Not so sure

Not so sure

‘Are you sure it works?

There are things which we can be very certain about, the sun will rise and it will set, water will evaporate and life will end and death will always comes for the living. What keeps me going back to Aikido is a feeling of uncertainty. I’m never too sure about the effectiveness of the technique, what works on one might not work on the other.

More importantly, this feeling keeps me grounded and coming back for more. There is never an apex of an Aikido journey. Perhaps this is why there is no championship to talk about in Aikido. a medal is an excellent way for you to focus on your goals, but the practice of Aikido is more than that, it is life. And in life, there is no reward nor punishment, no gold, silver or bronze. Competition is made by man, with rules and a single goal, winning. And when you win, you surely didn’t lose; or did you?

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The Champ

When a winner held onto the medal, there is a level of surety, he or she is good at something, so much so the person has beaten others and gotten the gold. If you get silver, you’re pretty sure that there is one guy on top, and many, many more below!

That is a fallacy.

You can never be sure, that the guy on top stays on top, and those below will never be superior to you. If you are a champ in Karate, that doesn’t mean you’re a champ in everything. But winning helps creates that illusion of suety. Truth to be told, in order for one to win, many others have to be sacrificed, our loved ones, parents, events, birthdays, just to name a few. All for a medal? Are you sure that is what life is for you? To miss out on all those important people and event just for a medal?

And just because one becomes a Karate champ, doesn’t surely means one will win in EVERY fight, alley fight, fist fight, bar fight. You can never be too sure, but with a medal, and most likely an inflated ego, you might risk a chance of a fight, thinking that you’re sure to win.

I’m reasonably trained in Aikido, but never too cock sure about what I can do. There is really nothing to win in a fight, that uncertainty, in my personal opinion keeps me focused on not getting into a fight. I leave the class every time, feeling a little inadequate, as if I have not learned enough, and I need to come back, and back and back, to check myself. ‘Are you sure it works?’ I ask that question again and again.

Problem I see in many martial arts school is they train people ‘so well’, they endowed them a false sense of security, feeling that the student can fend themselves off, in a real right, and walk away unscathed. Hollywood are full of those fight scenes. In any UFC fight, we always aim to be the last man standing, look carefully, the last man standing was as badly beaten up as the man on the floor. No one walks away from a  real fight without a scratch, Fighting is about attrition, and in a real fight, we can never be too sure we can come out tops, no matter how well we train.

I can never be too sure, so I come to class never take every moment for granted. I never take a white belt for granted, granted that the white belt might have a lucky shot and break my nose in a flimsy shomen strike. Shit happens.

 

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Having a conversation

Having a conversation

Last evening, I share in class that the Uke and the Nage has to develop a relationship in the waza, and not just be the Uke and the Nage.

One issue I think that is very common in Aikido, is that everything looks so ‘blended’ and ‘harmonious’. It has that effect on people and at very high level, the waza if very irresistible to both the nage and uke. Aikido waza, when skilfully applied, can look very much like a collaboration between 2 very willing parties. So to a layperson, they will usually as ‘where is the attack?’

Like Goldilocks’ soup, not too hot, not too cold.

The uke, strictly speaking, do not attack in a traditional martial arts sense. I recently sees it has having a conversation with the nage. And the nage having a conversation with the Uke, both are at odds when they come together on a specific topic, and both walked out of that conversation, learned and respected each other for their opposing opinions.

It is a physical conversation without opening the mouth.

No it is not body language, it is more than that. when the uke holds the nage’s hand, it creates a situation, which the nage needs to resolve with the uke, amicable, peacefully, without harming anyone in the process. The Uke, might come and say ‘I’m pro life, anti-abortion.’ The nage says, ‘Abortion is necessary.’ Someone’s got to give, and if both go at each other with their own view point, eventually, both will end up bitter, defensive and not getting any good opinion about each other. Life is much, much bigger and larger than our own petty narrow viewpoints and argument.

I see Aikido as that lubricant, you are independent enough to make a stand for your view, yet, supple in mindset to yield, and agree to disagree. Instead of making your stand and make your partner look bad, creating ill will.

A waza is not just a waza, it is a way out, finding reconciliation in a very difficult situation. Hence, the Uke’s job is to have a physical debate with the nage. The nage has to skilfully manoeuvre through the mental ‘mindfield’ and thought train so that the debate can be robust and everyone learn something from each other walking away. Then peace can be sustainable.

