Winter Retreat, July 25-27th 2014
Winter Retreat, July 25-27th 2014
by Gwen James
Easter is just around the corner; a four day holiday celebrated by eating large amounts of chocolate! Many of us will go away or have picnics and barbeques with family and friends. It’s a time when we enjoy the company and companionship of others. Of course, not all the people we spend time with this Easter will have the same opinions as us. Some have different religious beliefs, some different politics and some have very different interests. And yet, we not only tolerate these differences, we sometimes embrace them, because they are one aspect of a person we like.
Aikido dojos or organisations are made up of people with a range of opinions. Some of these are similar to our own and some are quite different. Naturally, we gravitate to those who share similar opinions or interests to us. As a dojo usually reflect aspects of the instructor’s personality, so we, as a beginner, feel most at home at a dojo where the instructors have some opinions similar to ours: a person who is tranquil will feel more at home at dojo where they focus on the joy of smooth, harmonious movement while a more aggressive person will be attracted to a dojo where they practice a harder style with bone crushing grabs and breakfalls. Once we find our dojo, as we start to study the aikido principles for dealing with conflict: keep one point, relax completely, keep weight underside, extend Ki. We learn that if we keep ones of these principles, we keep them all. If we lose one, we lose them all. As a beginner, feeling comfortable in the dojo is essential to learning these principles; we all know it is easier to relax completely if you are enjoying yourself!
And as we are relaxed and comfortable, we make friends. Many friendships formed on the mat, particularly at the early stages of our study, continue for years or even decades. They endure despite people moving and changing. We don’t stop being friends because somebody moves to a different address or to a different club or stops doing aikido and starts doing something else. Aiki-friendships, like all friendships are based on respect and tolerance but have an added dimension as being the natural demonstration of our understanding of blending and harmonising. This isn’t something we have to work at, it occurs spontaneously, and it allows us to see how naturally we integrate the aikido tenets of blending and harmony in our ordinary relationships.
As we advance in our study, we start to appreciate training with a range of people as it gives us an opportunity to practice working with vastly different energy. Initially, it may be working with the person in your own dojo who holds you tightly or who attacks aggressively. As we advance in experience and confidence, we start to work with people from increasingly different styles and energies. A person from a gentler aikido style can only learn to blend with a strong, fast attack if they occasionally work with somebody who practices a more forceful style while a person who is use to an aggressive attack may find it challenging to blend with the unconfident attack of a beginner. This is a form of blending and harmonising that doesn’t occur so spontaneously and often it is an uncomfortable experience. However, seizing the opportunity to practice with partners of different strengths and levels in the controlled and supportive environment of a dojo strengthens our skills and knowledge.
We have all trained with people or seen videos of people who have great technique. These are the people who inspire us to improve, to take our technique to the next level. But not all good aikidoka have a great physical technique. Some may have very mediocre yonkyo, they may forget some of the movements in the bokkan kata or they may hate doing breakfalls. What makes them a good aikidoka is that they take the principles of aikido outside the dojo. They apply them, or try to remember to apply them, to daily life. These are the people who, who, when faced with a crisis, move forward in a calm, relaxed manner. They are the people who, when faced with anger or a person trying to humiliate them, quietly continue on their way after acknowledging but move out of the way of the other person’s energy. They are the people who, when an organisation decides to go a direction that doesn’t interest them, serenely leave. These are the unremarked aiki-heros who have a huge understanding and experience of aikido because they use it constantly.
So, this Easter when indulging in your favourite chocolate with friends and family, take a minute to celebrate the spontaneous and natural way you are harmonising with them. Notice that you are relaxed, centred, extending Ki and respecting others – that you are, in fact, practicing aikido. And maybe, lift your glass in a silent toast to all your aiki-friends and teachers, to the people who have inspired you and to the unremarked aiki-heros who have helped on your aikido journey.
See more from Gwen, here’s her last post
Atemi is an important part of our kata, yet is often left out of it, or given a per functionary wave towards Uke’s face. The reasons for leaving it our are good ones a) its not particularly a good fit with ‘the art of peace’ and if we are to learn Aiki then we want to give up the idea of a fighting or competitive mind. The act of closing a fist and striking would seem to be at cross purposes to this and can bring out the fighting nature in us, and so its not emphasised so much.
Atemi or striking however is a useful tool to help us understand Aiki.
