Dojo: Itten Dojo
Location: Mechanicsburg, PA
Join Date: Nov 2004
Re: new Ellis Amdur piece on aikido journal
I wanted to respond sooner to some of Mark's posts, but didn't have the chance ‘til now.
I'll caveat my remarks, noting that the situation at our dojo (we're independent) is conducive to this undertaking and we definitely enjoy certain critical advantages others might not. Most importantly, the curriculum designed for us by Ellis was structured with the intention we would move into the internal skills as opportunity presented, and we have the leeway to adapt technically as the internal study informs / illuminates our practice. Others, operating within organizations and more codified curricula are likely much more constrained.
We also enjoy a small, core group within the dojo bringing to the table a considerable breadth of experience and the ability to work collegially and research / debate / test / bang heads with the overall objective that we all get as skilled as possible, together. We're not much into social engineering or having our practice provide a "spiritual" alternative to religion; we honor the ethical standards inherent to aikido, but at the end of the day we would prefer to be the ones still standing.
There are two trains of thought mentioned in this thread, and elsewhere, with which I disagree.
The first is Mark's proposition that the best way to undertake internal training is as an entirely separate endeavor initially, only incorporating the practice to one's martial studies after some considerable period of time. To the degree I've been exposed to the early stages of internal training, I would propose rather that there are aspects to which even aikido novices can relate, and can profit thereby.
Mechanical aspects such as body alignment and structure, weighting, relaxation, and fundamental methods of moving are taught from the beginning in all arts anyway, either implicitly or explicitly, so why not include reference to how these aspects relate to internal skills? Telling a new student, "Do this because ultimately you'll be healthier, more powerful, and better able to kick butt" seems to me to provide a good rationale for undertaking the solo work necessary to getting anywhere with Ellis's approach to aikido, let alone internal skills.
The "mind-directed" aspect of internal skills is certainly an esoteric concept to most people — it is to me, anyway — but, again, it seems to me training beginners to operate intentionally (and in their solo practice, introspectively) at least lays a foundation on which more complex aspects of training might subsequently be addressed.
Mike is adamant that internal principles and paradigms must be integrated to the point they become one's natural state, 24/7, so it seems to me a mistake to start off compartmentalizing the practice, making it something separate from whatever else one does. True, most of us are not at the point we can manifest internal skills in fast-paced training. So slow down! A lot! One of my instructors constantly criticized "practicing at the level of your incompetence." That's a danger, but one avoidable by working consciously and reducing the intensity immediately when it's no longer possible to operate with intent and proper mechanics.
The bottom line to me is that researchers like Mike and Dan are providing a structured means to acquire and incorporate these skill sets. Most of us have very likely seen bits and pieces of these skills in various arts, maybe without even realizing it, but what Mike and Dan are doing is sharing the results of years of their own struggles and searching during a time this material was not typically presented here in a coherent package, so that we might stand on their shoulders and reach higher. (Or at least the younger guys will; some of us will just be hoping to catch up a bit.)
The second notion with which I take exception is the idea that the best way to practice is to say to yourself, "Okay, I know I'm doing this completely wrong…" I mean, I get the point that the greatest obstacle to improvement is self-satisfaction (especially if it's bordering on utter delusion), but if you don't have some notion of what you're supposed to be doing, and whether you're doing it or not, you ought not be doing anything at all (hence the absolute requirement to be shown, hands-on, by someone further down the path). Another of my old instructors used to say, "Practice doesn't make perfect; it makes permanent." Without some clear perception of at least a very basic component, all you're likely to do is ingrain errors. Maybe it's just semantics, but I'd rather build on positives.
To conclude, in the four months following our seminar with Mike Sigman, we've found it is without question possible as a dojo to incorporate things we were shown to regular practices. We also schedule one practice a week focusing exclusively on the material from the seminar. In some cases, we're still arguing how best to incorporate a particular aspect. It's a work in progress.