field of observation, chance favours only the prepared mind.
To beat someone of
another art one needs to know their art, but that is not to say that one should
fight according to their ways. In knowing one's opponent's art, one will be
aware of their strengths and avoid them, one will be aware of their weaknesses
and utilise them. Accordingly, the wise do not display their art.
(a) Hidden zanshin
This means that one is
quietly alert, mindful of the aggressor but keeping such inside; the antagonist
remains unaware of what awaits. Here, one feels no direct threat so nothing need
be done. Indeed, there are times when just exposing one's zanshin could
lead directly to trouble.
* zanshin literally means 'remaining mind' and refers to
that moment at the end of the technique where tori maintains focus on
uke for a moment. However, I like to use it in a broader sense - awareness.
(b) Exposed zanshin
This is an obvious
change in attitude where one confronts the aggressor in terms of silence, words,
or action; the antagonist is aware of one's presence. With silence, the way one
looks at someone shows them what one wants to say, words make it clearer, action
makes it happen. If one is aware of these processes, one can develop and use
them to advantage.
Musashi advises that
the spirit of fighting is fire. Keeping a cool mind in the heat of onslaught is
easier said than done, but to be successful, must be done. In order to practice
overcoming hardship one obviously needs to find stressful situations and jump
right in. The dojo exists to provide the means.
For the average martial
artist, more than fighting strategy, what is required is a strategy of learning.
Various methods of practice have been outlined above but what is important is
that the student discern a principle from the experience. Without a principle,
nothing has been learned. Teaching according to principles, it is possible to
give seemingly different lessons every class. Taking one principle, the teacher
should be able to show it through various media; empty hand technique, bokken,
and jo. And here, one principle does not mean one technique. One solid
principle can be demonstrated a cross a range of different techniques. Often, a
teacher may be doing exactly just this without explaining, rather leaving it for
the students to sort out in their minds.
based teaching often confuses the students due to the seemingly endless range of
techniques presented in no apparent logical order. After the students become
accustomed to the idea of learning principles, however, they will be able to
pick up seemingly new techniques, or shapes, instantly. The shape may be new,
but the principle is old hat and learning becomes easy. The students have become
true vehicles of transmission.
It is impossible to
learn everything in the dojo. In order to make one's art one's own it is
necessary both to think and to act. Thinking means to analyse everything; to
sort everything out and to put it all in order. This is especially important if
one is to become a teacher. Acting means one has to act on what one has thought.
While one may write down one's ideas on paper, what is really necessary is to
imprint them in one's sinews, muscles, and bones. This can be done by repeatedly
performing the techniques by oneself. With a partner no technique is the same,
but by oneself, one can make it so and get one's body in order. Further, one can
run through multiple techniques or kata sets in a short space of time,
covering and repeating them many times over.
In the beginning one
just goes through the various forms, irrespective of the effect it might have on
an imaginary uke. Next, one has to see the imaginary uke through
the inner-eye. Sometimes it may feel as though what is being done is wrong.
Naturally, one needs a good sense of imagination and over time it develops to
the extent that the imaginary uke might even resist or change direction.
Better still, one can even imagine the real uke attacking a split second
before they actually do so and be ready in advance. Training in this way helps
understand Aikido much faster. Every Aikido technique can be practised like this
and, on returning to the dojo, one will soon find that it translates into
producing improved technique. Self-training can also be particularly useful in
establishing links in movement between the empty hand techniques and those of
the bokken or jo. Once a common movement is determined, one can
practice it with say, the bokken, and the movement learned therein will
easily transfer to the jo or back to the empty hand.
A strategy of
I have rationalised six
areas that we progress through as we learn. If you understand and know these
areas then you can practise them. If you do not understand or know them, then you
will not be able to separate them to study efficiently.
1(a) The beginner
spends a lot of time thinking about his own body structure: For
shomen-uchi irimi-nage, tori thinks - "How do I stand, which foot
moves where, and which hand grabs what?" This is completely natural and is the
reason we have lots of basic movement exercises.