1. It can distract the intention and power of Uke
2. Its a check for appropriate distancing. Nage should be able to touch Uke, but Uke should be able to touch Nage throughout the kata)
3. To strike requires proper body alignment, so its a good check for feet hips, centreline and hand position
4. There is clear evidence of the use of vital points
5. The correct angle and direction of atemi should produce Aiki
Looking forward to get back on the mat, after a hectic month at work and exploring on Thursday night
On the first day of this month(April), I penned some thoughts on Aikido and the fundamental forces of the Universe, in jest, to see how far I could extend some of the ideas of Physics into the domain of Aikido. Its a well trodden path, and as a physicist I thought I might be able to join in. In doing so I hoped to explore the idea of Reductio ad absurdum which is literately to take an idea and explore it to the absurd. Secondly I hoped to show that having some expertise in one discipline doesn’t necessarily mean expertise in another. Claiming expertise is something scientists are famously reticent to do, but as a career scientist and 20yrs on the mat doing Aikido I thought I would have a go anyway
All humour is a risk and the joke has well and truly been on me with people writing to me thinking I’d hit my head, been smoking something or that all of the recent internal strength exploration had gone into my head. A short note on Facebook to clarify seems to have not helped, with people thinking the clarification on Facebook was in itself was the joke rather thanthe original post…Yikes!!!
So whilst what was written was literally true it was also not true by the magnitudes of the effects I describe and by virtue of the conclusions drawn
For the record my Masters research used vibrating quartz crystals, coated with an Ammonia attractant to measure the mass change in proportion to the concentration of Ammonia present, as a sensor to detect ammonia. The idea of crystals being used for healing and health isn’t new though beyond the scope of my work.
My work in the Antarctic used radio wave propagation (from a source near the equator that propagated in the earth-ionosphere waveguide) in ice to detect subsurface crevasses (through which vehicles could fall), and as a tool to map ice depth (yes for climate change measurements etc.). This work used Maxwells electromagnetic wave equations to do this.
Charm, truth, beauty and spin are terms used to describe quantum states, yep what else can imaginative physicists come up with.
Schrodinger’s cat is a famous ‘thought experiment’ where a cat is put in a box and a poisonous gas is introduced that has a 50% chance of killing it. If you never look in the box (observe) then the cat is both alive and dead. No cats were harmed in this thought experiment, its just the inappropriate type thought experiments that physicists do in morning tea discussion.
Gravity between two people is true, but its almost impossible to measure its that small, planet sucking power though is a whole other thing again.
Yes were are all mostly space, but we can’t move through the space that others occupy because the electrostatic force prevents it. Its an interesting idea, and attractive to think we could just disappear, this is due to the physiology of the idea and targeting the detail area vs. the peripheral cones for movement
Radio waves really do propagate through time backwards and forwards, get started here if you want to go down that rabbit hole http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wheeler–Feynman_absorber_theory
Newton’s physics work pretty well, until you travel close to the speed of light or want to look at quantum interactions (at the atomic and sub atomic level). So all of Newtons stuff holds true for aikido – even though quantum and wave-particle duality sound much more interesting.
April the 1st is called April fools day because the Calendar was changed to the Gregorian Calendar (or Western calendar) by Pope Gregory. Those that didn’t follow to the new calendar were celebrating the old New Year on April the 1st and were called April Fools
Ideas and analogies are powerful teaching tools, belief is also important. Some might say from a certain point of view wether some of the tools of physics are used or misused in Aikido doesn’t matter so much. And that if they can be helpful in making our aikido better then thats OK. I guess this is a personal decision, rather than blind belief where its easy to be misled. That they are used as a tool to support mystic conclusions is inevitable. Science, through its deductive nature, believing nothing and proposing only theories makes it an attractive thing to be associated with. Thus many things make claims to be scientific wether they are or not is up to you if decide if its ‘argument by association’ or reasonable by its own merits.
Anyways I better get back on the mat, see you all on Tuedsay night
Aikido, like many an art form has been subjected to much scrutiny through combat effectiveness, ancient writings, opinion and more recently the sciences. Using the prism of western sciences it has been both praised or reviled. Many an attempt has been made by the Aiki/scientific community to successfully explain Aiki in this manner. There are the tawdry explanations of the workings of the body through the tools of Newtonian physics, where the idea that through the falling apple’s momentum, mass and force might explain the subtlies of Kuzushi, balance and the internal working of the body. This inevitably leads to the success in explaining the lesser baser martial arts but is doomed to failure in something as highly evolved as Aikido. My own humble efforts in this regard to look at power generation and unbalancing, under the scrutiny of the international aikido community has certainly experienced this mixed response, including public castigation at seminars and in retrospect rightly so.
