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Old 03-16-2013, 08:52 AM   #31
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Join Date: May 2008
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Re: A Consideration of Aikido Practice within the Context of Internal Training

Hugh Beyer wrote: View Post
Good to hear, but you're having the conversation in public. I'd love to know what brings you to that opinion, and why the arguments in HIPS don't convince you. And since I know Bill Sensei doesn't think the aiki skills are "grafted on" it would be interesting to hear more background from you on that as well.

Hugh, Every time I have this discussion there is always the implicit assumption that I am somehow trying to say something disparaging about aikido. If that were so, then I would not have spend most of my adult life in the study of it. Nor am I saying that aikido at its best is not quite adequate to whatever task it was designed for.

Rather, what I have discussed with Ellis many time is that there is a specific grammar to the internal as it is understood among Chinese martial artists. (even if, as Ellis has pointed out, many, if not most, find it elusive.) Moreover, it is a grammar which is parsed to an extraordinary degree of complexity. It is taught by means of body shape, and visualizations, and has specific markers and specific concepts. Either one understand what I am saying or they don't, and there is a limit to what can be communicated with the written word, especially in a context such as this.

Now, before I continue, Ellis is a great and good friend of mine, an extraordinary historian, and has forgotten more about koyru than I will ever know. But that having been said I think that the words "internal", and "aiki" are sometimes used equivocally, and that in common parlance they have come to be synonymous with "something which looks fantastic and which I can't readily reproduce". Even Ellis and I, both practitioners of Chinese martial arts, disagree on the use of the word. I moreover think "internal power" is a misnomer, and that "internal skill" is more to the point.

I think the sorites goes something like this:

Since we are all born with the raw material of external skills to some extent, speed, timing, and strength, and since even people who were uchi deshi after dint of long practice cannot come close to the level of Ueshiba, O' Sensei must have had internal skills, whatever they are. And so Ellis began a long journey of excellent research, which brought to light many many facts about Ueshiba's personal history, who he trained with, and how he trained. All of that was excellent. But I think that the assumption that Ueshiba had internal power is an assumption made a priori especially since none, or at least, very few of his heirs can demonstrate simlar skill. After all, it was that very anomaly that I believe was the genesis of the book.

Again, it must look like I am somehow saying that those who practice an art which is explicitly internal (like say tai chi, or ba qua or such) are on a BETTER path than those stuck with old external aikido. I am most assuredly NOT saying that. I am saying that just because Ueshiba did some phenomenal things, it is a little uncritical to start saying he had internal power until we agree on how we use the word.

Now I suspect that we would all agree that he had "aiki". My former longtime teacher claimed he had it as well. And I will argue quite ipsit dixit that, while his technique was excellent, and for a while irreproducable by many, there is nothing "internal" about his technique. As to whether or not he had "aiki", I will take him at his word. But what he has ever done has almost no overlap with what my taiji teacher is doing.

David Hall, in his excellent new book points out that "aiki" is variously defined by who you solicit a definition from. I for one, have no idea how to define it. I am rather in Kuroiwa Sensei's camp on that one. He was a realist first, and a philosopher second. Not bad company to be in.

So okay, why do I not think one should not confuse what happens in aikido, even very, very good aikido with how "internal skills are usually understood in China (and again, I agree that simply being familiar with the denotation of the word does not mean one grasps the "internal")

What the words external and internal denote, as was communicated to me:

External skills are our birthright. We are all born with them to some degree. The external uses speed, timing, and strength (the mix varies according to art and the skill of the practitioner.

The internal needs to be learned. And rather than speed, the internal uses relaxation, in place of timing, the internal uses perception, and in place of strength, the internal uses whole body movement (and what I mean by that is probably not what you mean by that, and does not involve the tanden specifically, or at least not as usually explained in aikido practice.)

