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Looking for Aiki (in all the wrong places)
Looking for Aiki (in all the wrong places)
by Ross Robertson
02-29-2016
Looking for Aiki (in all the wrong places)

Students of the Ueshiba lineage of aikido have always had a bit of a problem. O Sensei was clearly an inspired and inspiring avatar of aiki. He was, and remains, the founder of our art. Yet his pedagogical methodology was so inaccessible that it's an open question as to whether he managed to transmit much of his understanding with any significant degree of fidelity.

Henry Kono asserts that nobody really understood what O Sensei was doing -- certainly not from within whatever inner framework was being utilized, and I've heard this sentiment expressed or at least hinted at broadly across styles.

Clearly many of his key students got something from their time with the master, and their examples are worthy of our study and emulation. The diversity of stylistic interpretation, however, is quite broad, and the emphasis each places on what is essential can be quite divergent. On the one hand, this is to be expected and even celebrated -- on the other hand, we are left wondering just how much guesswork has gone into the development of these very devoted students in trying to follow their mentor and benefactor.

The situation has not gotten significantly better for subsequent generations, although here and there are instances of attempts to construct a coherent framework through which students can expect to get reliable, reproducible results (my own among them).

Still, where is aiki to be found? And, assuming we can even agree on what a common and cogent definition of aiki is, how should we go about the search? There is sense in surveying the many descendants in the line who hang an "aikido" inscribed shingle on the door. From them we hope to develop a sense of discrimination, an ability to discern who has it, and who doesn't, and in what degree.

After a while, if our training has any merit, we start to see aikido everywhere. We see it in the movement of the planets, the leaves floating on the surface of the stream, the patterns of flocking and schooling behaviors, the almost mystical coordination of athletic individuals and teams. We notice it in the music we listen to, the voices of poets who know nothing of Japan or the martial arts, and in architecture and design. It is there in the flow of traffic, and we know immediately when it is not there, though the ability to say exactly why is part of our work and study.

I'm always on the lookout for where aiki reveals itself. Perhaps O Sensei's teaching methods were not so inscrutable after all, or else the inscrutability was the message itself. He claimed to have gotten the indwelling of aiki from the universe itself. By refusing to teach with any clearly defined methodology, he may have been insisting that the only way we can truly understand is to follow his lead -- not by imitating his outward form (not only), but by imitating his very accomplishment: to discover aikido anew, and to invent it with each gesture like the momentary and ancient thing it truly is.

Occasionally I see examples of marvelous aiki being expressed by those well outside the canonical exemplars. I present here a few of these from disciplines not terribly removed from aikido. Most of these are at least some form of other martial art, and I also include a movement art not at all martial, yet derived in part directly from aikido itself. (You may want to turn down your volume if you're at work.)

First, I invite you to look at this video compilation of the great Muhammad Ali:



To many, Western boxing might be seen as the very antithesis of aikido. At the same time, like the eddies within turbulence, there are undeniable moments of flow and harmony. I would particularly draw your attention to his masterful attention to ma-ai, his timing, and his ability to match his movements and rhythm with that of his opponent.

Now check out Systema's Vladimir Vasiliev, with whom I had the pleasure of training one weekend:



The end game here doesn't always seem to be "loving protection for all things," yet the process for engaging other bodies and other structures is beautifully aiki.

Next we have some classic Kyuzo Mifune, arguably one of the greatest judo men ever:



Mifune's one-point seems to be wherever he is, and forces naturally align with his posture, regardless of its orientation.

Lastly, here is an example of Contact Improv:



Whatever roots in the martial arts there once were, self-defense is largely an absent motive here. I would be concerned that the baby has been thrown out with the bathwater, and yet I can't also help but feel that Contact Improv might actually have taken the best of what is really aikido with it.

And that's really my main point. I occasionally find cases where other martial artists or other people in other disciplines exemplify aiki more than most of the greatest names in aikido. And though it causes me some concern for out art and its heritage, I mostly don't mind. Whatever they have that I want is something I can learn from. If I can bring it into my art and hopefully pass it along to some of my students, then aikido will be enriched.

My goal is ever to help aikido make a better world. Aikido should be medicine and nourishment, produced and stored everywhere and applied wherever needed. That aikido itself should need sustenance from beyond its ordinary domain should not be surprising. It's what all living, growing systems do.

And if my art drifts so far in a direction that people no longer want to call it aikido, I'm mostly ok with that too. I'll still know it as aiki, and I'll probably always call it that. It's what I know, and it's what has guided my attention to all these other wonderful examples of power and beauty and balanced dynamics.

