Discovering Aikido: Principles for Practical Learning 

Home
Preface
Introduction
Searching
Etiquette
Warming up
Posture
Breathing
The Mind
Space
Time
Avoidance
Contact
Balance
Power
Resistance
Principles
Attack
Techniques
Advanced
Ukemi
Weapons
Aiki
Methods
Strategy
Self-defence
Syllabus
Other Arts
Philosophy
Conclusion
Appendix

 
This book evolved from a twenty-plus-year quest to learn Aikido and related arts. Indeed, there is no end to the journey (started Judo as a kid but learned nothing; discovered Aikido after high school and was hooked from Day 1 = 36 years) but the perennial problem in any such endeavour is which way to travel. Accordingly, the ideas within reflect the attempt to first find direction, then the need to search for a means or method by which to travel. It is the book I could have done with during my first ten years of training.

Traditionally, a martial art student places complete trust in the teacher. In the beginning, there can be no other option. However, once well travelled, the keen learner needs to ascertain where they themselves stand, locate successive practical objectives, and map out strategies to achieve what they seek.

Simply, if one has no idea where one is, and even less idea where one is headed, one is destined to go nowhere fast. By taking charge of one's learning experience, and on a greater level, one's whole life experience, one can gain the kind of focus that allows emergence from the mire of nowhere. With the right approach, this attitude extends beyond martial arts and into your whole life.

I am very analytical in nature. After school I did an apprenticeship and became an industrial radiographer. When that industry died I first went to college to do sports, then to university to study languages. After that I did an MA in international relations and then another in linguistics. I spent five years studying and working in Japan and fifteen in South Korea working at various universities (I formally studied both languages, plus basic Chinese). At some point I emigrated to New Zealand and taught Japanese and English in a high school. I take my keikogi wherever I travel. Back to the analytical part - this means that I approach my Aikido in a very systematic way. I want to know why things work the way they do. I want to get better and I want to know how. I want my students to get better and I want to know how. I also want them to know how. Some have criticised me and said I should just do it - not think about it too much. Well, I stopped listening to them a long time ago. The only people worth listening to are the ones with real skill - so I thought ... but it ain't necessarily so. Often, despite being good, they simply cannot explain how they do what they do. Indeed, they do not know, and this explains why they cannot teach what they do and perhaps why there are few, if any, new masters to replace the old. And if they were keeping 'it' secret, you would at least think they would show 'it' to their own students. I have trained and trained and trained and have met so many people in lots and lots of places; the worst thing about all this is that the so called masters simply have not produced the next generation. I can only conclude that with each generation the skills we seek are being lost.

In terms of lost skills consider this: In Europe, with the appearance of the gun, the centuries-old tried and tested battlefield hand/weapon skills of the average man/soldier slowly disappeared. Sword schooling continued but with a new emphasis: street survival/duelling/no shield/no armour/lighter weapons/new rules, and so on. Wrestling skills were maintained but naturally, without weapons. In the end these two new arts became sports. This is all that survived into the modern period (though some are now recreating the old from rediscovered texts). Martial Arts in Asia changed in similar ways. Japan added esoteric elements during its 250 year Tokugawa Period of peace. Korea relegated its military to the bottom class during the 500 year Choseon Dynasty. China murdered its past completely with Communism. If there were ever any secrets, they will need to be re-discovered, hence again, the title of my little book.

I have found that once having a base-set of skills, a program of disciplined self-training can definitely accentuate such to a higher level. At first, I just started going through endless lists of techniques by myself. Later, patterns were discerned and new directions followed - yet many paths led back to standard Aikido shapes. I feel as though on a kind of journey and that I am getting somewhere, although I have to say I still meet people who are way ahead. But one thing that is certain for me - their Way is no longer mine. Only mine is mine and if I am to continue to improve, it will be through my own thought and effort. For good or for worse, there comes a time when you have to carve out your own future - the only difference between success and failure being your own determination. In terms of present direction - I tread my own path - I encourage others to find the discipline to the same.

The following ideas are from an old website I made in 1994 when in South Korea. Yes, Korea was on the ball in terms of computing tech way back then. It was, I believe, one of the first Aikido websites on the net and at that time had more information than most. Dare I say that, this achieves that claim too. Tell me it ain't so!

