Wednesday, June 29, 2011
This isn't meant to be some kind of hallucination I was having or my attempt to mystify anything involved with aikido or myself ... but the way I fixed my tie seemed extremely relevant to my aikido training.
When I say, "I reached to fix my tie", I think of raising my hand in front of me, bringing the elbow up, and engaging my shoulder muscles; much like an upper-cut elbow strike. Maybe I would even reach all the way up to my other shoulder and grab the tie around the middle and flip it back over. But what I did instead was, without engaging my shoulder muscles at all, or moving my elbow from its place next to my body, I raised my limp hand to just below my collar where the base of the tie was, and with the tip of two fingers and in one swipe raked downwards letting my hand fall, bringing the tie back to its natural state.
See the difference? If you're wearing a tie right now I recommend you give this scenario a try to see if you can feel the difference.
Oh wait ... I haven't even made a connection with aikido yet in this elaborate story of me fixing my tie. Can you see what I'm getting at though with this???
In aikido with my sensei, we're trying to execute movements with the least amount of stress in our bodies while maintaining strong form. I'd say this is a pretty common theme in aikido or any skilled martial arts for that matter ... but are we often thinking about this in our practice? I'd even say that it doesn't happen all the time in mine or with my sensei, though I think it should be employed as much as possible.
Of the four nights I practice aikido here, three of them focus on practicing basic techniques: the basic techniques that you'll find in just about every aikido affiliated dojo and are the curriculum for tests. On those nights, I'd say the goal is to be able to do each technique properly according to your own potential ... but if you're not very good, then I think there's a lot of steps to put together before you start focusing on relaxing your body as much as possible.
Is that backwards to some of your methods? Are you wondering why one would focus on something else other than the final goal which is relaxed movement? Well, it's not just relaxed movement, it's relaxed movement in martial techniques. If your goal is to be as relaxed as possible then maybe you should just go take a nap or something.
I'm diverting a bit ... OK ... so ... three nights a week is focusing on basic technique where relaxation is not necessarily the primary focus. But, one night a week we have a smaller class where sensei has us work on some other things that maybe other aikido dojos don't. There, we are doing aikido, and it is most often based off basic techniques, but about 90% of the time it's hard to make that connection by seeing alone. In this class, if you are not executing the techniques with complete relaxation in your body, then you can't do the techniques. It is in this class that I have made huge progress in not uneccessarily using shoulder muscles, separating my elbows from positions where I would need to engage the shoulders, and maintaining relaxed and heavy hands.
This is what I did when I fixed my tie: absolute minimal effort and maximum relaxation to complete a tangible physical goal. I've also noticed that when using my hands to manipulate things for other mundane tasks like grabbing or nudging something I employ this kind of body movement.
To further explain this type of "lazy aikido" body movement, I'd like to share with you a story from last week's "strange" class. (Maybe I'll call that one night a week class where we work on the more unorthodox stuff the "strange" class from now on.) The past couple weeks I've been busier than ever at school as we approach final exams and I somehow got convinced to extend English club for another day after school. Also, I've been job searching/finding and trying to prepare for a big move that will create huge changes in my daily life which is taxing a lot of my mental and physical energy. Through this, I've tried to keep aikido my sole pillar of stability and have been going as much as possible. But I've also been getting less sleep and stressing my body more which antagonizes everything making aikido just a bit harder to get to. Due to these circumstances, I was running a little late to the "strange" class which means I missed a car ride with sensei and instead rode my granny bike for 45 minutes to the next town over.
When I arrived at class I was incredibly exhausted; physically but even more so mentally. Regardless, I was absolutley elated to be at the dojo warming up while I watched the others start class. On the brink of delusional bliss, if you will. When I joined the others on the mat, I had zero extra energy to move or talk uneccessarily. I couldn't do anything except just stare at sensei doing the techniques and then try to copy them as best as possible. When I went to the front of the line to try the first technique myself, sensei walked up to grab my hand, I tried to move into the right technique, and he just stood there unnaffected while staring and smiling at the shoulder I was trying to flex in order to move my hand. He just shook his head. I laughed and tried it on the next person; unsuccessfully. Then the next and the next and then it was someone elses turn. I didn't even realize it at the time, but now I'm actually pretty impressed by my lack of "overcompensation" if I do say so myself. Maybe at an earlier time in this same situation my mind would flare up: "HOW DO YOU DO THIS TECHNIQUE?!?!?!" My emotions: "Why is sensei being such a dick?" And my body as well; when being met with sensei's strong grip, just flail my shoulder and use my strength to get him on the ground. Instead, I laughed at myself and moved on to trying it on the other partners. When it was their turn, I stared in complete fascination to the workings of the technique; but what I really saw was a lot of mistakes.
