Featured: “An Aikido Solution to Hamas Rocket Attacks” by Corky Quakenbush

A rocket is fired from Gaza towards Israel Photo Credit: Reuters

A rocket is fired from Gaza towards Israel
Photo Credit: Reuters

As an Aikido practitioner, I always look at conflict from a perspective that includes the principles of aiki.  Of particular interest to me is how the principles of Aikido can be manifested in government and international relations.  One issue that screams out for the principles of nonviolent conflict resolution is the Israel Palestine conflict.Recently, rockets fired from the Palestinian Territories have rained down on Israel.

Aikido is meant to deal with deadly attack so this should be a condition that is ripe for the application of Aikido principles to help bring about a lasting peace. The answer is really quite simple and easy to institute. But for fear, peace could be created in a matter of days, if not hours, after the initial rocket attacks.

To be fair, this solution, though effective and simple and as easy as it really is, may face difficulty in being executed. Most people involved in conflict resolution view the process as achieving peace when the opposition relents and finally agrees with them. The inability or lack of desire of most people to practice an art of conflict resolution in which satisfaction for all parties involved is the main priority, reflects the self-preserving nature of ego, whether expressed by an individual or by a group.  The ego intentions of individuals or groups of like-minded individuals often reflect the desire to win, if not to have more than one’s adversary at the end of the interaction, reflecting a loss of something of the adversary, then to have what one desires despite the desires of the adversary.When an individual or group wants to come out ahead at the expense of the other, it is impossible to operate in a state in which aiki will manifest from the actions of that individual or group.

Aikido requires selflessness to work as it is intended.  For many, this kind of selfless approach is foreign and frightening.

A Palestinian youth walks through a crater after an Israeli air strike in a residential neighborhoos in Gaza. Photo Credit: Getty Images

A Palestinian youth walks through a crater after an Israeli air strike in a residential neighborhood in Gaza. Photo Credit: Getty Images

Reflecting on the requirement of selflessness, the fear of it is largely the idea that selflessness means subjugation to the other party. However, any solution that requires one to “lose” is not a manifestation of aiki, as true aiki never creates a winner and a loser.   Therefore the aiki answer does not include “losing” to create peace.

If Aiki is present, neither party will feel disadvantaged in any way.

This may sound strange when compared to the way Aikido looks when an attacker ends his action on the ground, but when Aikido manifests out of beneficent intention, the attacker does not feel defeated by this path to the floor, but taken care of.  The connective properties of ki expressed to another naturally feel good to both participants, even in the midst of the physical expression of an attack.

In our Aiki-Lab practice, we work from ukemi.  That is, uke’s attack is meant to energetically pierce the central core of nage and continue to do so throughout the interaction.  Practicing this way instead of by technique emulation gives one a wholly different perspective of how much we, as nages, get into the way of aiki manifesting because of our fear responses.

In our Aiki-Lab way of practicing, the only thing that is going to produce an aiki-resolution (what others might call a fall or throw) is if uke continues his authentic attack energy flow to nage’s center and if nage does not counter attack, defend, or withdraw, but rather responds from a place of beneficent intention, thereby creating a flow of energy that supports uke as uke follows his attack’s path to the ground.

One of the things we learn from this kind of practice is that the greatest connective properties of a flood of ki from nage to uke is inclusiveness.  The sincere attitude of “we’re in this together” creates an energetic bond between partners that is deeply satisfying, and it gives the attacker the ability to give up the attack without repercussions.

Morihei Ueshiba O'Sensei performing irimi or the principle of "entering".

Morihei Ueshiba O’Sensei performing Irimi or the principle of “entering”.

In the practice of Aikido there is also a principle of “entering.”  In one sense it pertains to the movement of irimi, or moving into a close proximity that makes it bio-mechanically impossible for the attack to have an impact.  But in another way it means to take action as soon as the intention to attack is forming in the mind of the attacker.  Since the goal is not to win but to unify, the entering is not about taking an early advantage but about addressing the problem before it develops into something more destructive.

With those two principles in place we can see an instant solution to the rocket attacks.  The rocket attacks from Hamas originate in detectable positions but rain down randomly upon Israel.  Since the Israeli defenses know where the rockets are coming from, Hamas populates the area with civilians, making counter attacks from Israel fall inevitably on non-combatants.

This practice puts Israel in an unfortunate position from a military perspective because it will have to kill innocent civilians in order to take out the rocket launching positions.   The Palestinian death rate is far greater than that of Israel’s thereby making Israel’s response look overbearing and promoting greater animosity toward Israel by the Palestinian populace (outside of Hamas).

If the population of Israel could operate within the principles of Aikido as expressed through the properties of entering and inclusion, they would put an end to the rocket barrage in a day and actually make the steps toward lasting peace from a solid foundation.

The way this would be accomplished is by opening the borders and sincerely welcoming Palestinians into their land, into their homes and businesses, and into their lives.  This cannot work if the attitude motivating this action is anything but inclusiveness, that is, Palestinians must be treated as guests and as family.  When the population of Palestine is completely commingled with Israelis in Israel, any rocket launched by Hamas would be landing on Palestinians as well as Israelis.

