Finishing moves

Finishing moves

‘When we have an ego, we will always want to throw our partner.’

Harry sensei not focusing on throwing the uke. The uke fell on his own merit

Harry sensei always scolds us for focusing on throwing our partner, which points to our overly inflated ego. He always says that, ‘When we have an ego, we will always want to throw our partner.’ We want to look good throwing our uke, and in that myopic quest, we missed out the more salient focus, improving ourselves, our technique.

I’ve long known that we need not worry about our uke, as long as we do the waza properly. The uke will fall if the technique is proper and complete.

What I failed to understand is what Harry sensei is driving at. It is not about the technique, properly executed. It is the finishing.

Where is the point of finishing?

As we continue our practice in Aikido, it seems like a lengthy, longitudinal continuum. Practice never ends, or we actually do not know where it ends. Or more microscopically, we think our technique ends when our partner falls, and we end up focusing on the throw, and gets scolded by Harry sensei, for doing our technique improperly.

In a metaphorical sense, Aikido is like life. It is never ending, a circle. There is no beginning, nor ending, so we keep doing our waza, day in, day out, and gets scolded the same way, so much so we are numb to our sensei’s nagging. It all sounds the same. Not it is not the same, once there is a level of epiphany to open our minds to what our sensei is actually saying.

New level of understanding

There is an ending and beginning in a circle, we as humans, sees it, as the Earth revolves around the Sun, day will end and night will begin, as a part of a continuous process. As Aikidoka, we train to become discerning to where it ends and begins.

So our waza does not end wiith us throwing  our uke.

Our uke takes an ukemi as the consequence of our finishing.

Where we look at the problem, is the problem

That is very much a cliché, but it is true, in this aspect. Harry sensei has seen this happening for decades; techniques that are too fast, or too slow, to jerky, too stiff, not soft enough (one of his pet gripes), not relaxed and the list goes on.

All these problems point towards the focus on throwing our uke. We as the nage wants to throw, lock, pin our uke, as in a role, our uke is ‘attacking’ us, and we need to ‘defend’ ourselves. This thought process does not escapes us in the technique and we get arrested by the thinking that we have to successfully defend ourselves, by throwing, locking and/or pinning our uke. We seal the deal, even before the uke commence the ‘attack’.

Aikido is continuum

Aikido practice is much bigger than that, as part of the continuum of life, we need to discern and decide where our waza ends, and it ends at the point where our uke takes the fall. After that, everything belongs to the uke, which is the falling. The problem begins, when we extend our influence into the uke’s fall, which is totally unnecessary, and that is where the ego rears is head.

it is the form, not the falling

So we do not decide when the uke will fall, of course, in an irimi nage for example, we will know, from practice; when the fall comes, and we focus on that ending. So we need to free ourselves from that, and let the fall comes, when it comes. We are not determinant of the fall, we can’t, that is the uke’s job. Our job is our job, to execute the technique and focus on improving ourselves using the good grace of the uke’s participation.

When we have an uke who is selfless, skilled and totally devoted to the role of an uke, we as the nage cannot mess things up by stepping into and influencing the uke’s ability to take a fall. Let the uke fall, we just focus on improving our technique, and constantly polish again and again with the help of the uke.

Cyclic Aikido

Cyclic Aikido

movement_Fotor movement

There is a concept about Aikido training and rhythm that is quite distinctively unique, with reference to other martial arts.

Last evening’s training with Edna, made me realised that not a lot of folks understand, why Aikidokas always seem to appear to ‘fall on their own’.

High Tempo / Low Tempo

It is quite common in a beginners class that the lesson goes from step 1 to 2 to 3, and the ukemi is taken, almost as a matter of exaggeration or deliberation. Techniques is broken down into bite size moves, and the technicalities are often explained, and experimented until the beginner students can move, in a manner without too much doubt or questioning. This kind of hand holding is can be quite protracted, and tedious. The technique can be quite static and there are more opportunities to try, test, resist, and figure out hows and the whys of a technique. This is somewhat a low tempo Aikido; baby-steps.

A high tempo Aikido, is liken a seasoned chef, in his kitchen, one that he has worked in for many years. He knows the kitchen layout, the nooks and crannies. He can move quickly from the fridge to the raw food to the cooking and serving, all without much talk and explanation. Things seem to ‘flow’ with a sense of energy and rhythm, and everything appears to the untrained, easy.

