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Old 01-19-2006, 10:28 AM   #1
Dojo: Great Wave Aikido
Location: Alberta, Canada
Join Date: Jun 2002
Posts: 543
Stanislavsky and Ki

Hello all!

I was reading some of the posts this morning and a thought occurred to me, and I'd like your input on it.

If you would allow me to indulge in metaphor; I would like to compare the concept of Ki to the 'Method' school of acting pioneered by Konstantin Stanislavsky.

In the acting world; the 'method' is a somewhat controversial topic; mainly because no two actors seem to agree on what exactly it is. This controversy extends to the point that there is a common phrase heard; particularly on stage: 'Never hire a method actor'. which on the face of it seems foolish; since some of the world's best actors - including Jack Nicholson, Martin Sheen and Glenn Close are trained in Stanislavsky's Method.
The problem is that 'The Method' is a specific form of acting which (simplisticly) has an actor 'channel' (if you will) a specific object or animal which has the characteristics of the character he's playing. For instance, if a young actor is playing an old man, he might hold in his mind the image of an elephant - slow, ponderous, sombre. If an actor is playing an evil psychopath; he may mimic a badger; or a cat.
The thing is, to properly learn the Method takes a great deal of training, practice and repetetive drilling. It is not easy - which is precisely why many top actors attend the school.

However; there is another interpretation of 'the method'; and this is what gives method actors a bad name in many theatrical circles. Basically; this class of method actors believe that 'method' acting is to completely uncork the emotions and 'feel' the character. The result of this is that you get some extremely over-the-top and silly behaviour from actors - leading ladies known to physically attack their leading men because their characters were having an argument, etc. In soaps especially (where the quality of actors can at the most charitable be called a bit lacking) 'stars' will inadvertantly throw lamps, punch walls, hit each other etc.

My Mom was an actress so before I joined the Army I more or less grew up in that life. I even took a number of acting courses since she was pretty much hell-bent on me becoming a big, famous movie star. (You know - the sort of realistic goal moms want for their kids. ) While I'm far from knowledgeable on the subject; I did take a course in the Stanislavske Method.
Actually - two courses. But while one was taught by a genuine Method instructor; the other was taught by a method actor.
In the first; we teens had great fun recieving a character; isolating that character's traits, finding an object or animal that would emphasize those traits, and then using it in improv drills. Hey - when you're 16 in a co-ed course which involved physical contact; practically anything's fun!
The other course was...weird.
"Be...a tree."
Sounds simple - tall, strong, straight. Patient. Glories in the sunshine.; that's not what the instructor wanted. What he wanted was what he got from the all-too-gullible students:


"Oh, that's very good, Billy!"

No word - that's what he wanted.

So what you've got is the Method, the school that teaches it, and the students who attend that school really learning the power of that training philosophy. On the other hand you've got a bunch of 'method' actors trained in some boneheaded knockoff who have no idea their understanding of the Method bears about as little resemblance to Stanislavsky as Britney Spears does to singing.

Now on the other hand, you've got Ki.
I'll state for the record I haven't a clue what exactly ki is. I have my own opinions upon which this post is based; but they may or may not be wrong. Nevertheless; my opinions as applied to the metaphor are irrelevant at the moment; because what we're concerned with is not what it is but how to use it in aikido.

When training in aikido under a teacher that understands ki; one can learn to use it in some outwardly shocking ways. We can effect large destabilizations of our attacker and do so effortlessly. We can perform seeming miracles of immobility and stability. We can appear to change body weight at will. While all these things seem impressive to those who haven't seen them before; they are very real phenomena based on structure and physiology. They are demonstrable, testable and measureable. Most of all; they are useful; since the vast majority of ki training - once you break it down - is largely training in the fundamentals of defensive structure and body movement.
This happens over time; when one is trained by a legitimate ki instructor.

But - like Stanislavsky's Method - what happens when someone tries to learn it without the benefit of a qualified instructor? That person makes assumptions - he sees what is happening and interprets it in his own way. Without the input of a qualified instructor; he uses his imagination to fill in the knowledge blanks.
Most often; that fill-in 'knowledge' is false. Thus you get things like 'ki-balls', movement that works only if uke is a completely willing participant, technique with no basis in structure or fundamental movement, etc. You also tend to get pie-in-the-sky philosophy about peace and love beating an attacker, the Samurai being mighty warrior gods, etc.
In other words; you have a basic belief in ki which is totally at variance with the demonstrable, testable and useful effects we see in qualified schools of thought; and here I bring the comparison between ki and the Method to a close.

Of course, we have the counter: 'since no-one knows what ki is, no-one can say I'm wrong'. I wish that were so - but I believe otherwise.

Note: I don't refer to ki philosophy here; but ki practice. I will discuss my opinions on ki philosophy in the next section.

You see; when ki practice is held up to the light; it must meet one very important criteria: does it do what it's supposed to do?
In other words; if one is to use ki to throw an uke in kokyunage does uke land on his back? Or does he obligingly collapse because that's what's expected of him? Does the technique in question work better with an experience uke? Does it work at all with a newcomer?
In other words; does the expectation of the technique match reality?

Another point I'd better make clear: I have strong issues regarding self defense; everyone here knows that but in this case I'm not talking SD; just mat aikido. Does it work on the mat without uke following along? Of course; before anyone objects that same criteria holds for any aspect of ki training; not just kumiwaza.

Now; I can't get out of this without discussing my own opinions regarding ki; and I stress again they're only my opinions; they change with experience.
Personally; I don't believe in Ki as the force of the Universe; the world's energy, lifeforce, The Force, whatever. I don't think ki's any one thing at all - I believe we use the word 'ki' to act as a definition for something which we have not yet properly defined.
For the purposes of aikido, I believe it's a physical effect of mental expression - using the mind to control the body in precise, well defined ways.
In the same way Stanislavsky's Method uses visualization of common objects to achieve visual mimicry, so aikidoists visualize ki (as a white liquid light; flow of energy, etc) and its flow to direct the body in fundamentally correct ways. Ki is less - IMO - about spiritualism than it is about kinesiology.
That said; there is a strong philosophical basis of ki; and though I'm not interested in it myself I believe any philosophy that preaches harmony and peace can only be to the better.
However, while studying aikido technique I believe ki philosophy - good as it is - is a secondary consideration next to the practicalities of training in the proper use of ki.

I'm sure arguments a'plenty will erupt here - that is not my intention. I've just got this concept in my head and I'm trying to bang the sharp corners out of it, with your help.


Answers are only easy when they're incomplete.
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