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Imitation, Improvisation, Self-Expression
Imitation, Improvisation, Self-Expression
by Lynn Seiser
06-28-2014
Imitation, Improvisation, Self-Expression

Breath in, Imitation
Breath out, Improvisation
Self-Expression

Mumblings from the 6 AM Morning Mat: When is it okay to start expressing your own style in Aikido? (No, it is not another Zen koan.)

First you learn the form, then variations of the form, and then let go of the form.

First learn the craft before you try to express your art.

Before you find a career, get a job.

If you leave your ego at the dojo door, who is on the mat training? (Okay, this one is sort of a Zen koan.)
Imitation: (1) to follow as a pattern, model, or example, (2) to be or appear like, resemble, (3) to produce or reproduce a copy, (4) to mimic or counterfeit, (5) the assumption of some thought, feeling or behavior observed in other individuals
In the dojo, I was first taught just from example. Sensei would do a move and we would all imitate it as best we could. We were encouraged to "steal" the technique by coming to an understanding by ourselves without explanation. Some of us made it and some of us did not. Just when I thought I was imitating him just fine, Sensei would throw me and I would realize that I was doing it all wrong. I was to imitate the behavior and somehow, some time, some way I would figure it all out. As I improved, so did my observation and understanding of what he was doing. He was always doing it but I didn't always see it. I didn't always know what I was imitating.

In life, we first enter into our family of origins and have no idea what is going on. Some people think we bring karma with us and others believe we are a blank slate. Either way, we want to fit in and belong. We start imitating the behavior and language patterns of our family members, the parents, the siblings, and the extended family. In that modeling and imitation we begin to incorporate, integrate, and identify with internal cognitive and emotional patterns too. We relate to each other through the unconscious and usually unspoken (even unknown) family roles and rules that may be multi-generation old and no longer applicable or relevant.
Improvisation: (1) to compose, recite, play, or sing extemporaneously, (2) to make, invent, or arrange off hand, (3) to fabricate out of what is conveniently on hand
In the dojo, in the practice of Aikido, things change over time. We begin to accept that there are actually a limited numbers of techniques, but an infinite numbers of ways to combine and apply them. Perhaps improvisation comes from adaptation and that each style/school of Aikido just represents the founder's physical abilities and mental interpretation of the original teaching. As the original teachings of O'Sensei gets passed down, it probably goes through unconscious interpretations. It is like the game we played in grade school where we pass a message around and in the end, what has been communicated and transmitted is completely different. Sometimes an improvisation may actually be an improvement, other times not so much. Our instructors will improvise from what they are taught and we will improvise from what they teach us. Other students will eventually improvise too. Initially we learn the technique, now we may be applying the strategies and principles that make it work.

In life, first we learn the rules and roles of living from our family of origin, our school friends, and our playmates. Success always comes from working from a firm foundation whether it is potty training, driver's training, or on the job training. To get a good grade or keep a job, first always just do what you are told to do. Eventually, learning, making a living, and loving go beyond rules and techniques. We do not follow the rules because we are told to, but follow them because they work and they are the right thing to do. We begin to see the philosophy and psychology that makes life work.
Self: (1) the entire person of an individual, (2) the realization of embodiment of an abstraction revealed, (3) an individual's temporary behavior or character, (4) a person's prime conditions, (5) the union of elements (thought, feelings, and behaviors) that constitutes the individuality and identity of a person,

Expression: (1) to delineate or depict, (2) to represent, show, reflect, or give a true impression, (3) to cause to manifest
In the dojo, training in techniques, variations of technique, and reversal of technique eventually become smoother, subtler, and softer. We learn to put our unique interpretation, perspective, and abilities into the spontaneous execution and expression of our training and ourselves. There may be only so many techniques in Aikido, but their expression and the opportunity for self-expression is unlimited.

In life, we express ourselves in everything we do. Being mindful and present in all we do is projected from all we are. It is impossible not to express the self that you believe you are. Our thoughts, feelings, and behaviors illustrate and demonstrate the underlying belief system we have about the world, our place in it, and who we believe we are. If our life experience has been positive, we will express positive self-esteem. If our life experience has been negative, we express that too. Self-expression is not in what we do, but how we do it. Whether we are in the dojo training, the classroom, on the job, or in a relationship, if we are there, we are expressing ourselves. Where ever we go, there we are. We cannot not express ourselves.