Two further aspects of the internal (again as I understand it) are visualization (there's no other way to get around the inside of the body) and (this is the big one) a lack of being double weighted. The latter does not refer to how much weight in on each foot, but rather a failure to distinguish between where the intention and where the mind is when attacked (a distinction between shun and yi), and not "fighting where there is trouble."Let me state unequivocally that I have not, in 50 years met a teacher, many of whom were exquisitely skillful, who was not double weighted when doing a technique.

I correct that, there have been three, one is just beginning his investigation of the internal, one is not specifically an aikido teacher and draws explicitly from his years in Chen tai chi, and one has, in addition to being an aikido teacher long experience in both Chinese martial arts, and classical kenjutsu.

Again, that is not to say I've never met teachers who had aikido skills far superior to mine, just that in my opinion they were not doing internal martial arts. They may have been doing "aiki", I have no idea.

This is difficult to put into words, and I suspect it is equally difficult to comprehend. The issue is a very intricate and subtle one, and the level to which the connection with the attacker is parsed is complex beyond anything, I at least, have found in Aikido.

Also the two lists are not mutually exclusive and there is a lot of bleed over, again depending on the skill of the practitioner. (I think I see a lot of crossover in classical weapons), and I know readers are already saying to themselves " he full of sh!!t my teacher does that, and that. He has internal power." Well, if he or she is your teacher, then you know best. My experience is that if an art is internal by design, then it ought not to be so hard to find people who demonstrate the particular technology. Or to put that differently, while many, perhaps most of the people who practice what Ellis would call "a non watered down Chinese art" cannot demonstrate those skills, it is still not so rare to find practitioners who can. That situation does seem to obtain in the aikido world.

This is already a long reply, and it would take another very long one to pursue another idea which I mentioned in my original post. I think that what Ueshiba had, and here I think Ellis, and I know Toby Threadgill would agree, was discovered/rediscovered/cultivated by dint of classical weapons training, in particular the spear. (There are numerous reasons why the spear is called the "king of weapons"). I also think that is where the disconnect was. While Ueshiba did have classical weapon training, most of his deshi did not. Not having the classical weapon training to "self check" the shapes (and remember I said some shapes discourage double weighting, and some encourage it) practitioners used what they had -- strength, timing, and speed. Those aren't bad things, just different things.

Despite the amount of words put into this discussion, I really have no dog in this fight. As a martial arts teacher I have a vested interest using training concepts critically to better instruct. I have no interest whatsoever in proving me right and you wrong.

A further complication using two excellent teachers known to both of us. If students wish to study the excellent training concepts being propagated by your teacher and by Ikeda Sensei they should by all means do so. If it helps to call those skills "internal" then by all means do so. It has just been my own teaching experience that conflating the words internal and aiki can lead to a great deal of confusion, since the one has a very specific connotation among the Chinese martial arts, and the other a rather nebulous one in the Japanese martial arts.

Without a proper andragogy, both Bill and Hiroshi are going to find it difficult to communicate what they have learned/discovered. Lest I offend, I do NOT mean thay they are not excellent teachers. They most assuredly are, just that regardless of how prototypical of aiki what they are doing is, I feel that aikido is the wrong context in which to communcate it. I say that because in my experience as a teacher, once someone puts on a hakama, they are going to move according to old habits and according to an aesthetic which most times is going to get in the way of what is trying to be taught. This may not be your experience, but it has been mine. They are expecting to use the skills and shapes they are familiar with, to do what those teachers are demonstrating. That approach, while widespread, is pretty much doomed to failure.

One does not know latin, simply because on knows a romance language. That is not to say that there are some things you can say in latin, that you can't say in Italian, just that they are said differently, and one should not confuse the two. I have tried my best to articulate how I use the word and why I wrote what I wrote. If that has been helpful, then I am glad, if it has not been so, then I was unsuccessful and apologize for the confusion

Thank you for your interest.

bob galeone

Last edited by Shonin : 03-16-2013 at 09:03 AM.

Bob Galeone.
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