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2015 has been a year where I have learned quite a lot about myself, both in aikido and in life outside the dojo. I know what I am interested in, and I know what I am not interested in. I have been dealing with a lot of conflicts inside myself the past few years. Several big conflicts: letting go of my career was a substantial one; letting go of my material things naturally connected to my career (I actually thought I would one day make money of what I had been studying); deciding what is important in my life and what I can do without; making a choice what kind of life I want to live.

In aikido I have been going through the same kind of things in parallel actually. The first ten years I had no idea why I was practicing. I just did it because I needed it. What that IT was, did not reveal itself to me at first. I did several different martial arts in the beginning, but ended up in aikido (as I knew I would from the very beginning, actually from childhood I deeply wanted to practise aikido). I did not really know why. I could not explain the reason for others who asked me why I chose aikido. I just came up with stupid excuses while I knew that it was the only way for me.

I have been calling it the new way and the old way in previous posts, but that is not completely correct either. The destruction of the partner is not my goal. I am searching for a way to end conflict; to resolve the situation without violating the partner; to rather unite with the partner; to make peace.

Friends at Endo sensei's seminar in Vienna in November 2015

Friends at Endo sensei’s seminar in Vienna in November 2015. Photo by Theodora Wolfe.

What is martial arts? What is budo? I am not even sure if I should call my study neither martial arts nor budo, because I might insult people who wants to learn fighting from their study. However, I do know that I need to practise with people doing budo, or I will not find what I am looking for. In all the places I have been, in all the countries, and the different clubs I have visited, I have rarely found a conflict on the tatami regarding how to practise, so I am not completely lost, I think.

One of my first blog posts ever was about “the instructor’s disease“. As I am not a teacher any more, and I am exposed to a large number of partners from different practice cultures, I guess I don’t have to worry about this disturbing effect for now. It is a very popular theme for bullying in the social media in martial arts actually (videos of somebody who can do one thing with their students, but gets beaten up in a real fight). Regardless how real the instructor’s disease is, and how serious the condition is I find it sad rather than amusing if somebody have lost their way and have a false image of what they are doing. I find it an effect which one should check oneself on rather than point the finger on others. I find bullying rather distasteful, in all forms (because of my childhood history). Anyway, if I am lost I pray it will be apparent immediately when I meet partners I have not formed in any way prior to my keiko with them.

The forms are for me an art. I were interested in how they worked, but were never really at any point interested in the fighting applications of the techniques. It was the same in all the arts I participated in. In the styles where there were more or less serious competition during the practice, I was repelled, because we never really managed to do what we were studying, but were merely struggling around with strength like brutes. I thought it was a waste of my time, and a bad way to work out.

Eddie Bravo and Rickson Gracie exploring rubber guard

Eddie Bravo and Rickson Gracie exploring rubber guard

I am mostly focusing on the very nature of the interaction with the partner, and not the form itself. For me the form of the technique is merely there to strip away all the layers hiding the truth; to reveal the problem for what it is; to restrict our study so that we are not wandering around in the wild and getting lost somewhere outside the area where the interesting parts are to be found. I think the kata can be represented as a line or a path in space. Somewhere there is an obstacle. Without the kata we could deviate from the selected path and escape the problem. However, the kata dictates that we should pass through exactly that area. Thus we are forced to solve the problem.

The world are filled with conflicts. The wars are not something we have to seek for, I think. They are a natural state of the world we live in. We encounter it at work, in the streets and at public transportation, in the line at the grocery store, in the laundry room etc. On a bigger scale countries and groups are constantly at war with each other. People kill each other every day. The conflicts are present in our lives. I believe our goal is to find peace and harmony. It starts with our life choices in our every day life. It starts inside ourselves.

To clean the dojo does not only clean the room where we are doing our keiko. It also cleans up inside our mind. When we remove the dust from the tatami we are clearing away obstacles in our mind which we brought with us from the conflicts of the world. Once that is clear, we can start our outer practice. I believe we should seek a clean mind where nothing will disturb us from doing what we choose to do. To not be inimidated into acting out of fear, tempted into acting out of greed or any other effect of our ego. I would like to make a decision on how to act, and to know that it was the right choice after the circumstances, with the information I had at the time I had to choose.

Post examination picture at Endo sensei's seminar in Stockholm in February 2013. Photo by Alex Schwartz.

Post examination picture at Endo sensei’s seminar in Stockholm in February 2013. Photo by Alex Schwartz.

When somebody is holding on to my arm I can’t really move. If I make a mechanical motion I am violating the grab of my partner. How do I know that I am violating him/her? Well, I could ask one more partner to hold on to your arm, or maybe two more partners. Then all leverage based tricks will be quite futile, because they are still stronger, even with the leverage. The only way to move is with aiki, together with the partner. The grab is a very good representation of a conflict, I think. The other have wishes which must be respected or we will be in a fight with them.

