The Roundabout

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Imagine three huge roads meeting in an intersection. It is rush hour. Everybody is trying to hurry to not be late for work. Nobody wants to give way for anybody else. Everybody is annoyed with anybody who gets in their way.

A thought that might cross the minds of these guys is that they should get a tank and just run over everybody else to get to where they are going without getting slowed down by anything. Sure, it would get them to work in time, and nothing and nobody would be able to stop them, because all the other cars would crumble to pieces under the tanks treads. However, it would kill most of the other people trying to get to work.

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Arc de Triomphe in Paris. The picture was taken around 1920, for a post card. I got it from Wikipedia.

The tank solution is maybe good enough a solution for some people. They just have to make sure to get a tank and make sure nobody else does. Still, the problem remains the same once everybody has their tanks going to work, and this time around they will be shooting at each other.

The roundabout separates the problem point where the traffic jams into six intersections (in the specific case where three roads meet at one point), and brings everybody into a circular path around a common center. Each of these six intersections obviously have less load than the one, thus giving flow where there otherwise would have been a standstill.

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The Thomas Circle in Washington DC. The picture was taken in 1922. I got the picture from Wikipedia.

I really do not know much about traffic and flow, but it appeared to me that the roundabout is very similar to the idea of aiki. Of course, in a grab, which is the equivalent of the intersection of roads, there are not six roads but maybe six million roads (three million from each partner). It is always rush hour, and all the cars are the same (there are no tanks). The signals are there, but in the grab there is a conflict. Not a real conflict, but a made up conflict, for us to study the world we live in.

I live for this idea of aiki. The idea of a different way of living in this world that might appear as very violent and dark at times. It is such a natural way to just do like everybody else, and try to get a tank of our own to hide inside. Gear up, upgrade the weapons and the armour, always make sure to be the strongest one, to fight trough whenever there is a conflict.

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The Letchworth Roundabout in England. The picture is taken from Wikipedia.

This is the system of our world. It affects all levels of our society. It is not always the stronger “beating up” the weaker, but the threat is there, and things happen as a consequence of this threat. Countries are at war with each other; International companies have their power games; Everybody has their struggles trying to stand out among our peers to get that “decent job”; In big family matters it is the same, the ones with most power have the most influence pushing everybody else back into place whenever they feel it is needed; At social events amongst colleagues or friends it is the same. The stronger the better, and we do because we can. This way of thinking will eventually destroy us all.

When my partner holds me when I want to move it really does feel impossible at times. There is nowhere I can move, and nowhere my partner can move. Still there really is space for both of us, for all our little cars going everywhere. It is just that we are stuck at a traffic jam. We need to construct a roundabout together. Spinning around a common center solves our problems and creates a flow which is beneficial for all. The roundabout becomes rather a mental one rather than a physical one in this case, but it resolves the conflict in the grab.

I believe very strongly in this idea of “The Art of Peace”, “The Art of Non Conflict” “The Art of Aiki“. It is the driving force in my life. It is such a beautiful fantasy world I can visit every day, in the dojo, and I can take little pieces of it with me out into the grey void outside. Outside if somebody does something good it is very often in fear of some severe consequence of their action. I believe we should do what we know is right, because it is right. Not because we want to earn something or avoid negative consequences for ourselves.

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The Roundabout below Pearl Tower in Shanghai. The photo is from Wikipedia.

In addition to being a strong and inspiring idea intellectually, the experience we have with our partners as we do aiki brings such nice feelings of joy and happiness. The joy comes from our partners and they receive the same from us. This is the consequence of the same idea, I think.

The idea of creating something beneficial for everybody, something we can never earn something from, something which in its entirety is dedicated to helping others. It is the only way to save the human race from disaster, I think. It just came to me while half sleeping in a fever haze in a back room of a dojo during an aikido seminar, that it is a little bit like the idea of a roundabout. It creates flow where it otherwise would be stagnation, and it does not give advantage to anybody in particular, but it is good for everybody, when we are in a hurry to get to work in time.

Except, of course, if we have that tank standing in our garage, and we feel that egoistic rage and just want to squash everybody else into a red pulp of blood and metal, just so that we can get to where we want to be.

Enjoy your keiko! Aiki makes people happy!

The Shadow

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Think Big, Do Small;
Think All, Do Nothing

Ancient aiki proverb
(Jorma Lyly)

There is a natural balance in the Universe. Every action has a corresponding counter action. Every push or pull has a corresponding counterpart. There is no way of getting around this. Sometimes, for example due to the finite speed of light, or gravitons, the balance might be shifted for a period of time, but the balance always returns as time passes.

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Ushiro waza with Marius in Sjøholt, December 2016. Photo by Sigurd Hatlen.

I believe this is also true for our intention. Our intention is an expression of our ego. We want something, and we express it in different ways. If we express our intention to our partner in the keiko, our partner might help us, and go along with whatever we are doing, because that is the way we have agreed on practising. However, by nature, if we experience sensation of force on ourselves, we naturally respond by creating a counterpart to the push, pull or rotation which we are detecting. It is the natural way we keep our posture and balance.

An example could be the way we walk. Under our soles we have different contact points with the ground. Each of our ten toes, the inner and outer front of the foot, the blade of our foot and the heel. These 18 points are constantly measuring the pressure from the ground and respond immediately if they are detecting irregularities.

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Ushiro waza with Marius in Sjøholt, December 2016. Photo by Sigurd Hatlen.

In our practise we are agreeing on falling. We are exploring by experiencing the loss of our balance to the point that we are actually doing our falls in a complete balance. Not the normal one of course, but even when we are upside down in the air, there is no loss of control, perfectly balanced in our movement. However, the normal way humans move, are by walking, and we do not normally like to fall. So our system protects us by responding to any outside manipulation with an equal, but opposite force.

I actually will go as far as to say that when this interaction is person to person this rule goes also for our intention. Any intention in one, will be balanced out by a equal, but opposite directed counter intention in the other. Like I said, we usually agree on helping each other, but this is a natural reaction, so if we are caught by surprise, we will do it without thinking, to restore our balance.

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Ushiro waza with Marius in Sjøholt, December 2016. Photo by Sigurd Hatlen.

So how can we ever be able to make a movement with our partner? Our intention is what we normally use to make actions. We wish to do something, we want something, and this is our ego speaking. And that is where the problem lies, I think. The moment we make a movement the partner will stop us. The partner’s ego does not like the interference of anybody else’s ego. It feels suppressing to us. Our will is dominated by somebody else’s intentions. This is why we naturally react to cancel the manipulations made by others. This is even sometimes visible when watching the practise from the outside. There is the counter intention, but the partner follows to complete the form the participants have agreed on.

Of course, we can always use technical skills to be able to force the partner anyway. This is maybe sufficient for a situation in itself, not considering the big picture, and what comes after. However, this is no solution for the problem at hand. Our partner is holding and we are expected to move. It is a simplified exercise to learn about things outside the dojo. The goal is not to force our partner to move. The grab by our friend is not the problem, it is the exercise. The world outside is the problem. Not self defence, but the bigger picture. The wars, the violence, the hostility, the hate, the separation of US and THEM. Our partner is holding on to our arm to study the problem.

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Ushiro waza with Marius in Sjøholt, December 2016. Photo by Sigurd Hatlen.

I want a deeper solution. So I have been thinking about how to move our partner without pushing our ego tainted intention on to our partner. I have a theory, which seems to give results, in some cases at least. I believe that just as our body is casting a shadow, when we are standing in the Sun, so do our intention. If I move my arms my shadow will also move exactly like my real arms. However, the shadow is free from my ego. We can’t use the shadow of our body to throw our partner, of course. However, I believe that our intention’s shadow can touch the shadow of our partner’s intention. Our shadow is free from our ego, and so is our partner’s shadow.

Of course this is all in our mind. There is no magic. There is only practise. Lots of it. The more we practise, the easier it is to separate our intention from it’s shadow. Imagining making a big movement, but limiting ourselves, actually struggling against our own will, making a very small movement. Then taking the next step, just imagining doing it all, and not moving at all (that is in fact the hardest part). The partner will start to move and make apparently make the movement for us. This feeling is very special when it gets right. At first it feels stupid. Can it be for real? So we do it again, and again and again. Different partners, and they do not know what will happen. Big seminars with lots of jiyu waza are the best laboratory in the world for this.