As my first teacher liked to say, ya dance with who brung ya.

2016.01.29
Ross Robertson
Still Point Aikido Systems
Honmatsu Aikido
Austin TX, USA

www.stillpointaikido.com
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Old 04-04-2016, 12:49 PM   #2
Katie Parsoneault
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Re: Looking for Aiki (in all the wrong places)

I found much to consider deeply in this marvelous invocation of the Oneness of Being, and of noticing aiki in so much of my experience. If, indeed, heaven is where I am standing, and that is the place to train, then this article reminds me of those rampant opportunities to practice. To notice. To engage. To balance. To fit myself within Now, whatever and wherever that may be, in whatever ways the fit is a good one. Thank you, Sensei!
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Old 04-04-2016, 03:57 PM   #3
rugwithlegs
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Re: Looking for Aiki (in all the wrong places)

Love it. If we really use universal principles, then our principles should be easy to find elsewhere. Indeed, if someone is telling me something completely contradictory to anything found in nature or any science, or in any other movement based art, then I find myself first questioning the veracity of the one instead of the many.
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Old 04-06-2016, 11:14 AM   #4
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Re: Looking for Aiki (in all the wrong places)

This brings a couple of points to my attention.

I read this post not as an actual claim of aiki movement, but rather as the consumption of desirable examples we want to say embody those things which [some] aikido people pursue. That is not to say that we cannot make the claim, but it does make me suspicious of its authenticity.

For example, the likelihood that Ali moved with aiki is remote. More likely, he was a excellent athlete who expressed some components of body unification. I think Mike Tyson also moved this way, given the mechanics of his uppercut movement. I would not argue Mike Tyson is an example of aiki, though. Babe Ruth hit a lot of home runs, but I guess if you don't like baseball his movement would not be beautiful... I think we need to be careful that "aiki" does not became a basket phrase that collects all things desirable to us.

Ghandi was a champion of world-peace. Aikido people want world peace. So was Ghandi was a good example of aikido? I think we need to be careful of these argument styles because even if they are "right," they are easily misunderstood as to why.

In your post, you cite several examples of aiki. How do you qualify your examples as "aiki" - what movement can you point to in your examples and say, "see that! That is aiki movement." Presumably, there is at least one movement found in each of these videos that represents your vision of "aiki." Not right or wrong; definition by inductive example, I suppose.

There are many people who have more aiki than aikido people; there are also aikido people who have aiki. Some of these people are not popular or have videos or other demonstrations and I understand the complication in sharing information that is restricted. But I think we do not help our training when we overlap arguments of definition with arguments of emulation with arguments of aspirations with arguments of ideology.

Thanks for sharing, I appreciate the discussion.

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Old 04-15-2016, 09:40 AM   #5
R.A. Robertson
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Re: Looking for Aiki (in all the wrong places)

Hi Jon,

I'm wondering if you can say more with regard to the last sentence in your last full paragraph. What, if any, inspiration can aikido take and benefit from other disciplines?

Thanks for the thoughts!
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Old 04-18-2016, 11:08 AM   #6
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Re: Looking for Aiki (in all the wrong places)

Is this the section?
Quote:
... But I think we do not help our training when we overlap arguments of definition with arguments of emulation with arguments of aspirations with arguments of ideology.
Sure. I am inspired by our sister arts (and all martial arts, in general) because we all share a desire to learn about fighting arts. Fighting arts have been around a very long time; there are only so many ways to twist a wrist, or punch, or execute a throw, or whatever. The creativity of each art when it demonstrates a solution to common concepts in fighting is interesting and shows a large resource of people all working to find solutions that work for common problems. What a community of people to draw upon to help understand your personal development.

For me, inspiration does not equal aiki. I can be inspired by martial arts and individuals within another art without feeling conflicted whether they do (or do not) have movement I want to add to my training. I would never want to be hit by Mike Tyson - however he moves, his punches are devastating. I can take inspiration from his ability without making it part of my movement.

When I first saw aikido, I was inspired by my instructor because he moved with skill that I could not understand. When I aspired to move like my first instructor, I implemented a path of training to learn aikido.

When I was a kid, I loved to watch a basketball player named Spud Webb, who was one of the shortest basketball players who could dunk a basketball. I was inspired by the athleticism that Spud Webb had, although I never had any intention to play basketball that inspiration helped me focus on athleticism in my other sports and excel in those sports.

I think it's important to understand what we do and why we do it.

Last edited by jonreading : 04-18-2016 at 11:11 AM.

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Old 04-22-2016, 12:33 PM   #7
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Re: Looking for Aiki (in all the wrong places)

@Jon,

I think I generally agree with your thoughts. Inspiration != aiki.

