- Aikido with Ki, accurately understanding what O’Sensei was teaching from an American perspective. Henry Kono is one of the only Japanese Americans who spent 4 years or more around O’Sensei in Japan. He is fluent in Japanese and familiar with both American and Japanese culture. When listening to, observing or receiving training from O’Sensei he listened with linguistic accuracy, and Japanese cultural context but, was uniquely able to synthesize this into something that is more understandable to our perspective of American culture. For example, Henry Kono had an interesting way of describing and breaking down O’Sensei’s dynamics between Uke and Nage. Nage would initially establish himself/herself as the center of Uke’s “orbit” or circle, then just before throwing, Nage would step out of that center. This has the effect of suddenly increasing Uke’s instability with minimal effort. Unfortunately he is now deceased, but there are videos available through his Aikido organization in Toronto, Canada “Aikido in Blaance” and can be purchased (donation) through their website at http://www.aikidoinbalance.com/henry-kono.html . You can watch the entire 105 minute video on line at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LJgg9ef6tKc .
- Why train children in Aikido? Outside of direct martial application there are a number of physical benefits to studying Aikido techniques, warm up exercises, skill drills (Aiki-taiso) and falls/rolls (Ukemi). Physically children can improve their Fitness, Balance, Flexibility, Strength, Coordination, Connection, Injury Prevention, and Resilience. But, even more important than physical development, kids have a training environment that promotes Focus, Respect, Self Confidence, Adaptability, Awareness, Courage, Humility, Integrity, Politeness, Communication, Leadership, Trust, Perception, Improvisation, Kindness, Sharing, Friendship, Equanimity, Compassion, and even a sense of universal or platonic Love, due to the type of partner training practiced in Aikido. This is the only truly defensive, international scale, martial art in the world. Rather than addressing aggression with greater aggression, or by running away, the Aikidoka is taught to redirect and neutralize the aggression. The first place that the aggression is neutralized is actually in the Aikidoka. Developing these physical and mental attributes requires training, a lot of failures (learning experiences or mis-steps) and successes, constructive criticism, self examination and time. There are no real heroes in Aikido training. We are all here to grow, mature and develop in this martial art and to help our training partners do the same. Why worry about your training partner’s progress? The more your training partner progresses with you the higher the quality and intensity of Aikido training is possible. Why wait?
- Early in Aikido training the focus is on the methods, conventions and remembering obvious things like what is our right hand vs. left hand, posture, foot placement, distance, and the general bio-mechanics of techniques and attacks. This require some time and repetition but, is very similar to other martial arts. The whole thing gets “muddy” when you are told, by your instructor, to use “Ki not brute force”. You are “thrown a bone” when your instruct gives some hints like “be more fluid”, “connect with your Uke” or “flow” with your techniques. Later, you are reminded that the Aiki-Taiso, the odd Aikido specific warm-ups exercises performed at the beginning of Aikido classes, provide a dynamic clue. In time you re-discover that the “unbendable arm” exercise, demonstrated early in your training, is actually a key principle used on virtually every Aikido technique, and you try to capitalize on this insight. As you advance over the years, you are reminded of other principles like rising and falling, moving from the center, stepping off the line of attack, dropping Uke to the “third leg”, keeping the connection point (the nexus) in your center, and several others. These were presented to you in a piece-meal fashion as the instructor watched and felt for holes or weaknesses in your techniques. Then, one day you have these “Ah-ha moment” where several principles come together, and you have an effortless throw on on receiving an earnest attack by your Uke. You weren’t thinking about the technical details of individual principles, or the Aiki-Taiso. There was no time for that. You just trusted the sense of fluid connection that you kinesthetically programmed through years of Aikido training, and used “Ki”. 07/15/15.