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Ushiro waza with Marius in Sjøholt, December 2016. Photo by Sigurd Hatlen.

Very often I have found that when I am stuck I move other parts, which should not move. My head or my hips usually compensate for what is stationary because the partner is holding me. This is the physical appearance of my intention, my ego. I want to move, but my partner is there. Every intention I express on my partner, he/she will counter. Not because he/she wants to sabotage my keiko, but because it is natural. However, if I keep my head and hips completely still, imagine that the shadow of my intention, which is just as untouchable as the shadow of my body, is touching the partner instead of my intention itself, very often my partner will move.

Sometimes during tai no tenkan I imagine a grid of curved lines shaping the form I know by experience. My intention is constructing the grid where my arm should flow down. Then I rest my arm in my partner’s grab and imagine sliding down the pathway I have constructed. The shadow is the grid. My intention never touches the partner.

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Ushiro waza with Marius in Sjøholt, December 2016. Photo by Sigurd Hatlen.

I also imagine watching myself and my partner from above. We are two puppets in a play. I am not identifying myself with either. My intention is with the observer in the sky. The shadow of my intention is what is touching the partner. As there is no intention detectable for the partner, there is no creation of a counter intention. I am not using my intention on my partner, and my partner is not using his intention on me. We are just peacefully coexisting. The movement comes from the natural movements flowing in our body all the time. It feels like nothing, when it works.

I imagine doing all, but struggle with myself to do absolutely nothing.

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The mind, the intention, the ego.

Enjoy your keiko! Aikido makes people happy!

How about some scrambled eggs?

I love aikido very much, so I am very passionate in the way I think about how to do different things. One of those things I have been pondering about lately is what the best way would be to practice with somebody less experienced than ourselves. I still spend time thinking about how to improve the way we introduce completely new people to aikido. This was a big part of what I was doing, some years ago, but now I am not required to teach any more. That however, does not stop my thinking about how to take care of the beginners in the best way possible.

This is not only important for the teacher of the class. It is a major subject for the training partners of the beginners (and less experienced than ourselves). How should we act to help the new person come in to our society in the most smooth way possible. Even after some time of practice, there is a time of insecurity and infancy in aikido, where we are very open and vulnerable for negative comments and bad experiences. We still do not have the confidence to move on, if we meet a problem and we experience not being able to do what we are asked to do.

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Janne, Maria and Peter at the seminar in Järfälla in January 2017. Photo by Jenny Lagerqvist.

It is a little bit like cooking, I think. If we want to cook something, we bring out the ingredients and the tools we need for that particular dish. We do not stable all content of all the lockers on the table,  and drag everything we have in the fridge out of there, if we only want to boil some eggs. We consider what we need for this dish, and leave the rest of our utilities and food where it is.

For a beginner in aikido there are a lot of new things. All of them are confusing, very detailed and subtle. It is very easy to get overwhelmed by the amount of new information. So I would think it would be strategically wise to introduce only as little new things as possible at the time. If we are planning to do a certain kata it would be useful to provide some solutions for the problems which we know that the new guys will face during that particular form.

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Maria, at the seminar in Järfälla in January 2017. Photo by Jenny Lagerqvist.

We know from experience which problems will occur, and they are mostly the same ones for everyone. If we think through what ingredients we will need for this cooking, it will probably be enough room for what we need. However, the table of the beginner is not big enough for all the rest of the stuff we have in our kitchen. There is only so much space on that table, and it should be reserved for the parts we are going to use that particular day.

Well, that was the part I would consider if I was teaching. Now here comes the important part for all of us who are not teaching, but merely participating in the class. All of us also have our kitchens, with all of our tools and all of our stuff in the fridge, which we are very, very proud of having. If we, as a training partner throw all of our stuff on to the poor beginner’s kitchen table, it will become so full, that all the stuff he/she will need to do the current form starts falling off the edges and becomes difficult to find. And they have to start crawling under the table to search for the stuff they need and so on.

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Peter at the seminar in Järfälla in January 2017. Photo by Jenny Lagerqvist.

The table is barely big enough for the stuff needed for that particular form. Later, maybe even a different day, the teacher brings out other tools and other ingredients, to cook something else. So as a partner I feel that it is important to make room for the tools and ingredients the teacher has put on the table, because it does not have room for all of our fancy stuff at that moment. The table of the beginner will grow, and can contain more and more stuff, but in the beginning it is very small, and gets easily very chaotic.

So, I really know nothing about cooking, so I will leave that metaphor for now. But I think it is a very important subject to be able to leave some “mistakes” for later. The teacher has hopefully planned this and focus on one particular theme for now, presenting solutions for half the problem now, and then the other half the following week. I also heard the Gracies talking about painting. You add one layer of paint, and when it dries, you add another layer, and so on. If you splash all the paint on at once, it will run down the wall anyway, because the wall can’t absorb as much in one go. This goes both for the teacher and all the partners running eagerly around with their brushes to put on some of their paint.

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Janne at the seminar in Järfälla in January 2017. Photo by Jenny Lagerqvist.

I usually look at the expression of my partners. The eyes often show wether or not they have received too much information for what they can take. They admire us tremendously, of course, we get their respect. However, they feel stupid and worthless, if they can’t do correctly what we describe so precisely and detailed. People who feel stupid usually tries to avoid that experience, and very often by not coming back. “It was very cool, and the teacher and all the people there were very advanced, yes. But it was not for me.”

I strongly believe that too much information is just as bad as nothing at all. Nothing is probably impossible even if we tired. Just by being on the tatami and rolling around there  is a new world for new people in aikido. Very much like child learning how to walk. They will stumble a lot, and fall. But they get back up and take a few more steps, and it gets easier all the time. As long as nobody starts complaining everytime they do something wrong. Then the will to go on will slowly fade, and they will seek their thrills elsewhere. So take care of every partner you have, more advanced, at similar level and less advanced. They are the most precious beings in the Universe. Without our partners we are nothing.

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Maria at the seminar in Järfälla in January 2017. Photo by Jenny Lagerqvist.

Enjoy your keiko! Aikido makes people happy!

No shi

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Throw your partner by not throwing;
pin him by not pinning

– Morihei Uehsiba, The Art of Peace

During my daily routine I am busy practising and working. Something which is nice, of course, but there is no time to think more deeply about stuff, and definitely not for writing it down. Usually, it is during the times when I travel that I can sit down and think and take some notes based on my thoughts from the keiko. This Christmas is no exception. As soon as I was sitting on the flight bus to the airport the questions started flooding to my mind.

For a while I was thinking about the attacks in the keiko. I even started writing a blog post about them. However, allthough it was useful for me to write down how I would perform the different attacks, and structure my thoughts about my goals and values in the attacks, it came to a halt. I realized that allthough it can be an interesting theme for an article, I have pretty much written about the general idea already, in my previous posts. In addition the text became very repetetive, and turned out to be an extremely boring read.

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Aikido (the kamiza of Vanadis Aikido Club)

Still, what came out of my analyze of the attacks was a common point, which I needed to be present in all the attacks. This is where I believe we melt together with our partner’s ki. After this we are moving together, wether we are the one throwing (or pinning) our partner with our attack, or the partner is throwing or pinning us. Both uke and tori are doing this during the keiko. It is a part of almost any kata we do. We are doing it together with the partner, and this “magical shape” binds us together and makes us one, body and mind.

If we take katate dori as an example we can try to make the situation a bit more tangible. In the attack, the positions of the partners are forming a triangle (which comes naturally if we use the image of both partners holding on to a jo), with the grab at a slight angle. Neither partner can reach the other with neither arms, legs nor the head. Both have their respective areas: the position is peaceful.

The next step is that uke performs a “mystical jedi movement”: A peculiar movement bringing in the partner’s intention in a circular movement and proceeding in a direction. During the circular movement is where tori should take over and the partners unify into the direction in which they proceed to move to finalise the rest of the kata.

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No Shi

I have heard references to no shi almost every day since I started practising daito ryu, and it works in a way that seems almost magic to me. I tried to search for no shi, on google, but for some reason I found nothing (not even a single calligraphy, so I had to draw my own no shi). I might have the wrong spelling of it, but I was a bit surprised. Maybe it is too secret? In any case, it was probably for the better that I didn’t find anything today, because in this matter I think it might be better if I make my own personal research for my answers, inside my own keiko.