With sincere intention that peace be attained without winner or loser, the heartfelt desire to share would bring these so-called Palestinian “human shields” into shields against aggression.  Should Hamas be seen as indiscriminately killing fellow Palestinian countrymen, women and children of their own in their pursuits of an overthrow of Israel, their support among Palestinians would disappear and they would be seen to be ineffective at best and more likely detrimental to the Palestinians as a whole.

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Aikido.

From an economical perspective, it is far less costly to host new friends than it is to fund a standing army always ready for battle at moment’s notice.  The social cost of learning to appreciate the differences between cultures is far less than the pain of coping with constant fear of the other.

By transcending fear, trust comes about naturally.

In Aikido we find that entering with an open heart, rather than making one vulnerable, as the ego would have us believe, gives the Aikido practitioner unfathomable power to bring about the nonviolent solution.  This courage, practiced by the good and loving people of Israel, will reverberate throughout the Middle East, and if they can, in the face of onslaught, maintain their openness and inclusive attitude in the hopes that Israelis and Arabs, who share the same basic needs as all human cousins, will be satisfied in equality, they will be loved as brothers and sisters throughout the world, and peace will come quickly and with minimal cost.


This article was submitted exclusively to Aikido no Sekai by Corky Quakenbush Sensei. All rights reserved. You can also submit Aikido or Peace related articles to Aikido no Sekai via email: aikidonosekai@gmail.com.

corky quakenbush aikidoCorky Quakenbush Sensei

In December 14 1983 (O’Sensei’s 100th birthday), Corky Sensei, based in Los Angeles, California, began practicing Aikido. Initially a student in the Mitsugi Saotome Sensei’s lineage (Aikido Schools of Ueshiba) and then in Koichi Tohei’s lineage through Seidokan, Corky Sensei was awarded the rank of Shodan in 1994 by Don O’Bell Sensei.

Corky Sensei  benefitted from training with various teachers, particularly the late Kanshu Sunadomari Shihan before abandoning technique practice in 2004  to develop a martially sound yet truly nonviolent, ukemi based teaching model he calls “Aiki-Lab.”

Using authentic attack energy rather than collusive ukemi, Corky Sensei has designed Aiki-Lab to bring beginners and advanced practitioners to Takemusu Aiki through the embodiment of beneficent intention.  Takemusu Aiki is Aikido that  spontaneously manifests without set forms, and was said by O’Sensei to be the highest ideal of the art of Aikido.

At present, Corky Quakenbush Sensei is the chief instructor of Kakushi Toride Aikido.

(Please also see: “Should Aikido be Effective?“)

Do-Chu-Sei: Quietude in Turmoil

Calligraphy: "Do-Chu-Sei"

“Do-Chu-Sei”

Remaining calm in the middle of chaos.

Do-Chu-Sei as a concept comes from 3 Japanese characters:

  • Do (動), as in movement,
  • Chu (中), as in inside, center, and;
  • Sei (静), as in silence, calm, stillness, or quietude.

This concept is used in Aikido to describe the state of “being calm while in motion” or,  a state of “quietude in the midst of action”.


From Reactivity to Serenity

Some refer to this phenomenon as “zen in motion”. It is a mental poise expressed through the body’s movement. It is the ability to stay calm, still, and centered. This quality cannot be achieved overnight. It is a result of years and years of dedicated and sincere training. Some of us experience a flash of it every now and then, and lucky are the ones who have mastered maintaining a smooth and calm demeanor in the buffeting winds of uncertainty.

Seishiro Endo Shihan, 8th Dan

Seishiro Endo Shihan, 8th Dan Photo Credit: Portrait Life Photography

In Aikido, we seek to change our behavior from reactivity to serenity and internal fortitude. If you watch the older Aikido practitioners, people who have spent all their lives practicing Aikido, I urge you to look at their faces while they are doing their waza. They are looking but not looking.  They do not seem to be focused on any one thing, yet they know exactly what is going on all the time.  Try looking closely at their expressions, calm yet fully aware, they seem timeless and ageless, giving us glimpses of an enlightened peace.

 


 Taninzugake

It is important to keep the mind empty. One venue where we can gauge how we are doing in developing this concept is during taninzugake (multiple attacker practice). In the physical practice of taninzugake, one must not get caught up in the technique. Spontaneity is the name of the game.

Roberto Martucci Sensei. 6th Dan

Roberto Martucci Sensei. 6th Dan

You cannot say, “When he attacks, I will execute a sharp and elegant hijikime osae. Then after him , I can do a kotegaeshi on that one.” Instead,

You just let the technique come to you.

If you get caught up in the technique, you blunt your perception, delay your capacity to adapt, limit flexibility, and eventually, compromise your timing and your efficiency to deal with the attacks.

This thinking what to do and planning to do when you are already face-to-face with an attack might only take a split second, but it could turn out to be the split second difference between life and death. In the words of O’Sensei:

“Always imagine yourself on the battlefield under the fiercest attack; never forget this crucial element of training.”

Instead of thinking, it is better to open your mind and widen perception. Aikido training nurtures an expansion of awareness. By making the assessment and perception of the situation integral to the practitioner, we seek to make our movement instantaneous.

It is good to be reminded however that in all of this, all actions must be sincerely tempered by love, and not doing techniques out of anger, out of fear, out of insecurity and most especially, not because you are left with no choice. There is always a choice.


