Flowing Practise | Randori | Resistance Testing | Attending Seminars
Aikido is the study of wisdom. If you cannot control and trust yourself - if you cannot see yourself clearly - you will never have any knowledge or trust of others and you certainly will not be able to control them. The purpose of Aikido training is not to create aggressive fighters but to refine wisdom and self-control. As a student of Aikido you must study to improve and polish yourself, not to compete with others.
The key to this process - and the heart of Aikido - is musubi. This translates loosely as "unity" or "harmonious interaction". In practice, musubi is the ability to blend, both physically and mentally, with the movement and energy of your partner. Musubi is the study of good communication. Communication exists in every human interaction, whether it is acknowledged or not. It is up to the participants in the interaction to determine whether the communication will be productive or futile, friendly or hostile, true or inaccurate. Musubi, as it is refined, can mean the ability to control and alter interaction, changing a hostile approach to a healthy encounter and an attack into a handshake.
Cooperation is very important in Aikido training. Almost all practice is done with a partner, and the relationship between partners must be a manifestation of musubi. Aikido training, through its gradual and cooperative process, teaches your mind to remain calm and your vision to remain clear, so that fear, anger or lack of confidence do not distort your body movements. It trains your body to be supple and responsive. Constant practice supplies the body with the wisdom of experience.
In this way, the body becomes the reflection and the physical manifestation of the mind. Body and mind working together, in the relationship of musubi, enable you to react simply, efficiently and sensibly under pressure, rather than letting yourself be dominated and controlled by circumstances.
The study of Aikido is the study of wisdom, and wisdom, in large part, is the possession of common sense. Common sense, unfortunately, is much rarer than its name would imply. Training in musubi and the basic principles of Aikido involves relearning common sense. We find evidence of this in the basic defensive movements of irimi and tenkan.
Many basic techniques can be performed in either of two ways. Irimi is the more direct version of a technique. The same technique done with a turn is known as tenkan.
Most irimi techniques begin by entering - moving decisively toward and across the front of uke (the partner initiating the attack). This requires a deep step, and must be done in a committed move with the whole body and spirit, not just the arms. Entering techniques have a sharp, direct motion and spirit to them.Tenkan techniques place more emphasis on blending with and overextending uke's attack. They usually involve bringing uke around the body in a spiraling movement. In fundamental training there is a clear distinction between irimi and tenkan so that students can learn the principles of entering and turning. However, these two movements can also be thought of as one movement, irimi-tenkan, in the same way that yin and yang are parts of a whole. At later stages of training there is no formal irimi or tenkan. Once you have internalised the principles you begin to enter and turn to the degree most appropriate to the moment.
Both irimi and tenkan are movements that people use in everyday life without thinking. Imagine that you are walking down a crowded city street and you see someone coming towards you from the opposite direction. Would you rapidly back into the people behind you to get out of the way? No, you would continue to walk forwards and perhaps turn sideways to slip by. This is an example of irimi.
Now imagine that the same person pushes into you while passing by. Would you grab hold of them to keep your balance? No, you might spin around to keep your balance and keep walking. This is tenkan. Both movements are simple, natural examples of common sense. Anyone can do them, and their very simplicity and universality confirm their truth.
But when faced with an attack, people untrained in Aikido automatically do what they know to be foolish on a crowded street - they try to walk backwards. When a push is a hostile gesture, people either freeze or grab onto the assailant for balance. They lose common sense and the ability to react naturally. On crowded streets people show an understanding of musubi: but faced with threat, the mind regresses towards fear and aggression, and the body loses its ability to react with agility and efficiency.
O-sensei said again and again to his students that the same principles that govern nature govern Aikido. A small bird may fly in a gale, but not by struggling against the wind. It must use the force of the wind to aid it. You may successfully pilot a small boat in rough seas, but only if you know how to ride the waves. So too in Aikido, the student seeks to learn to receive force and transform it into an ally rather than to fight it. This is wisdom, and this is the reality of musubi.
Harmonising EnergiesIn practising Aikido, the aim is not to defeat, overpower or dominate your partner but to achieve total coordination of mind, body and Ki.
Working with a partner, the techniques of Aikido allow you to explore and overcome any tendency to be either excessively dominating or too yielding. Aikido is a concrete manifestation of the principle of yin and yang, or complementary opposites. It teaches you to be both "rock" and "water" - the rock around which the water must flow, and the water which seeks the way of least resistance.
Beginners often find the wide range of techniques and subtle body movements quite baffling. However, the basic principle of a centered, circular movement that absorbs, merges with, and leads the energy of your partner soon becomes apparent. As your body becomes more centered and supple, you develop self-confidence and a calm mind. This increases your capacity for clear, powerful and creative involvement with the world in which you live.
The attack is the vehicle by which both uke (the attacker) and nage (the person performing the technique) become conscious of the energy within and around them. Both must learn how to let this energy circulate freely. Uke's task is not to try to hurt nage but to provide the initiating action that makes it possible for both partners to learn.
