Training is like an Algebra of sorts, using the whole of ourselves; body, mind and spirit, in a way that reduces otherwise complex moves to their simplest and most efficient, immediate application.
These form the basic key or kihon, core techniques which can then be extrapolated outwards in a never ending exploration that keeps proving the basic forms.
The exploration touches some of the variables which are possible and infinite in subtle nuance and yet subject to fundamental laws of the universe.
The simplest way to achieve simplicity is through thoughtful reduction. When in doubt, remove. But be careful what you remove.
What should you remove?
The contrived, the effortful, the convoluted, the forced and uneconomical, because only the shortest path sequences form the algorithms of Aikido.
These are born in Hara. If there is no hara there is no Aikido. The power output reduces from 100% at the hara to 0% at the strongest part, the pinky or fifth finger, (also referred to as: the baby finger, digitus minimus, digitus quintus, or digitus V in anatomy, or the fourth finger colloquially.)
The ability to minimise force at the perimeter with a strong centre, enables the power of AIKI.
To understand this in fact and in practice, it is first essential to be clear about gravity and let it work for you. You do this by relaxing and moving whole body into juxtaposition.
Form without juxtaposition gets no result. Without juxtaposition you can pretend it works, but it won’t unless you and your training partner fake it. But then your ability will be useless when real requirements demand it.
The ability to capitalize gravity and to juxtapose whole body correctly develops with the sensitivity that comes from training.
There is a saying: “Those who can, do, and those who cannot, teach,” but the person who made this succinct point is not mentioning who paid the rent whilst concentrating on solo improvement for its own sake.
In reality those who teach honestly, with clear intent and conscientiously, continue to learn.
Whilst some prefer to teach and some prefer to apply skill at the cutting edge, often, active in-the-field professional warriors, simply do not have the patience or the ability to impart. They live, necessarily, too intensely in the moment to suffer gladly what appear to be dunderheads moving in slow motion in their sleep.
In this sense the teacher with both skill and patience becomes a healer. A healer who by creating a suitable environment and opportunity, guides the learner, and themselves, through stages of self-healing of the neuronal pathways. They provide an opportunity to reintegrate body, mind and spirit.
This opportunity is seldom sufficiently appreciated by would-be students who by their own complacency fail to realise that WORK is the ONLY way to progress, and who then thereby make the personal choice to fall by the way.
Truly skillful teachers do not merely pontificate or soliloquize at length. This does not impart, but merely generates ideas perhaps. Ideas not often understood. Ideas about skill are not tantamount to any real measure of skill, but rather vacillating academic exercises, all too often counterproductive to the real goal sought and in the end obstructing it for all but the very gifted and thick skinned persistent.
The Founder removed the clutter and with some of his immediate deshi, provided the keys unrecognized by many as a means to unlock one’s own personal integration and thereby become attuned to the essence of the universe itself.
If the passing on of knowledge was as simple as discoursing, talking a lot, or reading a book, the world would be full of enlightened beings and replete with harmony instead of the very opposite, a rampant mess fought over in a ping-pong between incompetent academics on the one side and rampant criminals on the other.
Active and capable, awakened skill is another thing entirely and goes beyond any ideas or opinions which may be had about it.
On the one side assailed by poisonous pedagogy and on the other fear, what hope is there for humanity?
There is a balance involved in imparting techniques and skills in such a way that it will then ripen to become true skill and depth of knowledge leading to sustainable and useful competence.
Truly competent instructors know how much to show or say, how much to leave out. And how to simply guide, but this very consciously and without unnecessary embellishment. Such is the Way of the Sensei, who is also an ongoing learner on the path.
Robert Henri, one of the outstanding art teachers of all time, notably said, “All education is self-education.”
I find that I cannot improve on the next, so I will quote it in its entirety. As Robert Genn, the artist said: ” We cannot discount the value of skillful teachers who save students from potholes and pitfalls. In fact, in its best sense, the teaching of art is guidance away from the bad habits that come so naturally to many who struggle alone. In my experience, the best teachers are often mature part-timers who live in the real world. Perhaps the best one might be a private mentor. While these are hard to find, she might be persuaded to take a motivated fledgling under her wing.”