That said, we need to stipulate our semantics. There is not (does not seem to be) widespread, let alone universal, agreement on what is the definition of aiki. I try to keep it simple and look for whatever is a good fit. If a thing is a good fit for its context, then I see it as an expression of aiki. (And again, it's a continuum of "more" and "less," rather than "is" and "is not."

So for me, aiki is value-neutral. I can think of some things that are extremely aiki locally, but very much not, globally. So I would find it useful to say, "look at this situation and see how it is aiki here, and also how it is not aiki there."

The way I see it, aikido is a specific discipline. It is a study and a practice that focuses on the confluence of forces in a martial context. It is a martial discipline that can (and should, imo) extend to a broader way of life with applications far beyond personal combat.

However, the Way of Aiki is something far more global than aikido. By this I mean that the way of aiki is something universal, to be found in physics and chemistry and biology, and... pretty much everywhere you look. Being vast and ubiquitous does not make it meaningless.

I often say that (to me) it is like the difference between physics and Physics. One is simply the behavior of the universe; the other is the study of the same.
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Old 04-25-2016, 11:25 AM   #8
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Re: Looking for Aiki (in all the wrong places)

Part of my argument was oriented to develop a sense of understanding what you are talking about.

For me, the way of aiki describes a method of training (way) that achieves understanding (and expertise) in aiki. Right, wrong or indifferent, When I read that phrase I am looking to hear:
1. What is aiki
2. how to train to understand aiki
If someone is talking about a path, I assume they know enough to know what is the path. Otherwise, we are just giving lip-service, parroting someone else in the hopes that by doing so we will acquire that which we parrot.

I understand that generally there is no consensus on aiki, but we are conferring with a body of evidence that we believe to be inconclusive. I take issue with this approach for a number of reasons not relevant to this thread.

As long as we choose to keep aiki something that cannot be understood, we are an obstacle to our own training. I respect each individual's choice to decide what they believe is aiki, but at some point in our careers, we need to show our cards and explain what we do and why it works. This is [supposedly] a fundamental part of our testing process.

I also think the way of aiki is bigger than aikido, mostly because I have seen methods of training aiki that fall outside aikido. I have posted about my perspective on this claim and there are several threads that discuss in detail what is aiki and if it can be present external of aikido. We are still pivoting away from the heart of my claim - What part of each sample you presented specifically are aiki and what movement can I train to acquire that skill? To be fair, I think this is a very difficult answer. I think it's fairly brave of you to even post about this topic and it is a vulnerable position to be in. There's nothing like sharing years of experience just to have someone challenge that perspective.

For me, Aiki is an "is" and "is not" thing. We are all free to use aiki however we want. One time I posted about how the use of "smurf" is similar to how we use "aiki". But is that a teachable thing? If aiki is so big, then wouldn't some large number of paths lead to an understanding of aiki? I am not competent in my understanding of chemistry to claim that "aiki" exists in it, nor could I explain where it exists. I am not competent in my understanding of aiki to claim that it exists in chemistry, nor could I explain where it exists. I don't claim aiki exists in chemistry for this reason; I also don't happen to think it exists in chemistry. But my point remains, where do we claim aiki exists and how can we substantiate that claim? My push back here is that why not just explain where aiki is in aikido? Why pivot to chemistry, or physics, or dance, or [fill in the blank]? I am less inclined to believe any claim made about aiki if the author can't point to where aiki is in aikido.

Thanks Ross, you're being a good sport.

Last edited by jonreading : 04-25-2016 at 11:31 AM.

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Old 04-27-2016, 06:19 PM   #9
RonRagusa
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Re: Looking for Aiki (in all the wrong places)

Quote:
Jon Reading wrote: View Post
For me, the way of aiki describes a method of training (way) that achieves understanding (and expertise) in aiki. Right, wrong or indifferent, When I read that phrase I am looking to hear:
1. What is aiki
2. how to train to understand aiki
The 'way of aiki' is Aiki-do. And Aiki-do training is, at its core, a method of attaining an understanding of aiki and developing expertise in its application. How we understand aiki may take on many forms based on a host of factors. How we demonstrate our expertise in the application of aiki within Aiki-do can be felt by our partners and ourselves when we train.

Aiki-do, by its nature, is the way to train to understand aiki. But it's up to the student to cultivate the understanding because the understanding comes from within. We can be shown any number of physical exercises or movements that we are told will develop aiki, but unless we have the wisdom to connect them to what we are experiencing within ourselves that understanding will remain elusive.

