If you are looking to study aikido in Kitakyushu, Japan, here is a link to the dojo where I practice. It is the oldest aikido dojo in Kitakyushu and was founded by Kuroishi Kimio Sensei in March of 1973. Kuroishi Sensei was a live-in student, an uchi deshi, to Ueshiba Morihei, the founder of aikido. Quality being paramount, you’ll consistently train with partners as high as 7th dan. There is no better dojo in the city to study aikido that is close to aikido’s origin. Links to the dojo website and Facebook pages follow.
The other night my aikido partner kept repeatedly banging his head against the wall until I finally said, “Hey, stop banging your head against the wall!”. Although you might think that one would instinctively know not to do this sort of thing, it isn’t always so. And oddly enough, this is one of the most difficult concepts to grasp in the study of aikido. However, it is one of the first steps in realizing what aikido is and how a lot of it works. Of course, I’m not really talking about head-butting walls. I’m referring to learning how to work with one’s partner’s/attacker’s incoming force.
In many fighting arts, when pushed or hit, fighters push or hit back. And if more force is used, fighters, in turn, use more force. What is inherently different in most aikido techniques is the very clever idea of running away. Now I’m not talking about the simple idea of running away, not that avoiding fights is a bad thing. After all, I’m talking about martial arts here. No, I’m simply talking about not standing still and getting hit. I’m speaking of the meeting of one’s partner’s/attacker’s force/energy with one’s own and the merging of the two.
If you don’t know, aikido – 合気道 – means the way of meeting ki or energy. 合 ai-meet or merge, 気 ki-energy, 道 dou-way or path. That’s fine and dandy and sounds real nice and peaceful-like, but what does that mean when it comes to defending oneself against an attack?
Typically, aikido attacks involve the grabbing of wrists or clothing, but can include open hand strikes, punching and kicking. But if we simplify these into forces that move toward you or forces that pull you, it is quite easy to understand. If the force comes at you, you move at the same speed in the opposite direction. And if you are pulled, then you move at the same speed toward the pull. There are other things that come into play, but essentially, that’s it.
Imagine a revolving door and one person is walking in as another person is walking out. If only one person pushes the door, as long as the other person moves at the same speed in the same direction the door is spinning, then there is no problem. But if the person not pushing the door walks too slowly, they’ll get hit by the door. And if they go too fast, they’ll start to push the weight of the other guy and both these options are inefficient ways to use the door. Martially speaking, if one moves with an attack, then theoretically one will come to no harm. It is the same if someone pulls the door, but pulling a revolving door is just a silly thing to do.
Now stretch your minds a little and imagine that you are inside a 360 degree revolving door. Yes, this door is in space and can be pushed from any direction. And when pushed you must move in the same direction, around your own center, the single hinge on which your unique door revolves. In this way, theoretically, you can non-confrontationally respond to an attack coming at you from any direction, and neither you nor your partner comes to harm. Many things can happen from here, of course, but at least you’ll have stopped banging your head against that wall!
It’s been quite a while since I attempted karate kata. My back has improved quite a bit so I thought I’d give it a go. Here are the links to kata Pinan 1-3. Overall, not bad movement, but it shows that I am no longer training in karate. I am not used to karate stances anymore. They feel long or cramped to me now after years of only aikido practice.
What I see that I like is more unified movement, better balance and more powerful stances and technique which are actually connected. I also felt that because there is less pain in my back, I was able to give a more sincere effort. After each kata I was tired, more so than the video session from before. Of course, it may just be that I am older and in worse shape. I sure hope not.
Today I attended another training/testing at 自然会下関道場 with Suganuma Shihan leading the workout. It’s been about half a year since I last trained with this group. Today there was about an hour and a half workout followed by testing sessions for 5th kyu up through sandan. Of course, not being my dojo, I just go for the morning training. But it is interesting to see standard Aikikai testing, and to watch familiar faces put to the test.
Although this group’s style is slightly different, I always come away learning something new that I can incorporate into my own aikido. I find their work on the basics to be very standardized which helps to refine my own bad habits and at times provides unexpected insight.
Suganuma Shihan stopped by during one pairing to help my technique and actually remembered my name. It was only the third time we’d met at these testing sessions. There were about 61 people today so it was nice that he remembered me. And he asked after my teacher, Kuroishi Sensei, who is his senpai by a number of years. One other teacher from the handful of dojo knows my teacher and trained with him a couple of lifetimes ago.
Now to the point, there was another foreigner there who tested for 2nd kyu and who impressed me quite a bit. His technique was on par with the others being tested, but this fellow is visually impaired. Aikido is hard enough to learn when you can see what’s going on. I can’t imagine what it’s like to be in his gi. More power to him. It made me consider how much I take little things like sight for granted. I think from now on I’ll complain less and train more.
That reminds me of the time back home when Shihan-dai Chuck Smith blindfolded me in the wrestling room in college and said he was going to attack a certain way and that I was to perform a particular technique in order to prove a point to the other members of the class. He naturally did something completely different. Come to think of it, he blindfolded me up in a tree on the ropes course in Northwest River Park and had me walk the limbs. I digress, but without a doubt, removing sight puts a new perspective on things.
Well, it’s back to my own dojo tomorrow and to things more familiar, frustrating and fun. Happy training everyone!
I remember the days when all I focused on in karate and aikido was remembering moves in a kata, moving faster and hitting harder. Over the years I have changed focus from what my movement looks like to how I am moving internally. And it is only when I am correct within myself that I am able to perform aikido technique correctly with a partner. At these times it is as if the movements literally happen effortlessly, yet seem very powerful for those on the receiving end.
But even when the focus is within myself, there are a number of different things to concentrate on. Posture, relaxation and breathing are a few of the things that must constantly be refined and improved. Adding movement to this disrupts posture, relaxation and breathing and one’s overall balance, thus with any movement everything must be constantly re-adjusted. With every aspect of one’s movement constantly being critiqued and corrected、improvement in aikido comes very slowly. And slow progress is frustrating in a “I want it now!” society, but rewarding if you stick it out.
Friday night’s workout had me shift focus from within to between; from within myself to the connection between myself and my partner. It had been a long time since I had done this. One shihan who specializes in this sort of technique had been out sick for some time. Once I had reacquainted myself with his style of movement he shifted the theory to one finger throws. It took a couple of tries, but I was able to pull it off. It’s not easy to pull off, but amazing when you get it right. So, in a sense, my focus changed from outside to inside to further away from my inside/my center.
I wonder where my focus will be in the years to come. I’m looking forward to finding out.