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Old 01-19-2006, 11:28 AM   #1
DaveO
Dojo: Great Wave Aikido
Location: Alberta, Canada
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Stanislavsky and Ki

Hello all!

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

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

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

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

My Mom was an actress so before I joined the Army I more or less grew up in that life. I even took a number of acting courses since she was pretty much hell-bent on me becoming a big, famous movie star. (You know - the sort of realistic goal moms want for their kids. ) While I'm far from knowledgeable on the subject; I did take a course in the Stanislavske Method.
Actually - two courses. But while one was taught by a genuine Method instructor; the other was taught by a method actor.
In the first; we teens had great fun recieving a character; isolating that character's traits, finding an object or animal that would emphasize those traits, and then using it in improv drills. Hey - when you're 16 in a co-ed course which involved physical contact; practically anything's fun!
The other course was...weird.
"Be...a tree."
Sounds simple - tall, strong, straight. Patient. Glories in the sunshine.

Umm...no; that's not what the instructor wanted. What he wanted was what he got from the all-too-gullible students:

"AAAAAAAHHHHHHHHHHH!!!!!!!!! I CAN'T MOOOOOOOOOVE! I'M STUCK IN THE GROUND AND THE WOODCUTTER'S GOING TO CUT ME DOOOOOOOWWWNNNNNNN!!!!! AAAAAAHHHHHHHH!!!!!!"

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

No word - that's what he wanted.

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cheers!

Answers are only easy when they're incomplete.
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Old 01-19-2006, 12:13 PM   #2
roosvelt
Location: Ontario
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Re: Stanislavsky and Ki

Quote:
Dave Organ wrote:
Hello all!


Another point I'd better make clear: I have strong issues regarding self defense; everyone here knows that but in this case I'm not talking SD; just mat aikido. Does it work on the mat without uke following along? Of course; before anyone objects that same criteria holds for any aspect of ki training; not just kumiwaza.
Why don't you ask your sensei to try his/her ki movement on "animal" when he's there to give seminar?


Quote:
Personally; I don't believe in Ki as the force of the Universe; the world's energy, lifeforce, The Force, whatever. I don't think ki's any one thing at all - I believe we use the word 'ki' to act as a definition for something which we have not yet properly defined.
For the purposes of aikido, I believe it's a physical effect of mental expression - using the mind to control the body in precise, well defined ways.


Cheers!
Since Toronto is not far form where you live, why don't you go to find it out yourself.

http://www.toronto.wustyle.com/?Lear..._Chi:Workshops
http://www.wu-qigong.com/master_wu.html

I don't know these two. But from web sites, they look like real deal.
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Old 01-19-2006, 12:22 PM   #3
Mark Freeman
Dojo: Dartington
Location: Devon
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Re: Stanislavsky and Ki

Hi Dave,

Great post, a lot to digest, I'm sure you will stir up plenty of 'spirited debate'. I am rushing off to teach a class of Ki Aikido ( I hope I fall into the right catagory ) so have no time to respond right now, will get back to you soon.

Cheers

Mark

Success is having what you want. Happiness is wanting what you have.
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Old 01-19-2006, 03:03 PM   #4
tedehara
 
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Re: Stanislavsky and Ki

If you're comparing Shin Shin Toitsu Aikido to the Stanislavsky Method, you need to recognize one thing. The Stanislavsky Method is one approach to acting. It is not Acting. Similarly the Ki approach to Aikido developed by Koichi Tohei is one approach to Aikido. It is not Aikido.

Within the Ki/Chi/Qi/Prana approach to movement, there are many many schools of thought and disciplines. This concept crosses both borders and centuries of thought. To narrowly define it is to eliminate the possibilities that others have discovered.

It is not practice that makes perfect, it is correct practice that makes perfect.
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Old 01-19-2006, 03:45 PM   #5
crbateman
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Re: Stanislavsky and Ki

Good point, Ted...
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Old 01-19-2006, 08:40 PM   #6
Michael Hackett
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Re: Stanislavsky and Ki

So Brando's Stanley screaming "Stella" was sort of a Stanislavskian kiai?

Sorry, I just couldn't resist.

Michael
"Leave the gun. Bring the cannoli."
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Old 01-19-2006, 11:58 PM   #7
SteveTrinkle
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Re: Stanislavsky and Ki

I heard that Sir Lawrence Olivier, observing Dustin Hoffman going through his Method exercises preparing for Marathon Man, bemusedly inquired, "Wouldn't it be easier to simply act?"

(In my youth I had a lot of fun training in The Method, but the wild, improvisational Commedia dell' Arte training was even more fun, and more like aikido to me.)
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Old 01-20-2006, 03:35 AM   #8
DaveO
Dojo: Great Wave Aikido
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Re: Stanislavsky and Ki

Hello all - some interesting replies so far; please let me respond.

Quote:
Why don't you ask your sensei to try his/her ki movement on "animal" when he's there to give seminar?
Whatever spiritual nature you choose to give to ki; at their core 'ki exercises' teach one to move in fundamentally effective ways. In other words; try attacking Marc without using -as you call it - 'ki movement'.

Note: I use the word 'fundamental' in a specific way. Refer to this page for the definition of basics vs. fundamentals I choose to use.