Quote:
Jon Reading wrote: View Post
As long as we choose to keep aiki something that cannot be understood, we are an obstacle to our own training.
Quite true IMO. As long as we convince ourselves that aiki cannot be understood we won't understand it. Unfortunately sometimes people mistake the mystery for the mastery.

Quote:
Jon Reading wrote: View Post
I respect each individual's choice to decide what they believe is aiki, but at some point in our careers, we need to show our cards and explain what we do and why it works.
Yeah, we should be able to explain what we do and be able to demonstrate that it works. As to the why it works... that's something that doesn't really interest me. The why it works is open to too many interpretations. As long as I am able to show my students what I do and provide them a scaffold to begin to construct their own understanding of aiki, the whys of it aren't especially important. Why makes for an interesting point of departure for a discussion of aiki but isn't necessary for attaining understanding of aiki.

Quote:
Jon Reading wrote: View Post
My push back here is that why not just explain where aiki is in aikido? Why pivot to chemistry, or physics, or dance, or [fill in the blank]? I am less inclined to believe any claim made about aiki if the author can't point to where aiki is in aikido.
I agree that there is no need to point to other activities in order to justify the view that aiki exists. But do you really think that you can point to a 'where' in Aiki-do (whatever that means) and say there lies aiki? Is it not justification enough to be able to express aiki in your Aiki-do?

Thanks Ross and John for this thoughtful column and thread.

Ron

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Old 05-13-2016, 01:00 PM   #10
R.A. Robertson
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Re: Looking for Aiki (in all the wrong places)

@John,

There's so much you say that I strongly agree with, and, if I'm reading you correctly, much of what you are saying seems in agreement with my own thoughts.

For the record, I don't feel particular vulnerable, and if I'm being challenged, then it's in an agreeable way.

That said, I'm not sure you're going to get satisfaction from me on what may be your central point. I've done my best to explain what aiki is in my view (as a continuum, and not a binary), and with each video referenced I have already commented on a particular feature that relates it to aikido, except explicitly with the Contact Improv.

As to your last point, there may be some philosophical divergence. If we only use aikido to explain aikido, then all we have is a tautology, which is something I do my best intellectually to avoid.
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Old 05-13-2016, 01:13 PM   #11
R.A. Robertson
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Re: Looking for Aiki (in all the wrong places)

@Ron,

Thanks for playing!

You say: "Yeah, we should be able to explain what we do and be able to demonstrate that it works. As to the why it works... that's something that doesn't really interest me. The why it works is open to too many interpretations. As long as I am able to show my students what I do and provide them a scaffold to begin to construct their own understanding of aiki, the whys of it aren't especially important. Why makes for an interesting point of departure for a discussion of aiki but isn't necessary for attaining understanding of aiki."

Here I must disagree. I like analogies, as has become evident, so here's another one: In biology and medicine, humans did their best with herbs and remedies, much of which work(ed) quite well. But it wasn't until we came to an understanding of the germ theory of disease that we began to make real meaningful progress. For a great deal of what afflicts us, we now understand the why, and knowing the why has enabled us to make quantum leaps in understanding and treatment.

We don't always want to know how to build a watch when all we want to know is what is the time of day. Often procedural knowledge is enough to get us by. Ultimately though our arts progress by having serious researchers willing to dig into the roots that underlie the manifest expressions of a given discipline.

When the man said "He who hath the how is heedless of the why," he was speaking truth, but I believe in a rather cautionary way.
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Old 05-18-2016, 10:22 PM   #12
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Re: Looking for Aiki (in all the wrong places)

Quote:
Ross Robertson wrote: View Post
Here I must disagree. I like analogies, as has become evident, so here's another one: In biology and medicine, humans did their best with herbs and remedies, much of which work(ed) quite well. But it wasn't until we came to an understanding of the germ theory of disease that we began to make real meaningful progress. For a great deal of what afflicts us, we now understand the why, and knowing the why has enabled us to make quantum leaps in understanding and treatment.
Hi Ross -

Why and how are often used interchangeably; indeed they're listed as synonyms in the Thesaurus. But why also is defined as: for what? for what reason, cause, or purpose?: Why did you behave so badly? When I posted that why Aiki works doesn't interest me it was this usage of why that I had in mind. I'm very much interested in how Aiki works and how my training enables me to strengthen it.

In your analogy of germ theory you could easily substitute how for occurrences of why without altering the meaning. But if you're thinking of why as 'for what reason, cause, or purpose?', the same substitution doesn't work so well.

