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“)

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“Ssshhh… I will tell you a secret. For me, it’s Shihonage.”

Shihonage by Moriteru Ueshiba Doshu

Shihonage. Tori: Moriteru Ueshiba Doshu

“Slow is good. No need to be fast. The speed will come when you need it.” 

That was what my teacher said. We were practicing Shihonage.

Shihonage is the four-direction throw. It is based on how fighters long ago used to bow toward the East, North, West and South before and after a fight (I think Muay Thai and Sumo arts still bow to the four directions until now).  Sometimes, it is also called the four corner-throw. Everything that Aikido is based on can be found in Shihonage. According to an account written by Gozo Shioda, O’Sensei said that:

Shihonage is the foundation of Aikido. All you ever need to master is Shihonage”.

One of the reasons why Shihonage has a very special place in my heart is because it was the very first technique my teacher taught me. I still remember it very clearly. Katatedori gyaku hanmi Shihonage omote. Looking back at the beginner that I was, we paid close attention to starting out footwork. I got easily lost the minute the hanmi changed. I counted the steps and turned awkwardly. I kept losing my balance and kept getting my face in the way of my partner’s fist. Sometimes, I bumped into him. I couldn’t get it right. Sensei was a patient man. I do not doubt that my clumsy attempts were any good at all. But he was right there along with me guiding me to get it right.

Hanmi-Handachi Shihonage. Tori: Tada Hiroshi shihan

Hanmi-Handachi Shihonage. Tori: Tada Hiroshi Shihan

“Ma-ai.” He says. “You get a fist if you do not understand ma-ai.” Outbalance upon entering.“Maintain your partner’s being off-balance throughout the entire technique.“I can still hear his voice in my mind when I slip up and do not get it right every now and then.“Do not pause when you pivot. One continuous motion from start to finish!”Poor bumbling newbie, I thought would never get the hang of it.

Personally, Shihonage always reminds me of cutting down with a sword. I like to practice with the bokken and cutting in four or eight directions when I am alone and have no partner to practice with. The cutting and turning with the bokken exercise lends itself well to refining most techniques, but the particular one that comes to my mind is Shihonage. Breathing with my sword strokes also helps in keeping me aware of the rising and dropping motions.

Shihonage should not be unreasonable or forced.

I think you have to segue into Shihonage, flow into it from the attack, very much like Kaitenage. When I practice it, I become conscious of where my hips are and to where they are facing. I become aware of a drop in my center when I cut down. In practicing Shihonage, I also become very much aware of Ma-ai, because, yes, I do get a fist in my face or walk into a face slap if I do not pay attention to it.

Shihonage. Tori: Yaushito Irie Sensei, 5th Dan (Photo Credit: Aikido Tada-Juku Irie Dojo)

Shihonage. Tori: Yasuhito Irie Sensei, 5th Dan (Photo Credit: Aikido Tada-Juku Irie Dojo)

Then there is the direction of the throw. When I was starting out, I learned the one where you cut down directly in front of you. As I got more exposed to other versions, I learned them too. Sometimes, one teacher will teach the cutting down version, other times, another teacher will teach throwing your uke away version. I was so confused, because at that time, I thought there was only one correct way to do it! Oh my goodness! Was I totally wrong! There’s a whole lot of Shihonages out there, for as many as there are people practicing them and making it work for them. And, I want to learn them all!

Once, while I was performing Shihonage, I felt my arms were too short. They were already extended, but uke was still there. When my teacher saw the look of confusion on my face, he just said, “Move your body, not your arms. Move as one, every part of you, move forward. Slide.” Ahhh, so that’s how it goes. We throw with our whole body, not just the arms. We move from the center, whole body as one, to throw uke! (Imagine that light bulb going ding-ding-ding in my head.)

One tip I learned from someone close to me is that if you are dizzyingly confused, always go back to the very basic form and the prevailing principles that govern your Aikido and work your way up again. Or you can go back to the weapons where the movement was based.  If you base Shihonage on the sword, you throw uke downward like a sword cut, taking advantage of its cutting edge.  If you base it on the jo, you throw uke out, like the sweeping of the jo, taking advantage of its long reach.

