It is with a heavy heart that I tell you that after nine and a bit years I am stepping away from this club. Due to family commitments and pursuing another martial art I have had to let something go. I have enjoyed aikido immensely over the years and will stay in touch but I am handing over the editing of this website to Kirstie and the other current members. All the best and keep training.
It has been a long time between posts but I'm glad to be able to talk about how things are going at the club.
I have known this for a long time, but recently I feel I have been vindicated. Sensei Clyde Sutton is an excellent practitioner of aikido and a great instructor. But don't take my word for it...read this.
Aikido summer camp
Clyde is making a point of getting back into serious training and reconnecting with others in the aikido world. I believe this is bringing back his 'edge'. We are very lucky to have such a reflective, dedicated teacher.
Training has began again with the dedicated few who have not disappeared for a long summer holiday.
This time of the year people often think about their goals for the year so I'm going to take the time to think about what I want out of my training this year. I will talk about one aspect of my training for each blog.
I wish to put some fire into my training. I would like to establish a senior training session where not only the physical attributes of the aikidoist is challenged but also the psychological aspects. It is widely known that when someone is involved in a violent, aggressive encounter, the fear associated with the moment can cause some people to freeze, cower, shut down and so on. All your techniques are next to useless as you lose fine motor control in that moment.
So what can be done about this. You get together with people you trust and you push your limits. I have recently been reading an article from Toby Threadgill, a practitioner of a koryu (traditional Japanese Fighting Art) and this is what he suggests:
Increase the power and speed of the attacks to a level which is higher than you are comfortable with. Function at a purely defensive mode, use taisabaki, parrying and blocking to protect yourself but forget about techniques just now. You should get hit often during this exercise if the attacks are at the right level. You should be experiencing the adrenaline dump and finding things hard-going. However, over time you should find that the attacks have to be faster and stronger to throw you off your game.
The next level of training is where you start attempting technique against the aggressive attacks. This can be dangerous for uke as there is a higher risk of injury to him or her while you are in that fight or flight response mode. Protective gear would be useful. Keep the techniques limited to simple, safer techniques to protect uke. You are attempting to develop a calm mind during this process despite the violence placed upon you.
Obviously I am looking at this at a senior level. I'm not expecting a beginner to be exposed to this as I could see it being counter-productive. However, if we truly want to protect ourselves with what we are learning, at some stage in our training we must find out what we can handle. I did play around with this idea a while back with one of the other yudansha, We would choose an attack and a technique to deal with it so we had some parameters of safety, then one of us would attack the other as fast as we could, adding yelling as well to try and overwhelm the other person. It was insightful. At first we would hesitate, or muck up the technique but very quickly I found we could ignore all the noise and focus on meeting the speed and power of the attack.
Well, that is resolution one for 2011.
Yours in training,
Last night saw us end the year with two people grading. One for 1st kyu, the other for 4th kyu. Congratulations to Kirstie and Phil for their achievement, you both show a standard equal to and above the grade you were grading for. As always there are things to work on and develop but that is the point of training, right?
We will start the new year on Tuesday 4th January.
There has also been some interest in restarting the Saturday morning black belt sessions. This will have to be discussed with the Judo club as I think they use this time now.
Practice. This is the single most important attribute for becoming good at budo. It doesn’t matter how talented you are. It doesn’t matter how nature gifted you with strength and speed. Without regular, ongoing practice, you won’t be good.
Is it that simple? Yes, provided every time you train you train with intent and meaning. The weekly routine of going to the dojo, doing the warm ups, the drills and then the techniques of the session are crucial. On and on and on.
I often define a martial artist by how often they practice. My brother trained many years ago in a martial art and although he learned a great deal I would not class him as a martial artist now. Why not? He no longer trains. The act of practicing a martial art makes you a martial artist.
So when do I declare someone no longer a martial artist? How large a gap does there need to be between training sessions? I am very aware of this myself right now. My second child has recently been born and I am not getting to the dojo. I have been once in four weeks. Usually, I would continue training at home with solo exercises but even this has ceased...too busy with children. A friend of mine has not trained for months (or is it now a year?) and he said he has not stopped training but he is having a large gap between sessions. Is he in denial or will he come back to the mat? When will that be?