As for:
Quote:
Ross Robertson wrote: View Post
When the man said "He who hath the how is heedless of the why," he was speaking truth, but I believe in a rather cautionary way.
I believe the truth of that statement depends entirely on in what context how and why are used.

Sorry for the confusion.

Ron

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Old 05-22-2016, 05:23 PM   #13
R.A. Robertson
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Re: Looking for Aiki (in all the wrong places)

@ Ron,
I do appreciate the greater depth. Not sure though I'm following the fine distinction.

In aikido, I'm interested in the how of it, as well as the why. I do want to know the reason, cause, and purpose. I'm especially fascinated by the chain of causality that occurs in a successful aiki encounter, what all successful encounters might have in common, and the extent to which we can affect/effect the causal field so as to make successful aiki closer to inevitable.
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Old 05-24-2016, 10:39 AM   #14
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Re: Looking for Aiki (in all the wrong places)

Quote:
Ron Ragusa wrote: View Post

...Yeah, we should be able to explain what we do and be able to demonstrate that it works. As to the why it works... that's something that doesn't really interest me. The why it works is open to too many interpretations. As long as I am able to show my students what I do and provide them a scaffold to begin to construct their own understanding of aiki, the whys of it aren't especially important. Why makes for an interesting point of departure for a discussion of aiki but isn't necessary for attaining understanding of aiki.

I agree that there is no need to point to other activities in order to justify the view that aiki exists. But do you really think that you can point to a 'where' in Aiki-do (whatever that means) and say there lies aiki? Is it not justification enough to be able to express aiki in your Aiki-do?

Thanks Ross and John for this thoughtful column and thread.

Ron
Two things here.

First, I think it is worth noting that learning how is a different education than learning why. I think there is a strong argument to be critical of aikido with respect to it's focus to learn why without learning how. An obvious and popular example is our dismissal of the use of atemi without actually being competent to strike with any kind of authority. The why of our philosophical ideology to be passive trumps our working knowledge to even learn how to hit. The knowledge to critically evaluate how is just like any advanced degree in academics - something generally not feasible for public consumption.

Second, I do think that aiki is something fairly concrete. I think that you can point to movement as say, "That. That feeling is aiki." I think there are people teaching aikido that can teach it. Not many, but they are out there. Similarly, I think there are a number of people who can express aiki, but not necessarily teach it. For personal development, I think expressing aiki is sufficient.

Both of these things are not intended to be negative. I do not look down on someone who does not possess an advanced academic degree. I do not dismiss an professional athlete's skill just because she cannot communicate that skill as a coach. These things are difficult and that is why they are elite skills.

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Old 05-25-2016, 12:34 AM   #15
Peter Goldsbury
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Re: Looking for Aiki (in all the wrong places)

I teach a class of graduate students on how to write their master's theses in English and this involves distinguishing between various types of discourse. I have in mind the general distinction between activities like narrating or reporting, and describing objects and processes. One of the activities is describing complex objects and the schema I use has the following general headings: function; size; number of parts; logical relationship of the parts; how it is used; variations.

So, when they describe / explain a complex object like a bicycle, it is very clear to my students that explaining why they ride their bicycles to and from school is quite different from explaining how to ride one. Explaining why involves discussions concerning the environment, lack of suitable public transport, getting suitable physical exercise, whereas explaining how necessitates describing a complex process, with a beginning and end, and involving concepts like keeping balance, working against gravity using gears, types of contact with the ground.

One of my students is good at judo and so he used similar distinctions in describing how to execute complex psycho-physical movements such as waza or ukemi. He has no problem in distinguishing why one would do ukemi and how one would do it.

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Old 05-25-2016, 12:22 PM   #16
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Re: Looking for Aiki (in all the wrong places)

Quote:
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@ Ron,
I do appreciate the greater depth. Not sure though I'm following the fine distinction.

In aikido, I'm interested in the how of it, as well as the why. I do want to know the reason, cause, and purpose. I'm especially fascinated by the chain of causality that occurs in a successful aiki encounter, what all successful encounters might have in common, and the extent to which we can affect/effect the causal field so as to make successful aiki closer to inevitable.
There are different levels of "why," though.

The expression of aiki involves specific biological phenomena (as does everything else that humans do). But even if there were universal agreement about what biological phenomena are involved in aiki, which there is not, I'm not convinced that thinking about, say, the fascia and the central nervous system is helpful for either learning/teaching or doing. It's like the joke about asking a centipede how to walk: I've seen plenty of people with analysis paralysis, so busy trying to access specific biology that they're effectively unable to move.