Personally, I believe it is important in Shihonage to consider the quality of the connection you establish between you and your partner; tori and uke as one, bringing each other to the best position to complete the throw. 

Teaching Shihonage. Tori: Hiroshi Tada Shihan (Photo Credit: Aikido Tada-Juku Irie Dojo)

Teaching Shihonage. Tori: Hiroshi Tada Shihan (Photo Credit: Aikido Tada-Juku Irie Dojo)

My teacher also showed me how to take care of my partner who was on the receiving end of the technique. I liked how he emphasized my partner’s safety as well as my own. He said he wanted me to still have partners for the next day, and the next, so I must take good care of them, make sure I do not injure them or wear them out. I thought it was funny, the way he put it like that, but now, ah, I understand, that part of Aikido is respect and loving kindness.

To this day, whenever Shihonage is demonstrated and taught for practice, it always makes me feel like there is something wonderful ahead, just around the four corners. Something new maybe, or an old familiar reliable form? Four directions can easily become eight, and all the eight directions can even become infinite.  In a way, then, Shihonage is limitless.

Students Training Shihonage. Photo Credit: Aikido Tada-Juku Irie Dojo

Students Training Shihonage. Photo Credit: Aikido Tada-Juku Irie Dojo

I like Shihonage. Maybe because it was the very first technique I learned. Maybe because I feel very efficient doing it. Maybe because it was one of the first techniques that really opened up Aikido for me. Or maybe, because it very closely resembles a dance move of which I have no aptitude for.

Do you have a particular technique that is secretly your favorite?


 

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

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“)

 

Aikido: Learning from Nature

Aikido Founder Morihei Ueshiba O'Sensei waters flowers.

Aikido Founder Morihei Ueshiba O’Sensei waters flowers.

Man is a naturally curious creature. We have stared up at the heavens and the stars for centuries. We have mapped the constellations and land masses and ocean floors. We have even mapped the moon. We are curious about why something happens and we want to know how it happens. Some of us spend lifetimes and careers observing, documenting, and graphing natural phenomena and the earth’s creatures who live in it with us.

I, personally, could just spend hours sitting perfectly still in a quiet, secluded forest watching its denizens go about their daily forest life. And those hours, for me, would be considered a well-spent investment for my peace of mind and personal well-being.

What keeps everything so interesting is how we observe these things and the questions we ask ourselves, which then lead us to further studies.

Observation is one of our most powerful tools in being able to study, adapt, and survive living in this world. It is used in the scientific and experimental methodologies, as well as in socio- cultural and anthropological studies. Without observation, we would not have lasted this long as a species. Without observation, we wouldn’t have known that hungry carnivores don’t care where their meat is coming from or that a great mass hurtling at us at a great speed can cause extreme trauma and devastating damage.

O'Sensei, looking at a tree.

O’Sensei, looking at a tree.

The world around us is our teacher and our school. Nature does not discriminate the strong from the weak minded. She just goes ahead and lays out her lessons for us to learn from. Nature is always there, 24/7. She’s never had a day off from work. She caters to all levels of fluency and she doesn’t care whether you even speak or do sign language instead. She is a tireless and all encompassing teacher.

It is all up to us to observe, to learn, adapt or die.

In the martial arts, there are many allusions to Nature. Some martial arts are tied to the five elements in the Orient. Earth, Water, Fire, Metal and Wind. And of course, the great Empty ( the Null). Other martial art forms have more bestial connections, most probably because the animals can be observed more easily than the elements.

For example, in popular kung-fu/shao-lin movies I used to watch (and still watch, as a guilty pleasure), there are all these styles named after animals. There are the crane style, the tiger, the monkey, the mantis, the eagle and so on. These animal forms reflect and seem to emulate the animals for which they have been named. They magnify the advantages and characteristics of that particular animal and develop qualities in the practitioner that reflects it.

For instance, the tiger style seeks to develop power in its strikes and its movement. It teaches the practitioner to be aggressive in his attacks and defenses, while the mantis develops an agile and swift execution of the style. It is believed that the more fluent you are in all the forms, the more a well-rounded, well-adjusted person develops.

