“Keeping it with you; now that’s the hardest part of training. Not losing it. Having it there when you have to use it.”
This was the response from life-long martial artist Norman Carr (Shotokan and Doshinkan Aikido(1).) We were discussing the benefits of physically “hard” training, sort of reminiscently. The normative age of this Black Belt class was around sixty years old. Realistically speaking, throws and breakfalls are now a long-term disability should anything go wrong. (Plus, it seems to take quite a long time just to get back up!) As martial artists an injury directly jeopardizes our ability to protect ourselves and loved ones. We will have defeated ourselves in this primary aspect of martial art training. As advanced Black Belts we really don’t need to do the breakfalls, or the throws, whether practically speaking or symbolically.
Our martial art quest of “continually seeking” required that we maintain our effectiveness despite the natural aging process. We are still looking forward, and not back. Our path took us to what many proclaim as the correct way to go. We went to internal methods. Our dojo has gone to a more intense emphasis on internal and breath methods.
The training is no longer anywhere near as physical as in our younger days. Yet we are more effective, not less. We have proved for ourselves the adage of internal benefits: we are now faster, more balanced, and more powerful than before. (Norman still is doing no problem, full-speed Aikido against Tae Kwan Do practitioners.) The essence of what we have discovered is that “the forms are fairly easy to duplicate, the path of creativity is not.” (2)
In practice it is very rare to execute a technique at 100% speed, power, or technique. Practice training is done in a manner that permits a breakfall or a tapping out release to occur. In the dojo there isn’t the likelihood of an unexpected attack. Remaining in an alert “condition red” is easy to do for the few hours of a practice session. Plus the initial response to the fear factor of a sudden violent encounter/trauma can’t be duplicated in the safety of the training atmosphere and circle of training partners.
How can the learning, retentive, and reactive process take place?
How can we not “lose it?” (the training response)
Is there any assurance that the technique will even be there?
First, I believe it is mandatory to have prerequisite training in a very precise, fundamental oriented, biomechanical Basic Movement style that really works in a tactical martial art sense (such as the extremely forward focused Doshinkan Style.) If the techniques aren’t street effective, by definition it is not going to be there if you have to use it.
After completely learning the fundamentals, doing the technique at slow speed seems to be one of the tickets to patterning the technique into one’s instinctual response. The slowest speeds eliminate the use of the power of speed or aggression. The technique has to be the actual correct technique; and not poor technique executed with overwhelming power to create success.
Eliminating the throw and resultant breakfall seems to place more focus on patterning the technique into instinct. The throw often becomes too much of the object of the exercise. Focus on the nuances of the precision of the actual technique is easily lost. It is easy to become “incorrect result” (throw) oriented.
Getting technique up to fighting speed can be accomplished by doing the Basic Movements of the technique to rapid breath rhythm pulses. In Doshinkan Style, as well as Yoshinkan Style, there is a series of Basic Movements from which all technique originate. The speed created and breath patterned in Basic Movements translates into speed of technique. One method of placing speed and rhythm into breath rhythms can be accomplished by the basic Zensho (bokuseki) Calligraphy brushwork. Body movements (and sword movements) at the speed and freedom of a calligrapher brush’s start, stop, twists, and turns “from within rather than without” (3) are the ultimate goal. Start with brush movements, then transfer to body movement training, progress to the same movement with sword, and then translate into Aikido techniques.
Once the entire technique is patterned internally, responding from a relaxed hands down stance to a full speed attack seems to trigger a reflex to the “aggression/energy/focus” that precedes the actual attack. This develops an internal stimulus/response relationship. The internal stimulus/response imbeds the technique where memory does not have to be relied upon. This leads to a type of oneness of Ai/Harmony.
In Aikido, “Ai/Harmony” is fundamental. To maintain “Ai/Harmony” with others and with surroundings means always having a continuous “technique” engagement of “oneness” going on. There is nothing to remember as this status and connection is constant, ”24/7.” We “just do,” or perhaps we “just are.”
A critical vulnerability is that if the attack is done without aggression; the stimulus/response reaction won’t be triggered. Because we literally use the energy of the attack to create a lot of our movement; most of our speed is not going to be created for us. The worst part is that this is what will likely occur in the seriousness of a well-planned, close-up, concealed/subversive, gun/knife attack or mugging.
We have to “be there” when there is no outward aggression. In this case we have to be alert, and use our own breath energy/Ki techniques to create simultaneous evasive movement and energy dispersion techniques.
A perfect state of “oneness” will handle the situation.
Unfortunately, I am nowhere near that level of being.
(1) Doshinkan Style Aikido is the personal Aikido of Yoshinkan Master Yukio Utada, Doshinkan Aikido International, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA. Doshinkan Style movements, unbalancing, power, tactics, and technique are based upon Aikido as a martial art. Our dojo is an affiliate dojo of Doshinkan Aikido International.
(2) Nakashima, Mira. “Nature Form and Spirit”, Harry N. Abrams, NY. 2003.
(3) Stevens, John. “Sacred Calligraphy of the East.” Shambhala, Boston, 1995.