Katherine
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Old 05-25-2016, 09:29 PM   #17
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Re: Looking for Aiki (in all the wrong places)

Quote:
Jon Reading wrote: View Post
Second, I do think that aiki is something fairly concrete.
Agreed... concrete, teachable, learn-able, strengthen-able. It's a mind/body skill.

Quote:
Jon Reading wrote: View Post
I think that you can point to movement as say, "That. That feeling is aiki."
I question the assumption that one can derive a conclusion about what nage and uke are feeling by observing motion; especially when the prevalent aspect of the conclusion being drawn is about a process that is internal by nature and, therefore, hidden from view. It's entirely possible for two nages to display the same/different external patterns of movement but feel entirely different, with regard to whether or not aiki is being manifest, to an uke who attacks both.

I think slotting aiki into a specific mode of movement begs putting restrictions on an integrative mind/body process that aren't necessarily warranted. IMO aiki can have many forms of external expression and the best way to determine whether aiki is present is to feel it for ones self.

Ron

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Old 05-26-2016, 07:12 AM   #18
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Re: Looking for Aiki (in all the wrong places)

I would also question deriving a conclusion by observing motion if it was assumptive. Part of my post also clarified who is able to make that distinction and I think that is critical. If you are assuming everyone who has an opinion about about aiki is correct in their observations... I think a big problem is aikido is too many years of people without the expertise to make a distinction... making a [wrong] distinction. To be less wordy... There are people who know what is aiki - they have the credibility to say, "That. That feeling is aiki."

How does a baseball player know a home run swing? How does the sound of striking a ball let a golfer know she caught the ball in her sweet spot? How can a taste tell a chef his dessert is just right? Expertise yields better guessing even when given less access to information. The mistake is in equating expertise with experience. Baking a cake wrong 10,000 times does not give you the expertise to advise how to bake a cake.

In sports, there is a criticism that color commentary is dying in broadcasting. Gone are the days where an ex-player would ad-lib with sports jargon and insider commentary while a straight man called the game. The trouble is, sports has dumbed down over the years. Unless you played football (or Madden NFL), you will never know what is a cover 2 defense - so a color guy talking about the cover 2 is talking above your understanding. If you've never played baseball, knowing when to bunt is useless knowledge - so listening to a color guy talk about a bunting situation is talking above your understanding. Better to listen to a talking head that throws statistics than a color guy that might say something boring or worse, he might say the wrong thing. Trouble is, despite what the broadcasters might say, Tom Brady is one of the best quarterbacks ever, Pete Rose is a hall-of-famer, and everyone in professional sports uses performance-enhancing concoctions to keep them competitive and able to withstand the strain on their bodies.

The rub of all of this is the unspoken theme that maybe we don't know what we think we know. Worse, maybe what we need to know is neither popular, nor easy to understand. Even worse[er?], maybe not everyone is gonna get to that level of expertise to be able to talk about what they do.

Last edited by jonreading : 05-26-2016 at 07:16 AM.

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Old 05-26-2016, 11:04 AM   #19
kewms
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Re: Looking for Aiki (in all the wrong places)

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In sports, there is a criticism that color commentary is dying in broadcasting. Gone are the days where an ex-player would ad-lib with sports jargon and insider commentary while a straight man called the game. The trouble is, sports has dumbed down over the years. Unless you played football (or Madden NFL), you will never know what is a cover 2 defense - so a color guy talking about the cover 2 is talking above your understanding. If you've never played baseball, knowing when to bunt is useless knowledge - so listening to a color guy talk about a bunting situation is talking above your understanding. Better to listen to a talking head that throws statistics than a color guy that might say something boring or worse, he might say the wrong thing. Trouble is, despite what the broadcasters might say, Tom Brady is one of the best quarterbacks ever, Pete Rose is a hall-of-famer, and everyone in professional sports uses performance-enhancing concoctions to keep them competitive and able to withstand the strain on their bodies.
This is really on display in baseball, because there are so many games in a season. Most games are covered by local broadcasters who know the team and can assume a somewhat knowledgeable audience. As a result, they do tend to get into the "insider" stuff quite a bit. Nationally televised games, and especially the playoffs, have a much larger but less knowledgeable audience and so the commentary is really dumbed down. (Leading to people who've been watching all season wanting to throw things at the broadcasters during the playoffs.)

One of the mixed blessings of the internet is the way it obliterates hierarchies. If you encounter someone at a dojo, there are a lot of clues indicating their expertise (or lack thereof), up to and including actually putting hands in the person. The internet tends to favor people who are articulate, but ability to talk about something is not the same as the ability to actually do it.

