Welcome to the end of another long and fruitful year of training. I always like to end the year by taking note of how we have progressed throughout the year. My upcoming vacation is always a period of restful reflection and planning for the year ahead. I would like to encourage everyone to engage in this process of reflection and projection into the future.
Our techniques are simply kata. The way in which we practice our kata is organized in a manner to help develop intent, body awareness, proper body alignment and movement. If we look at our waza and the nature of our practice as some semblance of “real fight practice”, then we are bound to find ourselves walking into dead-ends in our training that make us more (NOT LESS) vulnerable to failure in a real physical confrontation. If we can explore our practice as a series of orchestrated sequences of movements (both uke and nage), we can take stock on where we have progressed and where we need to progress in our Aikido training for the coming year.
I would encourage everyone to really slow down your practice to the point where you are really aware of what is going on. Start at the beginning of the process of learning at the dojo. Take stock of your body and mind as you walk through the dojo door. As you change, can you begin to place yourself in a space to learn? When you bow before walking on the mats, is that kata empty or full? When we bow to shomen and the sensei, are you genuinely present and open to learn? When you are the uke or nage, what is your intent like? As you begin any movement, is your body moving connected? Are you aware of points of disconnect? When contact is made, what happens to the connections in your body and the body of the person whom you are working with? As a person progresses from beginning to the end of the technique, what happens to those connections? Are there any openings, or points of failure that occur? Where is your intent when the technique is completed (both nage and uke)?
This kind of awareness is mentally and physically exhausting! This kind of awareness is important to be able to “clean-up” problem areas so that things begin to work seamlessly and without a lot of thought. When this begins to occur, you begin to transition from this very microcosmic focus to a macrocosmic focus. You can begin to become aware of patterns of movements in both the uke and nage that translate into the techniques that we practice. A perfect example of this can be viewed in the class of techniques called Kote-Gaeshi. A bunch of threads in the forum worlds are looking at this as wrist-locking, controlling, throwing, etc. techniques. People are trying to further classify a series of kata into dead-end streets. This becomes obvious if you take that set of techniques and play with a boxer or karateka who throws punches at you. None of those “classes” will help you to succeed. What if you look at a punch as a spiraling vector. It spirals one way on the way out and the other way on the way back. If you can simply connect with this spiral pattern and simply add to the spiral back towards the body, you will discover that the person will essentially perform the kote-gaeshi on themselves. You were just connected to that spiral and doing a better job returning the spiral back than that person was. You did not lock the person’s wrist, yet the person’s wrist became locked. You did not control the attacking hand, but the attacking hand became a point of control for you of how that person’s structure was managed. You did not throw the person, the person ended up moving in that manner. You did not restrain the person, the person’s movement caused a self-restraint. We can go through a whole series of waza and in a similar manner only to finally realize that they are intelligently designed kata that help us learn to address a myriad of movement possibilities. When we can embark upon this path, we can begin to fill in the shell that is our waza/kata. When this happens, our “techniques” begin to transcend the basic forms and evolve into countless manifestations of the original movements. We no longer get bored practicing the same techniques, because each technique becomes a transcendent opportunity.
Shoshin (beginner’s mind) is one of the philosophical pillars of this school. The most advanced/skilled people are the ones who really have the basics down. That means posture, intent, connected body, proper joint movement, etc.. That can get translated into the basic “warm-ups” and movement drills (eg. ikkyo undo). That can get translated into the waza/kata that we practice. That can get translated into the ideal of takemusu aikido. I am nowhere close to where I want to be. I am still working on understanding the most basic of basics and trying to allow them to be expressed at higher levels. It has been nice to receive positive feedback from those who have chronicled the changes in me, but I do not want to become complacent with those complements. As a teacher, I must set the example for always working hard to continue to progress. I make it a point to be as helpful as I can with my students and encourage people to be fully honest with me when we train together. Shoshin is the foundation of this process that we should never believe that we move beyond.
My teachers are always working on the basics and continue to improve every year. It is a daunting challenge to continue to pursue the levels of achievement that they represent. I am deeply grateful and humbled that they continue to spend the time that they do helping me to learn. Shizuo Imaizumi Sensei has always been my Aikido teacher. He is a father figure to me and has made a profound difference in my life. I have dedicated the rest of my life towards passing on the gifts that he has given to me. His singular dedication to selflessly learning and passing on the art that he learned from O’Sensei, Tohei Sensei and the other great teachers that he learned from, is awe-inspiring. I met Kenji Ushiro Sensei at the first Aiki Expo in 2002. There was an instant connection even though we speak different languages. He is my karate teacher and an inspiring figure to help to make this world a better place to live. The depth of his caring is matched by a skill level that is off the charts. His children have become amazing teachers in their own right. My seniors in that organization have become friends and mentors. I trained with Dan Harden for the first time in June of 2009. He has become my teacher in internal power. He has become a great friend besides teacher. He has become indispensable in helping me to see and understand what my other teachers are doing! The people who train with Dan are wonderful martial artists with a sense of sincerity, humor and caring that make this hard work a wonderful task to engage in. To those three major figures, along with all of the other unnamed people who have helped me to learn martial arts, I will be forever thankful and work harder to displaying this thanks through sharing what I am learning with those around me.
I hope that we can end this year being happy with having taken an honest assessment of where we are. I hope that we can all set realistic goals for next year that continue to affirm our growth in this wonderful art. I would like to take the time to thank all of the people who read this blog who are not members of this dojo. Your feedback has been invaluable and is always appreciated. This school has an open door policy and welcomes everyone who is interested in pursuing growth in martial arts with the same degree of sincerity and caring that we show. I wish everyone a happy and safe holiday season!
Marc Abrams Sensei