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Old 08-30-2013, 07:24 PM   #1
Dan Richards
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Techniques are dead: Living movement vs dead technique

My teacher, Shoji Nishio, said that techniques are dead. He said, "Once I show you something, it's dead."

I'd like to use some space to explore the idea of "techniques" vs what Ueshiba called Takemusu Aiki.

The living, spontaneous, extemporaneous allowance of movement, vs the schooled, dead, practice of "techniques."

Aikido is formless. Ultimately, there are no techniques.

Gather around the campfire and put in your 2 cents.

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Old 08-31-2013, 06:36 AM   #2
IvLabush
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Re: Techniques are dead: Living movement vs dead technique

So we start. As the beginning I'd like to underline that following ideas is my own. Many of it's imperfect still and open to critics.
My viewpoint based on views from two sides. First is modern aikido that got well known form after WW II. I see no point to detail it more ‘cause a lot of aikidokas here may describe it better.
Second is Ueshiba Morihei prewar techniques that in Takumakai often calls Ueshiba den Daito-ryu aikijujutsu or Ueshiba-ryu Daito-ryu aikijujutsu. I learn it from my practice of techniques from Soden (formal name "Daito-ryu Aiki Budo Densho Zen Juikkan") books. Ueshiba prewar techniques are in first six Soden books. First five books shortly called "Aikido" and include basic techniques. Sixth book called "Asahi-ryu" and include high level Ueshiba Morihei techniques. On the present day I saw (it doesn't mean that I can do all of them well) techniques of all six books.
I'd like to discuss term "technique" first. I use two different Japanese terms that I may to describe as "technique". First is "kata" that I understand as strict order of moves for some purpose (BTW, nice theme of thread, isn't it?). Second is "waza" that I understand as moves that depend on situation. The difference is that "kata" based on move patterns but "waza" based on some ideas only. Now I try to explain it on example.
I had been practiced aikido few years ago and of course did ikkyo. It was a lot different attacks but still same ikkyo. It's always "grab hand like this and push opponent down". This is the "kata", isn't it? In my Daito-ryu practice I did more than 50 techniques united by one idea. It looks like ikkyo not so often but hopefully uses same idea as ikkyo (BTW, ideas of aikido "lessons" from ikkyo to gokkyo is nice theme of thread, isn't it?). In Daito-ryu we call it ikkajo. The "picture" that illustrate ikkajo I call "waza" ‘cause it depend on different things.
So I'm quite bad student and I can't remember more than 50 different "katas" with all "correct" moves but I got the ikkajo idea. Even so I feel lucky ‘cause I don't have to choose "kata" that is the best in some situation.
Another example comes from Greco-roman or freestyle wrestling. Wrestlers start to learn techniques on standing opponent and use some move patterns. Opponent starts to resist after that. From that point there are no more "correct" or "incorrect" moves in the "picture" of technique. Moves measure by opponent reaction. If he can't to go away or to do some counterattack so it's "correct" moves. One idea of takedown may be illustrated by 5-7 different techniques and different sportsmen do it in own manner/variation.
To sum this if we talk about "technique" so it would be nice to determine what kind of "technique" we try to research? The next is mark of "aliveness" or "efficiency"of technique. "Kata" and "waza" has different purposes and efficient in own way.
It would be nice to take smaller field to research.

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Old 08-31-2013, 07:25 AM   #3
Cady Goldfield
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Re: Techniques are dead: Living movement vs dead technique

If you're going to talk about techniques, whether "living" or "dead" they are still just memorized mechanical techniques, driven by conventional use of positional angles, leverage, and the momentum created by stepping and turning.

The discussion about body method as the engine that drives technique, is the more relevant one, but it's been had dozens of times.

Sokaku Takeda was known to never do the same "technique" twice when teaching; it all was spontaneous. This was not because he had some kind of huge catalogue of memorized techniques stored in his noggin; it was because his body was conditioned in a specific way for power generation that made virtually every movement he made a potent tool or weapon. With that engine in place, he could draw from his knowledge of grappling/jujutsu/sumo/sword outward expressive movements that could vary and adjust according to what the opponent gave him in force and type of attack. Thus, his "techniques" seemed myriad, and his followers struggled to write things down and create a laundry list of "techniques" and training syllabus based on what was really a spontaneous display of artistic expression on a refined level.
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Old 08-31-2013, 07:29 AM   #4
Mary Eastland
 
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Re: Techniques are dead: Living movement vs dead technique

Hmmm...Technique as a method of learning is alive and well. Random movement with no form or intention does not work for beginners.

