Dojo: Aozora Dojo
Location: Birmingham, AL
Join Date: Feb 2006
Crossing the Floating Bridge of Heaven
I'm glad to see some real interest in Chris Li's translations of Morihei Ueshiba's words because I have found those translations so informative and empowering. Just reading these simple sentences in Japanese, I can see that Chris is translating correctly. These are very simple statements and O Sensei explains himself clearly. So finally, someone has looked directly at O Sensei's words that his close students could not understand and, through research and great effort, laid them out and illuminated their meaning. But in addition, as Mochizuki Sensei advised, I started looking at it backward and got some interesting ideas. First, I thought, "If O Sensei is standing on the floating bridge of Heaven, what am I doing?"
I realized that, like most martial artists, I have mainly been trying rush across the floating bridge without falling down.
I would never have thought of trying to stand on a floating bridge, much less stand on it and fight...but the alternative is to try to rush from one side of the floating bridge to the other.
In martial arts with serious attacks and resistance training, we become aware that every attack contains a certain "floating moment" of compromised balance since we are not "standing" but at least walking or somehow stepping (or jumping) toward another person to deliver some decisive power upon them. Whether we hit or miss in the attack, anything that interferes with our ability to put our foot back solidly on the ground can destroy our power and even cause us to fall. Much of judo is concerned with keeping the attacker from getting his stepping foot back to the ground, but judo will also attack his grounded foot while the other is ungrounde. In kicking arts, much attention is paid to eliminating or at least minimizing this "floating moment," which is inherent at the very instant of an attack. The attacker generates his own "floating bridge," with the inherent weak spot in his attack and he needs to get off the floating bridge as soon as possible.
Training based on this recognition has produced people capable of crossing the floating bridge with aplomb and delivering great power right in the middle of the bridge, but that is still the experience of one rushing desperately across the floating bridge, unable to stand at the very weakest spot, where the little old man is standing, smiling, perfectly balanced and rooted like a tree.
We risk everything in an attack, having sacrificed the security of standing still for the perceived benefits of flying toward another person for entanglement, and the attack becomes the prime purpose of our lives for that moment, risking even our own death because we are set on harming another person. This fantastically wild state of mind is closely mated with the desperate necessity of finding solid ground again after launching (and, hopefully, connecting with) the attack. But no matter how much confidence one has developed with clever technique and many successful crossings of the bridge, it only takes a little un-grounding to stimulate a lot of panic in the nervous system and activate autonomic responses that will override all training. The natural nervous response emerges with power relative to the sense of disruption in regaining solid footing, growing geometrically the longer it takes. So most people can, at best, rush across the floating bridge of heaven. No one wants to stop on the bridge because they don't even know that it can be done. Why would you stop right in the middle of your weakest moment, and just stand there? Thus, the heart of any attack will be that wild desperation to get back to a solid stance.
This is not to say that no one can attack effectively, but simply that the floating moment cannot be eliminated from the attack and it can, potentially, always be used to overcome the attacker. What O Sensei describes is standing right in the middle of that moment. It's a crazy idea, but it solves the one problem no other martial approach can. Instead of rushing through that floating moment, become immoveable standing in it, yet retain complete freedom to go anywhere. Yet, wherever you go, it's not necessary to step off the floating bridge of heaven. By definition, at least as far as the attacker is concerned, the floating bridge is wherever you are because his floating moment, coinciding with the instant of delivery of his power, will be wherever you are.
So if you stand on ama no uki hashi, attackers find it difficult to approach you because they are trying to cross the floating bridge as quickly as possible and since they cannot orient to the floating bridge, their balance and orientation come to depend on your presence and actions. Knowing this, you can work with them very easily rather than struggling because all you have to do is remain firmly, magnetically oriented to the six directions. Of course, it only works if you really are "magnetically" oriented to the up/down, front/back and left/right through training and experience. It's not really magnets—just extremely fine tuning of the nervous system to remain aligned with gravity in the six contradictory directions at every moment. There's nothing at all unnatural about it. It connects our ki with the ki of the environment and lets us draw orientation and support from the "connective tissue" of the environment just as we allow our internal connective tissue to bear certain loads and deliver certain impulses through our bodies. Six-direction training allows our connective tissues to "grasp" the "connective tissue" of the environment by "grasping" the ki of the environment with our own ki.
