We spend much of our time focusing on the external form and function of our practice. We evaluate the functionality of our techniques and link them to our external forms. This surface approach is a shallow path that is likely to lead to frustrations and questions linked to the usefulness of our art. I would suggest that the critical aspects of what we do are contained within an intangible realm that Ushiro Sensei, in his seminal book “Karate and Ki” described as the “invisible culture”. I strongly contend that it is the content within the form that dictate the functionality, rather than the form itself. This can be distilled into the expression “Intent precedes movement.”
When you walk through the doorway into the dojo, are you using this transitional space as an opportunity to ready your mind for training? Or, are you simply walking through the door to train for 1.5 hrs in Aikido and go on to something else? Is your experience at this dojo limited to your experience at this dojo? Or, are you using your experience at this dojo as a vehicle for personal development? Is your uniform and training space clean for simply hygienic concerns? Or, are these tangible signs of the intent to engage in cleansing of one’s spirit as a means of personal development?
When you bow to shomen as you enter onto the training space, is it a perfunctory bow? Or, is the bow an expression of one’s appreciation for the opportunity to train together? When we bow in and say to Sensei “Onegaishimasu”, are we simply getting the formalities over with? Or, are we genuinely thankful for this experience that we are about to have together. When you train, are you sincerely training with your partner? When you thank your partners during class, is there sincerity behind the thanks? When you end class and say “domo arigato gozaimashita” to Sensei, are you really thankful? Or, has your mind left the dojo to what comes next?
When you train to develop “Aiki” are you really feeling deeper connections within your body? Can you feel yourself begin to stand, walk and move in a different manner that reflects a growing unification of the body. When you connect with your partners, are you connecting with your intent first? When you move, are you trying to force the movement to make the technique work, or are you moving yourself while maintaining the connection to your partner? When you move, are you learning about how your structure acts and reacts to forces so as to develop a deeper awareness of creating a more unified body? Are you allowing your intent to become attached to the attack? Is your intent about connecting? Or, is your intent about attacking and/or defending? Are you fully training in both roles as nage and uke?
Do you integrate any of your dojo experiences into the rest of your life? Do you practice anything related to your training outside of the dojo? Has your training made any impact upon you as a person?
It has been my experience that truly working on developing the depth that defines the form is a mentally and physically taxing experience. This intense and focused work pays off when it functions in the moment when the ability to have intent proceed movement really matters. This blog is designed as a pathway for self-exploration into one’s own “invisible culture”. It is not the teacher’s responsibility to define that space for you, but to lead you on your journey to define your own space so that it is defined by a form with true functionality. I have posed just a few questions for students to ponder. There are obviously an infinite and growing number of questions that we ask ourselves as we develop and refine what is inside of us and becomes apparent in our form. I hope that this month can be a good opportunity for us to look inside of ourselves to find both answers and questions that will reveal themselves in both our forms and functionality of those forms.
Marc Abrams Sensei
(Original blog post may be found here