That being said, once the ABC's of aikido are ingrained,students must let go of technique and blend with themselves, uke and now.

The basics must never be left and the mind must be quiet. Technique is no technique.

There you have it... yes and no.

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Old 08-31-2013, 07:45 AM   #5
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Re: Techniques are dead: Living movement vs dead technique

I think, in any form of art, the goal of learning technique is eventually to transcend technique. As a guitar player, I learn chord shapes and hand positioning, but the longer I practice, the more I find myself spontaneously pulling out things that I've never learned. I wouldn't go as far as Dan and say that aikido is formless -- since we all obviously learn form and that form is clearly part of what we call aikido -- but I do think the aikidoist's ultimate goal is to move beyond form.

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Old 08-31-2013, 08:06 AM   #6
Cady Goldfield
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Re: Techniques are dead: Living movement vs dead technique

After driving a manual transmission for 35 years, I don't have to think about how to use the clutch, stick and accelerator. I just "do" and can also be aware of the road, the sound of the engine, the feel of the vehicle, and what all of the drivers and pedestrians around me are doing. No more conscious thought of "clutch...shift...gas..."

There is conditioning of a method first. From the "chaos" of the untrained body to the "order" of the trained body. This is true in any physical or mental discipline: we start out with uncontrolled movements or thoughts, too much motion, too big a movement, uncoordination, and we gradually re-direct our energy to a new way of moving and thinking.

Artists who learn to paint using a method, musicians who learn to play an instrument using a method, writers who learn to write using a method... we all go through the same learning process until our minds and bodies -know- what and how to do, and the actions become spontaneous because we no longer have to think of how to "do things" step-by-step.

There is an old expression: "The bound foot is the free foot."
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Old 08-31-2013, 08:39 AM   #7
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Re: Techniques are dead: Living movement vs dead technique

Quote:
Cady Goldfield wrote: View Post
After driving a manual transmission for 35 years, I don't have to think about how to use the clutch, stick and accelerator. I just "do" and can also be aware of the road, the sound of the engine, the feel of the vehicle, and what all of the drivers and pedestrians around me are doing. No more conscious thought of "clutch...shift...gas..."

There is conditioning of a method first. From the "chaos" of the untrained body to the "order" of the trained body. This is true in any physical or mental discipline: we start out with uncontrolled movements or thoughts, too much motion, too big a movement, uncoordination, and we gradually re-direct our energy to a new way of moving and thinking.

Artists who learn to paint using a method, musicians who learn to play an instrument using a method, writers who learn to write using a method... we all go through the same learning process until our minds and bodies -know- what and how to do, and the actions become spontaneous because we no longer have to think of how to "do things" step-by-step.

There is an old expression: "The bound foot is the free foot."
What you're talking about seems to be the ability to summon up what you've learned without conscious thought. I think there is a point beyond that, at which things you haven't learned can be summoned up without conscious thought. I'm not at that point as an aikidoist yet, but I can make a musical analogy.

When my daughter was born, I decided I wanted to learn this song as a lullaby for her. Trouble is, Richie Havens tunes his guitar differently than I do, so I couldn't just play what he played. In the course of figuring my own guitar accompaniment, I was playing through the chorus and discovered I was playing Gmaj7/A, a chord I'd never learned, never practiced, never even seen before.

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Old 08-31-2013, 09:26 AM   #8
IvLabush
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Re: Techniques are dead: Living movement vs dead technique

to Cady Goldfield
Yes, that I was talk about. The "pictures" is different but idea still same. If one learn only forms without any ideas it's dead-end. Maybe we should pay more attention to those ideas?

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Old 08-31-2013, 11:30 AM   #9
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Re: Techniques are dead: Living movement vs dead technique

Hi folks,

The way I like to think about it, I approach kihonwaza (fundamental techniques) to be somewhat arbitrary reference points on the big map of manifestations of aikido techniques. One can hope that the set of techniques is orthogonal and allows for the "filling in" of the spaces in between them through one's practice, study, and experience.

I recently talked to a dancer friend of mine about "techniques" in her field of aerial dance. For her, techniques (akin, I would say, to our kihonwaza, or scales for musicians) are ways to learn movement pathways as effortlessly and efficiently as possible. For me, this also connotes a sense of learning to organize oneself in a neutral fashion -- which, to me, doesn't connote a sense of being "subdued" but having the most "potential" to do anything at that time (e.g henkawaza). This requires an internal organization of myself that neither attaches to nor expects a certain outcome -- which often seems like a paradox when training kihonwaza, as the outcomes are often so very well choreographed. However, to me at least, they are an important stepping stone towards learning and embodying the deeper essences of the art -- kihonwaza could be considered the proverbial "finger" pointing towards the "moon" of the underlying principles of aikido.