From what I have understood, the no shi shape consists of a part circle, entering into a bigger circle with the center to the other direction and then straightening out to a line, in some direction. It is also popularly called “the question mark” or “the half heart”. The direction does not necessarily have to be down. It could be any direction in which we would like to move with the partner (the direction of the first movement of the kata).

What seems strange to me is how this circular movements in the beginning helps us join with our partner’s will. Because, no matter how conflicted me and my partner are initially, the no shi movement helps us agree on what to do together in a way I can’t explain with mechanics. What is it that is so special about these circles?

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Janne during the seminar (with Stefan Stenudd, Jan Nevelius and Jorma Lyly) in Malmö in December 2016. Photo by Enighet Aikido.

One particular feature I have noted about this circle movements, is that they have to describe a fixed center. The difficulties in doing these movements are usually that the center will move (because the partner is holding on to us and fixing the point of contact), and hence not be the center of the movement at all, thus we are lost. Our fundaments (the stuff that is not supposed to move) have to stay, in order to do the circle. This means that we need to achieve freedom in ourselves to be able to make the circle, while the partner is holding us, and the center (which is somewhere in the air) stays where it is. The requirement that the center stays were it is all the movement to it’s end is what makes it a circle around this center.

Now this center is a very interesting thing in itself as well, because it is not my center, and it is not my partner’s center. It is OUR center. If we have several partners it is the COMMON center for all of us. We have to join in this center and together walk around it to join our intentions for the remaining of the kata.

Mechanically it is impossible to make any such movements when our partner is holding on to us. To describe a circle, we have to move (that which is held by the partner), and that in itself is impossible without violating the partner’s grab. So in reality we can’t start the no shi physically if the partner is already holding on to us. However, this is a practice method I have a great love for, because it reveals very deep truths for us all the time, if we are open to the information contained within.

Still, it is a practice method. Everything starts before the partner is holding on to us firmly. The partner have to get there and take hold of our arms, so we could physically start the noshi movement the moments before the partner is touching us. However, in my mind, we should still research this situation in tandem with the one where our partner holds us strongly. Even if we can’t move physically when our partner is holding us, by remembering all the movements from the dynamic practice, we can make the no shi in our minds while the partner holds on. We are simply creating an image of our movement based on our memory of previous performed movements, as uke and as tori. Also, we can make a small no shi movement to start the circle of the bigger no shi movement.

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A visit to Aikidojo Dresden in November 2016. An aiki class with Jorma. Photo by Max Hegewald.

But, my question remains: How does the no shi movement join the ki of my partner with my own ki in such a harmonic way? What is it about a circle that helps us so much?

I heard once that our ki can only move in straight lines. If we put our intention to the corner of the room, we imagine a straight line from us to where we are going. If we put our intention on a glass of water we imagine our hand going straight there.

The reason why we end up with circular movements in our practice is because the way our body is built. Even if we move our mind in straight lines, the throws becomes circular in their appearance. One way to visualise this is our steps. We usually move our legs in straight lines, but our throw becomes circular anyway. Kote gaeshi is what comes first to my mind. We step out and enter with our mind and with our legs, but our arms describe circular paths.

If our mind want to make a path which is not straight, we have to divide the path into small subpaths which themselves are straight. In doing so we can create circular movements. Of course, I am only trying to guess the reasons for an experienced phenomenon now…

So maybe, because of this technicality of our mind, that any curved path has to be constructed by small parts which each in themselves are straight, makes it easier for us to join with our partner during such a path. Both our minds have to change direction at all these places, and during all the confusion, after a few hundred direction changes, we are suddenly doing the changes together, in unison.

There is also the theory that we should always start by doing the opposite movement of what we want to do. If we want to bring the partner to us, we push the partner away, which will naturally tempt the partner to push back to us, and then we can use the push of the partner to join with him/her. However, the turning is always a problem. It is impossible to just turn. That is where the no shi comes in. By going in a circle, we are starting in the opposite direction and following a circular path, turning all the time, until we are in the direction we want to proceed. The addition of the second, bigger circle helps zero out the effects of the first, smaller cirlce with opposite curvature, and voila, we have turned!

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Where my heart lies and where my mind lingers. Vanadis Aikido Club. December 2016.

The fact that the center of the movement is a common center is also a great idea for both the practice, and the world around us, in fact. It is an non egoistic movement. We are not taking advantage of anybody and not forcing them to do something our way. Still, we are not submitting ourselves to their way either. Together we are creating a new way, describing a center that is not ours, and not theirs, but something else entirely. It is a powerful idea, which could have a healing effect on the world outside the tatami. The idea of no shi.

Enjoy your keiko! Aiki makes people happy!

Concerning the basics

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The secret of Aikido is not how you move your feet,
it is how you move your mind.
I’m not teaching you martial techniques.
I’m teaching you nonviolence

Morihei Ueshiba

What are the basics? During all my periods of practicing I have heard about this mysterious consept of basics. Nobody really agrees on exactly what it is, but everybody seems to be absolutely certain that what they are considering as basic is the thing everybody should be practising as bread and butter practice.

I remember being told to teach basics when I first started teaching. Everybody up to that point had been teaching me a myriad of different variations of the different kata forms in aikido. I asked what is it you mean by basic, as we have been practicing so many different variations and all of them about as much, and I was referred to a book by a teacher I had never met at the time. So even though I had spent hundreds of hours on each of the forms we do in the keiko, I was asked to teach from a book, because that was where the basic is. That is when I gave up the idea of having a kata as basic.

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Seigo Okamoto sensei from Daito Ryu Aiki Jiu Jitsu Roppokai. The picture was taken from Kaizentao.com

From my earliest years I remember endless discussions on the tatami after the keiko, during what I felt should have been the keiko (talking is talking, and practising is practising), in the sauna, at the cafe, in the bar, on the way to and from practice, about which way is the basic way. An example we spent countless hours discussing back and forth over the decades, even before I started, in my “aikido childhood club” was which leg to step forward with in ikkyo. Of course we never reached any conclusion because there are advantages and disadvantages of both ideas, and I were doing both wrong (to the extent that I will call anything wrong, it was a part of the journey for me) in any case. What a waste of time and energy… We could just have been doing them both a couple of thousand times and figured it out much easier than argumenting for one or the other.

Now we are nearing on Christmas and most clubs have examinations. Which means that these discussions comes back and keeps tormenting my mind. I try to stay out of this kind of situations, and mostly I succeed. Still sometimes that is the only practice available. Everybody else goes home after the end of the ordinary keiko. So the discussions and questions comes. I keep thinking, well, how about we just practice a bit, instead of this endless picking on meaningless details which in my mind takes our focus away from the important parts: The keiko itself.

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Morihei Ueshiba, O Sensei. Picture taken from aikidojournal.com

Of course, when we are teaching somebody, we have to make a decision what to actually do. However, what we are doing is not the only way. We can help others by giving hints about what we found useful ourselves, but it might not work for everybody. There might always be a different idea that gives the big revelation for this person. We are all a little bit different both in body and in mind. I do not believe that there is one ultimate basic form. Any difficulty which presents itself as a result of any form is an opportunity to learn how to deal with that problem, without changing the form so that the difficulty disappears. In my mind that is evading the problem.

So what are the basics? Well, don’t ask me. I have no clue. However, as I mentioned above, the concept of keiko is very basic for me. The endless repeating of any exercise, finding new and exciting concepts and ideas by ourselves within the form we are performing. We are tori  four times, and uke four times, no matter the experience level of ourselves with respect to the partner. Any form is good really, as long as there are restictions leading us through some difficult passages, and they all do. New partners give us new challenges, and it changes all the time, even if we are continuing doing the same physical form all the time. The more we practice, the further we can see. The more experience we have the more details emerge in front of us. To the outside observer it looks as we are continuing to repeat the same thing forever, but in our mind we are traveling on a journey finding new and exciting places on our way.