The session I partnered Edna was a Ryote-tori Kokyu-nage.  Sensei was emphasizing on the pivot of the hip to move a slightly stronger or larger uke, and this move, when done quickly, expeditiously, looks deceivingly simple, uke will appear like they fall on their own. But that’s not the point with Edna.

She paused, and posed this question me, her uke: “Am I falling on my own?”

Simple answer is ‘Yes.’

Now here is the long answer

Edna has acquired a long number of  years in training. She is proficient in her moving, and certainly confident in her ukemi. As her uke, going for the grab, I can trust her to move expeditiously, without time consuming self analysis, or attempt to understand why. As her uke I trust her capabilities to execute the technique well. With a skilled partner like her, I can move, and move quickly.

So what happens when we move quickly? Thinking stops. Aikido is action, not thinking. On the mat, it is action, trial and error. When it is working, keep it going, build rhythm, build a fast tempo, and push each other, help each other with a better physical conditioning. I am not overstating that I can continue the technique very much like an Energizer bunny. In any martial arts, any fight, the first thing you bring to the table is physical conditioning. I have long learned to outlast ‘good’ and ‘skillful’ partners, who are simply not physically conditioned to maintain the tempo I drive.

So for Edna, her question is obvious, she may think that I am giving her the ‘charity fall’, it is really hard to tease apart when things are moving so fast. Was her technique so ‘perfect’ that at a touch, and pivot of her hips, I fall?  Not always so! But what happens in a fast tempo Aikido is, I as the uke is committed to the grab, that is my job, when the nage moves, in relative synchronous speed to mine, motion creates fluidity, and that will ultimately result in me taking a fall. Can I resist her technique, not very likely, unless there is a jam, unless she jams up her technique; angle wrong, out of breath, distracted, or simply fumbled, then it is back to analysis to paralysis.

Learn to trust and un-think

As an Aikidoka clocks the years and moves up in experience, the tempo will naturally begins to pick up, big circle movement becomes efficient, the circle will get smaller, and smaller, until it is only perceptible.

Advance training builds a lot of trust between partners that the technique is executed correctly and the uke is taking a genuine fall. There is no place to question if the nage is doing it ‘correctly’ or not, or is the uke is taking a genuine fall or not. You just keep going at each other, nage does what the nage does, the uke, falls, gets up quickly and go at it again, no talk necessary.

Back to the analogy of the kitchen, the chef will not slow down to just scrub and do the dishes, when he has a good rhythm going, he will move fast, with a wipe and clean as he goes motion, everything in the kitchen becomes one movement and it is a beautiful thing to witness the skill of such professional at work. There is a present, a humming spirit of good vibe, that is what Aikido practice is about.

When you got a good run going, keep running, don’t stop to ask yourself, ‘Am I having a good run?’

Loyalty illustrated

When I saw this Youtube post, I know what ‘loyalty’ looks like.

What makes me said that? Look at the video, at the 2.50 mins mark, Saito sensei‘s uchideshi, Tristan Da Cunha demonstrate very strongly and visually the true spirit of loyalty. He held his sensei up, and be on his fours for his sensei, his loyalty mirrors deep respect and commitment to his sensei.

In our capitalistic and consumer centric society, we, students pay a fee, so technically speaking we are customers, and take this attitude with us when go to learn martial arts. Martial Arts schools on the other hand, clamor even more for membership so that they can keep their school alive, pay rentals, make ends meet. Poor service=unhappy students= less students= no more school. Some teachers, hope to get rich this way, some do, many doesn’t.

So many modern schools makes it friendly for students to keep paying, the last thing on my sensei’s mind is being  ‘customer’ friendly. sometimes his rebuke can be harsh, (although he has toned down significantly), some of his remarks can be callous. In our ‘customer service’ centric society, Consumer is king. Why should I pay to have someone pass insensitive remarks at me and hurt my feelings?

Loyalty is not a popularity contest. Loyalty is being there day in day out. Loyalty is the ‘boring’ thing. Taking my sensei’s bad mood with his jubilation. Loyalty seems to fit uneasily with consumerism. After i watched it, there is not more question. The fee I pay for the experience i get and the lessons, is far beyond any monetary exchange. My sensei is not keen about the fees as well. His presence as the sensei and my presence as his student cuts through dollars and cents. He need me as much as i need him, that is what loyalty is about. Without the both of us, there is no Aikido. The importance of our existence is not over hyped, it’s just is.

