But that is not enough. Because "feeling" still works from conscious voluntary action/reaction. Aiki works at a reflexive level -- way ahead of ALL conscious voluntary action -- whether directed by conscious perception or rational thought -- and thus, when done properly has that "spooky" quality that is difficult to define. Ikeda demonstrates this marvelously.
You can only ever directly perceive the RESULT, but not the reflexive action itself, because it actually precedes in time -- not only your perception of it occurring, -- but also your perception of your reflexive response to it. "What just happened" arrives before your perception of what caused that response. This -- of course -- is exactly the thing of inestimable martial value we are seeking because anyone able to access effective action that proceeds in advance of perception stands, in a sense, outside any reactive dynamic depending on conscious perception. "Timing" in the sense of sente has no role -- as O Sensei himself noted:
That does create a training paradox -- for how does one voluntarily go about training to condition reflexive behavior that is, by definition, antecedent to voluntary motor skills. It is, as the play said: ... "a puzzlement."
It is one of the chief reasons why I think that discussions on these topics so often breaks down -- because we are discussing something fundamental that always occurs in a bit of a "black box" -- and it is precisely that irreducible quality that makes it valuable and uniquely effective.
The dynamic being used is not actually itself a trained skill -- in the sense of motor or muscle "memory" (cerebellar-mediated procedural or patterned motor actuation) -- and approached in that way, by training muscle memory to "efficiently" perform technique/waza is fundamental error at least as it regards aiki (and the IP devotees are correct here, IMO). That does not mean that these patterns are without training value however.
But there is absolutely training involved in conditioning the body to respond correctly to action initiated automatically and reflexively -- and then to pattern its trained motor actions that follow FROM the reflexive template in certain very patterned structural ways that maximize the exploitation of that system and the structural response of the human body to it.
THOSE patterns extend across all waza --- which are in a continuum. The correct continuum of action in one's own body and not requiring conscious control to actuate is represented and trained in the aiki taiso. The specifically denominated waza or techniques are simply slices of that continuum presented in a certain and essentially arbitrary circumstantial configuration when working with another body that is ALSO not under your conscious control. Actuating his body in this mode is exactly the same as actuating my own.
Training must engender a degree of trust in that kind of innate action -- correctly followed -- and following without fear or a reactive mind wherever such things lead on their own . Teaching well in this mode -- IME -- means demonstrating and encouraging that trust by showing THROUGH those more simply grasped approximations in each named waza ( each being but a miniscule segment of the total pattern) -- how they actually seamlessly blend into and over one another as anything or even everything changes They form a totalizing pattern of reflexively driven, but essentially cooperative action in response to anything that happens.
Thought and feeling are equally applicable to observing and correcting these patterns. Physics or mechanics approaches are useful if they lead to better identification of the total pattern. If such close analysis does not does not lend itself to that ultimate synthesis -- then that method is probably wrong for a given person. An opposite error is true of over-relying on feeling. ,Just as mechanical approaches can have a bias top become ineffectually procedural -- "feeling" approaches can have an illusory sense of synthesis, from a "feels right" sensibility that comes from a mere self-deceiving "ease" in action as a result of the necessarily cooperative training.
But in my experience it is invaluable to identify and provide correction in arbitrarily small deviations from the true pattern, and which are therefore more immediately digestible by the student when they can be broken down analytically, and then immediately built back into the continuum of action being trained.
Both the correct form -- and the feeling of the form -- are developed in voluntary repetitive practice, even though the use of those patterns in actual application come before any thought OR conscious feeling or perception can intervene -- much less control what ultimately occurs.
Our only real "control" lies in the realization and trust that we have successfully accessed a part of the total pattern -- and the pattern controls everything that occurs.
In the book Aikido
, 1958, K. Ueshiba, under the guidance of Morihei Ueshiba, in the section called "Basic Knowledge" are two points (out of nine) dedicated to ki flow. Even though the concepts were presented as "basic knowledge" and fundamental to the practice of Aikido, it is acknowledged by the author that they are not easy concepts to grasp or explain.
In the book, "stream of spirit" is described as a connective bond between aikido partners born of "mental activity." Its final descriptor in that section refers to it as a "state of all-is-one."
I use the word intention
and if you apply it to the anecdotes used in the book to describe "stream of spirit" perhaps you will understand where I am coming from.
The second reference in "Basic Knowledge" is Extension of Power
. For me this backs up my use of the word intention with the description in the first paragraph: "...the MOTION of Aikido is not merely based on physical powers, but on spiritual powers." It then goes on explaining how to produce a flow of this "power" from the centrum out through the extremities. It makes an absolute distinction (in English) between "spirit power" and "force power." It even goes on to describe a child who is incapable of lifting more than 50 pounds being able to "bewilder" someone capable of lifting 500 pounds. From this description I find it easy to infer two things; Ueshiba recognized and utilized ki as something other than muscular strength; that anyone is capable of this use of ki, not just shihan.
About ten years ago I realized that twenty years of technique-emulation based training had not worked for me, and I gave up trying to learn from technique except from how variations in ukemi would affect outcome. In "Enlightenment Through Aikido" by Kanshu Sunadomari, an early student of the Founder who started founded his own dojo in 1951 in Kumomoto, the author described being challenged by the local martial artists who then had never heard of "aikido." He describes the revelation to him through these experiences that technique would only take him so far; his remedy was to study the words of the Founder to understand the meaning from a spiritual perspective.