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Yukiyoshi Sagawa sensei from Daito Ryu Aiki Jiu Jitsu. Picture taken from Budoshugyosha.com

Well, that is a pretty useless idea of what basic is, isn’t it? So what is there to teach and learn about basics? If I force myself to make any answer to what I normally avoid speaking about (because of some past frustration and traumas in my mind), there are more concepts which I consider basic. They are countless, and it is hard to put words to exactly what they are. For me another basic concept is to be able to move with the partner without pushing or pulling. Without this basic idea there is no way to move with the partner, and we are stuck at pushing and pulling each other around relying on leverage and strenght to be able to move at all. Also, it is nice to have as a basic idea to always have a good structure in every movement we make, and to have a nice posture and base at all times.

For me the concept of basic has nothing to do with history and forms based sword warfare, and on the weak points of a the samurai’s armour, and it definitely has nothing to with what “works” and “not works”. If we do a million ikkyo, we will find our own, and it will be a little bit different from all the basic ikkyos we were thaught by our teachers.

If we take it one step further, beyond the base, posture and structure, which are rather simple concepts (allthough still difficult enough in reality though). How does the thing with moving together with the partner, in any situation, work in the keiko? What is the basic of that skill? What exactly are the requirements of that? When the partne is holding us, how do we lift the arm without coming in conflict with the partner’s body and mind. That is the basis of the movement. The basic idea we are searching for. This is the kind of questioning I make for myself to search for what a basic concept is.

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Seigo Yamaguchi sensei. Picture taken from Aikidojournal.com

So, first of all, our partner must be fearless in the ukemi required by the movement we are planning to make. This actually makes the fall a basic requirement for the keiko. The flip side is that tori needs to be fearless in his/her part as well. If there is any fear, it is very difficult, or in my mind almost impossible to move with our partner. There are technical details, of course, but they only give us a way to search for the solution with the partner.

The real revelation for me lies with my relationship with my partners. We need to consider each other’s needs, and feelings and never wish any harm to our partner. We need to be able to move our partner’s body as naturally as moving our own. I would actually go so far as to say that we need to love our partner in order to make aiki with him/her. If we don’t like our partner we will not move with each other in the same way. There will always be some disturbance. So in other words, I think that love, in fact, is a basic of aiki.

Now I am headed into abstraction here, so what about the forms? Well, naturally we need something to repeat to travel on our journey. We can’t just dance around each other jolly and happy, because there are no restrictions to give us the directions we need on our trip. The form gives us boarders of what is possible and not possible, because we are two bodies, and two minds, having to go through these movements together. Alone it is easy (or actually it is not, but nothing will stop us), but when the partner holds on it becomes interesting.

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Seishiro Endo sensei. The picture was taken by Tomas Svec at Saku Dojo in May 2012.

I also think that it is an interesting thought to question wether or not we can change our feelings for somebody by will. I am not sure that is a skill which are possible to learn. If we do not like our partner we can behave nicely still, but our feelings will be the same, I think. To find a way to love somebody we dislike could be a tough challenge. Still, that is the basic of being able to move with the partner, and the basic of all katas which require movement.

So the history brings us the forms. Many forms, with many variations. I will not say that some are good and others are bad, but I really dislike any which damages our body over time. We are going to be doing this every day for maybe fifty years or more, so we need to have forms of practice which does not damage the body we need to do it.

I also have preferences like that we should not move more than what is necessary to direct the partner clearly where he/she should be going, and all related kata should form a neat system where everything related looks as similar to the corresponding counterparts as possible. I prefer the kata to be peaceful. Both tori and uke should be safe from the partner and at the same time not violate the areas of the partner. There is peace.

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Seigo Okamoto sensei. The picture was taken from Aikidojournal.com

However, even though these preferences dictates how the kata will appear, for me, this is not basics. This is just my personal preference. It will be different for everybody, I guess These katas are froms wich are a very advanced and highly complicated application of the basics. They are not something which I would expect a practicioner of a few years to be able to perform without difficulties, because many of these forms are extremely complex in their own rights. It is difficult enough to remember which arm and leg goes where to have time to consider the partner’s body and mind. Thus I feel that it is insane to call something so complicated a basic.

The forms builds on the basic, which for me, among hundreds of other things is to be able to move when the partner holds on, being in base, having a good structure and posture. I think that the basic should be a foundation to build on. For me if feels like building a castle in the clouds if we try to base anything on a dead form. A basic needs to be fundamental enough for somebody to conceive even if they never did it before. Everybody can feel. Everybody can fall (in one way or another). Exploration with one’s partner will reveal the basics, but it takes time, and it will take even more time to be able to put words into what exactly basic is for exactly us as a person.

For me the basics are the feelings me and my partners are having during the keiko. And how would we know if what we are doing is right or not? Well, we can always observe what happens when we meet a new partner on the tatami. Do they move, or do they not? Do the smile or do they frown? Do we like them or do we dislike them? The new ones, which do not know who we are ,will be our test. They do not lie, and if we do not cheat at our test, by speaking to them during the keiko, we will know if we are on the right path or not.

So in the end, what is basics? We have to teach the beginners basics! Well, I have still no idea what that really means.

Enjoy your keikoAikido makes people happy!

Concerning the Search

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And why seest thou the mote that is in thy brother’s eye;
and seest not the beam that is in thy own eye?

Or how sayest thou to thy brother:
Let me cast the mote out of thy eye;
and behold a beam is in thy own eye?

Thou hypocrite, cast out first the beam out of thy own eye,
and then shalt thou see to cast out the mote out of thy brother’s eye.

Matthew 7. 3. – 5.

I have just retuned from the second weekend in a row of two awesome seminars with Franck Noël sensei. The second of which had a teacher’s class. I have been at these teacher’s classes two times pr. year for a couple of years now and they always bring something interesting to my mind. However, very often it happens to be something other than the actual focus of the class which stays with me years after the seminar. Time will show what will be my remaining feelings from this fall’s seminar, but right now there is one particular thing that is on my mind most of my waking hours.

The teacher’s class is from how I understand it open to whoever is interested, but concerns ideas and principles of teaching and helping others in aikido. I have never been much of a teacher myself, evading the responsibility at the slightest opportunity by leaving it to others more willing and more fitted to the role. However, I find it deeply intriguing how to transmit to others what we have experienced during our time in the keiko. This is pretty much identical to what we are doing on the tatami all the time during practice, in the communication between partners, but in a more formalised way.

There are many ideas about how teaching should be done. I will not go into what is right or wrong. I have my ideas, and everybody has their own. I am merely making and observation here. It goes for teaching, practicing, observing examinations and demonstrations, and life in general in fact.

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The Balrog Durin’s Bane and Gandalf by Gackt en Ciel.

So back to the teacher’s class: We usually get an assignment from Franck. What the assignment is wary from year to year, but we usually divide into groups of five to ten people to find solutions for the problem at hand. We discuss possible solutions, practice a bit and prepare to demonstrate our idea for the whole group. After each group has made it’s presentation we have a few minutes of discussion about that group’s contribution. This has been similar all years, but I noticed a tendency I think has been present at all these classes. I have not spoken much myself, but I have been thinking exactly as others have been saying. We have all been searching for mistakes.

When Franck makes his evaluations he is considering both positive and negative aspects of the solutions presented. However, from us students evaluating each other, we have only negative comments to the people making their contribution. I think of all the years I have been there, I can’t even think of a single exception from this. Nobody were ever pointing out something positive the others did or said. This even happens within the groups while discussing which solution to present.

This is not special for any particular group or seminar. In fact I believe it is human nature. Just look at any examination or test examination. Even at the post keiko throwing some might interfere sometimes with their opinions and commands for how it should be done. Or look at the commentary field of any YouTube video, from any field. We are all very eager to point out other’s mistakes. However, can we do better ourselves? And most of all, if we do have a solution, even if we can’t do it ourselves, will really that solution, considered all consequences of the changes we would have made to the presentation discussed, be any better?

Everybody has an opinion what is the best way to do it, but who gets to decide which one is universally better? I guess we have all heard somebody (maybe somebody important even) say: “You have to do it like this” at some point, but is that really true? That way has both advantages and disadvantages, just like every other way. There are consequences originating in every change we make. Of course, our excuse is that we are trying to help, but really, how does this help? Any fool can point out a problem, but finding a real solution is too challenging. And advising somebody to make a form with a different set of advantages and thus also disadvantages is not really any solution at all. However, our ego silently applauds us for being able to see the “mistake” though.

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A Balrog by the PV project.