If standing on the bridge is simple, of course, staying on the bridge while being attacked is another thing. I always thought technique was the way to ensure keeping one's balance (not yet knowing of the floating bridge of heaven), but while it taught me to move around subtly, technique did not teach me to ground in a single spot and stand unmoved by externally applied forces. And decades of polishing technique didn't let me move people like O Sensei could, or like Kodo Horikawa, Yukiyoshi Sagawa, Minoru Mochizuki or his students Kyoichi Murai or Terumi Washizu. But it did make me intricately familiar with the workings of my own body, which, along with Feldenkrais Method, Tai Chi, bagua and other such practices, helped me learn to recognize the distinctions being made by the IP/IS exponents.
After I'd done some internal training, I began to recognize an impulse that came into my arms when I felt a potential threat nearby. I was preparing to reach out to the approaching person and meet them with an aikido technique. But as I trained in IP/IS, I noticed that this impulse began to stop before rushing into the arms. Instead, it pulled itself more to my center and I began feeling more how to receive "potential threat" energy directly to my center rather than sending my own energy out to meet it with my arms in technique. Even though I was "keeping one-point" at such moments, my energy was moving unnecessarily and I began to concentrate on keeping my shoulders and arms relaxed and letting everything sink into my feet.
Recently, I was at a social event when a politician came up to shake my hand. Once he gripped my hand, I felt him trying to draw me off balance and pull me toward him. At the same time, I felt my inner structure automatically resettle itself and with no outer movement or effort of resistance, my center itself "clicked" solidly in place and the guy couldn't move me. We both felt it happen because I could feel him feeling it and see his surprise that this trick had failed when I had done nothing to resist him. And I realized that I could easily move him around, but I chose not to do it. I just let him tell me about his candidacy and nodded and I'll probably vote for him.
And just the other day, I had a sudden inspiration concerning the three dantiens of the body—the lower, which is "the" dantien, at what the Japanese call hara and Tohei calls one-point; the middle dantien at the solar plexus, and the upper dantien, which is the heart. I had been thinking about these things for some weeks, putting a lot of attention to using the connective tissue to keep them stacked (aligned) vertically while maintaining the "arch" of the legs. So I suddenly got this flash of feeling and I went and stood facing a wall and put my hands on it. Then I remembered that this was a test Dan Harden and maybe Mike Sigman had suggested. "Can you stand arms' length from a wall, put your hands flat against the wall, and get yourself off the wall (without stepping? without bending the knees? I forget…)?"
When I first tried this three or four years ago, I couldn't get anything to happen. Today, I touched the wall and pulsed as I simultaneously raised both heels. Because I wasn't sure what would happen, I only gave a small pulse but I shot away from the wall about two feet before I could even begin back-pedaling the rest of the way across the room. It felt like when Ark Akuzawa blasted me back when I was trying to resist his push with a staff, like a wall of wind hit me. The wall of my house shook and I was blasted back. My seven-year-old son snapped his head toward me and said, "Don't ever do that again!"
I said, "Did that shake you, son?" He was in a chair on the other side of the room. My "small" pulse had shaken the wall, the floor, his chair and him, six feet from me. I think anyone passing on the sidewalk in front of the house would have felt it.
I apologized to my son and did some more small experiments that wouldn't bother him. I found that if I kept my heels down, the force didn't blow me back, but if I weren't careful, it would rebound into my lower back. It required alignment of the dantiens…and maintaining the arch…
Later, I did some more experiments when my son wasn't around. I'm being careful.
So, in summary, I'm studying the power of staying in one spot. Standing perfectly grounded on the floating bridge, at exactly the place where the attack will come and where the attacker will be "floating," desperate to get his footing again. I don't have to move at all for this to be true. I just have to stand in that floating moment, connected to and supported by everything around me. And if I should choose to move, even just a little, it will alter every element of the attack: timing, distance, direction, angle, speed, leverage…and that crucial question of where and how he's going to get his foot down again, while I'm only shifting slightly, to a spot where I will be stronger and he will be even weaker…
Well, I'm not Ueshiba and I didn't get his great power…but now I feel like I'm really beginning to see how he did it—how Ark and Dan and Rob did it. I've got tons of technique stored up, but this little idea, itself, just added tons of power to the technique. And if I continue developing that, I believe I can get mega-tons of power and become immovable to most people.
So again, thanks to Chris for the translations and to Dan, Ark, Rob and Mike for arguing with me and not letting me walk away thinking I really understood when I really did not. I'm looking forward to more from Chris on this subject and I heartily encourage everyone who loves aikido to read his work very carefully. It's an investment in yourself and your aikido.