Morihei Ueshiba O'Sensei and the tree.

Morihei Ueshiba O’Sensei and the tree.

For the monks to create these styles, it implies that they have spent not just hours and hours of observation, practice and development, but centuries.

In Aikido, a much younger martial art, we also learn through observation, practice, understanding, exploring, building up, breaking down and creating adaptations. The first skill as a beginner I wish white belts would pay more attention to would be developing their perceptual abilities. It is too easy to be blinded by the glamour of the techniques, and much more difficult to pay attention to the mundane exercises leading up to the techniques.

We need visual acuity to be able to perceive the progress and execution of the technique at work. To see in detail what is going on in motion and in static form is as important as being able to do it. By learning to observe demonstrations properly, we file away in our “little gray cells” bits and pieces of information that do not make sense at present, but might light the eureka bulb in us later on.

As an Aikidoka we need to be able to also be kinesthetically perceptive. Learning while feeling and doing lets us get the feel of what is right and what works. We learn to recognize and observe the patterns in the drills and the techniques and we repeat them to gain fluency.

Morihei Ueshiba O'Sensei, Kiai.

Morihei Ueshiba O’Sensei, Kiai.

But then, is it also important to reflect where these forms and patterns came from? What in Nature do these forms and patterns remind us of? Did nature inspire the technique, or does the technique reflect nature? Doesn’t really matter, or does it?

For long-practicing Aikdoka, sometimes, when we look at a picture of Nature or see Nature in action, we are immediately reminded of a particular technique.
Sometimes, our bodies are too beat up to take keiko, but we still want to do Aikido. Times like these, we need to listen to our bodies and let Nature show us the way she wants to go. We can still practice, experience, explore Aikido in Nature. That’s the beauty of it all.

Nature is there all the time so we can practice Aikido all the time, anytime.

small_waves_1920x1200Consider this exercise with the sea as your partner: When we look at the waves of the ocean, we see their motion. We can see how the wave is formed and how it rolls. When we get into the water, we feel its rolling and withdrawing and surging. We see it, we feel it, we taste it and move with it. We even hear the slap-slapping of the waves on the sand and on the rocks. It is all around us. It could be a gentle teacher or a ruthless one. How we greet it and perceive it depends entirely up to us. By experiencing this body of water, certain Aikido exercises and techniques come to mind because of its familiar feel.

We associate the experience with certain movements. And there in our associations and perceptions lies the jewel of a lesson we have been observing in Nature all along.

Then the questions come rolling in…and we find the meaning and the purpose in our observations, and we set the directions towards further learning, because we are naturally curious, and Nature is calling.

morihei_ueshiba_meditation

(Please also see: “Aikido: Everything is a Gift“)

 

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.


endo12

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“)

Aikido: Philosophy and Movement

Aikido founder, Morihei Ueshiba O'Sensei

Aikido founder, Morihei Ueshiba O’Sensei

How do you train? In Aikido the training pattern usually follows the same sequence: The teacher demonstrates a technique, and we try to do this technique in pairs, training the steps over and over again until the teacher signals for us to stop, and then he proceeds to demonstrate the next technique. This cycle is continued until the kokyudosa at the end of the class. Then we go home and that’s that.

Sometimes after this sequence there may be some other training exercises like tanninzugake or jiyuwaza training that can be done. But this is the usual pattern isn’t it? Warm-up, Aiki Taiso, pair work (with or without weapons), the optional jiyuwaza/tanninzugake, and kokyudosa at the end. All Aikido dojos, regardless of “style”, follow this training pattern, don’t they?

Lately I have been reflecting on the direction Aikido is taking, considering the current training regimen we are adapting.

Aikido is a balance of philosophy and martial movement.

Movement not based on philosophy or philosophy not applicable to movement is not Aikido. All Aikido movement follow a structure based on principles, and all principles follow a structure derived from movement. Both movement and philosophy can stand alone, but for these to be Aikido, I have come to realize that one should not be without the other. O’Sensei said that Aikido is 50% Bu (practice of martial movement) and 50%  Bun (philosophy, deep learning). Our bu enlightens our bun, and our bun enlightens our bu.