This is totally something I think is deeply important in regard to both teaching and practising in general. Our ego is naturally drawing us towards looking for the flaws of others. A teacher might say that it is to help the student improve, but what about suggesting a solution, and maybe even put focus on the solution instead of scolding a person for the mistake they made? This also applies similarly in the keiko. If we are looking for a mistake, we will most certainly find it. However, if we look for an opportunity, we might find that as well, and what is more useful?

I often hear laughing from people watching, when I fall easily, and I do not take it badly, because I understand where it comes from. We are doing a martial art, and it is not just playing around doing athletic movements. Still, when the road is clear for me and there is nothing in my way, I have no more concerns. It is done. In my mind I am not jumping, but rather launching off tori’s arms in the most natural way I am able to at my current level. I have no wish to stay behind and look for a possibility to sabotage what we are doing.

Some might have the idea that uke and tori are doing some kind of competition with each other. The way I see it we are playing the same music, only I play guitar while you are playing the drums. We will perform better if we both try to make it the best it can be, right? Because after four repetitions we exchange instruments and play the other role. If we try our best to sabotage for each other looking for mistakes we will probably make a horrible spectacle together. However, if we do try to make it work, it might in fact turn into something nice.

Sometimes I hear questions if something is possible, or the statement that something is impossible. Yes, how do we decide to call it possible or impossible? On what grounds? If one trying to prove that is possible would compete with one trying to prove that it is impossible it will most certainly become a mess. I do not think that any of the things we are doing in the keiko are supposed to be taken as exercises for preparing for battle situations or street fighting. We are studying principles through cooperative research. Each of the exercises are designed to be educational, not to be applicable in a violent situation. Of course, there are several opinions about this. I will not start an argument with those that disagree. I will not try to convince you, and you will certainly not change my focus of study.

Sometimes I find people who have been scolded by their teacher so many times for falling too easily, that they are becoming “muted partners”. The message is clear, but they stay behind looking around, wondering if they are allowed to fall now, looking if their teacher can see them. Of course, it is not ideal to fall by oneself, but that is also a way to learn how to make the fall. Sometimes it is a good exercise to do some ukemi practice without a partner or with an inactive partner just as support. Once the fall is second nature for us,  and there is no fear connected to it, it is no problem at all to wait for the partner to send us on our way. At least that is how I feel. Standing behind being afraid to fall is the total beginner state, in my mind. And standing behind being scared of being scolded for throwing ourselves is a constructed dead end which I think is a consequence of this tendency we have as humans to point out mistakes of our fellow men.

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The Balrog by randomwallpapers.net

However, there is a horrible trauma in many of us, thinking that it is not real unless we are behaving difficult towards our partners and try to resist each other. OK. I respect that. But, should we be scared to explore the subtleties of our art just because we are afraid to be bullied by dorks on the commentary fields of YouTube videos? So what if we are doing exercises which are not martial in themselves? So what if some part of the human population think that we are fake? If we believe in what we are doing it should be enough, right? Besides, on the tatami we will find 95% or more people who will look for a problem and stop us when they find it. Could it be useful for the whole environment to be the one who are always searching for the solution, both as tori and as uke?

An other interesting situation is if we see the sensei doing something we didn’t do before, and we were not paying enough attention to catch it? What do we do? What did we see? What did the teacher say? There are usually a few things we can start with no matter how little we understood. I have met people who would rather go and sit at the end of the tatami because they did not feel that they understood 100% of what the teacher was showing. Well… understanding comes with the keiko, so I believe that we have to start with what we have and make the best of it. Catching 100% of what was shown might not even be within our grasp within our lifetime, in fact, with some teachers. By searching for a solution it will be possible for us to practice. If we are looking for problems we would be standing there being overwhelmed with the number of problems we have found.

It is also very interesting how we look at life. Are we enjoying the beauty of the sunset at the beach, or are our eyes focusing on the doggy bags and used diapers in the garbage bin nearby? Or maybe we are disappointed that the Sun is not square instead of round, and the sky monochromatic instead of, you know, the spectacular sight that it is? Are we enjoying our dinner focusing on the amazing meal we are eating, or do we focus on the slightly incorrectly folded napkin? Most of us don’t really have a choice. We are where we are, because life put us in that position. Very often we are only seeing the problems because we are too stressed and under too much pressure to even look for the beauty of it all.

Sometimes we are not able to find a solution. I have experienced not being able to fall sometimes, even if I want to! The person throwing was trying so hard to throw that I really could not. Even bending the knees and just go down was impossible because of the tremendous weight which was on me. Of course the partner might assume that I was looking for a problem, but in that case I could just not find a solution.

Still. I find it a very interesting observation that everybody is so concerned with “helping” others with pointing out their mistakes, but very few have any solutions to offer. It goes both for the keiko, for teaching, and for life in general.

Enjoy your keiko. Aikido makes people happy!

Of the Enemies

Yet the lies that Melkor, the mighty and accursed, Morgoth Bauglir,
The Power of Terror and of Hate, sowed in the hearts of Elves and Men
are a seed that does not die and cannot be destroyed;
and ever and anon it sprouts anew,
and will bear dark fruit
even unto the latest days

J.R.R. Tolkien – The Silmarillion

I have an eternal fascination for conflicts, great and small. The crescendo in the beginning of a conflict is invisible to us if we are part of it, but it is clear as day if we know the participants and observe from the outside what happens. We have the ability to see the problem from the perspective of both parts, and thus it is clear where the collision is happening. For the participants of a conflict the point of impact is invisible to us. Or we would not have had any problem with harmonising with the other and find a mutual beneficial solution.

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Pre keiko tai no tenkan with Jorma in Hannover in September 2016. Photo by Andrea Raviglione.

The fruit of these conflicts ends with two people or more who has bad feelings towards each other and maybe even hate each other. Both parts feels that the other was the one violating them, and feels that they themselves did nothing wrong, and very often to the contrary, they feel that they did everything to accommodate the other.

Conflicts are a part of life and our world at every level of our society. The smallest conflicts involving only two people, and the largest involves millions. These conflicts are natural in our world, but the potential for improvement is tremendous, and it would affect all the people of the world.

We are all here on this little rock trying to live our lives. Somehow we tend to separate ourselves from others we feel are different from us, but why are we feeling that they are different?

I have a job where I speak to several hundred people every day. I have conflicts every day, even though I myself don’t even have any personal interest in doing one thing or the other. We are just trying to work out everything to the best interest everybody involved, not really being involved in the process ourselves.

So even if I initially I don’t have any part I will get a part if the person I am talking to is forcing me to repeat myself, and tries to convince me into doing what I am not supposed to be doing. I feel violated, because I don’t like people telling me what to do, when I know very well what I am supposed to do. My positiveness (which is the very thing I strive my best to keep at all times) can also get me into a lot of trouble, as some people are so negative that they are offended by any positive energy. I am studying these things. Still, I can’t avoid not getting along with a percent of the people I meet. Are they enemies? No, I think not. At least not when I have had my keiko and are looking back at the situation.

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Friends on the tatami in Hannover in September 2016. Photo by Tom Dijkman.

Some people are stuck in situations that are impossible for any of us, and have to deal with negative people around them every day. The negativity spreads and they walk around spreading the poison to everybody they speak to. Every time there is a problem they focus on the problem instead of looking at what the possible solution could be. I think it could be like this, because this is what happens to me when I get into a conflict. I can’t see anything except the problem, which is the other person, from my point of view at the time, and the solution is not even interesting for me then and there.

On the tatami these conflicts are usually smaller, and therefore easier to study, even if we are part of them. The grab is a symbol of a conflict: one is holding while the other is moving.

However, if we get to the point where we think the other is the problem, the enemy, the solution is no longer within our grasp. We will merely be trying to defeat the other. This does not solve the problem we had, of course, because the problem remains and our next partner to touch that part will show us the same symptoms. How many times do we need to experience this before we dare to accept that the enemy is inside ourselves? The enemy is the part of us who tells us that the other guy is the enemy, because our partner is our only ally to help defeat the enemy within.

In real life everything is more difficult, but I believe it works the same way. Our expanded awareness could help us observe what happens when we are feeling these feelings of separation between ourselves and our counterpart. We can’t really control feelings directly, I think. When we feel something we do, and we can’t choose not to feel it. However, if we are aware that we do feel it, and understand the reason why we feel it, the feelings does not catch us in the same way, and we have much better impulse control, and have options to choose from in the moment of truth. Otherwise we would blindly go in the direction of disaster, spinning into a spiral of aggression. The feelings are still there, but they do not bother us like they did before.