Takemusu aiki, to me, is the manifestation of these underlying principles in accordance to the present situation. It is not a prescribed thing, but an expression of the appropriate "fitting" of myself into what "is." This need not be passive, of course, as can be seen in "(sen) sen no sen" timing. What interests me personally in this aspect of aikido today is the practice of "listening" by actually feeling and sensing the present situation then moving and organizing myself in an appropriate manner. Sometimes, this works and my partner ends up on their butt. Other times, it fails, and I end up on my butt. Either way, I've (hopefully) learned something.

As an aside, perhaps, I've felt kihonwaza from my teacher and his teacher. Even though from the outside, the techniques they're doing look quite like the clean techniques one sees in textbooks and performed and practiced by many shodan (nidan, sandan, yondan, ...) students. But, I have to say that they feel ineffably different -- a presence of cleanness, clarity, efficiency, and effectiveness that shows the substance behind, underneath, and all throughout their movement, timing, and self-organization.

All for now. Back to "lurking."

-- Jun

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Old 08-31-2013, 03:31 PM   #10
Robert Cowham
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Re: Techniques are dead: Living movement vs dead technique

Quote:
Jun Akiyama wrote: View Post
As an aside, perhaps, I've felt kihonwaza from my teacher and his teacher. Even though from the outside, the techniques they're doing look quite like the clean techniques one sees in textbooks and performed and practiced by many shodan (nidan, sandan, yondan, ...) students. But, I have to say that they feel ineffably different -- a presence of cleanness, clarity, efficiency, and effectiveness that shows the substance behind, underneath, and all throughout their movement, timing, and self-organization.

All for now. Back to "lurking."
Please lurk less and express yourself more Jun!

I remember in a Q&A session with Suganuma sensei in Norway asking him "What is the most important thing in Aikido?", and he answered musubi (connection). A couple of of years later, in a similar session, I asked him the same question. I wasn't trying to catch him out but was genuinely interested if he answered the same or differently. His answer was the same. (He was greatly amused over dinner when I admitted to the repeat question!)

The more I practice, the more I aspire to a sense of musubi (which to me is in the moment)...
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Old 09-03-2013, 06:29 AM   #11
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Re: Techniques are dead: Living movement vs dead technique

Was watching a video featuring our very own Henry Ellis last night, in which he illustrates what I was trying to say quite nicely.

Video

Start around 4:15. Ellis Sensei isn't just talking about being able to summon up technique he knows at any moment; he's talking about spontaneously creating new stuff in real time to suit a situation. That's the goal, I think, of training technique.

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Old 09-03-2013, 09:05 AM   #12
Cliff Judge
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Re: Techniques are dead: Living movement vs dead technique

So what I know (or maybe it's just what I think i know) is that the old paradigm is for students to be taught kata, and after they have learned the kata, they practice them many many times. Small details are corrected by the teacher and seniors, and gradually the techniques in the kata are explained.

Good kata are constructed such that they are difficult to pull off correctly. As the students learns how to do them well, the principals contained in the kata are instilled.

What I don't think I understand is the process of moving from mastery of kata to spontaneous technique. What does that process look and feel like? Because it can't be just any spontaneous technique, it has to be the right one.
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Old 09-03-2013, 09:36 AM   #13
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Re: Techniques are dead: Living movement vs dead technique

Bruce Lee said that consciousness of self was the greatest inhibitor of proper technique. Your cognition just can't keep up. Kihon is important, because over a long period of practicing techniques perfectly, we can instill motions in our muscle memory so that we can run those programs automatically. THEN, we eventually reach a point where we can "give over" to detached observation. It's interesting to me how one's psyche wants to be anywhere besides in a moment of physical conflict. But if you are brave and stay present, the rewards are completely worthwhile. Be There!
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Old 09-03-2013, 10:34 AM   #14
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Re: Techniques are dead: Living movement vs dead technique

I don't have much to offer to the campfire, but thank you for the tasty s'mores! I've really enjoyed reading the different ideas on this topic! In an effort to exercise my own (newbie-ish) thinking:
The thing that comes to my mind regarding the difference between "alive" and "dead" movements/techniques, is the concept of naka ima, being in the middle of now. Through mindfulness in action we can develop a greater intuition about our bodies and how they work. Through our attention to each "individual" moment that arises, our movements can remain "alive" (or, more so, at least) and engaged to the particulars of the moment, but as soon as we start to anticipate, to skip ahead, we've essentially shut off our active/"alive" connection and overcommit to what amounts to a guess. I might get lucky and arrive in a position that still works, but it would be a happy accident, not the product of a "fully alive" connection/action.
So when I read of Nishio Sensei's comments about once something is shown it is dead I wonder if it's because the moment is gone and all that's left is the memory of form.
...My wooden nickel.
Take care, folks!