Thus the sages of our art (indeed my own teacher has writing on the subject) look for and demonstrate the ultimate truth and beauty that is to be found in Quantum physics (arguably the highest of the sciences through its scrutiny of the fundamentals of the universe. Here, without spin, the commonalities of the art exist within the wave-particle duality can emerge, alive, like a cat out of the box, with clear confirmation of the arts ultimate truths. Whilst for myself and many a humble tyro this sartorial truth can only likely be experienced as you approach, nay pass, the level of O’Sensei, which I am told is unlikely. Working the numbers though and given the population of the earth is now 5x that of when O’Sensei was alive there must be at least 5 people with the skills.
Aspiring to be at one with the Universe, the truth then is likely to be found in the foundations of the Universe itself revealed through the fundamental forces of the universe that exist and propagate forward and backward in time, revealed to us through Schrodinger, Maxwell and others. We see evidence of this in the creation stories of many religions, the five elements of the universe and the six harmonies. Whilst Einstein suggests our understanding is relative, still we wonder how long is a piece of string as it extends through time and the dimensions as we seek these truths.
It is said that everything you need to know about an art is revealed in the very first lesson and so for me to it was revealed, had I the eyes to see, in the duality of beginning study of Aikido whilst embarking on the beginning of my scientific career culminating in the *cough* Menkyo of a physics PhD. Thus somewhat unexpectedly, and more than 20yrs on I find my self re-examining my career to discover that that my masters degree in which I studied vibrations of crystals to protect us from harm had me almost on the path. Then the the wave propagation equations, investigated through the purity of the ancient and glacial icesheets of the Antarctic, with my Hakama wearing companions of the natural world, reveal to me now the importance of the fundamental forces of the universe and their transcendence of time in the practice of Aikido. While many of these secrets are yielded only through the secret language of mathematics, which like most secrets are not secret but only accessible through many years of study I arrive at the insights below. Albeit the lab bench is bit less austere than the birch whippings of a Zen temple…
The fundamental forces of the universe, not unlike the 5 elements of the Chinese arts and the 6 harmonies reveal many teachings for those that can truly see. They reside in and are central to each part of the universe and person, whereby we are all truly standing on the floating bridge between heaven and earth able to draw and call on these forces not only at will but at all times and thus manifest them in our daily lives from the time of our very birth.
The ‘force of gravity’, used in many an analysis of the Aikido arts, whilst presumed to be the strongest of all forces it is in fact one of the weakest, a misdirection for the aspirant. Thus typical to such misanalysis it is often applied externally and like the weaker external martial arts it is easy to miss the ultimate teaching contained therein. You see gravity applies to each and every atom of everything so whilst the force that pulls us toward the earth is seen as the ultimately manifestation, it is actually a path to the ultimate union with Ki that Tohei successfully transmitted to the West. Here the various nuclear forces of attraction exist between all parts of the body, holding it together without the necessity of the structure of bone, muscle and that much misunderstood fascisa. It also acts as an attractant and with this this Nage may use the power of gravity to draw Uke into their centre and capture it and become one at the tanden in a very physical sense. It’s governed by the gravitational constant and the mass of bodies through an inverse square law such that the closer the dynamic the stronger the attraction. It is I suspect the reason why there is apparent collision in the practice of the art and where ignorance of how to manipulate the equation leads to the inability to turnoff the attraction and complete a successful throw as Uke and Nage become locked by the forces (often mistaken as wrestling) and thus must resort to the brutality of the physical to separate from this power.
It is well known that we are all mostly space, but our visual perception is governed by the forces of electrostatics that bend and occlude the waves of light. Some of my studies occasion me to investigate visual perception, here the physiology of the eye can be manipulated and drawn to focus on detail, rather than movement, thus allowing Nage to ‘disappear, though again it is but a surface description to hide in plain sight the true mechanism at work beneath. You see these wave equations propagate both forwards and backwards in time (the wave equations are 4 dimensional and if you can manipulate matrix you can manipulate the perception of reality) and like a tachyon it is possible to not only travel faster than light but to transcend its limitations entirely and dodge that bullet before it appears. The substantive challenge is that the electrostatic forces of the body that fill the gaps between the electrons and nucleus create our perceptive reality. However understanding that these all emit waves of their own, we arrive at the conclusion that we are no more dense than the Uke who doesn’t know when he should be falling and the masters of aikido that have gone before us. All are filled within of the same empty space that exists between Uke and Nage. Thus clearly there is truly no physical confrontation it exists not physically, nor in space nor in time, nor in the vacuum that is our minds, and so when the enemy attacks I am truly no longer before him but standing behind him.
