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.
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.
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?
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.
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!
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!