There are only so many letters in the alphabet. The proper sequence of letters form words. The proper sequences of words form sentences. Sentences form paragraphs, which form books on many different topics including imitation, improvisation, and self-expression. With practice we can all become good writers using the same limited letters in the alphabet. With more practice we can write creative and inspiring narratives. Finally, we just might write beautiful poetry and haiku (and maybe a Zen koan or two).

Breath in, Imitation
Breath out, Improvisation
Self-Expression

Thanks for listening, for the opportunity to be of service, and for sharing the journey. Now get back to training. KWATZ!
Lynn Seiser (b. 1950 Pontiac, Michigan), Ph.D. has been a perpetual student of martial arts, CQC/H2H, FMA/JKD, and other fighting systems for over 40 years. He currently holds the rank of Yondan (4th degree black belt) from Sensei Dang Thong Phong of the International Tenshinkai Aikido Federation and Sensei Andrew Sato of the Aikido World Alliance. He is the co-author of three books on Aikido (with Phong Sensei) and his martial art articles have appeared in Black Belt Magazine, Aikido Today Magazine, and Martial Arts and Combat Sports Magazine. He is the founder of Aiki-Solutions and IdentityTherapy and is an internationally respected psychotherapist in the clinical treatment of offenders, victims, and families of violence, trauma, abuse, and addiction. He is a professor of clinical and forensic psychology with an expertise in family violence and treatment. He currently lives in Marietta, GA and trains and teaches at Kyushinkan Dojo, Roswell Budokan.
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Old 06-28-2014, 10:08 PM   #2
jurasketu
Dojo: Roswell Budokan
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Re: Imitation, Improvisation, Self-Expression

Excellent essay Sensei!

Since I cannot remember any move requiring more than two steps, I end up doing a lot of improvising...

All paths lead to death. I strongly recommend taking one of the scenic routes.
AWA - Shodan - Started Aikido training in 2008
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Old 06-29-2014, 09:06 AM   #3
JP3
 
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Re: Imitation, Improvisation, Self-Expression

We explain the above learning/internalization process at our place, giving it a Native American spin, as:

First, learn the steps of the dance.
Next, feel the rhythm of the other dancers.
Now, dance the dance.
Finally, make it rain.

It does help a very great deal to have someone who not only silently demonstrates, but verbally and demonstratively breaks down what is happening in the moving structure of the 2, 3 bodies.

I find it interesting that the kanji character for kuzushi illustrates a mountain falling on a house.
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Old 06-29-2014, 01:55 PM   #4
SeiserL
 
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Re: Imitation, Improvisation, Self-Expression

Quote:
Robin Johnson wrote: View Post
Since I cannot remember any move requiring more than two steps, I end up doing a lot of improvising...
Actually, they are all one continuous move from the time you bow in until the time your bow out ...

Lynn Seiser PhD
Yondan Aikido & FMA/JKD
We do not rise to the level of our expectations, but fall to the level of our training. Train well. KWATZ!
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Old 06-29-2014, 01:59 PM   #5
SeiserL
 
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Dojo: Roswell Budokan, Kyushinkan Dojo, Aikido World Alliance
Location: Roswell, GA USA
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Re: Imitation, Improvisation, Self-Expression

Quote:
John Powell wrote: View Post
We explain the above learning/internalization process at our place, giving it a Native American spin, as: First, learn the steps of the dance.Next, feel the rhythm of the other dancers.
Now, dance the dance. Finally, make it rain.

It does help a very great deal to have someone who not only silently demonstrates, but verbally and demonstratively breaks down what is happening in the moving structure of the 2, 3 bodies.
Yes agreed.
I often think of the connection and movement as a dance between two people becoming on.
I often have appreciated those who took the time to offer me something to think about along with something to do.

Lynn Seiser PhD
Yondan Aikido & FMA/JKD
We do not rise to the level of our expectations, but fall to the level of our training. Train well. KWATZ!
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