 An  Impeccable Foundation in the Basics (Kihon)

We cannot be discussing concepts all the time. Especially for beginners, basic movements, basic forms. Beginners should immerse themselves in the study of these; until the time comes that doing them is second nature.  All techniques in Aikido are based on the basics.  To achieve spontaneity and improve, we need to have a solid foundation to build from. The secrets of Aikido are revealed in the basic forms, if we know what to look for. The more a person trains, the less is left to chance.

Ikkyo. Takeya Tatsumi, 4th Dan. Photo Credit: Aikido Heiseikai Ritto Dojo

Ikkyo. Takeya Tatsumi, 4th Dan. Photo Credit: Aikido Heiseikai Ritto Dojo

We should also train in order to practice what we preach. I can write about all kinds of things here while discussing these concepts, but if in my practice I cannot express them physically, all my talk is worthless lip-service.  Especially in Aikido, I strongly believe that being able to do what you say is the most fundamental proof of understanding. Understanding begins with the basics; and without understanding, you can never improve.

When a person has prepared well for something, he has done everything he can. When it matters, he can rest assured of this fact, and will find it easier to remain calm, let go of doubts and fears, trust his training, and act. In the words of Louis Pasteur:

“Fortune favors the prepared mind.”

 Regular training gives you courage to calmly face the unknown. There is no substitute to practice and  regular training, especially with regard to basic forms.


 Inner Stillness

The only constant is change. The reality is, we have very little control of anything and everything that happens to us. It is wiser, then, to break free from trying to control things and instead, focus on how to skillfully adapt to change. The state of Do-Chu-Sei is not a momentary disposition. This quality is supposed to be part of a person’s character, inside and outside the mats. It is a result of having a spirit that is at peace with nature, at peace with movement, and at peace with change.

Go placidly amid the noise and haste, and remember what peace there may be in silence. -Desiderata, 1927

Go placidly amid the noise and haste, and remember what peace there may be in silence. -Desiderata, 1927

On the mats and in real life, possessing the ability to anchor on a stable center within us is key to achieving this internal calm. We should always be connected with our center, our “Inner Stillness”. This ability to remain centered in the middle of the surrounding disarray is the essence of Do-Chu-Sei, of moving meditiation. It is  the day-to-day expression of inner peace.

 

 

(Please also see: “Zanshin“, “Fudoshin“, and “Mushin“)

Featured: “Making Change Permanent” by Quentin Cooke Sensei, 7th Dan

Nikkyo. Quentin Cooke Sensei, 7th Dan

Nikyo. Quentin Cooke Sensei, 7th Dan

Most of us have been on a course at one time or another and learnt some really important things, only to find that by the time we reach the office on Monday morning, what seemed so simple at the time now looks rather more difficult.  By way of example, I went on a First Aid course recently and as a result, now have my certificate updated for the next 3 years, but in honesty, I don’t feel that much better equipped to deal with an emergency than before the training and I’m hoping I do not have to find out for real, whether what I learnt, stuck.

The truth is that unless you use it, you lose it.  

So the only real way to bring about a change in the way you think and act is to practice hard until the new habit is deeply embedded in your psyche and in your body.

One powerful tool for this is aikido, which many people think is just a martial art.  Personally, I prefer to think of it as a philosophy for life that uses martial art technique, to prove that even when physically attacked, it is possible to manage conflict peacefully and positively.  The idea is not to break your attacker, but to blend with them.  You need to use the energy created, to direct what you have to see as a partner, rather than as a opponent, to a better place, whilst maintaining your own safety and integrity.

 

Over the years, I have had many people come to my club, and pretty much without exception, they are amazed at how this can be done and they are genuinely in awe of the way in which it can be achieved so gracefully.  Of course, the truth is that it only looks this way, because I have practised regularly and studied deeply for some 30 years.  This being said, I have had students come and go and many report back, that what I showed them on the mat actually changed their lives and helped them deal with some big problems.  It is this that keeps me motivated.  By way of example the following story comes from one of my students who has studied on and off for a couple of years or so…


“Oh Deer”
by Janet Shiel, 5th Kyu
 Burwell Aikido Club – England

Sensei said to us,

“Eventually, you may find yourselves using Aikido in everyday life,
in everything that you do.”

deer

Well, it was not long before I found out that this was true.

I was driving back from Cambridge in my little Vauxhall Tigra one foggy evening, with my partner, Chris, and two friends, Fred and Lucy. The visibility was very bad, and then suddenly through the dense, but patchy fog, appeared a very large deer. It paused on the grass verge to the right. Nothing fawn-like about this beast, it looked more like a blooming great stag.

RELAX! I thought – taking my foot off the accelerator. Lucy was screaming in the back seat, fearing we were about to crash. Fred in the front covered his face. “FFF********!!!!!!”

NOW BE AWARE OF EVERYTHING AROUND YOU. Hedge to the left, deer to the right, road clear ahead. It was about to cross in front of us. No time to brake!

RELAX AND AVOID THE DANGER. I waited just a millisecond.

TIMING IS EVERYTHING. Then. at the very split second it crossed in front of us, I turned the wheel to the right. We missed the animal by a hair’s breadth and then I steered the car left, back to my side of the road. It was so close that we could see its white hairy belly, and the breath from its nostrils, as it seemed to fill the whole windscreen.