1(b) After the beginner
begins to get his own house in order, so he slowly begins to consider the
effects of his own actions on his uke. Thus, he begins to look beyond
himself, and yet, it is still totally mechanical in approach. Now, tori
learns to push and twist uke here and there using clever craft, and
hopefully less strength via more efficient levers. After a while he learns
to combine his own movement with that of his uke. Some people never get
beyond this method of training. Indeed, they are not even aware that this is
what they are doing.
2(a) After considerable
practice, tori now alters his training to incorporate harmony. In
the beginning, it means getting out of the way of a fast shomen-uchi
strike. But tori doesn't just avoid quickly, rather he learns to do so in
perfect time with the attack. After that, it is usually the case that he then
applies a technique as in 1(b) above, i.e. - not so much on harmony front. This
is how I see the majority of people practising Aikido.
2(b) Next, uke
should stay alive throughout the technique. For example, after
tori avoids that initial shomen-uchi as in 2(a), uke should
just stand up so as to recover his composure, but in a light kind of way. At
this time, tori must again match his own movement with this new movement
of uke and throw to the rear for say, irimi-nage. This kind of
training can be a lot of fun but to only train at this level would be a huge
mistake as you would almost certainly become overly dependent on a responsive uke. Of course, 1(a), 1(b), and 2(a) remain just as important.
Remember, when I mention uke here - it also means you, they way you need
to respond as uke. This will also help you learn as tori. Again, a
lot of people get to this point and never move on - because they have no one
advising them which way to go. Many quit without knowing why - it is partly
because they can see no future and all they do is repeat repeat repeat. Only the
active seeker really stands a chance of improving beyond this point.
3(a) Once tori
begins to discover a bit of aiki (leading/controlling mind/movement), he realises that he doesn't really have to avoid much at all. In fact, he can
almost walk straight through uke and his attack. Tori needs
all of the above plus confidence, good timing, and to know the right place. His
avoidance will be slight, with some of his avoiding movement transmitting into
deflecting uke's attack a little while at the same time keeping focus on
uke's centre. It is not just a simple parry. Here, tori is
starting to mess with uke's energy. His purpose is to deflect and
add a little energy to off-balance uke and then, again, most people
resort to a 1(b) structural finish or a 2(b) harmonious finish. The trick is to
really mess with uke's energy. If uke lets you do it, then he is
not being 'messed' with and uke is still really in control. Worse is that
you believe you are in control. This tactic is halfway to aiki, if only
because you are just messing with uke's energy for half the technique.
When you are uke - think! Did you let tori do it, or were his
actions beyond your control?
3(b) Finally, tori
controls both the attack phase and the technique phase by messing with uke's
energy. In 2(b) above uke just stands up. Thus, here, uke
is giving the cue to tori for what to do next so in a way, uke is
dictating what happens. To fully control uke, as in say shomen-uchi
ririm-nage, tori simply feints as if to poke uke in his eyes
which causes him to stand up and the technique's shape itself just magically
appears. Once uke is off-balance to the rear tori can push him
over with almost nonchalant effort. And so it looks like aiki. But it is
only aiki if it feels like aiki. It is quite easy for a couple of
beginners to do this, but without the previous five levels of experience it
would not have any substance.
Note 1: The above 6 phases were
explained in terms of shomen-uchi iriminage, which is a kind of 'air'
technique. Not much contact required - most of it happens in space. So, what you
need to think about is how to apply those six phases to a solid contact
technique - especially, how to do it in less of a structural way and more of a
messing-with-the-energy way. One tip I find useful with solid techniques is
that, if uke knows what you are up to, it won't work. You have to con
them, which, if you think about it, is why I put it under strategy. For a senior
student. a good training regimen would incorporate a lot of overlap of these six
Imagination is very important and I now believe that most of 'the good stuff' we
learn is done when we train by ourselves. When we meet a partner - we are in
fact testing out what we know; it is less of a learning environment (unless we
have a really good uke that is way ahead of us to help us along) as
there are too many variables. I can honestly say that after self-training a
certain aspect and internalising it for a while, keeping my mind on a certain
idea, it seems to work much better when I find a partner.