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Laundry day in October 2016. They are all different, but they are all the same as well.

I consider aikido a potential cure for mankind. It is unwanted by most, and utterly hard to get into for many, but it contains some hope for peace in the world. Only a few of os do it, and it will always be this way, because it is a very peculiar activity. Trying to sell it never works. There is no way to do business with it. The number of people interested are too low, and it is enough valued  for anybody to exploit it for personal gain. This makes it even more pure and clean as an idea, in my mind.

The usefulness in the world is indescribable. Holding on to each other is a fundamental bonding act. It is so incredibly much more easy to realise that we are on the same side, if we have gotten to that point. Still most people never will, except for with their loved ones.

I strongly believe that there are no “bad guys”. They become who they are because of who we all are. Actually more accurately I should say that I believe that we are all bad guys. Look at the news and read some history. Humans are not really very human, you know. For me a martial arts are not necessarily merely weapons for the people who know more to destroy the people who know less or nothing of it. There is something more to it. We want to solve the conflict and end up making friends with the other. I believe that aikido is a step in the right direction for the world. However, only those of us that believe in it can make the step for ourselves. We can not and should not push anybody else into it, as it would not work, and – well – it is wrong of us to push people around anyway.

Well, that would be my laundry day thoughts this time around. Now it is time to clean the dojo and do some keiko! I wish you all the best! Enjoy your practice! Aikido makes people happy!

Safe

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Nothing is safe.
Everybody seems to be obsessed with safety, you know.
Well, you know, nothing is safe, OK? Nothing.

Lemmy Kilmister

We live in a world filled with hate, violence and power games. How do we deal with this world, in the dojo? Do we even concern ourselves with thinking how our actions on the tatami reflects what is going on in the world? The dojo is like a miniature world where all of the same things as in the world outside, is happening, to a much smaller scale of course. And the problems are much easier to overcome with our partner, than with somebody outside, since we are usually in agreement that we are there together to study.

When we are beginners we learn how to make our katas as “safe” as possible. The idea is that there should be no openings for the partner to take over and reverse the roles. Of course this is necessary in the beginning to actually have some kind of foundation to build on; to learn how to recognise the tools we are using to develop our aikido. However, the rules we learn are the outline of a greater picture. After a while it becomes apparent to us that the more we are trying to control our partner the less “safe” we are. Everything can go wrong at any point of time, and there is nothing we can do about it. No matter how many safety rules we have and how many carefully considered precautions we are taking, we can still end up failing. The consequence of our failure, wether it is a complete failure, or just a partial failure, depends on how we have chosen to practise, or how we live our life.

The more we close the openings to the partner, for taking over, the less communication we will have with him/her. We need a common ground between us where we are both welcome to enter, so that we can meet the partner there. Building a tall electric fence with razor wire on top does not make us more safe. There will always be a way to cut the power and there will always be people with wire cutters.  In the situation which we at first learn is “safe” we are actually merely pushing and pulling each other around on the tatami.

I have been thinking very much this summer about opening and closing movements in the keiko. Closing movements are more natural for us to protect ourselves. If we are scared we shrink together like a fetus with curled spine the hands covering the head. Arching the body in the other direction and opening the arms outwards is somewhat unnatural for us.

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Janne and Marie in Lillsved in July 2016. Photo by David Ellard.

When we are beginners we don’t have a program for how to come down on the tatami in a comfortable manner so we tend to stick with the “butt out -solution” for every situation. We let go, bend forward and face in the direction we are going as to prepare for the fall. This is what all our prior experience from before we started practising martial arts has been teaching us to avoid cracking our skull open when falling. However, the priorities have changed. We have a safe way to come down to the tatami. One that most of us find extremely pleasurable, comfortable and exhilarating: falling. So, instead of sticking our nose forward and our butt out, like an infant falling butt down on it’s diapers, we should maybe have a different solution for the martial situation we are in.

In many situations in aikido I have found that by closing, we are actually opening up so that our partner can strike us (if we had a naughty partner that is). Ironic isn’t it? By closing to protect ourselves we are doing the exact opposite. This depends of course on what tori is doing. Uke and tori should always reflect each other, I think. If one opens the other must open as well, or there will be something illogical in the situation. One can touch the other, or even both can touch each other. In my mind, the kata should be peaceful. Nobody should be able to touch each other from the beginning to end. If both opens everything will be OK for both.

Still, even here, when I am talking of opening and closing, both are referring to closing the opening to the partner so that we cannot be struck in our heads during the movement. So this is merely a first step. If we can at first get used to the idea of opening our posture, and find comfort in that kind of way of moving, we might dare to go even further later. In addition it creates a very lively interaction with the partner to open and close the body together in unison. The most basic idea is to avoid the partner from reaching our face, but I think there is much to learn from this kind of practice.

This is really scary though. It feels vulnerable. There is some deep animalistic fear against doing these things. One example is to look down towards the tatami when we are taking falls. By looking at the tatami our focus will be taken off our partner and we are twisting ourselves in a way that makes it impossible to keep the connection to the partner (the grab opens). We can’t see the partner, and we can’t feel the partner. We are only concerned about the fall. Of course we need to learn how to do the fall first, so that we don’t get injured in the process of transferring from standing position to the lying down position at the end of the kata, but I think our priority should be the partner in this situation.

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Jorma and Antony in Lillsved July 2016. Photo by David Ellard.

So I have been mostly talking about the uke role until now. How about tori? Yes, how do we even move the partner when they are holding us? Pushing and pulling only works if we have leverage or if we are stronger than the partner, and pushing and pulling is not aikido, in my mind, no matter how aikido-like the katas are.

Our generation of aikidokas are standing on the shoulders of some real giants. Countless people, both from aikido and actually from the world outside, have helped build the environment we have today to practise our art. First of all, our daily life needs to be so easy for us that there will be time for recreational activity. If all our time would be spent getting money for food, none of this would have been possible.

At first everybody was sceptical if aikido really was something to be taken serious. To get training partners and students the teachers of old had to prove themselves against tough guys from other martial arts coming to test “if it works”. This is still happening, probably, in many places in the world. However, where I am practising we have been allowed peace and time to study subtle things which was impossible to study earlier, when everything was tested during the first stages of development. Aikido has found its place in the world and is here to stay. Now we can study the next level of things. Earlier too far out to reach. The priority was always to keep the katas “safe”.

We are very privileged in our generation. We are practising the art of peace, according to the Founder of aikido, Morihei Ueshiba. I have been pondering what he meant by it? Most of his teachings were too far out to be understood by anybody. I mean, he was speaking of flowers when the students were there for learning how to become the strongest fighter. He could see the potential of aikido, far beyond anybody else. He was speaking of a way to heal the world. He was doing all these things which we are merely experimenting on now, five and a half decade after his passing. And he did it in a world that was not yet prepared for this kind of thinking. Let’s admit it: He was a genius!

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Kaare and Alissa in Lillsved 2016. Photo by David Ellard.

However, how should we practice this idea of opening when we are tori in the keiko? Well, I challenge more and more of the “rules” I was thought as a beginner. I am always leaving an opening for the partner to grab on to, and to get into me. It is a risk that my partner will take me. However, I have found that the more I do it, the less risk there is, because if the partner wants to take over, there is nothing to take. I am somewhere else somehow. I am not safe, but I am taking the risk, over and over, with new partners every day, and I am learning more and more where I can develop more freedom.

A concrete example I am working on right now is ushiro ryote dori. The “safe way” the powerful way, is to rotate the arms inwards, curving the spine forwards. This is a powerful movement which the partner cannot stop. However, we are asking the partner to hold on in a situation where it might not always be natural to hold on. The opposite is where I am trying to focus my practice now, whenever I have the opportunity. I try to rotate my arms outwards, and arching my spine backwards. The partner will have a very good grab on our wrists, because the part he/she is holding is always facing towards them, perfectly fitting into that position, exactly at our wrists. However, there is a very high risk that we will be overextending our arms to a position where the partner naturally will take over. We are doing the very thing we learn at our first class of ushiro waza not to do. Keeping our arms completely in front of ourselves is powerful, but sometimes we need something else than power. I don’t really believe the main purpose of ushiro waza is to defend against an attacker who grabs our wrists from behind.