This leads only then to the nuclear interactions, both strong and weak that exist between all things, the weak can simply be discarded, like the voices of our masters and the strong willed community do with aplomb and a focus on the strong leads us to the understanding of the Buddha to just sit and gather these these forces to our tanden, where the numerics are clear, more is the ultimate truth and so beyond abdominal fat the necessity to give up the scurrilous practice of Ukemi and the basest practices of the savages. Just leave the physical practice of the art and look beyond to thus concentrate on the concentration of growing the strong nuclear interaction through growth of the Hara itself.
A happy new year to all, may you find the ultimate truths in these writings or discard them as some Gregorian conspiracy.
Addendum: This was posted April the 1st and unfortunately was a little too convincing, please see an explanation here A fools descent into aiki-madness
I admit it. I have been mystified by the IS practice methodologies for quite a while now. However, much as I did with my Ki training in Shin Shin Toitsu in the ’90s, I’ve put that aside to follow the pedagogy in the hope of finding out more through doing. It proved helpful in the Ki Society, where eventually I found enough physical basis for some of the exercises (such as unbendable arm and unraisable body) that I could resolve the internal dialogue and also practice with a purpose that resonated more strongly with me.
Following the emerging literature on the fascia and the labelled ‘anatomy trains’, it was kind of making sense, but the purpose of the winding, pulling silk etc… was a big part of the mystery (and frankly still is). It took some prodding from Aran Bright on the subject of developing tension for another little penny to drop and Steve Seymour’s insights and use of other paradigms to explore IS
As near as I can understand, we have a skeletal structure (which is just a kind of fascia with minerals attached), some muscles to move it around, and then a kind of exoskeleton made up of the fascia surrounding it.
The Penny dropped on the ‘exo-skeleton’ (which is not a great choice of a word) is maybe a balloon man/ suit (as coined used by researchers such as Sigman and others) created by the fascia.
Anyways I saw this image in “Low back disorders” by McGill as a model of the back
which looked a lot like, and the next step, but much better than my toppling work’s own http://www.aikidorepublic.com/internal-strength/02stabilitygrounding
and then seeing this image in this article and structural mechanics analogies that Michael Nash found http://www.intensiondesigns.com/bones_of_tensegrity.html
A chat with Sunter san, suggests exo-skeleton is not a great word as this implies ‘strength and rigidity’ maybe there is a better word that describes it as a flexible thing.
Conditioning the fascia by straining it appears to be the purpose of ‘pulling silk’ giving rise to mental models like the ‘balloon man’ and ‘the suit’.
Some scientific researchers talk about a sweet spot of strain (5-10% depending who you ask) being optimal, and from what I know of tendon research (with some involvement in this professionally), I can see that some strain is important for growth and healing, but too much causes damage and too little is just a waste of time.
Therefore, doing reps of straining the fascia through ballooning,skin breathing, pulling silk and so on, appear to be methods of developing just this conditioning. Once the exoskeletal structure is built and in place, you still need to be able to move, so winding and bows and similar exercises allow the muscles to move freely beneath the exoskeleton, so we can have our structure and use it too (Marie Antoinette would be proud).
Next up, the IS exercises of bowing and using the qua and Tanden (Dan Tien) teach us how to move properly while maintaining the structure, thus providing a way to apply it in a martial context.
Looking back on the exercise set given to our school by Okajima sensei, I see now the role of breathing (as a means to co-ordinate the strain of the fascia), the movements of the body (as bowing and Kua coordination), together with the Tanden ball exercises, the ground connection exercises (source of infinite power) and balance sensitivity exercises. What a terrific set of exercises, given context by IS training methodologies and meaning from the sciences.
Is it a complete picture? No way. But it’s an incremental step forward in intentionality in incorporating the exercises in our practise and validates our trust that the solo training, as a means of body conditioning and coordination development, can and will yield results in good time.
Of course understanding ain’t doing…but its a start for this keyboard aspirant ;)
Domo arigato teachers, friends and colleagues on the path. Dare to dream, dare to question, but above all, give voice and dare to collaborate and rediscover the source !
How about we put some of these sensors on some aikidoka??
Originally posted on Sports Technology Blog - Enabling technologies for sport and health:
Our most recent work with cricket comes in for an honourable mention too. See the full article here