Using this book as inspiration, I gave up technique emulation as a learning/teaching model and focused on the nature of the energy exchange between uke and nage, but from a spiritual perspective. What I have observed and demonstrated to others is that, as the book Aikido describes, the spiritual flow between partners is essential. Many like myself have come to call this a center-to-center connection
Extension of power, says the book, "accordingly…causes an extension of physical powers." For me this has come to be understood as a continuum of intention, ki flow, and action, in that order and always arising from the intention.
To approach aikido from a non-technique emulation practice, authentic attack energy is necessary because aikido is only applicable to attack (differentiated from aiki principles
which may apply throughout one's life in many ways). In the study of attack from a spiritual perspective, my conclusions about intention have been reaffirmed, because without an intention to connect to the central core of the target in a meaningful, impactful way, no aikido will manifest, unless the "aikidoist" uses brute force to employ an aikido shaped throw (counter attacks using technique).
Once one's partner understands and can produce and maintain energy through authentic attack intention to nage's central core, one can start to see how hardwiring in the lower brain produces an instant defense response. This is great for fighting, but no so good for aikido. I can demonstrate the principles of uke/nage interchange in a hard style application of aikido, but the problem is two fold. The hard martial use of aikido principles will trigger defense mechanisms in a attacker who is not 100% committed, and in the case of the attacker following through on his attack despite the aikido counter attack, the attacker leaves the event with the feeling of being bested, thereby promoting retaliation, and perhaps an escalation of the conflict, which I feel is not the purpose of aikido.
When working with a partner who is not just "giving ukemi" but is dedicated to directing a flow of penetrative energy to one's center, it is then much easier to see where one's own lower brain has reflexively put one into fighting mode rather than a "state of all-is-one."
This is perhaps as challenging as any aikido practice can be because rather than uke giving nage "practice dummy" energy so that a prescribed aiki path can be trained, uke puts nage under pressure, thereby usually eliciting the default limbic response immediately. At this point in the conversation I like to point out that this is not
an intention to stop the aikido. That would be a defense rather than an attack. I can demonstrate the difference.
This is the point where the "paradox" of aikido is revealed to be less of a paradox than a call for a paradigm shift.
The conflict is between lower brain responses, hardwired through millions of years of central nervous system evolution for a creature to survive at any expense, and our neocortex reasoning and abstract thoughts that allow us to respond from a place of higher consciousness in lieu of reflex.
Mr. Mead, I believe this is what you are getting at, but I also have found that it can be realized through rational thought.
The lower brain will fight tooth and nail against the idea that love will produce a flow of energy that will be an effective defense against physical assault. Intermediate level students in my classes will stay "stuck" as long as their intentions are defense oriented. Sometimes the defense intention will be very subtle, but as long as it is there, there will be some indication of its presence.
But as soon as they can transcend the lower brain response and enter a "state of all-is-one," which we practice by generating beneficent intention, the aikido spontaneously manifests, sometimes like things you might think of as aikido techniques, but usually in more immediate, more direct paths. In zen this is mushin, but as we are interacting with a partner, the no-mind has a "flavor" of compassion or loving kindness. The way we train to generate beneficent intention often includes mental imagery of things that induce love.
It is totally a trainable thing, and I don't think Ikeda Sensei goes around showing stuff he doesn't think anyone can do but him. We practice what he shows in our dojo, and that is all we practice. It is no mystery to us - it is definitely awe-inspiring when nage finds that state and embodies it - on both sides of the aikido - but it is not a mystery. We do it all the time - even beginners. The training becomes about shifting intention from the automatic to the conscious.
Here is a clip of one of my training partners, Rene, beginning with him working with an 11 year old after regular class about three years ago: http://youtu.be/kkOa3FRfu5k
As you can see we don't teach him how to move, we instruct from intention. Rene is not being brutal but he is being relentless with his attack intention like he would with anyone in the dojo. The kind of ukemi you see in the rest of this clip may look like normal ukemi during some parts, but in my experience, if I were to attack average aikido practitioners the way Rene and I are attacking, most would either panic and/or try to force Rene or me into a throw using a technique. I would bet that 2% will actually find aiki under this kind of pressure. It wouldn't be because either Rene or I were being defensive against the aikido, or just bad ukes - just the opposite. The energy we are giving should have us on the mat very quickly, just as you see it happening with each other, but most people have not trained to work with authentic attack intention.
The key instruction which provided the aha moment for this young student was when he took the advice to "share." Had he misunderstood the word and taken it to mean he had to give a portion of what's his to someone else, he wouldn't have been able find aiki. But he actually embodied the idea of sharing and the ki extended out of him to Rene. Because Rene kept his attack up we see him go to the ground. "Sharing" from a pure intention is beneficial to the "extendee."
Next some jiuwaza practice, at 1:30 Rene responds to my shomen attack with a technique which brings him to the ground because employing one of his old hard style techniques made him into the primary attacker. My attack took on aikido characteristics, but this just goes to show that the attack intention never let up.
Around 3:00 Rene then gets stuck because his limbic system triggers defense from my attack. You can see him start and stop because he can feel that he is automatically trying to apply force and refuses to do so as to use force just to do the throw would be meaningless in this kind of practice. Instead, he extends ki through his other hand to complete the circuit. There is no physical force there, but there is a flow of ki. This can't be faked by either one of us because we have an agreement in our dojo not to let each other get away with anything.
Practicing this way reveals the literal truth in masakatsu agatsu and makes it our operating principle, because without transcending the lower brain response, the fighting mind, to a state of higher consciousness we will see no aikido.
If you (or any other readers) live in or are visiting the Los Angeles area and would like to experience what I am talking about (or just call me on my b.s.), please feel free to contact me.