My Philosophy
" I started out with nothing and I still have most of it left ."
" The best feint is a real punch ." - Bruce Lee.
I have no more philosophy.

Principles I It is the principles we should be searching for; they are the same in each art. No art has a monopoly on the principles, although certain arts might be said to emphasise certain principles. The principles determine the form, of which there are many variations. It is therefore strange that it is usually the forms that determine the art. This has to be a mistake. If we research the principles, then there can be no determining the forms. If you search for the principles and come to understand them, your forms will be limitless. rmja 

Principles II The most important thing I have discovered is that many of the principles within each art are the same and therefore transferable. If it is not transferable, then it is probably not a good principle thus you should question it. I am now collecting these principles and use them as a basis for my teaching. I find it to be a very efficient method. What principles you ask? Well, it's not easy to explain, and I'm still collecting them. I hope that by using my ideas, other students will be able to map out a strategy for their own development and learn efficiently, not wasting time barking up the wrong tree like I did. I have found that I can teach a keen student just about everything I know in two years. It is up to them to accept it. The twenty-year technique is for idiots (I was one of them). rmja

Principles III Kata, such as found in Judo or Tomiki Aikido, are better understood in terms of principles than attacks or techniques. Some kata name the attack, others name the technique. Both have useful implications for the way a student learns. Better still is to concentrate on acquiring one principle per technique. For example, in the first technique of the Koryu Dai San of Tomiki Aikido tori initiates the attack. This is the true principle within the technique irrespective of whether it is named shomen-uchi (attack), ikkyo (technique), or shomen-uchi ikkyo (both). Once a true principle has been recognised, it can be applied in many, if not every other technique. Search for the essence. rmja

Principles IV Change. The basic forms reveal useful principles that can be collected and studied. At first, we have to practice the form repeatedly to get the principle right. If we can not do it, we have to train until we can. However, there comes a time, if the form fails to work, when it is necessary to change to one using a different principle. If the situation changes, then so must you. Accordingly, exercises that account for change are very useful. rmja

Warm-up Exercises My warm up exercises are for me. All the exercises I do contain an aiki element - coordination, breathing, stretching. By the time I am finished, I have exercised all the main muscle groups, twisted and stretched each limb inside and out, all the while breathing in rhythm with the movements. Concentrating on breathing in rhythm to movement in the warm-up exercises will eventually, naturally, transfer over to the techniques - but for beginners it needs a certain amount of conscious thinking to get the process started, after which, it is best to forget about it and let it happen naturally. rmja

The Basics Everyone knows we have to practice the basics, but what does this really mean? Many dojos seem to get them out of the way as soon as possible, moving onto the 'more interesting' stuff. However, it is not until you actually begin to find the basics interesting that you can really begin to learn. A problem in certain dojos is that what is learned in the basics does not appear in their techniques. Don't fall into this trap. If your basic training is not useful in your techniques then you are barking up the wrong tree. rmja

The role of uke For speedy learning uke is better regarded as a partner than an aggressor. Uke is not someone you train on, but someone you train with. Changing roles between tori and uke you become your own training mirror. Most importantly, the better you carry out the role of uke the better your own skill will become. If you find yourself just waiting for your turn to do the technique you will find it difficult to learn Aikido.
When you move, the movement should begin in your centre. You should not collapse or fall over without good reason, nor should you jump before being thrown. In the beginning, you should learn to go wherever tori wants you to go, lightly (but firm, not wishy-washy) and without apprehension, then your training can be fun. It must be enjoyable. Next, you have to get past the stage of knowing where you are going to fall. You have to learn to trust tori. In Judo, uke should resist not in a negative way by crouching low (like two rugby players shoving each other) as many seem to do, but rather by standing up straight and moving lightly. You may be thrown more often, but so what? You'll learn to fall better. You'll learn to throw better. If you stand up straight you will be in a more dominant position, you will get used to it, and then you will like it. You will be closer to your partner and will be able to turn in for a throw quicker. In kata Judo, uke should be upright and firm but when thrown should be as light as a feather, the proverbial empty jacket, but in a controlled aiki kind of way. A good Aikido uke can usually comprehend the role of uke in Judo kata, but the reverse does not seem to happen when a Judoka crosses over to Aikido. The responsiveness that an Aikido uke learns is unique to Aikido and provides students with a better understanding of going with the flow, in my opinion. Contrary to the softness blurb that is written about Judo, all too often it unconsciously teaches one to resist everything one's opponent does - it doesn't have to be that way. rmja