It is blaringly obvious that in these "strange" classes, sensei is trying to get us to move so as to not use strength against strength. But often times our efforts devolve to working with the goal of class on the other three nights of the week, which is simply executing the technique. That doesn't fly here during "strange" nights. You might be getting your partner to the end of the technique without doing it properly, but if you're lucky, sensei won't budge and will make your weaknesses blaringly obvious. There's one particular blackbelt who is always trying to overcompensate and finish the technique, but makes it a blundering mess, though he does get his partner on the ground. Sensei corrects him here and there, but won't make a fuss about it and definitely doesn't stress himself by repeating the same hints over and over and over again. When I look at this particular blackbelt, I see sincere training, but he's making very slow progress because I don't think he sees exactly what sensei is trying to teach us. I, on the other hand, made phenomenal improvement going from not doing the technique at all to getting people on the floor with little uneccessary effort. This made sensei very happy and the other blackbelts very confused because this lowly shiroebi was doing what they couldn't.
I don't mean to be coming of as arrogant in any way in relaying my stories and impressions. The day after that particular class I went to school and told the story to my advisor and best friend at work, but after I said the words, "I was doing better than the other blackbelts in class last night ..." he stopped listening to me right there before I got to the "whys" and "hows" and was somehow stuck on that initial phrase.
Who knows what he was thinking when I continued telling the story, but I don't think it was about the details of my story.
Who knows what that blackbelt is thinking when he's doing technique, but I don't think it's what sensei is trying to teach him.
What was I thinking about when I did an aikido technique on my neck tie?
Probably about how unbearably hot it's going to get here in Toyama in about a month's time.
Sunday, June 19, 2011
I had an interview with a children's eikaiwa school to teach English in Toyama City a couple days ago, and yesterday I got word that they want me to work for them ... YATTA!
Since about a month ago when I decided that I wanted to stay in Japan, my mind has taken my young impressionable mind far across the cosmos of possibility. The void is infinite indeed. But now, somehow, I've found something solid to stand upon. Now, as much as I can possibly know, I will be continuing my life here in Toyama, Japan a while longer. My current contract with the JET Program teaching English in a high school ends August 2nd, then I got to a two week teacher training in Nagoya on the 22nd, and after that, I'll be in Toyama City.
How much will things change? Can I continue the things I love now? Will I find something new?
Those are pretty silly questions.
It's funny now that I'm finally beginning to feel free in Kurobe, and soon I will be leaving. It is only just before we die that we realize how cool this deal is ne?
Mock death. A new chapter. A fold in the katana. ...
Just life unfolding like a paper crane returning to it's orignal square paper shape.
Tuesday, June 14, 2011
Hehe, just a little fun.
I'm very interested in those latter skills, but really, aikido helps me more in my daily life significantly more than other martial arts I have encountered. Perhaps it's just the experiences I've had, or the time in my life, but aikido is giving me a great mat area to practice core principles that I encounter all the time out on the street.
One that I'm thinking of right now is just simple people to people interaction. In aikido with your partner, you work actively together to reach a conclusion. If one person doesn't do anything, nothing happens. Unless you're just practicing punching things and you nail the person. So in a conversation, what would this be akin to? First, two people just standing there doing nothing. Next, would be one person doing nothing, and one person doing all the work ... work that probably dominates and hurts the partner if the action is followed through with realistic intent ... which is important when practicing practical martial arts, no? Maybe both people could just rail into each other with all their strength trying to dominate the other ... what kind of conversation is that? Maybe ask the dudes who yell at two bloodied fighters through a big 'ol TV screen. I'll be bold enough to say that the particular role of uke in aikido makes for a great interaction between two active participants. Looking for something of substance; movement that has serious causes and affects in body mechanics throughout evolving circumstances that give the ability of but not requiring physically destructive damage.
Perhaps there's another analogy with makes things really funny concerning aikido. How about two people getting together acting a scene out pretending to be mastering the phenomenon of cause and effect by following a pre-played script ... and dressing up and using foreign languages to enhance it's visual appeal?
Thank you for indulging more analogies and metaphors rank with generalizations that have probably already been said elsewhere.