In the end all learning is a personal discovery and the learner must acquire some measure of experience, make their own mistakes, correct them and gain thereby; before understanding may come. A dojo is tantamount to a very, very softened battlefield. One where you can explore and “die” many times at leisure, in order to refine and continue to refine until both skill and understanding become seriously honed and efficient.
The result sought is freedom and not bondage to an entanglement of someone else’s contrived concepts. But this with an increasing true understanding of real underlying universal principles that lead to a rather unique commonality of understanding.
A teacher with bad habits, convoluted and contrived methods, will, sadly, often pass these on to those not knowing better and deprive the learner the freedom to discover and to arrive at a conclusion through exploration, thereby producing a mere follower and a watered down photocopy of a photocopy, fading the more with each generation.
Aikido is universal and can be discovered by anyone with even a minimum of guidance and lots of sincere practice.
A good learner questions, explores and thinks for themselves. The true teacher makes it possible for (at least some of) his students to surpass him in skill. This cannot be achieved with artificial niceties, but total honesty, no matter how emotionally cruel this may appear to be at first. Today’s word, enamoured with the folly and insincerity of “political correctness,” has not made conditions conducive for any valid measure of true mastery to be gestated.
On the Path or Do, practice becomes a doing thing that “..never ceases to puzzle and challenge. It wakes the learner in the morning and puts him to sleep at night. It’s a constant and unending game he plays against himself, the joy of which lies in never being absolutely satisfied.”
“Robert Henri, one of the outstanding art teachers of all time, notably said, “All education is self-education.” In the best of all worlds, there is a balance–the passing of knowledge, skills and techniques by qualified instructors, and the determined work habits of dedicated and exploratory private workers to follow their own noses.”
The high art of Aikido as found by the Founder, Morihei Ueshiba after enduring the penetration of numerous psychic barriers and finding the clarity that comes from personal balance that follows the disentangling of useless clutter, has little to do with the playthings of the dojo, and more with an attitude of restoring life and protecting the good, the beautiful and the true, the core values that mark our humanity and can make us more than merely belligerent and cynical drunks, inebriated with temporal privileges which death removes entirely.
As a True Way, Aikido cannot be allowed to degenerate into a shallow and incompetent circus if it is to remain Aikido and not merely a branded, dead following of form.
The Founder removed the clutter from an eminently practical art, and provided the keys unrecognized by too many, as a means to unlock one’s own personal integration and thereby become attuned to the essence of the universe itself; and how, whilst alive, to navigate with elegance, refinement and respect. And this as harmlessly as it is possible to do so; not just as a vainglorious hope, but a living capable potential able to be expressed in all spheres of life as we know it. The practice of Aikido being a Do of personal transformation to this end.
Budo, especially Aikibudo will not become true until the thought or tendency to impose on the opponent is entirely dissolved and gone forever.
But notwithstanding everything, Aikido is a warrior path. Not because of any external battles as such, even though some among us will indeed experience those as well, but more so because of the great battle within, between the light at our core and the darkness of greed, prejudice and bewilderment, and the vast arrays that appear to distract and confuse us on this world, and that few will admit being victim to.
Breath, balance and hara are the keys to juxtaposition. Understanding then follows in due maturation and season, if the work is done with a mind open to noticing and embracing the practice of honest Aikido without any ulterior motives, other than that of personal clarity.
As O’Sensei said often when asked silly questions: “Find out for yourself!” In other words, think, research and put in the work, and all will be revealed in the course of time and due season.
“First he wrought; afterward he taught.” (Geoffrey Chaucer)
Credit to the Artist, Robert Genn, who, in part, inspired this and from whom I borrowed heavily with the concurring concepts and also some lines herein contained; and who also stated: “One of the main problems in (art) instruction these days is that career teachers themselves are often burdened with bad habits. This is partly due to the freefall of technique that continues to be rampant in some jurisdictions. The situation is compounded when students absorb attitudes similar to those of their instructors. “Poisonous pedagogy” stalks many (art) schools and campuses. In the great cathedrals of art education, the idea is to grab what you can from the priests before they get to you, and then go it alone with courage, optimism, and full-on individualist character.”