Last edited by mathewjgano : 09-03-2013 at 10:39 AM.

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Old 09-03-2013, 03:53 PM   #15
Janet Rosen
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Re: Techniques are dead: Living movement vs dead technique

In terms of "dead or alive" (that's how I always bring them in :-) ) I'm of a mind with Matthew: if I or my partner is half there or disengaged, if I'm thinking even 10 seconds ahead at a goal, it's "dead." If I'm able to be processing my structure, my place in the universe, and my partner Right Now, I may still screw up but things are very much alive and I have screwed up in a way I can learn something meaningful.

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Old 09-04-2013, 07:31 AM   #16
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Re: Techniques are dead: Living movement vs dead technique

One difficulty I see in the whole discussion is the (unavoidably?) negative/pejorative tone that attaches itself to labels like "alive" and "dead". Too often in aikido, we see terms and criticisms like this used as weapons in a war of one-upmanship. That's unfortunate, because there's a legitimate concept and concern at the heart of all this. No matter how well you grasp the concept, if you use that knowledge the wrong way, it's worse than if you'd just kept your mouth shut and let people train.

That aside...I was thinking the other day about a practice partner who struggles greatly in partner weapons practice -- much more so than in solo weapons practice or in body art. As it happens, this person also tends to verbalize a lot, not chit-chat but verbalizing what he's doing. After years of practicing with this partner, it finally occurred to me that this verbalizing may be what's getting in his way -- that the act of verbalizing is engaging a part of his brain that is interfering with the ability to do the technique. I think the next time we practice, I'm going to try and find a tactful way of suggest he experiment with simply not talking, and that while it will doubtless be really hard at first, I have a hunch it will make for better practice.
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Old 09-04-2013, 08:32 AM   #17
Janet Rosen
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Re: Techniques are dead: Living movement vs dead technique

Quote:
Mary Malmros wrote: View Post
That aside...I was thinking the other day about a practice partner who struggles greatly in partner weapons practice -- much more so than in solo weapons practice or in body art. As it happens, this person also tends to verbalize a lot, not chit-chat but verbalizing what he's doing. After years of practicing with this partner, it finally occurred to me that this verbalizing may be what's getting in his way -- that the act of verbalizing is engaging a part of his brain that is interfering with the ability to do the technique. I think the next time we practice, I'm going to try and find a tactful way of suggest he experiment with simply not talking, and that while it will doubtless be really hard at first, I have a hunch it will make for better practice.
Some of us have to do that in order to learn. There is not a weapons kata I ever learned successfully with out making written notes and following them at home step by step over and over. There was not a single aikido "basic technique" that, when first learning the gross movements, I was able to learn the basics of without parsing them into tiny pieces and murmuring aloud what to do with my body.
I do find it curious that he has never stopped doing that, though. It may be that it has become pure habit and isn't actually necessary or it may be that he is neurologically wired to need to do that. Worth a VERY gentle exploration with him.

Janet Rosen
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Old 09-04-2013, 10:02 AM   #18
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Re: Techniques are dead: Living movement vs dead technique

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Some of us have to do that in order to learn. There is not a weapons kata I ever learned successfully with out making written notes and following them at home step by step over and over. There was not a single aikido "basic technique" that, when first learning the gross movements, I was able to learn the basics of without parsing them into tiny pieces and murmuring aloud what to do with my body.
I do find it curious that he has never stopped doing that, though. It may be that it has become pure habit and isn't actually necessary or it may be that he is neurologically wired to need to do that. Worth a VERY gentle exploration with him.
Very gentle indeed. We're good friends and I definitely want to avoid any suggestion of "You SHOULD stop talking because it annoys ME". The talking, though, isn't just (or even mostly) a recitation of the steps, it's more an analysis of what just happened (usually with accompanying berating of self). For me, as a partner, it feels like an interruption: he's interrupting the doing of the kata to talk (to himself) about what he just did. As a result, his partner practice is jerky and full of "zigged when he should have zagged" moments -- sometimes dangerously so, for him or for his partner. He knows that he needs to have a better focus when doing weapons, but as you say, the talking seems to be his method for trying to "get it right" on what my sensei calls the "Arthur Murray School of Dance" level: I move this foot there and this hand there, etc. The problem is that when a partner is involved, walking through the correct steps isn't enough.
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Old 09-04-2013, 10:28 AM   #19
Janet Rosen
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Re: Techniques are dead: Living movement vs dead technique