Katherine
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Old 05-26-2016, 12:30 PM   #20
RonRagusa
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Re: Looking for Aiki (in all the wrong places)

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To be less wordy... There are people who know what is aiki - they have the credibility to say, "That. That feeling is aiki."
I guess we're just going to have to agree to disagree about this point Jon.

Ron

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Old 06-03-2016, 11:08 AM   #21
R.A. Robertson
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Re: Looking for Aiki (in all the wrong places)

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Katherine Derbyshire wrote: View Post
There are different levels of "why," though.

[\] It's like the joke about asking a centipede how to walk: I've seen plenty of people with analysis paralysis, so busy trying to access specific biology that they're effectively unable to move.

Katherine
I like the story of the centipede, and I have often found it instructive, and cautionary in the way you suggest.

I would counter-caution, though, in that too much faith in the "intuitive" method creates a suspicion of all analysis.

My fencing instructor made a marvelous distinction between the natural and the instinctive. He explained that what we do that is most instinctive is not always the most natural. We train in order to become more natural, not less.

I meet centipedes all the time... they know how to walk just fine and they don't want to have to stop and think about it, let alone explain it. I'm happy to let them go on their way, and I might even marvel at whatever they happen to be gifted at.

But in aikido, I assume we are here to study, to go deeper. We do indeed risk going through periods of questioning if we ever really even knew how to walk to begin with, because we are now being asked to do it mindfully. We study, and we practice.

Analysis is a significant part of any meaningful study. (Analysis and synthesis should cycle in a balance.) Study is shugyo for the mind.
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Old 06-03-2016, 12:42 PM   #22
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Re: Looking for Aiki (in all the wrong places)

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I guess we're just going to have to agree to disagree about this point Jon.

Ron
Everyone is entitled to believe what they want.

We practice this way, though. We give more credibility to someone in a dojo than someone off the street. We give more credibility to sempai than kohai. We give more credibility to sensei. I could go on, but my point is that we prejudicially give credit to people in aikido all the time - we presume someone knows what they are talking about for any number of reasons.

I am simply pointing out that not everyone actually knows what they are talking about. Further, I believe there is a concrete definition of my aiki against which I compare others. You don't need my definition - everyone should have their own. But if you are not defending your aiki and constantly testing it... how can you tell if it works? How can you tell if your aiki is better than it was last year?

Are you really going to listen to anyone who has something to say? No. At some level, we cut the noise and dismiss those opinions of aiki that we don't trust, like, or understand. At some point, someone is going to tell you to believe something about aiki, and you are going to believe it because your trust her credibility. Probably, the only thing we disagree on is who has aiki. And everyone knows my dad can beat up your dad, so there. That's our heritage though, those people who help craft our understanding of aiki. We should defend them and our knowledge and there is nothing wrong with a little competition. Have fun with that because there are great people out there crafting perspectives that merit challenge.

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Old 06-03-2016, 01:30 PM   #23
RonRagusa
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Re: Looking for Aiki (in all the wrong places)

I can't tell if you are referring to me specifically Jon, but since you're responding to a post of mine, in this post I'll assume you are.

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We practice this way, though. We give more credibility to someone in a dojo than someone off the street. We give more credibility to sempai than kohai. We give more credibility to sensei. I could go on, but my point is that we prejudicially give credit to people in aikido all the time - we presume someone knows what they are talking about for any number of reasons.
For myself, performance trumps rank, talking or posting every time. So if someone comes into my dojo off the street and shows me their ability and it works I afford them the credibility they deserve. When I first began training I assumed that if someone was a higher rank than me then they had to be "better" than me. And the more separated in rank we were the more separated in ability we were. Now with many years in I find this to be just plain wrong. The hierarchical nature of the ranking system has its usefulness, but being a measure of ability is not part of that set.

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But if you are not defending your aiki and constantly testing it... how can you tell if it works? How can you tell if your aiki is better than it was last year?
I make sure I get tested, all the time. I insist my partners pressure me and if anyone looks to give away their power just because it's me their attacking I make them start again. I want my students to see me as just another uke or nage that they are practicing with. I've got a reasonably long Aikido history to look back upon and see where I've come from. That history includes numerous people from other arts who've been my training partners and/or students. Boxers, judo players, CME practitioners, karate people... I've met many and had the pleasure of practicing with them all.

But I don't defend my aiki. What's to defend? My ability? My knowledge? I present what and who I am to each and every person I meet on the mat. And what and who I am are constantly changing since I'm work in progress. Quite frankly I don't care one whit about being "better" than anyone else. I'm always at the edge of my performance envelope and always moving forward. If I wanted to measure myself against others I'd climb into the cage and do the whole UFC thing (well not anymore I suspect there aren't a whole lot of 68 year old active MMAers ). Aikido would be my last choice as a competitive practice.

