away to practice aikido. Mochizuki didn't throw his center away. Nor did Shioda or Saito. But now, everyone does.
So this takes us to the "mind" of aikido. Can you see as soon as I write that, what's coming???? It's backward, isn't it? If you have some seriously backward idea at the very heart of your practice, how is it somehow going to reverse itself into right thinking? Somewhere in the intricate turns and swirls and reversals of the techniques? No. It's only going to get further lost in there, which, again, is why it's so hard to learn the techniques.
Now, this is where the concepts in the Primer thread come in. There I dfferentiated some major separate systems of human being. Like a house has the physical structure, the plumbing, the electrical, the gas and so on, human beings have bones, connective tissue, muscle, ki, mind and kokoro. We have to differentiate between these elements and understand each on its own terms. Wouldn't a homeowner be an idiot to call an electrician to fix his toilet? In the US, maybe...but in Japan, they have electric toilets. So...
But what if a student of a Japanese art reads that the Japanese call electricians to work on their toilets, so when his toilet breaks, he doesn't know enough about his own toilet to know that an electrician should not be involved. But he gets into serious arguments with electricians on the phone and tells them they don't know what the hell they're talking about. Gets mad at his wife.... There's a story of a Japanese karate teacher who's getting too near the wall as he's leading the group in a kata, so he hops back two steps more from the wall and continues the kata with enough room. Years later, he comes back and the whole group performs the kata with the two backward hops...
So because of misinterpretation of Ueshiba's statement of a philosophical/spiritual truth, many people have incorporated the loss into their bodies instead of Ueshiba's real intent of teaching people not to throw their center away. So speaking of the six elements of mind, body, ki, bones, etc., we see where the mental idea of Ueshiba's statement created a confusion of the systems of mind and body. No wonder in such a confused system one can't recognize his own ki. He doesn't know how to use his mind to understand Ueshiba's statement and he doesn't know how to use his body to move and he is confused about how to coordinate that confused system into these intricate techniques that are separate from the self from which the student is also separated. So how can he use his ki? And on top of this, he is trying to use muscles to do the work that should be borne by the connective tissue...and can't control his breathing. And to top it off, when he goes in to a technique...he doesn't know whether he's supposed to do it intentionally.....
And to such a collection of neuroses, an attacker who can stop and start his own movement is understood to be a person who stops me. He stops my technique.
No. He stops himself and I think it is I who has been stopped.
That is just utter confusion, resulting from failure to recognize one's own body and thus to be able to control one's own body. And this results from a willing acceptance of an observation of a special mental truth into a rule for daily physical training. So to correct this, I think the first thing is to recognize that Ueshiba's statement is true and that it is not instruction. Recognize the nature of one's own body: bones, connective tissue, muscle and blood united in a system that breathes. The body has a nervous system that compels it to stand upright and a sensory system that tells it how to maintain uprightness in movement without falling. Any training that takes away from that is bad training. It could be just outright wrong, or it may take away from natural orientation because we have misunderstood it and we're applying it in the wrong way--using the mind to hanlde a ki matter, muscles to do what should be done effortlessly by the bones and connective tissue. We have to apply bone to matters of bone, muscle to muscle, connective tissue to connective tissue and use each system in its proper way, not confusing it with the use of another system. Once that is done, rather than confusing the uses of the various systems, we can coordinate those systems in a harmonious arrangement with each part supplying the exact necessary proportion of the whoe for a given action at a given time. Think of it like a band with drums, piano, guitar, upright bass, sax and trumpet. Each instrument is used in a dfferent way from the others. You might say that the sax and trumpet are very similar and that is because they represent the mind and the ki, which are very similar even though they are completely different. It just points up the necessity of even more careful distinction between mind and ki.
But I guess I've made the point that aikido is taught in a "backward" way and that the solution to make it reveal its deep truth is to reverse the view point into oneself and reach out into aikido from the root of self. Learn how the self really works and how to use the various elements of oneself as they should be used to add up a a whole far greater than what one has as one is.
So let's take one final backward look at that old bromide: Masakatsu Agatsu, commonly translated as "Correct victory is victory over oneself," meaning that one has to somehow defeat himself to correct victory.
Turn that around: Correct victory is to win oneself."
To me, that means that we win the right to be ourselves, free and independent, rather than beholden to doing irrational things for someone else to the point that we don't even know who or what we are anymore. That's no way to live, whether you're cowing to a corporation or to a shihan or any kind of master. You go to a person like that to show you how to win yourself--not to lose yourself to him or her. "What does it proft one to gain the whole world if one loses one's own soul?"
Ueshiba was certainly "himself" above and beyond all else. He loved to do martial arts but achievement of the full and indisputable right to be himself was his deeper achievement, in my view.