- Don’t just think about Aikido or dream about mystical martial arts prowess!This week, Come sign up for Aikido classes at our Mt. Pleasant Dojo. Now that we are past the ephemeral New Years resolutions, why not come join us with a real commitment to train all year long! This promotional is to help get you off the couch , toss aside your excuses, get out of your winter funk, and to get you to training and growing. Time moves on, you might as well grow in your Aikido skills and your fitness as it passes , rather than just growing older. You can improve your balance, awareness, strength, endurance, practical and efficient biomechanics of movement, self defense, ability to fall without serious injury, and have a chance to socialize with defense minded martial artists. The benefits of Aikido are insidious and come in small “Ahhhhh – haaa’s”; usually shortly after you are stuck for a period of time and convinced that you will never “get it”. It is still worth your time investment, since Aikido is one of the few martial arts that you can practice your entire life, while continuing to make real improvements. This makes it both intimidating and rewarding (like standing in front of a vast ocean).
- The concept and utility of Aikido as a martial art and philosophy is not as self evident as driving a car or brushing your teeth. It is equally difficult to grasp what is “going on in Aikido training by just watching it, or or even participating only a couple of times. Aikido training offers a middle path in response to aggression that is not commonly exercised. Rather than destroying or submitting to the aggressor we are seeking to neutralize the aggression it self to create an outcome that is ultimately, mutually advantageous. Such concepts and applications are difficult to approach without some familiarizing through training. With this in mind the Mt. Pleasant Shinki Dojo is offering an incentive, to new Aikido students, to try out our training for a minimum of 12 sessions. The first 10 new students, who commit to (and pay for) a minimum of 12 training sessions, will receive a FREE 14 page Shinki Aikido MP Dojo Reference Booklet which explains: class protocol, etiquette, terminology, basic attacks, basic techniques and more. We will also include a FREE 3.5 inch Shinki Aikido MP Dojo Logo Sticker. After the first 12 sessions you will be on your way to understanding and experiencing the benefits of Aikido training.
- “Sunao — Being honest in training,” by Stanley Pranin ( http://blog.aikidojournal.com/2013/03/14/sunao-being-honest-in-training-by-stanley-pranin/ ) is an excellent article which addresses one of the pitfalls of mutual training rather than competition training…the need to discipline oneself to perform the right attack, right intention, and honesty in the attack in order to correctly program our neuro-muscular responses and martial perception. Incorrect attacks, bracing for a known counter while attacking, or quitting mid-attack by Uke does not promote an accurate learning environment, creates frustration and negates the benefits of mutual training.Uke emphasis should be to provide HONEST attacks that are just short of the limit of Nage’s ability to perform the desired counter (so long as Uke can safely take the fall at that speed and intensity). Aikido training is not a competition, or an exercise in Ego gratification! Therefore Uke is NOT to “cheat” the confines of the prearranged dojo scenario by using every bit of predetermined intelligence on Nage, like knowing what technique he/she is performing in order to thwart his/her technique. Uke is “the one who takes the fall”, not “the one looking to win at all costs”. On the other hand, Uke is NOT supposed to let parts of his/her body go limp during mid-attack, fall over with minimal contact or to stop attacking before Nage’s technique is complete.Honest attacks within the context of our Aikido training will allow us to safely increase the speed and intensity of our training as our Aiki-biomechanics and martial perceptions improve. It is exceedingly difficult to train in an honest, competitive manner in a martial art that is defensive in nature. Besides this large obstacle to training competatively, our method of Aikido training allows us to train on certain techniques that would be too dangerous to practice in a competitive environment and develop a heightened sense of moving from the center that would be difficult to achieve in purely competitive training. Although competitive training has its merits, this is not the method of training that O-Sensei chose. So in Aikido, Nage is training to understand and improve on his/her technique and Uke is providing the attack that fits the technique being practiced.
In Defense of Ukemi
Ukemi is the art of receiving the throw or commonly known as falling. I like Richard Strozzi-Heckler, term “flying”, in the sense that, being able to take Ukemi well is liberating. Good Ukemi skills, justifiably improve your confidence that you will not be harmed when your joints are suddenly twisted and your balance is unexpectedly, taken away.
