Sunday, 8 August 2010

Start at "Empty"

Contributed by Chris Colón
It's been said that before you can fill your cup, you must empty it first. That, in certain respects, was a central theme of Hiroshi Ikeda Shihan during his visit to Columbus Aikikai from October 3-5, 2003.
Ikeda Sensei focused on a series of closely related themes in his classes, the spirit of which I have tried to encapsulate below. Sensei emphasized how much Aikido involves doing several things at once, and so talking about the individual pieces a practitioner of Aikido must do in discrete elements isn't easy. Nevertheless, here is my attempt to do them justice, presented under the overarching theme of Avoiding Struggles with your partner. 

Avoiding Struggles
To avoid struggling, there are five things you need to do:
  • Practice good timing. When you are on time, techniques are easy. When you're late, they're hard.
  • Find the easy place. Every individual has a place to move that makes the movement easy to do. This is hard to teach since everyone has to learn where to move where it works for their bodies. It requires patient study.
  • Relax. Relaxing improves speed, mobility, efficiency, and sensitivity. It also draws your partner into the technique.
  • Keep an open mind. Relaxing the mind also helps to relax the body. When the your mind is empty of preconceptions, you are much more likely to see what is happening and understand what response is needed.
  • Be a beginner then be an expert. Understand that everyone should approach each new movement as a beginner, and then experiment and have fun with it -- even fail with it to learn what does and doesn't work. Mastery will come with time and effort. Eventually, you must do all of these interrelated things at once. However, Sensei talked about each of these five related subjects in detail.
Practice good timing
  • Martial Arts are about fighting. Timing is about moving beginning exercises from being exercises into fighting.
  • The difference between getting your partner and your partner getting you is timing.
  • Don't wait for your partner to get you. Go out and get your partner at the point of contact, and find the easy place to break his or her balance.
Find the easy place
  • Finding the easy place to do a technique is one of the hardest things to teach in Aikido. Everyone's body is different, so you have to find where doing a technique is easy for your body. That means we have to take the initiative to seek those places out.
  • Finding the easy place at the point of contact is what breaks our partner's balance and dictates how the movement will go. The grab or strike dictates where your partner is going. If you do not find the easy place during the grab or strike, you will not break your partner's balance.
  • In the easy place, small changes in your posture keep your partner tightly wrapped in the moving place and prevent escape.
  • For beginners, the easy place to move is where they are told to move, in large movements. Over time, however, more advanced students should try to make smaller, efficient, relaxed movements to get to the easy place.
  • As stated earlier, relaxing improves speed, mobility, efficiency, and sensitivity. In short, relaxing helps us to establish and use the connection with our partners and become one body. Only through relaxing can your lead your partner.
  • We relax when comfortable. That means practicing enough to be comfortable with our movements, until our bodies are smart enough to know what they are doing. Smart brains are fine, but smart brains with smart bodies are much better.
  • Rigid movements cause your partner to fight. Relaxing lets your partner feel that he is in control. If he is uncomfortable or feels that he is not in control, he may release his contact with you before you have made your connection.
  • When you are relaxed, then you move yourself, and your connection brings your partner with you. This isn't about moving your partner; it's about moving you.
  • Your power doesn't come from straining; it comes from your turning and your weight.
Keep an open mind
  • Relaxing your mind helps relax your body. If you mind is preoccupied with its own ideas, it will interfere with your movement. For example, believing that you need to grab your partner once you've taken his balance only ties up your hand, which is fixated on the spot it grabbed. That hand is no longer helping.
  • Again, if your mind is empty of preconceptions, you are much more likely to see what is happening and understand what you need to do to respond to an attack. In this way, you approach your partner with a beginner's mind but your response (which should be deliberate) contains your experience and advanced understanding.
Be a beginner then be an expert.
  • Going gently at first is great practice for beginners because it teaches the form and trains in good posture. Once form and posture are coming along, students should train next on staying relaxed while their partners fight with them.
  • Beginning movements are all about establishing a connection and making the operation easier for the student. Later, the student should take the initiative to make the operation more realistic while still maintaining relaxation, flow, and control.
  • Beginners start with focusing out near their limbs in large, dynamic movements. That's fine for beginners and for learning new techniques, but more advanced students should find their movements becoming quieter and more focused from their centers.
  • Each new technique you learn requires you to be a beginner, no matter how good the rest of your Aikido is. Don't worry about it! A new technique is like a new musical instrument, and assuming that you can play the cello because you are a concert pianist is absurd. Start anew, learn the new movements, make mistakes, enjoy yourself, work hard, and the technique will come along.
  • Over time, initiate your response actively when you understand what your partner is doing. Don't wait to be grabbed -- start right away to meet him at a time and place of your choosing.
The students of Columbus Aikikai would like to thank Ikeda Shihan and all the guests who attended the seminar for a wonderful time and a terrific learning experience. Thanks especially go to those who came in from out-of-state for their visit, from Pennsylvania, Indiana, and even as far away as North Carolina. We appreciate everyone¹s time and support for making this event a success.

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