The following observations are not thoughts that have come to me all at once of late, but are ideas which have been with me from the start of training or have been formulated through the years I have practiced Aikido. They are not things that I evaluate constantly as a whole, but are those which have reoccurred in my mind piece-meal from time to time, triggered by a certain technique - training situation, by mention from other students who have been evaluating themselves from time to time as well.
I have watched my ukes; the new students, the sempais and at times my own thoughts, feelings and performances. These have been instrumental in reshaping my ideas and reinforcing others.
I have developed a certain attitude about them similar to one which I use in physical training. This is not to rush them along to any finish, but to take a more relaxed or lazy-man's attitude of letting it come and go and mature over time. To wait for it to hatch when ready, but on occasion to break it apart and scrutinize it when prodded. Of late, I have come to the conclusion that I need a little bit more prodding, but I believe eventually I will come up with a happy medium that will help me to use these pieces of insight in a constantly improving progress in my Aikido, and perhaps in my outside life as well.
- Breathing: Proper breathing in practice will help to improve technique. It services to center the person's base and works to unite the entire body in the execution of a technique. It can calm a person in a volatile situation or if uncontrolled, it can cause hyperventilation, disorienting the person and hamper his control of the situation.
- Repetition: I have learned from the traditional training of kendo and karate that repetition is a very important part of one's training in Aikido. To learn something of this nature, the body has to be taught and not just the mind. To do this, you have to repeat a technique - movement - blend over and over again. For you to react in a crisis situation, there is no room for conscious thought.
- Working with a partner as opposed to applying a technique on someone: For myself, working with a partner develops a feeling for that person similar to the kind of feeling people had for one-another 20 - 30 years ago. That is, the ability to take a person at face value (without knowing a lot about him or his background), and to be able to trust him to help and take care of you, as you would do with him. This is developing a relationship of mutual trust - respect, without the need to throw up barriers between yourself and that person until he proves himself to be worth your trust.
- Ukemi: Ukemi is the basis of Aikido training. I feel that ukemi is so very important, that if a student learns nothing else, he has to learn to become comfortable with all types of falls. A person cannot learn his techniques if his mind is preoccupied with the fall he will have to take when his turn comes. It hampers him, as he will not be able to observe his partner when the technique is applied to him. Learning by observing your partner is a valuable tool, but nage cannot use it if he has not overcome his fear of falling.
- Differentiation between hard and soft styles in practice: There is a need to learn the potential of the power a person can achieve in Aikido. This however has to be tempered so that the person does not become caught up entirely in the hard part (the power) of the art. As with anything in life, there has to be an acceptable blending of things; the hard and soft. For each individual, the combination of that blend will differ, but everyone has to realize that you cannot be a balanced person by being entirely one or the other.
- Blending: The ability to redirect - dissipate an opponent's energy as opposed to absorbing it is important. The first if done properly can be continued indefinitely in a session or in the course of training. The second will leave nage exhausted (immediate) or injured (long term).
- Atemi: I have always felt that atemi was an inseparable part of Aikido. I have had problems using it for fear of becoming too hard in my technique. I am beginning to convince myself that it is something I need to put back into my practice. With my karate background, there is much there that I can draw from that will help me to improve in Aikido. It helps me now to feel more in control and centered at my base.
- Weapons Training: Weapons training is a part of Aikido that is often overlooked. It can however, offer so much in the understanding of the martial application of our taijitsu techniques. It also can do much to train the body in the proper way of moving. This kind of training can develop the hand - hip - foot coordination. It can pave the way to learning the power of a movement and eventually in transferring that physical training and understanding to the empty-hand techniques. Weapons training develops another aspect of awareness that is necessary to learn when practicing with weapons. It requires focus on the immediate actions and makes you aware of uke's movements as well. It helps to lessen the fear factor when facing an armed attacker. If you can do this, an unarmed attacker does not seem as imposing. This kind of training has an added benefit. It is a great way of unleashing pent-up aggressions and energies safely.
- The teaching of new students: This brings back the need for a person to re-focus his attentions on the basics that he has learned so long ago and have now take for granted. This reevaluation, that is required to pass on instruction - information to another gives that student the opportunity to reanalyze and discover new elements that were not there for him the first time he learned them. This is a good practice at any level of training. There is a need to be able to go back to the beginning from time to time to review the all important basics which are the foundation of everything that comes after. This constant review is a means of viewing something familiar from a new angle - in a different light; much as looking at your child and coming to the realization that she is a person different from the image your mind has held for so long. We need to realize that everything is changing, whether it is ourselves or the objects we are observing.