Then there are people that go to the dojo every moment they have but simply go through the motions, they don't really progress. Are they martial artists?
I don't really have any answers to the above questions but I do know that to get any good it comes back to practice. Probably often and probably with a mindfulness and intent that allows you to progress steadily.
It's been a while but I thought this was good to share with you.
Principle, practical and Practice
From the aikiweb column.
Again, it is something to incorporate into your training, to go beyond simply the technique and look at how you are moving in relation to another person, the floor, the room.
Food for thought.
On Tuesday 8th June, another up-and-coming aikidoka came over from Melville High to grade for his first belt at the club. This makes a total of 6 young people to do this so far. Of those 6, 5 still train with us.
Once again I was surprised by the focus and standard of the grading. When I train with these teenagers every Thursday at the school, they are full of self-doubt and lack confidence. However, the moment they step onto that mat for the grading they work confidently and show me just how much I taught them.
Thanks to all who were there either as uke or simply as spectators. The other two students enjoyed themselves and we no doubt will be back near the end of the year for yellow (or orange) belt gradings.
So I'm surfing the net and checking out various budo blog sites when I stumble upon this.
Here is most of it:
Following are five points to follow religiously to get the most effect out of your atemiwaza...
Some of you will know Will Morgan. An American who trained with us for one year a while ago. Will and I have kept constant contact ever since through email and he has sent a Dennis hooker DVD and just recently a book, called "On Mastering Aikido". I read the book and will soon hand it over to the club library for others to read. Below is the email I sent to Will as a review of the book.
I have finished reading the book.
I am going to share my thoughts with you as they come to me. Excuse the haphazard manner in which they appear.
Overall, I thought the book was a mixed bag of good and bad points. Some things resonated with me and others infuriated me.
I found the dialogue approach a little self-serving in my opinion. Also the author seemed to hold a lot of weight in rank. He mentioned it often and had a strong view on what an aikidoka should know at what rank. Being part of an independent club and having trained in other aikido styles, I have found rank so subjective that it is not a good indicator of skill. I will agree that by shodan a practitioner of aikido is now at a point where he or she has an understadning of the basic techniques and is ready to really begin to learn aikido (that is where I am now). Due to this I did enjoy the fact that the book focussed on principles rather than techniques. I also liked his view on what aikido is...not a bunch of techniques, heck, the body only moves in a certain number of ways and all martial artists know this. It is the philosophy of aikido that is different. The idea of defending yourself while doing the least amount of harm. A lofty ideal and a hard one to accomplish in practice. I'll now talk about each section as they appear in the book.
First up - Ki.
I'm still mulling over this concept myself. Ki is a very Eastern term. It can be called intuition, total coordination of mind, body and spirit, universal energy etc, etc. I don't think Ki is any of these things. I think some people can appear more youthful than you would expect for people their age, they are certainly more energised in some way. I don't really believe people can summon up Ki and channel it to strike someone from a distance but I do believe people can live and move in such away that they are not fighting their own bodies and are fully confident, relaxed individuals. When you meet them they can see through you because they have no filters of their own. These people are sincere, honest folk with high integrity. These people can hold you with a gaze if they wish because they hide nothing and see everything. That is intimidating and threatening, I think.
Now this I found interesting. I will be thinking about this next time I train. The point where uke and nage meet. A dynamic point that is constantly changing as each opponent seeks control. Now the nexus does not necessarily mean the point of physical contact (although it can mean that too). There can be a tangible nexus between two people without contact. Such as the expression "Cut the air with a knife". By taking the nexus to the opponent's imbalance point you can control them. Keep the nexus with you, take it away from uke. It is a good thought. Reminds me of zanshin as well. Plenty to think about here.
A well known idea, but the author's take on it was fresh and interesting. Not just a point of power to do techniques from but also a point of courage. This chapter goes into a bit of American self-flattery in my opinion. No offense but it did annoy me a bit. I guess the author was telling his perspective on things and I can understand that.