As opposed to most other traditional Japanese martial arts, in Aikido and Aiki-jujutsu, the instructor does not take Ukemi, the student does. Through this method of training the student develops an understanding of the neuro-muscular “feel” of the Ki in Aikido and how to safely respond to it. With gentle and persistent instruction, the student over comes the aversion to having their joints manipulated and falling to the mat. The Aikido student eventually learns to attack earnestly within his or her ability to receive the throw. Both O-Sensei and his instructor, Sōkaku, felt that this was the best way to impart core of Aiki principles. When students train with each other in Aikido, they look to replicate this connected, “small effort – big results” feel, called Ki, within each of the Aikido techniques that they practice. Eventually the Aikidoka pursues a sense of Ki in everything he or she does. But, it all starts with taking Ukemi.
Most importantly, Ukemi skills can be applied to your daily life. I have had several instances, while cycling, where my front tire was taken out by another cyclist at a high rate of speed. I was sent over the handlebars, rolled, and stood up with only a small abrasion on my shoulder and opposite buttocks. I have similar instances trail running when tripping over a root or unexpected terrain changes. In those instances, I was able to roll and pop back up, seemingly, without breaking my stride. Falling is common when you walk on 2 legs. In virtually any age group one of the top three causes of disability or death is falling. So unless you need to constantly prop–up your ego by getting into fights at every opportunity, you are much more likely to use your Ukemi skills, than any other martial skill, in “real life situations.”
- When asked if Aikido works, I ask, “what you mean by works?” Do you mean being able to take out Rambo if he blows out the second story window of our dojo from his helicopter full of armed henchmen? Or, be able to chug a couple of shots of liquid courage and then take out the biggest guy at the local bar, beating him into submission and having him cry for mercy? If these are your definitions of “works”, then I cannot promise that Aikido alone help you achieve this goal. So why do so many people in the world study Aikido?Much like the Chinese tradition of “internal martial arts” such as Pakua Chang, Hsing-I Chuan, and Tai Chi Chuan, Aikido is in many ways like a graduate study of martial arts. Until recently people in China did not study internal martial arts unless they were relatively well versed in Shaolin Kung-Fu or were experience fighter such as caravan guards or close guards of the emperor. Aikido, which is a relatively modern development of a combination of particular form(s) of Samurai fighting arts, allows virtually any earnest student in, not just experienced fighters. In Chinese internal arts, the techniques were not so much explicit applications as much as exercises to develop Chi in essential fighting movements. It created an almost magical enhancement of these fighters’ power, fluidity and fighting prowess. Aikido also emphasizes the harmonious use of Ki or natural energy. The student slowly discovers and applies Aikido principles through the guided practice of Aikido techniques. One of the advantages of Aikido is the almost exclusive training in techniques with one or more partners, which can provide nearly continuous feedback on how effectively the student is applying the Aikido principles. Some examples of these principles that lead to effective Aiki (harmonious energy) are “the unbendable arm”, keeping the connection point in the center and unbalancing to the “3rdleg”.The founder, Ueshiba Morihei, chose to transmit Aikido in the form of mutual training (and emphasize the defense side) rather than through competition (with an emphasis on attacking) as Jigoro Kano did with Judo, around the same time period. This mutual training allowed for deeper exploration and training in a variety of movements and to adopt a defensive emphasis.In competition based training the major advantage is a form of proof against full resistance. But, due to safety and the confines of the competition rules only a limited number of techniques will be deployed. The risk of mutual training is that without an earnest training partner or an experienced instructor, it can become more of a dance than martial arts training. The risk of competition training is to believe that the conditions in the ring are the same as on the street.Overall, Aikido does not teach explicit self defense or detailed fighting applications. What it does offer, from a martial arts stand point, is advanced training in enhancing the natural strength in martial movements, determining proper distance timing and positioning with one or multiple opponents, and a more detailed familiarity with redirecting and controlling the physical aggression of a martial encounter.