Waiting for the right moment to move meant that we avoided disaster. The deer was now safely on its way as were we, both parties uninjured.

With my sensei’s teachings ringing in my ear, the morals of this story were clear:

Avoid conflict whenever possible.
Whatever life throws at you, try to stay calm!

aikido-horizontal


Quentin Cooke Sensei. 7th Dan, Yuishinkai InternationalThis is just one simple story among many that illustrates how people have taken what they learned on the mat to deal with problems they faced in life off of it and managed to produce wonderful results.

Some of these stories come from immensely experienced practitioners and some from almost complete beginners, which given what I said at the beginning of this article about the need to practice new skills, is miraculous.  I guess the truth is that people found that when they actually practiced what they learnt on the mat in real life, that no matter what their level of experience, the ideas were so powerful that even for the beginner they worked.

For all you business coaches out there, you will find that the principles taught within Aikido are probably very familiar to you and core to your work.  Aikido offers a powerful and potentially new way of embedding that knowledge in your clients.  Just find an Aikido teacher to work with.


This article was submitted exclusively to Aikido no Sekai by Quentin Cooke Sensei. All rights reserved. You can also submit Aikido or Peace related articles to Aikido no Sekai via email: aikidonosekai@gmail.com.

quentinQuentin Cooke Sensei, 7th Dan

In 1984, Quentin Cooke Sensei began to practice Aikido within the Ki Society of Great Britain, which later on became the Ki Federation of Great Britain. He stayed until 2000 having attained the rank of 4th dan. A need to create a less traditional group structure led Quentin Cooke Sensei and his brother to found Aikido for Daily Life (ADL) in 2004. He also affiliated his dojo to Yuishinkai International under the guidance and teaching of Koretoshi Maruyama Sensei, one of the founder’s original students. He encourages people to celebrate what we share rather than seek to emphasize our differences: “There are many ways up the mountain”. In 2011,Maruyama Sensei awarded Quentin Cooke Sensei the rank of 7th dan.

"A Way to Reconcile the World". Click on the image for more details about the book.

“A Way to Reconcile the World”. Click on the image for details on how to get a copy.

Apart from running his club, which is a qualifying member dojo of Peace Dojos International and chairing Aikido for Daily Life, he is also the Director Aiki Extensions,currently acting as Chair for the organizing committee of the International Aiki Peace Week.

The article above is just one over 80 stories from around the world, taken from the recently published book that Quentin Cooke Sensei edited titled; “A Way to Reconcile the World – Aikido Stories from Everyday Life“.

 


 

 

(Please also see:”8 Tips to Making Peace a Habit“)

 

Should Aikido be Effective?

Aikido, Kokyu Dosa.

Aikido, Kokyu Dosa.

There have been many questions about the effectiveness of Aikido as a martial art. Human as we are, we find it difficult to reconcile the idea of something so oxymoronic like the stand of Aikido as a martial art that is “non-violent”. I believe that the question of effectiveness can only be answered when we have understood the mechanics and effects of violence and conflict, and in our proficiency to handle them. As with any martial art, when all is said and done, the most basic measure of martial effectiveness depends on the outcome.


TRAINING IN THE DOJO

OSensei3Each Aikidoka has his or her own reasons for doing Aikido. Some would join an Aikido dojo to learn self-defense, while others as a form of exercise to improve their health, and so on. If you ask a thousand Aikidokas about their reasons for training, you will get a thousand different set of answers.

Still, it is important for us to reflect on our reasons for practicing Aikido- what we emphasize in training, what we think of training, and what we would like to get out of training; all these affect our growth in Aikido. Having said this, let us start by asking ourselves the following questions. These are specific to our experiences and goals in practicing the different techniques in the dojo:

Do we seek to learn how to masterfully inflict pain during training?
Do we aspire to make our throws more “powerful”?
Do we train to better dominate our ukes?
Do we think of the best possible angles to dislocate joints?
Have we ever caused injury to someone?

Now as a follow-up, in these instances when we caused pain or injury; or in cases when we banged our ukes’ bodies mercilessly onto the mats:

How did your ukes feel? Were they happy? Were they impressed?
Or were they scared? Vengeful?
Did they like what happened?
How did they respond when you traded places and you took ukemi for them?

I don’t think anyone wants to be slammed to the floor, or have their joints twisted and painfully hyper-extended. Unless you are a masochist, pain is always uncomfortable and undesirable. If our goal in training is to learn techniques that causes harm, or learning how to dominate and injure; I think now may be a good time for us to reflect on what we’ve been doing, and their effects.

Will training to do techniques this way lead us to reconciliation or will they create more conflict? If the latter, is this really a practice of Aikido? Or something else?

In Aikido, it is our aim to transform the initial separation into a celebration of togetherness.

 Let us remember that our goal is to control the aggression of the attacker without injury; and not to escalate the conflict. Our actions reflect our intent. What is your intention in doing Aikido?

“To injure your opponent is to injure yourself. To control aggression without inflicting injury is Aikido.” -Morihei Ueshiba O’Sensei

“To injure your opponent is to injure yourself. To control aggression without inflicting injury is Aikido.” -Morihei Ueshiba O’Sensei

If we continue to train in order to or while causing harm, we are defeating the purpose of our art. As I said in another article, without understanding the philosophy, we will not be able to fully express Aikido in our movement.


