Wednesday, March 29, 2006

I think...I thought....I....

We always talk about circles in Aikido. Here's a big one to consider: We start by being unable to think, since we haven't even the most basic idea of what we are trying to do in the dojo. Next, we begin to think through everything, as if understanding with the mind could substitute for understanding with the body. However, in the end, we must return to nothingness - no thought.
Our learning follows a circular path, and we return to the place we started, but this time, with mastery, doing the techniques just as we would any other natural action, without thinking. Our goal is to no longer DO aikido, but to BE aikido.

Aikido is at once the most unnatural of motions, and yet also the most intuitive of motions.

Becuase as beginners we are unable to command our bodies, we move stiffly, and every motion requires an effort of will to effect. Later, we begin to dig deeper, and actually believe that our words will give us the insight our training has not yet delivered. But finally, we find the movements that were originally so challenging, are now no different that walking, standing, sitting, or any other action we normally take for granted. It is only by drilling the correct movements down into our instinct that we can free our minds of the unconcious desire to analyze and watch what we are doing.

In previous posts I have suggested training with a blindfold, since this develops awareness and sensistivity, and removes our reliance on looking at our feet and hands. Done properly, we should "feel" the location of our body (and uke's) in space relative to each other, and our motion should be based on that feeling. Sadly, the more you think about it, the less you can DO it.

I wish it were only that bad. To make it worse, when you are thinking or speaking or otherwise distracted, you cannot project KI, and without that all techniques fail to manifest properly anyway. The effort becomes frustrating and incomplete.

It is very easy to say "stop thinking", but that is like telling someone to get the words of a song they heard on the radio out of their head - no matter what you do they just keep coming back. Concentration and focus in the dojo are what help us learn to detach our over-analyzing natures, and make ourselves simple again. In this way, simple is good.

If you have to close your eyes - do. If you have to blindfold yourself - do. Whatever it takes, practice keeping your focus and projecting your energy, and LET GO. FLOW. Let your body be free to do what it knows how to do.

And then watch your skills go to the next level.

See you on the mats.

Monday, March 13, 2006

Elbows and Knees; Knees and Elbows

The other day, someone asked me what to present as a uniqueness of Yoshinkan.
Having done a variety of aiki styles in the past, I would have to say that apart from the usual things everyone says (focus on practicality, efficient motion, mastry of the basics, etc.) there are two things that really stand out in my mind as being strongly emphasized in Yoshinkan (at least more than in other styles I have seen): Knees and Elbows.

In Yoshinkan, the knees are critical. It is precisely the use of the knees that allows us to start Uke's motion moving and prepare for the shifting of our hips and body weight. When we fail to use the knees, we end up disconnecting our hips and are forced to compensate with strength of the arms instead of strength of the hips/whole body. Knees help cause Uke to cross the centerline in techniques like Shomen uchi Ikkajo Osae 2 and knees help guide uke to the mat without letting our body weight come up. In short, they are a vital connection of uke to our hip and to the floor, and anchor and a lever to move uke by shifting our weight. Without the knee movement, however, we cannot transfer the hip power efficiently (if at all).

Elbows are another key differentiator between Yoshinkan and other styles.
In Yoshinkan, we like to control Uke's balance through controlling uke's shoulder, and one of the most effective and important ways to do this is via Uke's elbow. The circular "rowing" motion of Ikkajo and Yonkajo are both specifically designed to use the wrist to elbow to shoulder pathway to control uke's body, and Yoshinkan is one of the few styles that actually grabs the elbow to manipulate it (many styles focus on wrist more than elbow and fail to connect to uke's shoulder as a consequence). Of course, techniques like hiji shime go without saying that the elbow is a central part of the technique.

One of the best places to work on this is during the basic tai no henko and hiriki no yosei movements, which are specifically designed to help us practice these two vital points. I suggest doing the motions slowly, paying particular attention to how you use your elbows and knees, since these will manifest during all of the other techniques.

So in closing, I suggest specifically visualizing the movement of your knees and elbows before training, and see if it doesn't tighten up your technique and give you a greater sense of control, which is what Yoshinkan is all about: control of yourself and control of Uke.