OH! I finally fixed my comment problem, and it was just as J.C. said ... even though I just glossed over it and spent way too much time under my account settings looking for something more fancy. I feel like I just spent an hour staring at my taxes reading the fine print of something totally unrelated, when I should have just answered the questions it asked me. Maybe there will be a post concerning the affect of aikido on simplified problem solving.
Rick: Don't hesitate to leave comments like you have. They turn it all upside down for me and in a good direction every time. Thanks for the time.
Monday, June 13, 2011
About a month ago I went to a training where it was only Ueno-san and I for the whole hour and a half, and the most important topic we went over was "rebound." We were doing just a normal version of koto-gaeshi, a technique I've done before, but it had been a while so it was super sloppy and I forgot a couple things in it. I said, "I forgot!" And Ueno-san said, "Daijobu Zac-san ... rebound." This word she said in English fit perfectly. After a few more reps, I successfully "rebounded" about to my prior ability, and we were happy to rebound together.
Aikido and other martial arts give us such a good example of this concept in life, but it really is nothing compared to the real thing ... life, that is.
Every day is a whole new opportunity to ... well ... not quite fit the ideal situation, isn't it? There's obviously a multitude of ways we can do this ... but today I was musing about one particular type of blundering. When something is given to you, a situation, a present, a person ... just right there in front of you, and all you have to do is do it, or take it ... but you don't! Instead of just naturally reaching out to accept it, thinking starts and things can get really cloudy and complicated. Maybe you walk away, back to somewhere safe where you can have all the time and darkness you want to let the demons drag you across the daggers.
In my current understanding, if this happens, there's nothing that can be done to reverse it. All we can do is try to learn from any apparent mistakes, and get back to rebound as fast as you can, but not in a hurry of course.
Gotta go to practice now.
Friday, June 10, 2011
1.) Paying attention through the whole waza.
This is funny because you think you'd naturally have to pay attention in the middle of a technique, but most of the time actually, I'm somewhere completely else, or just blacked out in the middle of techniques, whether I'm the tori or the uke. I've been trying to be careful of this for a while, and so before a technique I'll say, "OK, gaijin, just try and pay attention through the whole technique." Then two seconds into it I'm thinking about a beer or the next episode of Game of Thrones (awesome new HBO show ... heard of it?) OR, I completely blackout in a way and just find myself on the ground after someone throws me. So, I've found two things that help with this: one is to breath through the technique and not hold your breath, and two is to keep your eyes open. Often times I might hold my breath and close my eyes ... but then I'm somewhere else and not doing as good a job as I could.
2.) Executing good zanshin.
My interpretation of zanshin here could be considered a kind of follow through ... but lasts even beyond the physical movement. It means having a strong final stance after the move or throw, and continuing watching the opponent, and possibly continuing moving towards him for another attack. This is something that my sensei doesn't bug us about very often, but if you want to have it, you gotta be paying attention. All of the students in my dojo certainly know about it, but most people never show it, and sensei doesn't point it out. But, I feel it makes my technique and intent a hundred times better ... so I'm trying to pay attention to this point. Also, this isn't just while you're the tori, but also when you're being thrown as the uke. Too often I find myself coming back up in a sit-up-like action which puts my head right in front of someone's knee. Be mindful of this all the time.
3.) Trying to feel my partner's heartbeat.
This is kind of a weird one, but one that's really got my attention and is fun to try. When I grab someone for a wristgrab, I'll try and secretly feel their heartbeat through the technique. It's kind of tricky and I'm not sure if it helps anything, but like I said, fun to try. I first noticed it with one of the very skillful higher dans who is a fairly petite girl, I grabbed her wrist and felt her heartbeat and the first thing I thought of was the small beatings of a swallow's heart.
So, yeah ... I think my aikido will improve if I can do these three things consistently.
Wednesday, June 8, 2011
Also, I've been having some issues with my blog concerning comments. I can't leave comments on my own or anybody else's blog. When I try to do so by going to a comment page, it logs me out. I'm looking in to how to fix it, but if any of you bloggers have encountered this before and have an answer, I'd love to hear about it. I've got some really good comments on the last few posts and would love to answer ... as well as post on your blogs as well, but just haven't been able to. Wish me luck in untangling the knots of TechWorld ... I feel kind of like a whale stuck in a monkey puzzle tree.
Thursday, June 2, 2011
2.) Maybe 50 years isn't enough to be "good" at aikido.
1.) Maybe I should take this statement of the importance of fun with a little more sincerity and just have fun.
(shiro-ebi, white shrimp)