Uke Night

So I made it  ‘Uke night’ for Friday’s class, and focused on the Uke, precisely because if the uke does not hold a robust enough conversation, the whole waza becomes a shallow physical exercise. I wanted the uke to present a reasonable amount of resistance in the technique. There are different levels of everything and same goes for Aikido resistance. At one spectrum, you have very easy, fast flowing, uke, who will fall irrespective what the nage does, or the other end of the spectrum, you get a uke who resist till a level where you almost want to rearrange that fella’s face! Between that 2 spectrum, we need to find Aikido in there. Like Goldilocks’ soup, not too hot, not too cold.

This is the challenge, because, people think and the uke have this conversation with himself, or herself, about how a uke ‘should’ be. And the nage, on the other hand, will have a self talk about how nage ‘should’ be. and both also have an opinion about their nage, and their uke, respectively. when we go into a waza with such self talk, we are not contributing to the waza, and simply go there to do what we go there to do. Then a 5 second waza, remains at that 5 seconds. But if both parties open themselves up, the uke resist necessarily, so that the nage can learn, and when the nage realised that it is not so easy to make a uke fall, the nage will also develop a certain finesse and not take the waza and uke for granted. When both goes at each other with such an attitude, a 5 second waza can develop a deep, meaningful bond. both will learn from each other, in a constructive and positive environment.

Too much resistance!

During class, there will be people who resist too much, so much so that the nage can’t do the technique properly, any decent Aikidoka, will tell you that happens all the time. So I have to tell the uke to adjust their strength and resistance, to suit the nage. It has to be intelligent, responsive, not a death grip uke. We are all there to learn Aikido, no bone crushing.

And just because I say it is ‘uke night’, some uke made things so tough for the nage, nothing moves. I share with the class, when everyone takes a stand, that is when things becomes belligerent. There is no need to take a stand and make it a monumental task for every nage to make you take a fall. The story goes like this, every uke will take the fall. Period. The issue to bring to mind is, what level of effort a nage needs to take to make the uke fall. Moving a mountain? Or lifting a feather? The magic is in between. Nobody is infallible.

So I hope the lessons is there, the Uke needs to come alive and not go through the motion. Aikido is not a dance, as I constantly says it. It is real hard work, where both parties put in their best, and everyone walks away from the waza, mutually rewarded and learned. It is not about who walks away the winner, and who loses. Which is why there are no medals, champion’s cup in Aikido. Both the nage and uke are trying to achieve a higher level of meaning than that, and in order for us to do so, we have to offer each other a sincere, open hand to have a courageous and tough but mutually agreeable conversation.

Aikido is total movement

Aikido is total movement

There is much to learn in a beginner’s class and one very common way to help beginners to learn Aikido is to break down one single waza into steps. This will help with the absorption of movement, the positioning and physicality of the waza, in relation to the uke.

Well, this is not rocket science. Almost everyone learn and master skills this way, so even with the most complex task, can be learned one step at a time. This methodology also helps to build confidence and taking things one step at a time, allows troubleshooting, guidance and corrections in timely interventions.

We need to understand that this is not the ‘Beginner’s Mind’, this is in fact, a fixation to the ‘Beginner’s Mind’ which defeats the principles of the ‘Beginner’s Mind’ in the first place.

As we begin to gain proficiency in our movement, we begin to move in a seemingly skillful manner. Things becomes easier to do, we can do them without much thought. This is the departure from a junior belt and the journey into a more senior grade.

I still see a lot of senior belt, taking the whole waza step by step, despite of them already familiar with the moves, and has done it many, many times.

As we move into senior grade, stoppages needs to become shorter, until the entire movement becomes one seamless stream of energy from beginning to the end.

So we need to progress from a step by step waza to one that smoothly transfer motion from one end to another. Being a more senior grade requires the understanding of this transfer, in our physical body.

Our arms and legs can only stretch so much, and at my height, any given men, or women taller than me will have better reach and range of motion than me. Yet, in Aikido, we are able to move bigger opponents, this is not only through the use of leveraging, but more importantly, our understanding in the transition of power, motion and continuity, and leverage is only a small part of that equation.

simply move, and everything will fall in place.

When our opponent catches us, we need to move so that we hyper-extends our opponent, in such a manner that it displaces the balance. But our range of movement will get exhausted, and stop, before that happens, we need to move something else to keep keep our motion, and initiative. Keep the tension, so that our opponent remains engaged, until we finish our moves.

It is not only just having the energy move from left hand to the right, but it is also in simultaneous motion, left leg and hand, synchronous with the hips. The hands and legs will move together. A junior belt will move the hand, then the leg, then the hand…any and all stoppages is an opening for your uke to become the nage.

There is this habit of a junior belt ‘ownself checking ownself’, but stopping every now and then in the movement. This stops the flow and makes the whole waza static, and the uke difficult to follow. More often than not, it is a habit, albeit a bad one, to stop every now and then to check. There is no need to check, simply move, and everything will fall in place.