Through developing more and more sensitivity and freedom I find that this new ideas becomes more and more easy with more and more difficult partners. I just can’t wait to get my hands on more and more powerful partners to hold on to me so I can try it out. This opening of the body also comes to the partner holding on to us. When tori is closing the body uke is naturally also closing the body, because he/she is holding on. When we are opening, the partner will also be opening. It becomes a very lovely feeling of deep connection, which is exactly what I need for my problems in my shoulders. That is of course my main purpose at the moment, but on top of that, the martial application of this idea of opening is very intriguing for me.

So back to the role of uke. I have been thinking of how to practise in an open way when our partner is practising hard by twisting, pushing and pulling. I absolutely refuse not resist the partner’s power. It goes against my views in aikido. However, we can’t just let our partners push us around like mindless puppets. They would hurt us and maim us with their ways. Whenever I feel that my partner is pushing (or pulling) I imagine that my body is filled with little windmills. There is one in every cell of my body. In order for me to move, these windmills will have to get up to speed first. So I distribute the partner’s push into each of these spinning wheels, and it takes quite a momentum to get them all going. I am moving, but at my speed. The partner end up getting tired, and I feel only refreshed as the keiko proceeds.

I am open. Everything the partner gives me comes to me in a deep way, but somehow I am protected still. There is nowhere the force of the partner can catch. It is distributed throughout the body and I am getting energy instead of feeling beaten up by the aggressive partner. Of course this kind of thing takes some practice to develop, but I think it is the only way to be able to keep practising with everybody, without getting injured all the time. However, nothing is safe.

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Julia, Ion, Timofej and myself in Lillsved in July 2016. Photo by Alexander Minidis.

Like I mentioned before, the dojo is like a world scaled down to a smaller size. Everything is more clean and simplified. Still, the principles we learn are valid in our daily interaction with others every day. If we approach a person with openness, I believe that they will open as well. There is a risk of course, in opening. However closing does not guarantee safety either. We are always vulnerable in one way or the other.

However, if we do not represent a threat for the people we meet. If we are opening in such a way that there is an honest opening, like in ushiro ryote dori, when there is somebody who is really out to hurt us. Such an opening has to be clean of any evil intent, no trick or trap, or it will be revealed, and we die. Sometimes we know that we are right and the other is wrong, and we are sure about it. This happens without words in the keiko. It also happens in the world. Do we have the courage to let the partner feel that he/she has the freedom to follow his/her heart, or do we put them against the wall and crush them? It is not as easy as we might think to avoid becoming the one intruding on the other’s private zone.

If we are being pushed around, we are opening, but anchoring ourselves on something unavailable for the partner. We are not trying to conceal it, but it is something the partner does not value; something the partner does not care about. The partner is open to take what he/she wants, but there is in truth nothing to take. Any crime committed is a crime against oneself.

I think we all find ourselves in aikido. There is nowhere to hide in the end. We can escape for a while, but in the end we come down to it: This is who I am. I might not like it, but this is me. Either we quit aikido, or we are in for life. And what a ride it is!

I don’t know. This is just some crazy rambling. I have many questions but not really any real answers, at least not for the world outside the dojo. I feel that I can’t do anything about the big evil happening all the time. I just have to start with myself. How do I choose to live and practice? What are the consequences of my actions on a larger scale? Anyway, I will just keep practising, and see where it takes me.

Enjoy your keiko! Aikido makes people happy!

Honestly, what is honesty?

Whenever I look in the mirror, I see a cockroach staring back at me. For many years, whenever I shaved, I saw only the beard I was shaving. The rest of the image were not useful to agonise over, so I always put it to the back of my mind, to protect my sanity. It has been like this for as long as I can remember. Sure, my eyes see a human being, much like when they are directed at my friends, who I love very much. Still, where my brain recognises that what I see is me (whom I hate), somehow the impression becomes twisted and distorted by some dishonesty in my system.

I became aware of this a few years ago, through aikido practise. Still, the knowledge is only the first step. There is no logic to this way of thinking. It is actually some kind of insanity, I think. Nobody can tell me how it is, because I will NEVER believe them. The inner voice is always louder, no matter what. I need to practise a lot more to be able to clean this dishonesty from my system. To make the hate for myself ease down and hopefully one day completely go away.

Practicing aikido is for me a little bit like ladling a sinking boat. I can skip one day, but I get really depressed and feel terrible. It feels a bit like I am starting to drown. The cold, and threatening water is flowing into my boat and I realise that I am sinking, and I have nothing to get rid of it with. Self destructive thoughts are looping in my mind and become more and more loud and dominating in the myriad of thoughts going through my system at all times.

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Practice at Aikido Karlín in Prague in July 2016. Photo by Aikido Karlín.

Aikido brings reality to me. It gives me truths, truths coming from others, who are by nature and by their experience  a little bit different from me. Even if they have some dishonesty themselves (most likely everybody has some) their system is slightly different from mine. It is like our fingerprints imprinted on the same paper. Where our lines cross that is where we meet. It will be different for every person I meet. In this way, even if they have some dishonesty in their system as well we can help each other get rid of our dishonesty together, because we are two different people.

What is honesty? How often are we really honest in real life? How can we even speak of honesty in relation to others if we are not even honest with ourselves? I remember my struggle when I finished my education and had to start applying for jobs. Up until then I was never forced to try to attempt to make somebody else to want me. I was doing my study, of physics, and that was it. Suddenly I was forced to try to sell myself to some employer. I didn’t feel that I deserved any of the jobs I applied for. I felt that every word I wrote was a total and utter lie. I felt that I was a crock trying to deceive some people into hiring me so that I would get my money to practice aikido. I saw myself as a cockroach, a parasite, a vulture and a rat. I don’t deserve any good things in life.

Still, I am a human being. I know that. But I don’t really KNOW that. This situation causes me to fail to be a human being and to live like one. This is why I need the aikido. When somebody is holding on to our arm we can feel our ego, we can feel our attempts to escape the problems we are facing. We can feel our doubts and our lack of confidence. Everything invisible and unreachable that clouds our mind becomes visible and reachable. First we can see it. Then we can start moving it around. Later we might be able to completely remove some garbage by turning it into something good and useful.

Andrea Lillsved

Post keiko with Andrea at Lillsved in July 2015. Photo by Katarina Gullberg.

So how do we practice to let this kind of honesty grow? What is an honest kata? I heard the words “honest attack” very often back in my early years. I never quite bought the idea. It sounded as a contradiction as I considered attacking as a quite dishonest action in itself back then. I had not been in aikido long enough to change my association with the word “attack” from “rape”, “robbery”, “stealth bomber air strike” and so on. All of which has very little honesty in them. Still, the kata contains two roles. In both roles I believe we can clean ourselves from dishonesty.

How do we lift the arm when somebody is holding us? The flip side to that question is of course, how do we hold on to our buddy when he is lifting? From both sides we will feel the points where our “fingerprints” intersect. Well, the road to the answer for both questions lies in honesty, I think. By raising the arm in an honest way we are not giving any signals which will collide with our partner’s wishes. There is no evil intent in our actions, no deception and it becomes apparent for the partner. The same goes for uke. It is just as difficult to follow the partner’s arm without experiencing conflicts in the grab or stops in our body. These problems are the intersections of our “fingerprints” and they are the same for both of us. It will be slightly different with every person in the world, but this specific partner it is like this. This way any dishonesty becomes pretty obvious for us both. The painful and shameful, old regrets and trauma are coming out in the open so we can clean it up.

So by taking away more and more dishonesty from ourselves we are cleaning ourselves in some way. Our movements are becoming more and more pure and free from unaware dishonest intentions, attempts of deception and false shortcuts. In doing so they will appear more beautiful in their simplicity when seen from the outside (we can see this very clearly in demonstrations and examinations). The partner is allowed to hold strong, and we will not attempt to avoid the power of the partner. We will not threaten the partner with our own attacks. We will not try to force our way. Instead we will search for the honest way to lift the arm. At every step of the way our partner is free to hold on to us and give us his/her feeling.

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After keiko in Åkersberga with Patrick and Katarina in May 2016. Photo by Katarina Gullberg.

