Dojo: Senshin Center
Location: Dojo Address: 193 Turnpike Rd. Santa Barbara, CA.
Join Date: Feb 2002
Re: The Nage/Uke Dynamic - Guidelines
Your thoughts on the issue of spontaneity are very interesting and I will definitely reflect upon them more. I agree -- there are not two poles in regards to training. However, I would go one further and say that there is not even a continuum between forms and spontaneity. I imagine in practice we are doing something very similar but here we are saying something that appears to be different. Therefore, I would say that I can agree with you but would suggest that dropping even the word "continuum" might be more accurate for what we are trying to address.
For me, the Shu-Ha-Ri model is not linear in shape. It is much more dynamic than that. That is to say, one does not travel from one type of training, to the other, to the next, in a consecutive fashion. The "path" to spontaneity, if we want to keep that metaphor, is not narrative-like in its construction or in its application. We are not dealing here with a beginning, middle, and an end per se. As a person enters Shu, or Ha, or Ri, they never really leave any other aspect of the model in its entirety -- particularly in training. Each aspect, as you said, is constantly "informing" the others. By that understanding, it is perfectly valid to suggest that forms and spontaneous expression of an art do not have to relate to each other as extremes.
In that case, of course, forms training can, and should, include elements of spontaneity, and vice versa, etc. We can say this without suggesting that there is no place for pure form and/or for suggesting that there are not degrees of spontaneity (some that have nothing to do with form at all). Both of these things still exist. Nevertheless, the issue of achieving spontaneity is no small issue. In our dojo, actually, it is the most central and most significant issue as far as pedagogy is concerned. It is the cultivation of spontaneity that marks every interpersonal relationship, every protocol, every training session, every technical assumptions, every intellectual perspective, etc. It is not one easily solved either, as I am sure you know. So complex is the issue that even discussion is often impossible - words are often very hard to find. This is not to say that spontaneity or the process of cultivating spontaneity is anti-rational. It is not. It may be supra-rational -- but it is not anti-rational.
In a perfect world, dojo, like Ch'an temples of old, could be distinguished and/or related to each other according to what devices, techniques, drills, practices, etc., a given dojo uses to bring its members to a capacity for the spontaneous expression of the art. More telling that would be than the silly distinctions we often make between tactical architectures and/or technical styles (which while greatly deficient a far cry from the more commonly and more poorly used "federation" distinctions that most use). Since each dojo comes to terms with spontaneity in its own way (or not at all), and since each dojo can verify its own processes in the capacity of its members to follow through, I think we have to allow for there to be many ways of saying the same thing. I want to note that here because I think we have a very good chance of talking past one another here even though we may be all along trying to point to the same thing. So, your idea of starting out with a form and then moving into how that form changes into another form based upon differences in the attack or in uke's reaction, etc., is indeed a type of training that we use as well. It is because of drills like this that the guidelines are constructed in the way that they are -- most importantly concerning the section on "particular guidelines."
So what can we say? It seems that we can still say a lot. For example: We can say that we should indeed seek to solve the riddle of spontaneous expression. We can note that something of great value is lost to us when we turn our backs on this central aspect of traditional Budo praxis. We can say that doing forms repeatedly will not ever lead to it. We can say that such a capacity must rest firmly within the ground of daily training. We can say that such training must be balanced against a practice of self-reflection that is grounded in theoretical reflexivity. We can say that it will not come to us without a reconciliation of subject and object and/or a cultivation of non-attachment. We can say that we cannot truly understand forms outside of being able to fully express them spontaneously. We can say that the majority of the Aikido world is not truly interested in spontaneous expression. We can say that the actual means for achieving it are today rarely understood or even known, and thus poor substitutes are popping up in its place. We can say that there is a close relationship between spontaneous expression of the art and the martial integrity of the art. We can say that spontaneous expression of the art is the ontological bedrock for all of the warrior virtues that are still relevant in today's world. Etc. However, how you cultivate it in your dojo, I think, will inevitably be different from how we cultivated in our dojo. That is why I think we, you and I, should take this discussion to a private arena in order to cover this issue more thoroughly. In particular, I am very interested in sharing with you our own practices, drills, and technologies that we employ regularly to mark the "path" between form and spontaneous expression and seeing them through your eyes. I would also like to discuss the reasons why we do one thing in this regards and not another, etc. The reverse would also be greatly helpful -- I imagine.
"Too often in aikido, would-be freestyle practice is seen as an entirely different entity with little connection to forms practice other than perhaps through stilted attempts to find a way to ‘spontaneously' employ a technique […]. There is no deeper connection between the two, and hence the forms remain dead while the freestyle is ineffective at applying aikido principles and movements to novel situations."
I think this is a wonderful synopsis of the issue at hand. Yes, too often, there is no deeper connection, or perhaps we should say, there is NO connection, between spontaneous expression of THE ART and forms training. It is like learning to swim on a chalkboard and then being thrown in the middle of the ocean and being asked to swim to shore. Meaning, there is no relationship being fostered or cultivated in daily training that can lead to a full-reconciliation of form and non-form. Most often, there are no actual practices or technologies by which one travels from form to a spontaneity that is still flavored by the art's strategic and tactical positions, and that mark and are marked by the whole of a dojo's pedagogy. Aikido is not alone in this however. Other arts, for example, those arts that use open sparring as one of the land bases for a bridge that is not there, are in the same exact boat. As a result, the attempts to employ a technique "spontaneously" produce what can only be called "that universal system of ‘kick-boxing'" that makes it hard to tell what type of training a person had -- if at all. It is ironic that in the attempt to preserve forms, to transmit them, to use them as markers of skill and of seniority, etc., which today has all been emphasized at the cost of these "bridges" or technologies, what one has produced at the level of spontaneous expression is not the preservation of the art but a universal desperation that marks any subjective expression grounded in the inability to tap into one's training fully. In other words, the forms specialist in Aikido, the person who does not (or cannot) invest fully in these technologies, in the end, fights just like the forms specialist of Tae Kwon Do. Thus, Aikido is lost in the commonality that marks every system that emphasizes forms training at the cost of spontaneous expression -- or that does the vice versa -- because the "bridges" between the two have been lost.
Sorry -- having to stop here and will address your last point on teaching models as they are relative to what I just discussed here concerning the nature of spontaneity training, etc.