Quote:
If you're comparing Shin Shin Toitsu Aikido to the Stanislavsky Method, you need to recognize one thing. The Stanislavsky Method is one approach to acting. It is not Acting. Similarly the Ki approach to Aikido developed by Koichi Tohei is one approach to Aikido. It is not Aikido.

Within the Ki/Chi/Qi/Prana approach to movement, there are many many schools of thought and disciplines. This concept crosses both borders and centuries of thought. To narrowly define it is to eliminate the possibilities that others have discovered.
Yes...but at no time have I suggested that there is only one right answer. I merely isolated one aspect for comparison. There are many right answers - but there are also many wrong answers; and the difference between the two is a matter of demonstrable effect. In other words; while practicioners of one style of aikido often 'dis' another style; claiming it is wrong, or aikidoists laugh at Tai chi, Karate or other styles for not being members of the One True Faith; they're showing their own ignorance. These styles exist because they have good valid teaching and their approach - while different from 'us' - is equally valid.
For a wrong approach however; one need only look as far as Yellow Bamboo - which is not an extreme example; merely the one we choose to laugh at because they made their little video spots available to public download. (They've since removed them.)

Quote:
So Brando's Stanley screaming "Stella" was sort of a Stanislavskian kiai?

Sorry, I just couldn't resist.
ROFL! Oh great thanks - now I'm going to break out in giggles every time I thow Streetcar into the DVD player!

Quote:
I heard that Sir Lawrence Olivier, observing Dustin Hoffman going through his Method exercises preparing for Marathon Man, bemusedly inquired, "Wouldn't it be easier to simply act?"
I heard about that at one time - well; refer to Ted's post: different people; different styles, different strengths.

Thanks so far folks.

Answers are only easy when they're incomplete.
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Old 01-20-2006, 09:04 AM   #9
roosvelt
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Re: Stanislavsky and Ki

Quote:
Dave Organ wrote:

Whatever spiritual nature you choose to give to ki; at their core 'ki exercises' teach one to move in fundamentally effective ways. In other words; try attacking Marc without using -as you call it - 'ki movement'.

???? I'm slow. What's your point?
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Old 01-20-2006, 09:48 AM   #10
Marnen
Dojo: Vassar College Aikido Club
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Re: Stanislavsky and Ki

Quote:
Stephen Trinkle wrote:
I heard that Sir Lawrence Olivier, observing Dustin Hoffman going through his Method exercises preparing for Marathon Man, bemusedly inquired, "Wouldn't it be easier to simply act?"
Great story. The Stanislavsky method took hold in North America at least a generation before it took hold in Britain, so it makes sense that Olivier would have been trained in British "technical" acting rather than Stanislavskian "emotional" acting.

"Wouldn't it be easier to simply act?" Well, presumably this depends on how analytical or emotional you are. I'm sure some people would find it easier to mimic external forms ("British" acting), while others find it easier to generate the internal emotion and let the forms flow out of that ("method" acting). Actually, I work in theater (doing musical direction and such) and this is something I come up against with some frequency. My guess is that it's initially easier to do the "British" thing, but that "method" acting is more scalable and more rewarding later.

I know that this has so far seemed to be an off-topic ramble, but these principles also apply to martial arts. Some arts -- and some instructors -- will go for the external approach to generate the internal; some will go for the internal approach to generate the external. (And, as with the "be a tree" "method" teacher, there are some people around who are simply clueless.) I don't think either way is necessarily the "right" or "wrong" way. Who was a better actor, Olivier or Hoffman? I certainly wouldn't like to answer that question, and I don't think we have to, either in theater or in aikido.

P.S. In all the time I've worked in theater, I've never heard anyone say "never hire a method actor". Seems a pretty silly aphorism.
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Old 01-20-2006, 10:59 AM   #11
DaveO
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Re: Stanislavsky and Ki

Quote:
I know that this has so far seemed to be an off-topic ramble, but these principles also apply to martial arts. Some arts -- and some instructors -- will go for the external approach to generate the internal; some will go for the internal approach to generate the external. (And, as with the "be a tree" "method" teacher, there are some people around who are simply clueless.) I don't think either way is necessarily the "right" or "wrong" way. Who was a better actor, Olivier or Hoffman? I certainly wouldn't like to answer that question, and I don't think we have to, either in theater or in aikido.
Hello Marnen, well said - much better than my post certainly. As for the 'never hire' thing; that was a fairly common statement when I was around the theater - it could just be a matter of time (this was in the late 70's early 80's) or location (Toronto). Whatever - I certainly heard it a lot.

Answers are only easy when they're incomplete.
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Old 01-20-2006, 11:11 AM   #12
DaveO
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Re: Stanislavsky and Ki

Quote:
???? I'm slow. What's your point?
Well; that particular point of yours was fairly cryptic and didn't seem to make much sense - I interpreted it as essentially "Try 'ki-movement' on Animal and he'll tear you up' or some such.

My point is that although we use different terms; Marc is a big proponent of proper fundamental movement - it is one of the cores of his teaching. Basically; if you attack him full-out, full force - something I'm pretty good at - or defend in the same way; he'll have you for breakfast. (Trust me on this. Ow. ) If OTOH you attack or defend while employing effective movement skills; you stand a much better chance when confronting him. Which is still, of course, practically none; but at least you last a little bit longer.

Answers are only easy when they're incomplete.
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