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Old 12-01-2010, 12:07 PM   #60
George S. Ledyard
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Dojo: Aikido Eastside
Location: Bellevue, WA
Join Date: Jun 2000
Posts: 2,670
Re: YouTube: Golden Center Sword

Alberto Italiano wrote: View Post
We don't need more guys who speak of "ki". The truth is: I have no idea what "ki" is. If we are not ready to admit that, we have no hope of attaining it one day. However, we have significant chances of developing an "aikido" like that of the video, spend money for it, and say it's like that because we're using "our ki".
Hi Alberto,
While I understand what you are saying, I would disagree. This "debate" has been going on for quite a long time. It's how the cycle of change functions with the "pendulum" swinging back and forth...

Anyway, I think it is a sign of the deep issues facing Aikido that folks like you who are training seriously feel that they don't know what "ki" is and don't really feel the concept is helpful in your training. That's a problem. It's the result of poor "transmission".

"Ki" is a term for various things we either do not have good terminology for in the West or the explanation of those things is so complex that it's difficult to use those explanations in our training (or healing or whatever). So we develop terminology. While "ki" happens to have been used by the Chinese the concept goes back as far as history in India. For thousands of years terms like this have been used. One is taught what they mean through experience and training.

So when we get to the point at which a good portion of the folks seriously practicing Aikido either doubt the concept or can't define it specifically enough for it to be useful in their training, it is a failure of the system, of the "transmission". Folks who come out of a Chinese martial arts background use these terms all the time. But they are taught through hands on experience what they mean. They get to "feel" it in their teachers and they feel it in their bodies. But when people are teaching who have little or no understandi8ng of these principles, the whole thing breaks down.

A lot of this comes from the attachment to success. Because martial artists are often such type-A, Alpha-dog personalities, they often settle for what seems to work at the time rather than be patient and take their training to a deeper level.

As an example... my good friend Dan Messisco Sensei, an Aikido teacher now, was one of the top Tang So Do practitioners in the world in his younger days. He talked about how when he was training his teacher announced that it was time for the senior students to enter some tournaments and compete. Now these guys were being trained traditionally, very old school. So they went out and entered their first tournament and got their asses kicked. Their teacher told them how pleased he was by their performance. They of course said "but we just got destroyed out there..."

His reply was that he was pleased because they had stayed with their training and had attempted to apply the form of what they had been studying and didn't settle for the "tricks" that most of the competitors used in order to win. So they kept going and competing, kept losing, until one day they started winning. They stuck with the traditional form of the training because, while it was not the fastest way to "winning" in the short run, it was the road to a deeper knowledge in the long run. Dan said that once they had integrated the traditional form and the deeper principles contained in that form, no one could touch them. It just took a long period of being patient to get to the goodies. If they had settled, as most folks did, for developing the tricks simply based on the speed and athleticism available to the young, their art would never have developed this kind of depth.

So, folks who are serious about the martial aside of the training often get led astray by being attached to success too early. They settle for fast movement and physical strength. They are happy when their partner falls down and unhappy when they can't throw him. It's all about the result of ones actions on some "other". They don't like terms like "ki" and other seemingly ethereal concepts because they really don't know how to use them in making the other guy fall down, which is the pretty shallow focus of their training.

Then there are the folks who intuitively understand that it isn't about the result but rather the process and how that shapes us as individuals. Masagatsu, Agatsu - often translated as True Victory is Self Victory. So they focus almost entirely on how they feel emotionally when they train. They love the instruction to practice joyously, they groove on the imperative to exercise "the spirit of loving protection". The problem is that these folks typically ignore the form. They are also attached to the result... but in their case the result is some sort of nice feeling of calm and peace, a harmonious "feel" and the pretty much don't care if they can do what they do against an actual opponent, because, as the Founder stated, there is no opponent.

Robert Pirsig, in his book Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, still one of my all time favorites, talked about two ways of looking at the world that are prevalent. First was the scientific, rational way of approaching the world. In his book, he represented that type of person. His son in law, however, represented what he called the "groovy" way of approaching the world. This way is characterized by "feel", intuition, finds great satisfaction in the intangibles and is often offended by the mechanistic, overly brain centered way that technical people approach life.

You can easily see both types here on the Forums... And they are mutually antagonistic. One of the points of Pirsig's book was that both of these "types" are trapped. The "Zen" angle referred to in the title of the book points to the need for these two ways of processing our experience to come together as a whole. They should not be separate. But this is extremely difficult because it calls for everyone to go outside their comfort zone. People don't really want to do this. Ushiro Kenji stated in his last book that "What you know is the enemy of learning." I think that is totally spot on.

What needs to happen to "save" Aikido is losing our attachment to success. For some that would be ceasing to look at the success or failure of waza as the measure of ones Aikido. These folks need to dig deep and look for understanding of what is currently unknown or not understood as their path. It will require some extensive period of time in which what they do doesn't really "work" in the same way that Messisco Sensei's teacher had them competing and losing until their stuff began to work on a deeper basis.

For others it would be letting go of the attachment to the "groovy" side of the art and digging down to a rational and scientific understanding of principle. This requires a total retooling of ukemi, since it is the uke's job to force the partner to do a technique correctly. The kind of collusion one sees that is currently endemic in Aikido makes rational and scientific understanding of principle impossible.

Aikido is often said to be about Mind-Body-Spirit unification. As I have stated before, I do not think that is correct. Mind-Body-Spirit is unified and inseparable already. So to be doing Aikido, one has to develop an understanding of the art on all three levels. One level of understanding without the others is imbalanced and incomplete. Simply pursuing ones training with a focus on one of these areas with the assumption that an understanding of the other areas will come automatically is misguided. Training needs to have a balance of elements or it will not result in any deep understanding or skill.

So, if you don't have a sense of what "ki" means and how it functions in your training, the solution is not to throw the concept out, it is to find a teacher who can show you what you need to know to understand it. A teacher like Endo Sensei can show you a very clear and consistent presentation of "ki" and "aiki".

Someone like Dan Harden or one of the folks currently working with him could show you another aspect of the functioning of these principles.

Some folks take the approach that what they don't understand simply doesn't exist. I have seen Aikido teachers who stated that "ki" was all bullshit. They are wrong and their mistaken outlook reflects in their crude technique. Other folks are open minded but simply don't feel they have access to anyone who can teach them on that level. So they proceed to train in a way that they understand. Well, you learn what you train. You will never develop an understanding of "ki" or "aiki" by training with disregard of these concepts. You need to find a teacher who teaches it. Not simply demos how good he is, but actively teaches the principles in a rational, body centered manner.

Kuroiwa Yoshio Sensei wrote an article in which he discussed these things in Aikido Journal. I would highly recommend reading it. He was a teacher whose style was clear, scientific, and methodical. He talks about the need to address ones training on these various levels to go beyond just a basic and remedial skill. Without being aery-fairy at all he gives you a concise picture of how ones training is a balance and that this is what results in Aikido.

Training and Cognition

So, don't throw out an idea that you don't understand, find a teacher who can explain it to you and show you how to train it.

Last edited by George S. Ledyard : 12-01-2010 at 12:14 PM.

George S. Ledyard
Aikido Eastside
Bellevue, WA
Aikido Eastside
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