I like to think of it this way:
100% Philosophy and Principles in 100% Movement  makes 100% Aikido.

I know O’Sensei is more of the mathematician. I propose this equation to emphasize the importance of both. The philosophy of Aikido is a stand-alone, and the martial movements/techniques of Aikido is a stand-alone as well. But apart from each other, it is never Aikido, nor is it partially Aikido. I have come to think that there should be a deliberate 100% philosophical rationale behind our movements and that the philosophy should also be 100% applicable to movement or techniques for it to be Aikido. This way, there is unity in mind and body, in our will and in what we do.

It is like the 2 sides of the coin. If you look at just one of either side, you can say it is a quarter (for example), but for that discoid piece of metal to be a quarter and have any real value, the faces of the two sides should have been pressed onto the coin. It is never really a quarter if only one side has a face while the other is left blank.

zen in motionOne without the other is not Aikido, or at least doesn’t really have any real value. Our actions and our intentions should manifest each other. Do we integrate the philosophy in our movements? Or the movements in our philosophy? Rather, can we integrate these given our training methods?

This is something we should think about and apply. Aikido is not just a martial art but a philosophy in itself expressed in martial movement. It is Zen in motion and the motion in Zen. It is Mu in motion and the motion in Mu. It is the universe in motion and the motion of the universe.

Aikido is the expression of peace through movement, a coming together in love.

 

(Please also see: “Mushin: The Mind without Mind“)

Rollercoaster Sensei

MonksI have a friend who is scared to take Ukemi from a certain instructor. The kind of scared that makes one whisper a prayer of protection, calling forth divine intervention every time he is the uke of this sensei during class.

This teacher’s Aikido is powerful, precise, and cunning; he can deftly keep the uke totally unbalanced throughout the technique from start to finish, and he always finishes with a bang (literally)!I have to admit, I too have my “fear” of being his uke. That feeling when you are excited and nervous at the same time. When being his uke, one has to brace himself for a roller coaster ride, complete with the loops and the twists and the view of the earth, the sky, and the physical world all around; all without a seat belt. He is Rollercoaster Sensei.

Steel Dragon 2000 (Nagashima, Mie, Japan); Photo Source: coastergallery.com

Steel Dragon 2000 (Nagashima, Mie, Japan);
Photo Source: coastergallery.com

I, myself, am not a fan of the roller coaster.

I don’t like the feeling of my center taken from under my control. I don’t like heights. I don’t like the velocity, the acceleration, the turning and the twisting. I don’t like the sudden drop the most. But I can see why roller coasters are very popular, with people waiting in line anywhere between a few minutes to hours just to have a go at the 1 minute ride: Roller coasters are thrilling! They simulate the feeling of plummeting to your death, and living through it. They give you a natural high, an adrenaline rush, with your body failing to understand that you are not going to die in the next few seconds.

And, I am a fan of Rollercoaster Sensei.

I enjoy learning from him, and believe you me, he has a lot to teach. His technique is exhilarating. Taking ukemi from him is a lesson all by itself! He can teach without teaching.

In being his uke however, I believe trust is the most important thing. Trust that Rollercoaster Sensei will not injure or kill me. Trust that even with the inertia of the movement within the technique, Rollercoaster Sensei is still in control and can return me to safety. Trust that I have done enough ukemi training, and that somehow I will survive this. When there is complete trust, you are all set. All that’s left to be done is to  give an honest attack, and do some “Mushin Ukemi”; because you know that  in that split-second after striking, you are in for the ride of your life, guaranteed!

Safety firstTo all Rollercoaster Senseis out there: Safety First.

You’re ukes are people. They have a job, a family, and a life outside the mats. Your ukes are trusting you with their lives and their health. Just be careful and be discriminate with your ukes. Please practice safely and practice safety.There is no other reason for injuries on the mats in an otherwise healthy Aikidoka other than those that result from recklessness, both as uke and tori. As I said in a previous post, prudence is always good practice.

Personally, I enjoy training with Rollercoaster Sensei. Maybe you know a Rollercoaster Sensei yourself! His Aikido is splendid. It gives you the same rush as hanging on for dear life.

 

(Please also see: Aikido: Reputation and Integrity)