I am always returning to the idea of raising the arms while being held, and it is an eternal fascination for me. It contains everything I am interested in. If I can do that, I can use the same concept for any form. If my partner is attacking striking, the next part of the movement is already clear by the time we touch, if I was able to raise my arm honestly. This basic truth comes back no matter what we do.

Every time I touch another human being I feel some confirmation of a deep truth about myself. All ambiguities will be used by my internal demon to tell me lies which have part truth in them. This uncertainty is being replaced by confidence during my interaction with my partners on the tatami. So the demon has nothing new to tell me. I have more and more solid facts about myself from a huge group of people. It is not something they tell me. It is who they are and who I am which gives me this knowledge. A word said by one person or ten thousand makes no difference in my mind when the inner voice start rambling. However, this deep knowledge which comes from the gripping of my partners makes a world of difference for me. There is no room for the dishonesty inside myself, because I know, and when I know, I really do know.

I have found that even though I hate myself, I do not hate my aikido. Sure there are millions of things I am working on and improving every single day. Still, I love the aikido that I do. It is a road for me and I walk it for a while every day and I love every second of it. This is a part of myself that I love. No wonder I want to spend every waking moment on the tatami.

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Fun with Rado in the changing room at Vanadis Aikido Club during the Stockholm seminar with Seishiro Endo sensei in February 2016. Photo by Theodora Wolfe.

I think that when we have been able to rid ourselves of the dishonesty inside ourselves, we can actually start thinking about being honest with others. First we have to be aware of all the little tricky loops in our mind, below our radar, which is not really honest. Saying something honest to somebody just because they will never find out and it will turn out favourably for yourself is really not honesty, I think. Even doing something we consider a nice thing to do just to feel good about ourselves is not honest either, is it? Honesty is tricky. Honestly I am not really sure I know even what it is…

Enjoy every second of your keiko! Aikido makes people happy (because it makes our boats float high in the water of happiness)!

Concerning the conversations

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I believe that aiki makes people happy, but why? What is happening to us which brings such feelings of joy and pleasure?

I have often pondered upon what separates aikido from other martial arts. At a higher level I believe most of the styles end up containing these ingredients, but it was in aikido I found the partners and teachers allowing me to explore these aspects. The forms are really not the reason I am shaking in abstinence after a few hours without aikido. I am pretty much equally interested in the forms of other martial arts. However, the quality of the touch is for me intensely intriguing.

From the very fundamental exercises of elevating or lowering our arms while being held by the partner we are discovering some deep truths about ourselves and our partners. There is really no such things as shortcuts and tricks to make stuff work. Wait, of course there are, but there are counter tricks to them all, and they get us nowhere near a real solution for the problem at hand.

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Blue umbrella tai no tenkan with Jacqueline at a beach in Stavanger in May 2016, photo by Jacqueline von Arb.

I often have to hide my study inside “ordinary keiko“. You know, most of the time we are too busy throwing each other in the practice, and there is little time to study. Still, I find that it is possible to search for a way to enter the mechanically impossible areas during the practice of almost any kata. Not all of my partners think it is cool to stand and search for way to make the first part of tai no tenkan for as much time as is needed.

For me the way we touch each other in aikido are very similar to the way an experienced massage therapist touches. They can put their hands on your legs and you feel suddenly a tension in your neck resolving. This quality is what I am looking for. This is what I will need to clear the way for making a movement which mechanically (outside the body mechanics) is not possible.

Like I have mentioned before I have my own little research in this period studying the pins of aikido. The restrictions are very, very similar to the restrictions in the exercise of lifting the arm while being held down by the partner. The path of the exercise is to go to the end of the form and the partner’s body is there to set the restrictions of which movements can be done. Just as it is impossible to lift the arms in a “dead way” it is impossible to bring the arms to the end of the pinning motion in a “dead way” without hurting or feeling stops in the body of the partner. In the pin we have leverage to go through any way, but I believe the study is there anyway, to find a way which does not create conflict between myself and my partner. We have to learn how to move in an “living way”.

As we reach a stop in the movement I try to find a way to continue inside myself. My partner answers what he thinks of this suggestion (speaking with his/her bodily reaction), and we can continue. Or maybe we need to search for a different solution. Very often, as we do this, very gently, the partner’s arm, shoulders and body start to speak to me. There are small spasms, small vibrations, small reactions to my actions. I believe that these are the physical representations for traumas, and they can be very deep, so it is important to be very gentle, and absolutely not confront the partner with the fact that there is a trauma. My ego of course wants me to tell. “I saw it! I had the ability to notice! I really did!” This is probably something which is embarrasing for the partner, so we need to shut up and continue the practice.

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From Janne’s seminar in Prague in April 2016, photo by Aikido Praha Vinohrady.

Speaking only with the body I feel what they say, and first and foremost try to say with my body that it is OK; that it is nothing to feel embarrased about; that we are going to try and solve this now. Through the body I tell my partner: “I am here for you”. So we are doing it together. To be heard in this way is something I think is very deep touching and comforting. I have felt it myself many times, and it feels indescribably good, to be heard in such a deep way.

I believe that every partner has like a fingerprint in their body. The lines are different for every person, so every person touches naturally different parts inside of myself. In the same way, I will touch my partners slightly differently than any other person in the world. It is an encouraging thought to think that I can help my partner in a unique way, not because of something I have learned, but just because I am me, and because I am there for the partner, at that moment.

When there is a stop, the partner’s body usually tries to avoid a certain part of the path. There is fear and anxiety and it will not back down. It goes on the one side of the path or the other side, but not exactly where the kata has determined that we should go. It tenses, it jumps to the sides, it jerks the muscles. I usually stop where this happens and listens to what the partner says to me.

The sensation of this process prolonged over a longer period of time can be an intense feeling joy and happiness. Our focus shifts to the sense of feeling, and the eyes go dull, the hearing is mutied. But we can feel EVERYTHING that is happeneing. It is not at all a sexually loaded feeling, but it gives the same feeling of release. There was tension before and we become relaxed after. We had something we wanted to express which nobody wanted to listen to, and then somebody is totally there with us and listen to what we have to say. We had a very deep contact with our partner, but in this case it does not matter if it is a different gender from our sexual orientation. Our way of touching each other are of a non sexual nature, but it still feels wonderful when we are with a partner in such a way. It is very much like the wellbeing after a very good massage.

An image I am very often using is that my partners body turns into water. I am just holding on to the weight of the arm and following it as it flows down towards the end of the pin. As this little river flows I am trying to create a natural path which is getting closer and closer to the path of the martial kata we are doing. For the partner it feels nice because it induces a flow in an area where there has been stagnation for so long. An area which has been inactive becomes filled with life again.

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Tai no tenkan with Andrea in Lillsved July 2015, photo by Katarina Gullberg.

We don’t do so much pins in the clubs I normally practice in. We are mostly throwing each other. So this part is something that comes to my mind only sometimes, whenever we are practicing with a pin at the end. Still I try to do my throws in the same way. However, when the partner is standing and moving the little traumas are much easier to conceal. There is much more dynamic movement, for good and for bad.

Until about five years ago I used to love most of all to practice shomen uchi. The practice of timing and the sharpness of the practice was very inspiring for me. It still is, but now I feel that I need to touch deeper. So my most intense interest is in the grabbing practice. Any form of grabbing. Every grab exposes a different aspect, from a different angle so it is very facinating. I almost feel that if the strong grabbing practice is missing I am only breathing with shallow breaths in my life. This happens when there are only practice where we are not allowing the partner to fully grab us. We do get some contact at some point, but only very superficial. I love to have several points of my body connected to several points of my partner’s body. That situation creates a world of exploration of the inner structure of our bodies. As we are moving together within these restrictions something new will always show up. It never becomes boring. Even with the same partner we will always find something new, something deeper, something more hidden.

I have recently had discussions (and most of all listened to the discussions of others around the table, I am a shy person who don’t speak much in a crowded room) with other aikidoka about what aikido is and what budo is. Maybe what I am studying is neither aikido nor budo. Who am I to say? Still, I need those martial aspects there. Without the martial kata I can’t do my study. Without the martial partner I can’t do my study. However, my goal is not to destroy, but to resolve conflict; to make peace; to heal something painful in my partners; to make them happy, and become happy myself.

Enjoy your keiko! Aikido makes people happy!