It starts by saying that satori occurs by an accumulation of smaller moments of clarity. I liked that, it resonated with me. He mentions that most people become competent in aikido and then reach a plateau in their training unless they start their own dojo. You have to really think about the techniques and the principles behind them to really teach. I found this myself. I grew enormously when I started teaching aikido at Melville High. I'm still learning everytime I step onto the mats there. I questioned my own reason for training at one stage. It was a big step in my training. I watch sensei Clyde differently now. I watch his technique but I also look at what is similar in each of his techniques, how he moves his body to that exact spot for balance breaking, what he says in one sentence that may have come from years of training. Looking for what is hidden in plain sight! Linden defines aikido as training in an art that teaches us to move from a centred place, find the attacker's centre and then lead that person to a place of imbalance. It all about controling the attacker. Along with this physical aspect there is the ethical one...I mentioned it earlier. To do the least harm. Sensei Clyde says that aikido is a compassionate art. You choose how compassionate you need to be based on the situation. It may mean you simply unbalance your opponent and it ends there, or it could be that you must seriously injure your opponent to reslove the conflict. Aikido has the potential to do both.
Wow, what a topic to tackle! Spirituality is a personal experience. Hence the arguements that arise around it. The dialog between Hooker and Linden show this nicely. They agreed to disagree.
Here, timing is closely associated with speed. Speed is about moving before the other person. This is something I have been aware of for some time. I have been called fast but I know it is just my ability to move first. I'm not necessarily quicker. Of course your brain has to comprehend the information it is getting from its surroundings for you to move first. It is about noticing small movements in your partner's body that gives away that he or she is about to commit to an attack and then moving appropriately. It's fun to train this aspect of aikido. The faster the attack the crazier it gets. I used to do it after class with a senior aikidoka who no longer trains with us (Scott). Those were good times. So timing is being in the right place at the right time and making sure you get there before the other person.
Linden states very early in this chapter that the techniques in aikido are not unique to aikido. I couldn't agree more. You would have noticed this as well I'm sure. What we are trying to do (according to Linden) is to find the limits of the human body then exceed them. This will usually result in unbalancing our opponent or at worst cause serious injury. Linden treats the basic techniques of aikido like a language. Once you know this language you can then look further into the underlying principles and ideas of the art. Linden goes on to say that you can't trust a technique to work all the time. That is way the principles behind aikido are more important than the techniques themselves. Once you are open to the possibilities in any given encounter, technique is just not that important. Again, I agree.
In fact one thought I have had over the last few months is this. Is the aikido methodology flawed? Discussions at aikiweb may suggest so. Shouldn't the principles of body movement, timing, centre etc be taught first, as a general foundation to any martial art? Then a practitioner can go off and learn such and such martial art to gain some techniques. Are we training in the wrong order in budo? A topic for another time, I guess.
The triangle is created by the two feet and the centre. By always having your technique happening in your centre, you create powerful results. Not really a new idea for me. It can be difficult to pull off, however. Not much to say here. Good explanations, makes good sense.
Linden explains strategy as the overall goal while tactics are the steps towards this goal. The strategy of aikido is to respond appropriately to an attack, the tactics are how we go about doing it. Linden goes onto to say this strategy and associated tactics aren't restricted to physical conflict and the dojo. Each person has their own strategy in their lives and the tactics to action it. Strategy is important in giving you purpose. This chapter didn't really resonate with me. Interesting though. Maybe something I will come back to further down the path.
This section is worth reading. I felt it very importnat but it seems like an afterthought in the book. Maybe Linden is seeing just how dedicated his readers are, by putting an important principle within the afterword. He speaks of humility. He states to be truely humble is one of the hardest things a martial artist can strive for and is really the ninth principle.
How we train at the dojo is always on my mind and recently I came across this blog that I thought we all should read.
The author makes some very good points and we should always be mindful of the way we attack in our training to keep it honest and 'alive'. Sloppy attacks result in incorrect technique.
If, after you read this, my own attacks appear sloppy on the mat, please tell me.