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Are you really going to listen to anyone who has something to say?
See above.

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Probably, the only thing we disagree on is who has aiki.
I guess, since I believe everyone has aiki and the only differences are in levels of ability. I also believe that aiki and its expression cuts across a multitude of practices; but that a subject for another thread.

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And everyone knows my dad can beat up your dad, so there.
Well my dad is passed, but in life he expressed an extraordinary ability to coordinate mind and body, so there's that.

Ron

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Old 06-06-2016, 12:38 PM   #24
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Re: Looking for Aiki (in all the wrong places)

Couple of things come to mind...

Why do you change? What is the catalyst for changing the work in progress that is you? Presumably because something better presents itself. We defend our view of aikido all the time. We find a better solution when it gets weak. The theory of gravity is still a theory because some day, maybe a scenario comes along that breaks the theory. So goes our aikido training - cut it or keep it, right? It's not right or wrong, but an argument of quality. Hopefully, at some point in our training we have discarded the completely wrong ideas.

I think the idea of "testing" our aiki against MMA at a time when we cannot definitively answer our own personal development is something of an oddity. Your knowledge is part of your aikido. When I touch you I should feel something about your aiki. Eventually, we do things right enough, and consistently enough, that we can take that feeling out for a spin. We get feedback on the success of the joy ride and we go back to the drawing board to see what we can do better.

Having experienced some interesting feelings, I am of the current mindset that many of us in aikido don't move with aiki. Sure, we may get things more right than not or we work with compliant ukes or [fill in any number of things here]. But, the similarity in our movement to sister arts, or even non-martial movement creates an issue - how can our movement look like all these other things that don't have aiki training? If we cannot differentiate our movement from a non-aikido person... then either our movement doesn't have aiki or everyone's movement has aiki. Since we need to have aiki, the answer is obviously everyone has aiki. But do they?

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Old 06-06-2016, 09:20 PM   #25
RonRagusa
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Re: Looking for Aiki (in all the wrong places)

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Why do you change? What is the catalyst for changing the work in progress that is you?
I change, I grow. I stop changing, I stop growing. Not growing in my aikido not an option. The catalyst is the joy of discovery I feel as I delve deeper into my practice, and therefore myself, and find ever more questions, which the answers to always lead to more questions.

Mary refers to it as being in the question.

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Presumably because something better presents itself.
If by better you mean something that enables me to relate to my partner more efficiently, energetically and effectively then I'd say yes.

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The theory of gravity is still a theory because some day, maybe a scenario comes along that breaks the theory. So goes our aikido training - cut it or keep it, right? It's not right or wrong, but an argument of quality. Hopefully, at some point in our training we have discarded the completely wrong ideas.
Generally, I agree. But just like Einstein enfolded Newton into Relativity, so I can incorporate those old ideas, that I have supplanted by my new discoveries, into my aikido and thus enrich my suite of tools. Old theories in science are often found to be special cases of the more general theories that replace them. So I think it is with a lot of my development in aikido.

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But, the similarity in our movement to sister arts, or even non-martial movement creates an issue - how can our movement look like all these other things that don't have aiki training? If we cannot differentiate our movement from a non-aikido person... then either our movement doesn't have aiki or everyone's movement has aiki. Since we need to have aiki, the answer is obviously everyone has aiki. But do they?
This wonderful paragraph really illustrates our different views of aiki Jon.

You seem to be of the view that aiki is the movement, that it's generated by some quality or qualities of the movement itself ('how can our movement look like all these other things that don't have aiki training?'). This implies that aiki can be seen and identified as such by the simple act of observation (assuming the observer knows what to look for). To me you're saying that aiki is essentially an external phenomenon, that it's manifestation is dependent upon how movement is executed. Therefore since not everyone can execute this very specific movement not everyone possesses aiki.

My view of aiki differs in that I see aiki as a manifestation of a unified mind and body. I hold that everyone has some degree of mind/body unification; that it is a consequence of how we have evolved. What differs from person to person is the degree to which mind and body are unified. I think that devotion to just about any practice will naturally enhance mind/body unification and thus increase aiki. Aikido and other arts that incorporate training specifically designed to enhance mind/body unification is what sets these practices apart from activities that don't specifically train aiki development.

Since I see aiki as an internal organization of mind and body, I conclude that the type of motion on display is not a determining factor of the level of aiki development within an individual. That's why, to borrow a phrase, it has to be felt.

So does everyone possess some degree of aiki or not? I am casting a yes vote on that question.

Ron

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