- “Does Aikido really work?” This was the question that came at the end of an Aikido demonstration by our dojo. “Does it really work?”, is a very good question for reasons beyond the simple “yes” or “no” answer. First off, what is a “real” attack or provocation? I was also asked if I ever had to use Aikido in a “real conflict.” Well, I had a very muscle bound an potential assailant setting me up for a sucker punch after a local concert a few years ago. My Aikido training helped me to recognize the set up before the attack was launched, keep proper Ma-ai which discouraged the attack, and I did not mentally engage in the assailant’s hostile aggressive language. He walked away frustrated without throwing a punch. About 15 years ago, I was confronted in an empty parking lot by 2 out of state (transient) men around 25 and 35 years old and using by using a similar approach, I was able to send them away without physical contact. Does this count as a “real attack” or do I have to escalate the aggression to a point of physical conflict and somehow physically dominate or injure the assailants for it to count as “really working”. Or, does stopping aggression before it turns physical count as a martial art “really working”?I think that most Americans watch TV and see Mixed Martial Arts and assume that this defines “real conflict resolution” and “real self defense” because “there are no rules”, “well, no eye gouging and groin attacks”. Actually, I hear that there are now over 30 rules in MMA contests. Two men train up specifically for their known opponent and assess their fighting preferences in advance (no one is ambushed). The fight takes place in a relatively large enclosed space (not smashed into an ATM or your front door), on mat (not uneven concrete, no glass or gravel on the ground and no curbs), the arena is lit and there is a referee to make sure no illegal or dangerous moves are taking place (not in a dark alley or parking lot where there is no one to rescue you), the two opponents square off and fight each other (there is no angry girlfriend or partner(s) in crime, no weapons, and, after the fight, no family, friends or lawyers/judges to answer to for retribution). But, there is a difference between a duel and combat – duels take place in controlled environments with some form of rules, combat does not. What is the “real” scenario, which we are looking to handle?I trained for 12 years in a variety of martial arts that taught me to hit, kick, slice, break, choke and systematically disassembled opponents before I started training in Aikido. All of them claimed to be defensive – if you stepped over the line then we would have license to destroy you. Aikido presented an interesting contrast, Aikido doesn’t focus on escalating the aggression and destroying the opponent, it focuses on neutralizing the aggression. In addition, Aikido is the only open hand style that I know of that has multiple opponent training, randori, as an explicit part of the martial art. Is handling multiple opponents realistic?Every martial art has combat assumptions in their training, and has inherent strengths and weaknesses in their methods. Personally I did not choose to study Aikido as my primary martial art because it “doesn’t really work”.
- While focusing on Aikido dynamics last night, we worked towards an ever stronger sense of connection and moving from the center using Ikkyo omote (uchi-tenkan) and Kote-gaishi ura (soto-tenkan), from the simple Katate-katate tori, aihamni attack (which is a “hand shake grab”, except grabbing the wrist). The sensation for Uke (the attacker), when the attack was performed with a fluid sense of connection, was like leaning on a large, well lubricated vertical roller. If Uke’s attack “energy” was directed slightly to Nage’s (the one performing the technique) open side then Ikkyo is the natural response, leaning more to the closed side invites Kote-gaishi as a response. This became more evident with randori (multiple attackers), which creates more variety in the angles of attack. Also in randori, there are different degrees of “readiness” on Nage’s part which rewards more natural responses, the necessity of which is not always evident in the more controlled environment of one on one training. So, in this pair of complimentary techniques, one can readily experience how Uke’s attack determines and even drives the natural response of Nage. In the process Nage still needs to perform proper Sobaki (footwork) to maintain proper Ma-ai (distance and timeing) and remain centered on the connection point for this to take place. Play with this!