The 'hard' vs 'soft' fallacy Basically, your energy should be like water; not so simple perhaps, but a reasonable aim. A common analogy is water coming from a hose. Whether it comes out under high or low pressure its essence remains unchanged. The skill then, is to be able to increase or decrease your pressure in your own energy, while maintaining essence, or flexibility. Some people insist on working only at low pressure , others only at high pressure - all the time, but this restricts your development. A runner sometimes runs slow and sometimes fast. His aim may be to increase his speed, but running slower will be part of his training. He cannot run fast all the time. In this way, to steal a phrase, you can lengthen your line.
In reality, your techniques will all be a never-ending mix/change of/from hardness to softness as you move through your various positions. To yourself, your aiki may feel soft, to your partner it may, at times, feel as hard as nails, but in a polite kind of way. To an onlooker, it may look as though your uke took a dive. Just as there is no hard or soft water, there are no hard or soft styles or techniques, the two are inseparable. rmja

Using the bokken or jo Nothing amazes me more than to see people being taught complicated partner forms before they even get the hang of the basics. This is a problem everywhere I have been. What is learned in the beginning sticks like glue, and if you learn it wrong then it will stay wrong for a long time. It is very hard to recognise, let alone undo, a bad habit. Accordingly, I think long weapon forms are a waste of time. They might improve something, like your memory, but I think that short sharper forms are far more realistic for training purposes. With short sharp forms, one can concentrate on the details far easier and thus improve at a faster rate. Two or three movements concentrating on one detail should suffice. Long Erol Flynn like pseudo duels are silly. That being said, Erol Flynn looked much better than most of the Aikidoka I see, myself included of course.
Once the basic form is memorised, try doing it faster, switch the feet, use different beginnings, try a different finish - expand on the basic form and make it your own. If you do not apply your own mind to learning, you are not learning.
Another problem is that many people carry themselves differently when using Aiki weapons. For myself, the way I do things with a bokken or jo must correspond exactly to what happens in ordinary Aikido practice. If what you're doing doesn't match, then something is wrong and you will develop contrary bodily movement habits that will serve only towards confusion and even if you train for fifty years you will never really know what you are doing. rmja

Kokyu-ho / kokyu-nage The principle of kokyu appears unique to Aikido, and to a lesser extent, Jujutsu (however, Jujutsu in Japan does have a strong aiki element). It is not that other arts don't have it, rather, Aikido names it, and aims to develop it. I have, on occasion, seen practitioners of other arts who appear to have it, but they do not know they have it, and as a consequence, have no means to pass it on. Therefore, it is apparent that kokyu can be acquired with no knowledge through extensive practice - but not always, it depends upon the person. Further, what I have experienced is, if you have training in kokyu , you will learn other arts more rapidly (which of course signifies its importance). rmja

Takemusu Once you learn the basic techniques you can begin to develop your aiki by practising Kokyu-ho and Kokyu-nage techniques. After a while, you will find that you are able to create your techniques on the spot, and endless variations. While people often say there are thousands of techniques, you cannot go out, learn, and remember them all. The only way forward is to use your brain and rediscover them for yourself; follow your intuition according to the principles you have learned. rmja
Take a look out of your window into the garden. All those millions of insects are part of one great struggle, every day until their death. This cycle of life and death - takemusu - is inescapable - but humans have created society and have mostly overcome it, or rather, in the martial sense, lost it. So, in order to improve our minds in martial arts we must consider what we have come to lose. If we are to survive we must fight ceaselessly, we can not be passive even for a moment or we will die (lose). All creatures follow this cycle. In fighting for survival, it is best to harmonise with "nature" rather than fight against it. In fact, this is nature's way - all is in harmony - what is not will cease to exist. Accordingly, to harmonise is to offer a greater chance of survival. rmja

The money principle What I have observed over the years is that usually, the cheaper the training, the better the training. High prices often signify nothing less than a rip off. Don't buy it. I wasted a fortune to discover this. rmja

Finding a teacher The teacher must still be an active student of the way. Also, check out their students - if they are good, it might rub off on you. rmja

 

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