Uke must give an honest, sincere and direct attack. The attack extends from uke's one point to the one point of nage. It should be realistic, but carried out at a speed suited to nage's particular degree of skill.
Stubborn resistance makes practice dangerous and unpleasant; submitting too easily makes it futile. At first, uke must learn to continue the movement of the attack until a fall is inevitable. Eventually the fall becomes simply the result of the attack, rather than a conscious completion of the movement.
If the attacks follow each other in a smooth, even flow, without becoming violent or jerky, you and your partner can practise the same technique indefinitely. Because it never happens the same way twice, there is always another refinement to discover. When you train in this frame of mind, uke needs as much concentration and skill as nage, and can learn just as much, if not more. Thus attacks and techniques progress together.
Nages must study the right placement of their movement and incorporate the principles and philosophy of Aikido. Of the total energy generated, nage's portion should be at the most 30%, uke's the other 70%.
During class, the form for practice is usually set up by the Sensei. Hence, both uke and nage know in advance what the form will be. The challenge is to give an honest attack not altered by the knowledge of what nage will probably do.
An honest punch to the chest is just that: a punch to the chest. It should strike the chest if nage stands still, and miss if nage gets off the line of attack. It's neither helpful to your partner nor good practice to shy away and miss when nage does not get off the line. Nor is it good training to redirect your strike in the direction nage is going in order to make it more difficult. Strike as if you don't know what technique nage is going to do, and simply give a solid, straight, balanced punch. This must be done at a level appropriate to both your own and your partner's ability.
A beginner deserves the same integrity in an attack as a senior student. The only difference is the speed and power with which it is done. A beginner should be hit if they stay on line, just more slowly than a black belt. Conversely, your attack should be at the speed and power of your ability to fall. If you can safely fall at no more than 7 km/h, don't attack at 70 km/h.
An important Aikido training method involves offering resistance to your partner. This should never be done by beginners. This type of training is appropriate only among senior students.It is a practice of stressing the technique to discover weak, ineffective areas and requires nage to practice with the whole body and spirit. It takes great sensitivity, not strength, to do this so that it enhances the practice. Too much, and it's a battle of wills: too little, and it isn't stimulating. This practice must also be done in the purest of spirit, as a gift. All too easily, it becomes an ego game. This is quite destructive and should be avoided. Done in the correct manner, at the right time, in the purest of spirit, this intensified style of practice is very valuable. See "Resistance testing" on page 58 for a more complete explanation of this type of training.
a good uke is responsive, responsible, free of fear and trusting.
A good nage is accurate, skilful and sensitive.
With continued practice in Aikido, as your mind and body begin to work as one unit, you come to experience yourself as a whole person and to find a natural way of being in the world that is expressive, positive and without struggle or uncertainty. Conflicts are often created by the need to win, to demonstrate superior power and ability to exert brute force. Without the need to win, or the fear of losing, you begin to engage creatively with what is - physically, mentally, and spiritually.
It is important, therefore, to pay strict attention to both the form and the spirit of ukemi. Practice your falls until they are second nature. The way you fall affects your perceptions of Aikido. If you fall with a great amount of fear or tension, then your attention will be on escaping pain or injury. When you become nage, your concept of the technique will be clouded by the tension you had while learning it as uke. When ukemi becomes natural, then your focus can be on the technique.
Ukemi is also an opportunity to see clearly in practice the different ways we react to fear, pressure and pain. To take safe, fluid falls requires you to be completely aware of the motion and relaxed enough to adapt your body to it and absorb the power of the throw. Fear and pain cause you to tighten up, to withdraw when it is time to be 100% committed to the motion that is happening in that moment.
It is through the practice of ukemi that the relationship between emotion and body motion can be perceived, an inner understanding of the workings of the technique felt, and both turned into knowledge within the body.
Basic Static TechniqueIn basic static technique we study the mechanics and form of a technique. We return to basics time and time again to reaffirm and correct our understanding of the foundation upon which we base more advanced aspects of the art. We practise the techniques over and over again, studying the movement of one point, the feet, and the hands, as well as the relationship with uke. The practice must be slow, deliberate, and repeated until the form and principles become second nature.
These basics are therefore not only the foundation of the techniques, but also the instruments through which we discover and practice the principles of centering, extending and blending. Basic technique is not just an important step for beginners, it is imperative that advanced students continually reinforce this basic foundation as part of their daily practice.
Fluid practice means that you begin your motion of blending with uke before the attack arrives, and that the technique is executed in one continuous motion. The training must be filled with commitment and spirit.
In the more advanced levels of Aikido the rigid form begins to disappear and a more spontaneous way of movement takes its place.
This is much more than just the unhampered "creativity" which is abundant in all of us. It is the level of mastery where our body becomes sufficiently tuned through training to be capable of expressing creativity in Aikido. This ability comes slowly. The feeling is not so much doing a technique as becoming the technique. When your body and mind are trained sufficiently, it will begin to happen all by itself and can neither be forced nor hindered. Randori is a way to train spontaneously and creatively.