- Aikido is like a White Oak tree in that doesn’t look like much at the beginning. The growth is slow and seems to almost stand still, at times, compared to, say, a Big Toothed Aspen tree which can grow a meter or more each year. After 100 years the White Oak is still growing and is just starting to becoming magnificent in its large splendor where as the Big Toothed Aspen has long stopped growing years before.We have 2 White Oaks on our property that are over 300 years old and require 3 or more men, with outstretched arms to span their circumference. Their branches shade an area close to a quarter acre each. They are still growing beautifully. Our young Big Toothed Aspen trees, on the other hand, are 15 to 20 meters in height, with up to a 1/2 meter in diameter. Their trunks break spontaneously and they are easily uprooted in the wind. They are more of a hazard now that they are mature rather than a developing thing of beauty.Most things that are worth a lifetime of study cannot be mastered after a weekend seminar. Aikido would be more of this nature. And secondly, things that are faster to learn because of their deliberate simplicity are not necessarily “better” or more desirable in the long run.
- Ikkyo, Ikkyo, Ikkyo! Like Pi Chuan (metal) in Hsingi Chuan, the first palm change in Pa Kua Chang or Echekete in Filipino Kali, Ikkyo is the fundamental movement in Aikido. It is what Kiri Otoshi is to Ittoryu kenjutsu. Ikkyo is the most “basic technique” and holds the key to understanding what Aikido is about. It is the first technique we learn and the last one that we master. Ikkyo is the yardstick of our progress and laboratory where we discover what Aikido really is. Ikkyo is very humbling. After over 20 years of Aikido training and almost 33 years of martial arts training in general, I practiced Ikkyo for 60 minutes straight in class and came away with the assessment that I can perform Ikkyo fairly well but, that there is still much to learn. It is like pealing the layers of an onion that has an infinite center; there is no end to meaningful learning and refinement. This can be disturbing to those who want to master something and move-on. But, for me, to find something with the depth and complexity worthy of a lifetime of study is a true “find”. This is even more useful as I age and may not be as strong or as fast as I was in my 20’s. Studying Ikkyo unveils “secrets” that allow more efficient and effective movements; effective Ikkyo starts to manifest with less effort and that leverage time in my favor. Ikkyo is the mirror that I polish in order to clearly see my Aikido.
- Sabaki: In order to have proper distance and timing (Ma-ai) you need to be in the right place at the right time. This needs to occur almost subconsciously to support closing the gap or evading an attack while you are more consciously engaging with your upper extremities to apply a technique. The importance of Sabaki or footwork should never be down played. It is vital in supporting the Aikido techniques that we focus so much on. You cannot effectively apply your Aikido techniques without being in the right place relative to your aggressor (or the techniques of any martial art for that matter). What complicates the matter is that there is no time to think about how far to step left or right, or to look at your own feet while turning to evade a strike. Although it may seem boring and redundant, it is very worthwhile to train on your tenkan and soto-irimi footwork. Train on these to the point that they are smooth, spontaneous, effortless, relaxed and substantially connected with the earth through out the entire movement. The tenkan drills that we perform at the beginning of class can even be used as a form of Misogi where you focus on feeling that profound sense of kinesthetic integrating and connection that we call Ki. At this point there are no calculations or thinking about your footwork, your position becomes just a manifestation of your intentions.
- Henry Kono Sensei had an interesting way of describing and breaking down O’Sensei’s dynamics between Uke and Nage. Nage would initially establish himself/herself as the center of Uke’s “orbit” or circle, then just before throwing, Nage would step out of that center. This has the effect of suddenly increasing Uke’s instability with minimal effort.
- Ma-ai: Don’t just look at the hands “waving around”; look at how and when the feet are getting you out of the way of the attack and in proper position to redirect, control or throw Uke.
- Rather than destroying the Aggressor or submitting to defeat, we focus on neutralizing the aggressive act itself. The first place to remove the hatred, fear and anger is within our own hearts. We often mistakenly empower aggressive acts by our emotional responses which inadvertently make these acts appear more ominous and powerful than they really are. Think of redirecting a toddler who takes a swing at you. Do you get angry? Do you want to hurt the toddler? Do you obsess over this act? Aikido provides you with techniques and principals which, in turn, provide the potential for this middle path of neutralizing the aggression itself. I have studied many martial arts, originating from many different countries, and none of them explicitly provide this option.