Who can be sure that we can be with our sensei until death? Can I carry on my sensei‘s teaching and still learn from him until his last breath? Will I be there when my sensei dies? After I saw what Tristan did for Saito sensei, I know when that time comes, loyalty will not longer be a question to ask.

When I saw this Youtube post, I know what ‘loyalty’ looks like.

What makes me said that? Look at the video, at the 2.50 mins mark, Saito sensei‘s uchideshi, Tristan Da Cunha demonstrate very strongly and visually the true spirit of loyalty. He held his sensei up, and be on his fours for his sensei, his loyalty mirrors deep respect and commitment to his sensei.

In our capitalistic and consumer centric society, we, students pay a fee, so technically speaking we are customers, and take this attitude with us when go to learn martial arts. Martial Arts schools on the other hand, clamor even more for membership so that they can keep their school alive, pay rentals, make ends meet. Poor service=unhappy students= less students= no more school. Some teachers, hope to get rich this way, some do, many doesn’t.

So many modern schools makes it friendly for students to keep paying, the last thing on my sensei’s mind is being  ‘customer’ friendly. sometimes his rebuke can be harsh, (although he has toned down significantly), some of his remarks can be callous. In our ‘customer service’ centric society, Consumer is king. Why should I pay to have someone pass insensitive remarks at me and hurt my feelings?

Loyalty is not a popularity contest. Loyalty is being there day in day out. Loyalty is the ‘boring’ thing. Taking my sensei’s bad mood with his jubilation. Loyalty seems to fit uneasily with consumerism. After i watched it, there is not more question. The fee I pay for the experience i get and the lessons, is far beyond any monetary exchange. My sensei is not keen about the fees as well. His presence as the sensei and my presence as his student cuts through dollars and cents. He need me as much as i need him, that is what loyalty is about. Without the both of us, there is no Aikido. The importance of our existence is not over hyped, it’s just is.

Who can be sure that we can be with our sensei until death? Can I carry on my sensei‘s teaching and still learn from him until his last breath? Will I be there when my sensei dies? After I saw what Tristan did for Saito sensei, I know when that time comes, loyalty will not longer be a question to ask.

First published: Aug 6, 2010 5:02 PM

 

When I saw this Youtube post, I know what ‘loyalty’ looks like.

What makes me said that? Look at the video, at the 2.50 mins mark, Saito sensei‘s uchideshi, Tristan Da Cunha demonstrate very strongly and visually the true spirit of loyalty. He held his sensei up, and be on his fours for his sensei, his loyalty mirrors deep respect and commitment to his sensei.

In our capitalistic and consumer centric society, we, students pay a fee, so technically speaking we are customers, and take this attitude with us when go to learn martial arts. Martial Arts schools on the other hand, clamor even more for membership so that they can keep their school alive, pay rentals, make ends meet. Poor service=unhappy students= less students= no more school. Some teachers, hope to get rich this way, some do, many doesn’t.

So many modern schools makes it friendly for students to keep paying, the last thing on my sensei’s mind is being  ‘customer’ friendly. sometimes his rebuke can be harsh, (although he has toned down significantly), some of his remarks can be callous. In our ‘customer service’ centric society, Consumer is king. Why should I pay to have someone pass insensitive remarks at me and hurt my feelings?

Loyalty is not a popularity contest. Loyalty is being there day in day out. Loyalty is the ‘boring’ thing. Taking my sensei’s bad mood with his jubilation. Loyalty seems to fit uneasily with consumerism. After i watched it, there is not more question. The fee I pay for the experience i get and the lessons, is far beyond any monetary exchange. My sensei is not keen about the fees as well. His presence as the sensei and my presence as his student cuts through dollars and cents. He need me as much as i need him, that is what loyalty is about. Without the both of us, there is no Aikido. The importance of our existence is not over hyped, it’s just is.

Who can be sure that we can be with our sensei until death? Can I carry on my sensei‘s teaching and still learn from him until his last breath? Will I be there when my sensei dies? After I saw what Tristan did for Saito sensei, I know when that time comes, loyalty will not longer be a question to ask.

When I saw this Youtube post, I know what ‘loyalty’ looks like.

What makes me said that? Look at the video, at the 2.50 mins mark, Saito sensei‘s uchideshi, Tristan Da Cunha demonstrate very strongly and visually the true spirit of loyalty. He held his sensei up, and be on his fours for his sensei, his loyalty mirrors deep respect and commitment to his sensei.