DOING TECHNIQUES

You see, we have to think of the aftereffects- the consequences of our actions. We have to understand that, unless we want to be murderers and kill any and all attackers; there is always the next attack. And the next attack, this retaliation,  can happen anytime- immediately, days, months, or can even take years. This pattern of  attacking and retaliating starts a vicious cycle of “hate that leads to hate that leads to more hate”. Isn’t it more prudent (if we really want to defend ourselves) to not add fuel to the fire as our response to the threat of an attack? In my own training, I am not compromising the effectiveness of my technique in order to uphold the philosophy. Rather,

 I uphold the philosophy in order to increase the effectiveness of my technique.

Doing martially sound techniques is by all means part of our training method. And it is important to emphasize that the effectiveness of Aikido is not limited to its  collection of techniques, and physical steps. Aikido also has its principles and philosophy that should always be expressed together and within the physical movement.

As a matter of fact, it is counterproductive to act from a standpoint of “doing a technique to someone”.  To “do a technique to someone” actually hails from a mindset of separation. In Aikido, we should practice Musubi. Person A is not actually doing a technique to Person B. Instead, Persons A and B are doing the technique together. This is training in moving as one.

In embracing the principles of Aikido, we should be training our techniques with the intention of love. It is important to realize that in the practice and application of the different techniques in conflict situations (actual or as simulated in paired exercises ), all these movements are in fact, physical opportunities for sharing our peace, our goodwill, and our compassion. In our practice of techniques, let us not fight fire with fire, but fire with water.

For some time now, I have made it a habit in my training to sometimes ask my ukes this question after each technique:

“How did that make you feel?”

The tricky thing about Aikido training is that we cannot actually feel the effect of our techniques ourselves. We need feedback in order for us to know what we have to work on. I am very grateful to my ukes, without whom, I would have never improved; because basing from their response and the principles I know, I can adjust my training goals accordingly.


THE LOVING PROTECTION OF ALL THAT EXISTS

avol3

Avalokiteshvara, Chinese: Guanyin, Japanese: Kannon. The Bodhisattva of Infinite Compassion and Mercy.

In a fight under the win-lose dynamic, winning and not losing are two different things, and Aikido is very effective in not losing. Actually, Aikido goes beyond this. In doing Aikido, we act to reconstruct the win-lose dynamic itself by reconciling the separation (brought by conflict) through our movements, and transforming it into togetherness (win-win).

From a win-lose to a win-win situation, both parties end up unharmed and at peace. 

Let us remember that there is no other in Aikido; that there is no enemy. What we have are techniques (when done correctly) capable of transforming the harmful intention from an attacker; ultimately bringing both parties together in peaceful understanding. Quoting  O’Sensei:

“The source of Budo is Divine Love- the spirit of loving protection for all that exists.”
「武道の根源は、神の愛—万有愛護の精神—である」

In any martial situation, Aikido’s goal is to transform conflict and purify it, so that there may be peace. This is the practice of Aikido as Misogi, or purification. It is an art that seeks to purify malice and overcome hate through movements coming from a heart of sincere compassion. This compassionate intent can always be felt in the vibrations of our movement. It is never a vain effort. We aim for purification- a change of heart.

This is a very difficult level of mastery to reach, requiring patience, diligence, initiative, and above all, an unwavering curiosity to learn. As Budo, Aikido is truly as ambitious as it is revolutionary. So now to answer the question, should Aikido be effective?

“Yes. Aikido, should be effective. It should be very effective.”


(Please also see: “Aikido: When The Body Moves the Mind“)

 

A Deeper Look into Ma-ai

Space: “The final frontier”.
But I mean another kind of space. I mean Ma-ai.

Leonardo Da Vinci's Vitruvian Man.

Leonardo Da Vinci’s Vitruvian Man.

Ma-ai is defined as space, distance, reach or interval. When I was beginning Aikido, my partner and I used to stretch out our arms in full extension and touch fingertip to fingertip. And that was that. Ma-ai was that simple. Then we would proceed to practice our strikes and tai-sabaki drills, stop when the teacher signaled to stop, measure fingertips then begin again. In our pairwork, the teacher would come around and remind us to be always aware of our safe distance, our Ma-ai.

In my trying to understand the concept and practice of Ma-ai, the elements of not only distance, but also speed, timing, and reach also came up. These elements define Ma-ai, but still, there is more to it than that. Because Ma-ai also expands and contracts. Because Ma-ai is also dependent on intuition for intent. Isn’t there Ma-ai in personal space in relation to safety too?  What exactly, then, is Ma-ai? 


Back to Basics

In Aikido, Ma-ai is the proper distance between you and  training partner, that he has to take a step to complete the distance to be able to reach you. But now, I have come to realize that it is in fact, not as simple as the definition given to me many, many years ago.

Motohiro Fukakusa Shihan; 35th Anniversary of the Hong Kong Aikido Association.

Motohiro Fukakusa Shihan; 35th Anniversary of the Hong Kong Aikido Association.