Testing nage can be done in a static manner before the technique starts or under movement within the technique.
Resistance testing can never realistically measure the effectiveness of an Aikido technique in a real situation, and should not be employed with this in mind. Uke's understanding of Aikido and foreknowledge of the technique give an enormous advantage. The end result would be much more devastating for an attacker with no knowledge of Aikido.
In advanced training, resistance becomes an important part of the study. But, testing nage must not be done in a competitive manner. The challenge is to give an honest attack not altered by the knowledge of the technique. To learn when it is appropriate to resist and to understand when resistance creates a learning situation requires much experience. It is a practice for advanced students only.
Resistance testing during a technique should only be attempted if uke is experienced and able to explain why the technique is not working and demonstrate the correct way to do it. This is the only way in which testing can benefit nage. Resistance testing can also challenge your own understanding of how the technique should be performed. A good guideline is: "if you can't explain, please refrain".
Remember that communication can also be achieved by leading nage's movement. Nage can allow uke to lead them through the technique. This non-verbal communication can also be a very good teaching method to show nage a more effective way of executing the technique. Remember that Aikido knowledge is transferred "body to body" in this way.
Resistance testing can readily elicit responses such as anger and aggression. As uke, you must consider whether nage can meet the challenge of a vigorous and sustained attack without "losing their cool" and causing injury. As nage, you must consider whether anger and aggression are the responses that serve you best in this kind of situation. The true challenge is not the resistance, but whether or not you can remain calm and centered, and adjust your technique to meet uke's attack appropriately. Explore these aspects of training with caution.
Some nages change to a completely different technique if they are unable, when challenged, to complete the technique being practiced. This does not foster learning or further development and is disrespectful to your Sensei. "Downing" your partner at any cost is not in the spirit of Aikido.
There is a strict guideline which should be followed in order to engage in resistance testing without injury and to maintain the right spirit of testing: as soon as resistance is applied and the technique is obviously not working, partners should separate and initiate the attack again. This allows for the rhythm of the technique to be re-established under movement.
In summary, there are three key factors which help to avoid injury and maintain an atmosphere of fun and harmonious learning:
- If you can't explain, please refrain.
- Know your opponent's mind. Ensure that nage can benefit from the resistance and that your own motives are correct.
- If there is obvious conflict: Stop - Explain - Begin again.
These visiting instructors are our direct link to Tohei Sensei's teachings. They are able to impart knowledge and understanding to all levels of students - from beginner to advanced and their vast teaching experience enables everyone to improve their understanding of Aikido and Tohei Sensei's Ki principles. Each seminar brings us new and exciting ways to understand Ki, whether it is a new Ki test or changes to familiar tests and techniques.
Have you ever wondered why the techniques always seem to be changing? Do you find these changes frustrating and annoying? Or do you approach change boldly and with a positive attitude?
Aikido is an evolving art. It is an art that mirrors nature, so it cannot be stagnant.
The Ki of the universe has never for a moment stopped moving.
We call this continuous growth and development.
Do you not think it strange that human beings seem to be the
only ones trying to stop the movement of Ki?
Master Koichi Tohei
The concepts we learn at our national seminars encourage us to have an open mind. The ability to change, to welcome new ways to execute a technique or direct ki, is what keeps us fresh, open and flexible in our daily life.
Those of us who have had the opportunity to spend time with the older senseis have all been amazed at how timeless they seem. They do not fit our expectations of older people. Whether you are 20 or 70, the senseis seem to be one of your peers. They are often described as vital, so alive, so "with it". We always say "I hope to be like that when I am that age". The aging process does not have to bring with it rigidity and a stagnant mind. Aikido training is one way that we can keep our minds and bodies sharp and flexible so that we can grow older, living our lives to our greatest potential.
One of the most important aspects of training at our national seminars is to remain open to new concepts, to adapt to new teachers and to new ways of doing things. This ability to accept change is far more important than comparing differences between instructors or between the old way and the new. Seminars provide us with the opportunity to renew our techniques by laying to rest the familiar, comfortable way we are used to doing things. There is a saying that "the enthusiasm of the beginner is the envy of the master". Seminars give us all the chance to experience that state called "beginner's mind".
The concept of harmony is intrinsic to the practice of Aikido. O-sensei saw his art as a way to create harmony throughout the world.
In Aikido Ki Society Australia we encourage students to visit other dojos and welcome students from other styles to attend both our seminars and our general training. The key to the success of this policy is always to train with an open mind. Take what you like and leave the rest. Do not compare what is different but look for what is the same.
Each style and each person brings something unique to the whole of the art. If our training separates us from each other, are we truly distracting Aikido?
When you meet someone new on the mat, remember that everyone has their own style derived from experience and the dojos where they have trained. See it as an opportunity to learn something new. With an attitude of openness and tolerance you will be doing your part to bring the world one step closer to harmony and unity.