To practise tai no tenkan is for me a much more martial exercise than to practise a technique which is often believed likely to be practical during a real fight. I often have the feeling of building a house with foundations in the clouds when practicing more advanced techniques, like from strikes and kicks etc. sometimes used to put spice on the practice. Many find it exciting. To be completely honest, I find it a bit dull.

An example, which is not even one of these “spice techniques” but a completely normal practise form, is the irimi tenkan movement in the entrance of yokomen uchi. With a katate dori grab we get a response every part of the way and we can search for a possible route to complete the form. In yokomen uchi we have nothing to follow in first half of the movement. We just have to know from our experience from the practice with the grab. The second half we have to do with one point contact what we did before with the full grab (opening the road for entering inside). I feel a bit lost doing this, but I keep at it, hoping that some day it will make sense to me. However, it is not my number one inspiration to go to the dojo. I like to feel every part click into place. Not just jump into the mist hoping for the best.

Consider also the part of shomen uchi practice before we meet the partner. All the things that we do as we raise our arm to meet the partner is relevant for the encounter. How do we raise the arm in the best way? Without the interaction from the partner it is hard to learn anything. In shomen uchi we will find out if we did it good or not when we reach the partner, but then it is too late to learn the early parts of the kata. Of course we should be able to solve it anyway from the situation we are in, but we can prepare for the first physical contact with the partner by clearing the roads inside ourself as we raise the arm.

By practising raising the arm when the partner is holding morote dori we will have a response immediately if we are in conflict with the partner. It is hard, yes, but it is even harder in shomen uchi, where we are fumbling in the dark until we are past the point we are trying to learn. If somebody is holding on to our arm when we are raising it we will have the response from our partner every step of the way, and when we are holding on to the partner as he/she is raising it we are able to feel all the secrets from the opposite side.

Of course I am not saying that I don’t enjoy to practise strikes (I really do enjoy studying timing during strikes), but there are parts I feel are missing. Parts which I feel I need to be able to do in order for the kata to make any sense for me. And for the so called spice techniques. I don’t feel qualified to even make an attempt without feeling like a parody of things I have seen in fighting games and action movies.

Naturally I am not very fond of the thought of causing any pain or to give the threat of pain to the partner. As we are trying to unite with the partner it does not make any sense to me to make atemi or a joint manipulation on a part of our common body (it is a good way to pedagogically teach somebody a logic on how to move though, but beware of the instructor’s disease).

I am also very reluctant to fully accept or to use the phrase “break the balance of the partner”. The balance is one of the priorities of the partner. He/she will not willingly give that away. If we use a trick to do it, the partner will be searching for the counter trick to prevent it.

Besides if the partner falls the form of the kata will not be followed. I believe we need to do our ting so that together with the partner we are shifting our balances in unison to follow the form of the kata. Early on we naturally have to take the balance of the partner partially so that we can give the partner a new balance. Later on those steps are getting smaller and smaller and our goal should be a continuous flow, where the partner always is in balance from beginning to end.

Night time Christmas keiko at Sjøholt in December 2015. Selfie by Marius Hatlen.

Night time Christmas keiko at Sjøholt in December 2015. Selfie by Marius Hatlen.

In my opinion, fighting is a way too intricate system to study. In a fight there are too many variables to gain any kind of knowledge of any particular ting. So I am not so interested in the fighting applications of what we do. I consider it too far away from my own level for now. Then one might ask what if I had to fight someone? Well, then I would be lost probably, but that is something I have accepted a long time ago.

Besides, tumbling around on the ground with a real attacker will not be like any situation I have been practicing in the dojo anyway, I think. Not that I would know, because I have never been in a fight, but I did practise with some pretty serious MMA guys early on and I had some tumbling on the ground. I guess a real fight might be somewhat similar in a less nice way (my friends were very nice with me).

This way to study the grab might seem nerdy and far out, but I feel that the same principles applies to the world. Dominating others with power, always having the bigger guns and the more advanced technology has limits I think. The enemies will organise and strike back wherever there is a weakness, and no matter how strong there will always be some weak point or a vulnerable time. Besides it is not the way of harmony and peace. I am searching for a different way to deal with conflicts.

So who am I? What do I want? Well, I am a student. Exactly what it is I am studying I am not really sure that I can put into words yet. What I want is to be able to continue walking this road. To be able to continue to enjoy the keiko with my friends. To be able to cure some problems I have in my body and my mind. Problems which keeps me down and limits me as a person.This road is my life and THAT is really all I wish for at this time.

My aiki notebook in my suitcase going to the seminar with Franck Noël in Prague in June 2015

My aiki notebook in my suitcase going to the seminar with Franck Noël in Prague in June 2015

I just had to write these things down now, at the end of the year to structure my mind. In fact I realized just now that it has taken me all night. Writing has a way to force us to think things through. During a seminar Endo sensei was asking the organiser “Who is that man? What does he want?”. It was a funny situation, but those are actually really good questions to ask oneself, and they are not really easy to answer.

I wish you a happy New Year! I hope we will practise together in 2016. Enjoy your keiko! Aikido makes people happy!