Ma-ai is the interval between parties, the distance of engagement; in other traditional martial arts like kendo and karate,  it is the spatial relationship between oneself and the opponent, and is usually classified into three kinds, dependent on the distance as the sole parameter for the time it would take for one to reach the other with his blade or strike:

Tō-ma- the long interval or distance, where it would take you further and longer to reach your opponent,
Itto-ma– the one step – one sword distance, where it would take just a step and a slash to reach your opponent, and;
• Chikama– the short distance, where you are already within each others space.


Ma-ai in Speed and Timing

Aside from physical distance, one’s Ma-ai is also dependent on the speed of each of the participants as well as how they time their movements.  Sometimes, in my mind, I picture two equally skilled swordsmen in a frozen -in-time face off, each of them waiting for the right time and each equally hoping, he will be the faster.  The faster and more well-timed his entry or attack, the more chances he will have of  overcoming the other.

samurai-sword-fight2

At other times, I also imagine a different scenario: Imagine yourself as a swordsman fighting a duel with another swordsman whom we know is younger, faster, and more skilled than you are. Doesn’t his Ma-ai seem bigger than yours?

Speed and Timing, and our understanding and capacity for it in relation to the attacker affects our Ma-ai as well.


Ma-ai Contracts and Expands

Ma-ai stretches, expands and contracts.  This is dependent on the reach of the weapons we are holding and the capacity for speed and timing both parties have in a given martial encounter. When you are holding a sword and your partner is empty handed, both your personal space and reach are totally different.

Bukiwaza; Morihiro Saito Sensei

Bukiwaza; Morihiro Saito Shihan.

The one holding a sword would have a longer reach, and the empty-handed one a shorter reach. Knowing this, both  sides adjust so that each maintains  a safe distance. As an application, in the case of a bat-wielding assailant and a sledge-hammer wielding opponent, their Ma-ai would also have to consider the heft and damage and speed with which they can wield their weapons.  (I’m just playing around with scenarios in my head, I’ve never seen these two people in a real life face off.)

This concept also extends to the actual application of techniques. For example, in the engagement of  a throwing technique in Aikido, we lead our partner to open up a space for us to enter. As we move, we already set them up for the throw.  Here, we are actually using our understanding of how Ma-ai contracts and expands to our advantage.  The awareness of  its perimeters allows us to constantly keep ourselves almost within reach but just a hair out of reach, so that their intention to get to us is not broken.  We use that intent to connect with them, leading them into the ideal situation for us to throw them.

When you have a great partner who understands this, you both enjoy the game of leading, setting up, trying to break out of the set up and afterwards, you both enjoy a good laugh.  I love it when this happens!


Ma-ai and Intention

lovehateMa-ai can also determined by how you understand intent. When you know you will be safe, your Ma-ai gets shorter. When you sense harmful intent, you keep a controlled and well monitored distance, preferably longer and further than the reach and speed of the other being in question.

So, you have family, who you know will always be there for you, love you, care for you.  Your Ma-ai keeps them as close as you want them to be.  You have work mates, they watch your back or stab you in the back, depending on your work relationship with them and you adjust your distance with them, too.  You have the cat-calling strangers who stand on the corner, and you hold on to your mace and give them a wide berth.


Sensing Personal Space and  Safety

In animal behavior and human psychology, the levels of how close a person can get to another person or being is dependent on how safe the other feels within the company of that person. That is Ma-ai, too. This is the concept of personal space. Have you ever been in a very crowded train? How did it feel being squeezed in with total strangers?

Crowded Tokyo Subway. Photo Credit: Michael Wolf

Crowded Tokyo Subway. Photo Credit: Michael Wolf

I remember in the classroom, one of my teachers managed our unruly class of young adolescent 14 year old girls through intimidation by proximity.  If she even suspected something fishy, she would situate herself right beside the suspected perpetrator of mischief.  It worked. She was a wonderful teacher because she excited our minds and made us want to learn more, yet also maintained discipline without breaking our spirit.  This simple tactic is still being used everywhere.  The police presence in the current neighborhood where I live now, is a reflection that Ma-ai in this form still works.

It does not seem positive to exert mental intimidation and use the role of fear to expand Ma-ai, but because it does happen, and it is being used, I guess, I have to consider it just to be fair.  There are some areas where you are not allowed to enter due to safety reasons.  Areas so heavily patrolled and secured that it makes you wonder, “what’s in there?”

There are people who have “levels of security clearances”, too.  Some can enter restricted or intimate space, and others cannot.  For safety reasons, of course. In a way, being able to isolate and distance these areas are ways Ma-ai is used to manage and restrict access.

woman-readingIn trying to look at maintaining distance, I too have to consider the emotional connection or disconnection of people.

There also exists “the me time”.  you know, that time when you just want to be left alone.  This usually happens when you are pondering some great question or enjoying a moment of precious solitude.   This is important, too,  and our life partners understand that sometimes, we just need to disconnect from the world and be alone with our thoughts, musings and day dreams.  Or when I need to write about something, I like to be all alone. This, also is a part of Ma-ai, for me.

I have no capacity to become a veterinarian.  The reason being, I would break every time I lose a patient. I admire the professionals and their nurturing and caring for the weak, the sick, and the disadvantaged.  They have reached a level of maintaining a distance that would also protect them from breaking every time they lose a battle with disease, a patient, a charge.