- Randori-Jiuwaza: For me this is a real and important exercise. Not so much a test of my technical expertise, but as a test of my ability to observe, react and concentrate without being greatly affected by emotions, anxieties, fears and excitement. It is a good way of developing a heightened level of awareness; the ability to see a person as a whole (his movements, his intentions and motions). It requires your to be able to see openings, of being aware of your entire immediate surroundings. It requires you to develop a control of yourself so as not to be overcome by the threat of an attack and to lose sight of the person attacking.
- Present state of mind: I want to improve my technique and to learn to realize my potential power. I want to be pushed more by my ukes. There is still concern for hurting my partners and fear that this will make them reluctant to train with me. But, I also feel that I need to push my ukes as well as myself so that they will not stagnate and will keep constantly improving. I have yet to find a comfortable level at which I can do both.
In training, it is easy to become bored or lazy and to just go through the motions. This is next to useless, because the entire person has to be present and actively participating in the training. This includes the body, the mind, and the emotions (Spiritual, Ki, whatever you prefer to call it).
Slow training in addition to repetition is an important part of one's training. When practice is slow, it has to be precise to be effective. Too often we try to rush through a technique, not because we are proficient at it, but because we are uncertain and wish to finish it quickly. Nothing can be learned with this attitude, but it is one which hits all of us, and needs to be worked constantly. Doing it slow and precise, you can take the time to study how the movements affect you and your partner. You will begin to understand what is effective and what will not work. From there, you begin to understand the technique's efficiency - effectiveness and how the power is generated from it. You will also learn how it can harm you partner and thereby the ways to protect him from harm.
At the beginning, the natural motions of the student will be linear. This is due to his previous training; from his everyday life, sports or the martial arts (karate, kendo, etc.). It becomes a relearning process to change a way of moving - thinking - reacting. To redirect energy we learn to blend; to move in a circular manner.
At the beginning, this movement out of necessity will have to be big. This bigness gives the student the ability to formulate in his mind the new and foreign concept, while aiding him in the actual execution of the movement and in maintaining his base. As the student progresses, the circular motion becomes smaller and smaller until it has the appearance of being a linear movement. This is another example of training - life "going full circle; ending where it begins". Another applicable saying here is "It is not the end result that is all important, the journey necessary to reach the end is equally as important."
Hanmi-handachi is a good exercise in developing this sense of movement; for the beginner it helps make him aware of the importance of getting "off the line", of leading uke instead of forcing the movement, and developing a solid base. For the advanced student, the awareness begins to include other matters. For him, in hanmi-handachi, the concept of smaller movements with a more linear nature becomes apparent. Nage being at a physical disadvantage must work to develop movement that are tighter and more quickly executed.
The concepts listed here are not new; they have been stated over and over, and are common-place. Still, every student of Aikido, or any of the other traditional martial arts, is required by nature to experience or learn first-hand the meaning of these concepts. As these old concepts are being relearned - realized the very make-up of that individual will give these re-evaluations a new and unique meaning - significance. These unique interpretations by each individual can be a valuable source of knowledge to all of us and can greatly aid us in our attempts to achieve the full understanding of our martial art.
Refinements to work on:
- Hands always in front, close to center-line of body (emphasizing hand/hip connection).
Positioning makes up half of the technique.
- Maai: proper positioning in relation to your uke.
Proper maai: can move in or move back, open to all possible responses.
- Improper maai:
Too close: Need to move in; irimi entry. There may not be enough time to do any other movements.
Too far: Need to move away or to the side.
- Take uke's balance from first contact and maintain control throughout the technique.
- Kokyu extension should be used 99% of the time for proper execution of technique; in all phases of the technique.
- Ready position:
Taijitsu: Knees flexed with weight on the balls of the feet.
Hanmi-handachi: Weight again forward; off heels from the very start of the confrontation, even before uke starts his attack.
Nage's center-line should be facing uke's. This way his energy will be used most efficiently on uke; blending, blocking (yokomen, shomen, etc.), execution of technique.
- Firm control of uke's head controls his entire body.
- Ushiro kokyu-nage throws: to utilize hips to the fullest, need to rotate front foot so nage ends in hanmi stance as opposed to the horse stance. The horse stance is strong, but it locks the hips, there is less freedom of movement.
- Irimi-nage: Uke's head should make contact on nage's shoulder, not on his arm. This way nage does not need to contend with uke's weight on his arm when nage executes the technique.
- Shiho-nage: Maintain control of uke's balance by emphasizing either:
Getting into a low stance to cause uke to lean over.
Enlarging circle of arms to stretch-out uke.
Calvin Koshiyama, November 1st, 1988, Aikido North