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Home > Training > Aikido to Apples
by Lee Escobar <Send E-mail to Author> - 21. May, 2000

Jake wrote:
However a Shodan exam only takes 15-25 minutes and here the Aikidoka must show that he or she understands the principles that govern Aikido.

Lee responded:
And at that level, I expect to see the same mechanical techniques performed (face it, ikkyo looks like ikkyo) but with better self-control; not better control over uke.

Jake asked:
Do you think you could explain this?

Sure. Mind you, this is my own personal observation based on my experience, so YMMV.

Short answer: Your grow as you go. You figure out that if you can't control yourself (balance, posture, timing, etc.) you have no chance of applying any sort of technique or taking "survivable" ukemi. The more control, the more it seems effortless. There is a point where your mindset may be that by using aikido you can control the other person, but that is not true. You are really controlling yourself first.

Long answer:

When we begin, we are concerned with learning the techniques. The mechanical movements that everyone else in the dojo appear to be doing seem simple enough, and of course, there is some frustration and confusion as we master the how and where our hands are supposed to go. Using an apple as a reference, this type of practice is the skin of the apple. It gives the apple its readily identifiable appearance. As we learn more techniques, we are able to identify different types of apples, so to speak (golden ikkyo, red delicious shihonage, granny smith ukemi, etc.)

Once we have that down, then we enjoy our new found ability to use our bodies in a new way. Movement is easier, and techniques come without thought (or so it seems thanks to gracious uke). Here we begin to explore how we can use our new skills to their extreme -- really high falls, lots of speed, more muscle power (not just cranking techniques on, but taking advantage of a new, stronger lower body). This is a lot of fun, and we build our confidence as we rise in rank believing that by using aikido, we can control the "attacker". I find this to be similar to the juicy inside of the apple. This part of the fruit tastes the best, and there is a lot of it.

Now that we have eaten most of the apple, we see that all we have left is the core. At this point, our older bodies have gained enough wisdom to avoid high falls, speed is no longer a problem thanks to experience in judging distance and timing, and we no longer need to rely on the "crank-it-on" methid to take someone to the mat. The core of the apple is the structure that gives it shape. It is the center. Its simplicity holds the apple together. And so at this level, we are applying technical principles rather than mechnical technique while we practice. We look at why things work, and things like posture, timing, and breathing are the keys to making techniques work. Now we learn that control of the attacker is not possible without control of ourselves. When a technique doesn't work, we realize it it something we are doing (as uke or nage), not a condition brought about by our partner. The body is able to follow the "core" of aikido that has been learned to support the flesh and skin of the apple (technique). It looks good enough to eat. Our aikido seems complete, although there is still something missing.

The most important part of the apple is the smallest, and it is the source. Within the core is the seed which can bring new life and more apples. When our practice of aikido can become more like the seed, there is no technique -- only the creation of something new. Just as no one can predict the size, shape, or number of apples the new tree will produce, no one can predict the amount of aiki variations as we practice. So long as we start with the right seed, which you can only get from the right apple. You can't grow apples with orange seeds.


-- Lee
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