Then, there are the naturally existing creatures who are just inherently wild.  Wild things that will not be tamed would maintain a wider circle of awareness and guardedness than a pet. Here, too, is seeing an awareness of Ma-ai in action.


“But let there be spaces in your togetherness and let the winds of the heavens dance between you. Love one another but make not a bond of love; let it rather be a moving sea between the shores of your souls” Kahlil Gibran

“But let there be spaces in your togetherness and let the winds of the heavens dance between you. Love one another but make not a bond of love; let it rather be a moving sea between the shores of your souls”
~Kahlil Gibran

The way I understand it, Ma-ai is the sum total of all these elements so that we have a harmonious space to live in. But, even still, I do not think it is as simple as that. It is a good definition, but I found it wanting. There was that niggling feeling inside me, like a wriggling worm of a feeling that still there is more to Ma-ai. After much thinking and re-thinking about this concept, it finally dawned on me:

Perhaps, Ma-ai is a relationship.

Yes, it is basically simply stated as distance, but it is also affected by your relationship with the other, it is about you and about the other, your circumstances individually, together and toward each other. It is your connection as a whole.

In understanding Ma-ai as a relationship of people and space, when I roll this idea around in my head, practice maintaining Ma-ai with this in my heart, mind and soul- I feel at peace with it. Maybe, personally, this is the right definition of Ma-ai for me.

 

(Please also see: “Balance“)

Aikido: When The Body Moves the Mind

It is an established aim of Aikido that the mind and body should be united so that a person can fully be his best self in whatever he does. The concept is that of cause and effect: The mind desires something and the physical body expresses that desire through action. Imagine a human being having two sides, the mental and the physical. The mental side is the part that thinks and directs, and the physical side is the one that acts and follows the direction.


Photo Credit: Christopher Peddecord. www.dancinphotos.net

Photo Credit: Christopher Peddecord. http://www.dancinphotos.net

The Mind Moves the Body

Usually, when we try doing something for the first time, we can’t really do it well, can we? Remember how you first learned to ride a bike? Or the first time you tried to drive? Remember how it was for you the first time you tried to do any sport? Or, for the martial artists out there, the first time you tried to punch, kick, block? For the Aikidoka, remember the first time you tried to do the rolls? How about the first technique you got to do? Or the first time you held a bokken and did a shomenuchi with it? In all these examples, how was it for you?

For most of us, our first time has been a disappointing failure.

It is arrogant to believe anything can be done well the first time. Although we may think we understand the movement, (in fact, we have replayed the sequence in our minds over and over again!) when we get to the actual doing, our bodies do not seem to listen to us. We move awkwardly and clumsily as opposed to the grace and deft we have pictured ourselves to be capable of doing. The first time is frustrating, indeed.

And so we train. We train to unify what our mind has set out to do and what we are actually doing. The mind is moving the body. The mind is the arbiter of control, and the body is the faculty of action. Whatever constructs we have built within our minds will be reflected in our actions on and off the mats. In teaching Aikido skills, more important than the steps of different techniques is the reconfiguration of how we think.

As O’Sensei said: “I want considerate people to listen to the voice of Aikido. It is not for correcting others; it is for correcting your own mind”.

In order for training to be fruitful, one has to rid himself of mental distractions that limit the movement of the body. It is here where the application and practice of the budo concept of Fudoshin becomes important. Once the mind is corrected, the body will be able to move in harmony with its intentions. Following this basic concept, Aikido therefore begins with correctly training the mind so as to correctly train the body. Otherwise, training becomes a futile routine.


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Ikkyo. Seishiro Endo Shihan, 8th Dan.

Musubi: Moving as One

In the course of the physical interaction between tori and uke, Aikido techniques are done most efficiently when the tori and uke move as one. At the moment of the initial contact, there is a joining or unifying inherent in Aikido movement that is accomplished.  The point of contact becomes the point of communication, becoming the link that connects tori and uke together. It is here that Musubi is established.

Musubi is to tie together.

There is no other in Aikido, and at the initiation of the movement, the goal of training is to transform duality into oneness. Musubi training is training in uniting opposing forces through connection and circular movements. Musubi is not trained by pushing and pulling. Instead, it can be trained by skillfully attracting and drawing in the energy of the uke’s attack, uniting with the uke through a point (or points) of contact, maintaining this unity, and through circular and spherical movement, moving together as one.

It is important to always be aware of this point of communication and to not lose it: the centers of tori and uke are joined together through the interplay of energies at the point of contact. It is with the joined centers that duality is extinguished and the two bodies become one. When both tori and uke are truly unified, there can never be a separation of intention as well as their physical action. In unity, Aikido then becomes effortless.


When The Body Moves the Mind

In doing any particular Aikido movement, tori and uke should always move as one unit. During a technique, there is an ongoing interplay of energies running between the tori and uke from their centers through the point of contact. In order to maintain musubi and continue moving together as one, tori should move in such a way that that there is no resistance, until the technique is completed.

changeResistance is an indicator of duality.

Resistance signals a disruption in the movement. Forcing the technique through resistance is not Aikido. There should be no clashing in Aikido. Resistance is therefore a sign of separation, and a call to reestablish unity -an opportunity for henkawaza.