Quote:
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Very gentle indeed. We're good friends and I definitely want to avoid any suggestion of "You SHOULD stop talking because it annoys ME". The talking, though, isn't just (or even mostly) a recitation of the steps, it's more an analysis of what just happened (usually with accompanying berating of self). For me, as a partner, it feels like an interruption: he's interrupting the doing of the kata to talk (to himself) about what he just did. As a result, his partner practice is jerky and full of "zigged when he should have zagged" moments -- sometimes dangerously so, for him or for his partner. He knows that he needs to have a better focus when doing weapons, but as you say, the talking seems to be his method for trying to "get it right" on what my sensei calls the "Arthur Murray School of Dance" level: I move this foot there and this hand there, etc. The problem is that when a partner is involved, walking through the correct steps isn't enough.
Oh yeah....the commentary and berating of self it TOTALLY getting in his way!!! I used to have an instructor who would coach us periodically during a class on throwing that critical voice out the window...

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Old 09-04-2013, 12:57 PM   #20
Gary David
 
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Re: Techniques are dead: Living movement vs dead technique

Folks
Just a thought here.....the practice process that starts with learning basics and moves forward to higher levels of skill resulting in refined basics and then more advanced techniques....a shared process that exchanges roles back and forth is an end in itself. A structured process that has it's own rewards that results in a social community setting that is fun and enjoyable for most.

Moving past this to an unstructured practice with ebb and flow dependent what is happening at the moment may require moving outside of the structured community setting, may require that everyone help teach each other without anyone as Sensei, and may require exploration in totally different venues..

Just a thought
gary
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Old 09-05-2013, 08:29 AM   #21
Dan Rubin
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Re: Techniques are dead: Living movement vs dead technique

Quote:
Mary Malmros wrote: View Post
I think the next time we practice, I'm going to try and find a tactful way of suggest he experiment with simply not talking, and that while it will doubtless be really hard at first, I have a hunch it will make for better practice.
No suggestion necessary, just start doing the same thing at the same time. If you're both talking to yourselves it will break his rhythm. Cacophony kata.
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Old 09-05-2013, 09:02 AM   #22
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Re: Techniques are dead: Living movement vs dead technique

Quote:
Mary Malmros wrote: View Post
Very gentle indeed. We're good friends and I definitely want to avoid any suggestion of "You SHOULD stop talking because it annoys ME". The talking, though, isn't just (or even mostly) a recitation of the steps, it's more an analysis of what just happened (usually with accompanying berating of self). For me, as a partner, it feels like an interruption: he's interrupting the doing of the kata to talk (to himself) about what he just did. As a result, his partner practice is jerky and full of "zigged when he should have zagged" moments -- sometimes dangerously so, for him or for his partner. He knows that he needs to have a better focus when doing weapons, but as you say, the talking seems to be his method for trying to "get it right" on what my sensei calls the "Arthur Murray School of Dance" level: I move this foot there and this hand there, etc. The problem is that when a partner is involved, walking through the correct steps isn't enough.
break out the shinai and go at half speed and power. and when you hit, don't pull the strike. do simple stuffs first and set the tempo. if he talks, strike. sometimes a little bit of pain focus the person.

"budo is putting on cold, wet, sweat stained gi with a smile and a snarl" - your truly
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Old 09-05-2013, 09:53 PM   #23
Bill Danosky
 
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Re: Techniques are dead: Living movement vs dead technique

Aikido is full of philosophical metaphors. We consider a technique to be "alive" when we have learned it so well it comes forward on it's own and seems to run independently of our cognition. But we are sure it doesn't really have a life of it's own, that it's really us behind it.

Wondering about that hints us something about us to ourselves. Are we truly animated by our own spirits, or is it The Great Aiki Spirit shining through us, and all things? We perform much better waza when we are in a state of detached observation, when we have "gotten out of our own way".

This is why meditation is integral to Aikido. It reveals notions worth contemplating. We can take observations from the mat and apply them to our meditation practices, and vice versa. Like discovering the transcendence of mu shin through jiyu waza...

Hmm....
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Old 09-06-2013, 01:24 PM   #24
lars beyer
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Re: Techniques are dead: Living movement vs dead technique

Never mind.. just a thought.. :-)

Last edited by lars beyer : 09-06-2013 at 01:26 PM.
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