In our capitalistic and consumer centric society, we, students pay a fee, so technically speaking we are customers, and take this attitude with us when go to learn martial arts. Martial Arts schools on the other hand, clamor even more for membership so that they can keep their school alive, pay rentals, make ends meet. Poor service=unhappy students= less students= no more school. Some teachers, hope to get rich this way, some do, many doesn’t.

So many modern schools makes it friendly for students to keep paying, the last thing on my sensei’s mind is being  ‘customer’ friendly. sometimes his rebuke can be harsh, (although he has toned down significantly), some of his remarks can be callous. In our ‘customer service’ centric society, Consumer is king. Why should I pay to have someone pass insensitive remarks at me and hurt my feelings?

Loyalty is not a popularity contest. Loyalty is being there day in day out. Loyalty is the ‘boring’ thing. Taking my sensei’s bad mood with his jubilation. Loyalty seems to fit uneasily with consumerism. After i watched it, there is not more question. The fee I pay for the experience i get and the lessons, is far beyond any monetary exchange. My sensei is not keen about the fees as well. His presence as the sensei and my presence as his student cuts through dollars and cents. He need me as much as i need him, that is what loyalty is about. Without the both of us, there is no Aikido. The importance of our existence is not over hyped, it’s just is.

Who can be sure that we can be with our sensei until death? Can I carry on my sensei‘s teaching and still learn from him until his last breath? Will I be there when my sensei dies? After I saw what Tristan did for Saito sensei, I know when that time comes, loyalty will not longer be a question to ask.

When I saw this Youtube post, I know what ‘loyalty’ looks like.

What makes me said that? Look at the video, at the 2.50 mins mark, Saito sensei‘s uchideshi, Tristan Da Cunha demonstrate very strongly and visually the true spirit of loyalty. He held his sensei up, and be on his fours for his sensei, his loyalty mirrors deep respect and commitment to his sensei.

In our capitalistic and consumer centric society, we, students pay a fee, so technically speaking we are customers, and take this attitude with us when go to learn martial arts. Martial Arts schools on the other hand, clamor even more for membership so that they can keep their school alive, pay rentals, make ends meet. Poor service=unhappy students= less students= no more school. Some teachers, hope to get rich this way, some do, many doesn’t.

So many modern schools makes it friendly for students to keep paying, the last thing on my sensei’s mind is being  ‘customer’ friendly. sometimes his rebuke can be harsh, (although he has toned down significantly), some of his remarks can be callous. In our ‘customer service’ centric society, Consumer is king. Why should I pay to have someone pass insensitive remarks at me and hurt my feelings?

Loyalty is not a popularity contest. Loyalty is being there day in day out. Loyalty is the ‘boring’ thing. Taking my sensei’s bad mood with his jubilation. Loyalty seems to fit uneasily with consumerism. After i watched it, there is not more question. The fee I pay for the experience i get and the lessons, is far beyond any monetary exchange. My sensei is not keen about the fees as well. His presence as the sensei and my presence as his student cuts through dollars and cents. He need me as much as i need him, that is what loyalty is about. Without the both of us, there is no Aikido. The importance of our existence is not over hyped, it’s just is.

Who can be sure that we can be with our sensei until death? Can I carry on my sensei‘s teaching and still learn from him until his last breath? Will I be there when my sensei dies? After I saw what Tristan did for Saito sensei, I know when that time comes, loyalty will not longer be a question to ask.

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.

 

Shikko and Ukemi

I was sharing this with Gabriel and Zarine one evening, about the attire we wear. I realised that my foundation years in Aikido, I did a lot of suwari waza, or knee walk.

Knowing how to fall properly is all about protecting ourselves from greater harm.

Extensive practice in knee walks, can be a boon or bane for Aikdiokas. I know some Aikido Shihans who have their knees destroyed by suwari waza. Personally for me, during my peaks, i can knee walk until there are holes on the pants where the knees comes into contact with the mat. Yes, blisters are also quite common.

It certainly helps in the stability department. practice on the suwari waza will strengthens the legs and hips, all vital structures for stability in movement or otherwise.

Another very important practice is ukemi. Well what are the chances of us using irimi nage in real life? or applying a nikkyo lock? But when is comes to falling, the chances are plenty.

Knowing how to fall properly is all about protecting ourselves from greater harm. When I was a motorcyclist, it had saved me from being seriously injured in a accident. Even in reality, falls are never picture perfect like in Aikido, but knowing how to and being experienced in rolling helps us prepare for the unexpected.

Published on: Feb 27, 2011