Henkawaza is simply defined as changing from one technique to another. It is what you do when you “failed” to complete the initial technique because of resistance, hence doing another technique to address this “problem”. Realistically, henkawaza happens all the time, especially when dealing with very responsive and well-trained ukes.  However as the Aikidoka matures in both skill and knowledge, opportunities for henkawaza happen less and less.

Sensitivity to connection and to resistance of uke is therefore important during the execution of any movement. Otherwise, the tendency to force a technique increases.

These changes in the interplay of energies are usually subtle, and can only be felt through softness and sensitivity. Depending on the feeling, the body then moves the mind to adapt with any and all circumstances that arise in any particular movement. Sensitivity to tactile inputs in training as well as other sensory data is critical to developing good Aikido.


Our bodies have afferent (sensory) and efferent (motor) nerves that provide inputs and outputs to and from the brain respectively. When the mind moves the body, it is when efferent nerve fibers efficiently address the instruction from the mind and manifest these to actual physical movement . In instances when the body moves the mind, by way of afferent nerve fibers through different sensory inputs, the body feeds the mind with real-time information about the physical circumstances of the movement currently being done. The mind can then reconstruct the initial action-decision to adapt with the changes that may have occurred based on the information it has received.

This interplay of motor output and sensory input in the Aikidoka initiates the dynamics of the-mind-moving-the-body-and-the body-moving-the-mind (MB-BM) cycle. In any given technique, this cycle is repeated indefinitely until the movement is completed. It also goes without saying that the Aikidoka is making and acting on one decision after another at a very fast, almost instantaneous rate throughout any particular movement. It is only with continuous training that these skills are honed.

This ability to decide and act almost instantaneously is sometimes coined as intuition, the hallmark of mastery.

(Please also see: “Aikido: Kata is NOT Waza“)

“Freedom is the Absolute Prerequisite to Peace” by André Cognard, 8th Dan Hanshi

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Andre Cognard Shihan, 8th Dan Hanshi; Tenchinage.

(See this article in original French)

An individual’s freedom is the absolute prerequisite to peace .

Everyone’s duty is to be free. Freedom is the prerequisite to identity and to it’s uniqueness. By acting freely, a subject participates in the expansion of the universe by it’s complexification. Identity is the universe’s utmost division and an individual’s task is to make it live. But individual’s freedom is hindered by invisible bonds of loyalty. These obligations arise from our need to belong to diverse entities, comprised in undifferentiated group consciousnesses.

This is the price of incarnate life.

To receive a body, you adopt two family histories and through them, the history of ancestral consciousness and its cultural and clanic subdivisions, as well as the history of human consciousness as a whole. Upon incarnation each individual is burdened with this collective history.

It is the conflict between our duty to be free and our obligations of loyalty towards the groups, that creates an internal conflict, a true identity schism. To be objectified, the conflict is projected between the subject and others. Objectified in the relationship, it can be changed. The evolution and harmonization of the internal conflict will occur if the re-enactment of the relational experience leads to peace. Change is therefore made ​​possible through our actions. This is the meaning of the way and of practice: our karma consists of our actions.

To understand our need to be free and our need for relationships, we must understand that conscience is only what it contains and all it contains. Internal conflict is a pillar of conscience itself. It is structural. This implies that change cannot occur in conscience itself. The conscience can only change by integrating novelty and novelty comes from otherness. One changes only in the other.

andre_cognardThis means that peace is only possible when the subject has freed himself from his obligations of loyalty to ancestral consciousnesses to whom he owes language, culture, and myth. And also to the collective human consciousness to whom he owes symbols and, through them, the ability to integrate novelty and therefore change.

There is a only one way to free oneself and that is to accomplish our spiritual duty which is always composed of two antagonistic elements:

  •  Liberating the human group out of the self, by embracing our own freedom and respecting that of others.
  •  Liberating the expanding universe within the self by removing all obstacles to our own freedom.

The two are inseparable because they both determine universal harmony which in turn determines peace. Peace is the sign of spiritual accomplishment. Aikido must lean towards this concept that I have named “effective harmony.”


This article was submitted exclusively to Aikido no Sekai by Andre Cognard Shihan. All rights reserved. You can also submit Aikido or Peace related articles to Aikido no Sekai via email: aikidonosekai@gmail.com.

Andre Cognard HanshiAndré Cognard Saiko Shihan, 8th Dan Hanshi

In 1973, He met Hirokazu Kobayashi Shihan in Paris and since then, devoted his life to Aikido. In 1982 he founded the Academie Autonomous Aikido (now Autonomous Academie d’Aikido Kobayashi Hirokazu), now represented in France by more than 100 dojos.

In February 1998, upon the recommendation of  Hirokazu Kobayashi Shihan, along with five of his students, he founded the Kokusai Aikido Kenshukai Kobayashi Ryu Ha. Hirokazu Kobayashi Soshu awarded Andre Cognard the degree of hachidan (8th dan), along with the title of Saiko Shihan of Aikido Kokusai Kenshukai (or the first of Shihan). Currently, he holds the title of Hanshi conferred by Dai Nippon Butokukai. Published in French, he is author to many books about Aikido and the martial arts.

 

(Please also see: “8 Tips to Making Peace a Habit“)