Sunday, 21 April 2013

About the Birth of the Technique - Sunday 21 April 2013

The following article is actually a repost that I had published once before on our old website. Since I still think that it is such a good and worthwhile, I have decided to repost it here again. It is written by Mirjam Fisher, 4th Dan Aikido (Seishinkai Frankfurt) who has always been an inspiring Sempai for me along my own journey. She has been kind enough to translate and offer this most interesting article about her insights following a Kenjutsu and Aikido seminar at the Seishinkai Frankfurt with a guest instructor from the Shiseikan in Tokyo. So here you go:

“At the End of February of this year we were fortunate to have Aoki Hisashi Sensei, a direct student of Inaba Minoru Sensei from Shiseikan as guest-instructor for a very intensive sword- and aikido-seminar at our dojo. It was: overwhelming.

It is difficult to describe what made the seminar so intensive. In the encounter with Aoki Sensei it instantly appealed to me to meet a Japanese dedicated to traditional budo training who is exhilaratingly humble and down-to-earth. Aoki Sensei shared his way of teaching, his thoughts and his approach to the sword and Aikido with us with genuine dedication.

His approach is strongly intuitive. The movement originating from the hara, the execution of the movement in one draw, as well as the launching of one’s full potential in one crucial moment are paramount. There is no gap nor is there any resistance. The student learns to gather all his energy in his center and at the same time to rid his body of all tensions, so that he can instantly release all of his energy unimpeded within the crucial moment of the encounter. 

Surprisingly, in retrospect I found Aoki Sensei’s mention of the birth of the technique particularly striking. For the most part his lessons started with exercises which were exclusively designed to strengthen the hara. Continuing from there, with only a few remarks concerning technical details, we explored our physical potential, the nature of particular movements and their results. This led to the development of very basic and clear questions during practice. Have I activated the power source in the hara, have I rid my extremities from unnecessary tensions, are all joints free of blockades? If I move like this, what is the outcome?

This resulted in very simple 'solutions' for our Aikido practice. Setting aside the imitation of predetermined movements, little attention was payed to the beauty of the performance, or if it was safe or even comfortable for the partner. On the contrary Aoki Sensei rather emphasized that the efficacy of a movement is most important, not its beauty. In this instant the mutual movement actually becomes the result of the encounter of the two bodies, prepared as described above (filled tanden, empty, freely accessible extremities). This is the birth of the technique. Ideally it comes about spontaneously, from trained intuition.

Another important motive of Aoki Sensei‘s classes was the spiral. Most notably this subject was featured in the sword lessons. For instance, the sword is actually always in a slightly circling movement even if it is seemingly held still. Naturally this movement doesn‘t come from the hands but from the middle of the body. This is possible if the shoulders are supple, the arms relaxed, and the grip of the hands is soft and neutral. Also the spiral doesn‘t get stuck in the middle of the body, but extends into the feet. The feet which have to  be very light, are at the absolute disposal of the kenjutsuka. For this we underwent a very funny exercise, where we were asked to switch our stance several times without hopping or jumping. This exercise became extremely challenging when we were asked to execute it more than twice in one go. Aoki Sensei himself executed the exercise with such speed and suppleness that no one was able to keep up with him. With those speedy, agile feet in combination with the seemingly still, but actually spiralling sword, it becomes imaginable how the skilled sword-fighter can be available for any possible movement in any moment - how a new technique can be born in any moment!

We‘ve indeed been given an impression of this during kata-training, as Aoki Sensei was kind enough to show us all Kashima no-tachi sword series from Kihon Dachi through to Kassen from his point of view, with a very practical approach. With regard to the idea of the birth of the technique, I found Aoki‘s very illustrative demonstration of Kassen as the series which serves as a preparation for the battlefield as particularly striking. On the battlefield the fighter does well not to engage in an encounter face to face anymore, but in the encounter the decision has already been made, the movement has already been executed, the encounter has already been finished, the new encounter has already begun. That‘s very difficult. Although the physical execution of the sequences of motions belonging to the katas is not exceedingly demanding, it is all the more so to accomplish them, because they require an absolutely calm and relaxed state of mind.

Remembering Aoki Sensei‘s exercises it comes to my mind how much these exercises in their simplicity are also exercises for the mind, as they neccesitate high concentration as well as a high relaxation. With continuous training one may hope that the physical will also improve the spiritual.

Whereas taijutsu was instructed and trained with little regard to formal questions, sword lessons were all the more strict. As usual a few advanced students were asked to give Ukemi to all other participants beside Aoki Sensei during the whole seminar. The most significant time naturally was to receive Aoki Sensei‘s ukemi. In addition to the intensive instruction, this was also a distinct encounter of cultures as it could easily happen that one will be yelled at for a considerable time of the exercise. I had already witnessed this in the Dordogne last summer and in Heidelberg during Inaba Sensei‘s seminars, but I hadn‘t experienced it myself since then. Following my encounter of fire I have the impression that this yelling is culturally valued in an absolutely different way in Japan than in Europe – at least in budo. Naturally, being at the receiving end of this always triggers a bit of stress. But along the way I could see quite clearly how much Aoki Sensei was interested in my achieving the appropriate execution of the movement. I didn‘t recognize any anger in his eyes but only pure interest in the movement to work out. As soon as a movement/posture was reached that approximately suited his expectation, he became friendly and mild. The kata was then continued. Only to end in shouting in the next moment of insufficiency. It is difficult to describe this kind of encounter, as it always stays a kind of 'baptism of fire' whenever it occurs and it certainly is meant to be. Nevertheless, this is totally different to an encounter where one is yelled at by someone who is actually impatient and full of anger and who confuses the personal and the necessary. 

I am very thankful for this unique encounter and experience, and I hope that it won‘t stay singular.”

Domo arigato gozaimashita Mirjam Sempai for this great article, thank you so much for sharing it with us! If the article got you thinking or made you curious, you can find the German original of this article here and watch a video from the seminar here. For me personally, two topics particularly stand out: firstly, the obvious one indicated in the title about the work on the hara and the birth of technique, and secondly, the part on teaching methods (referring to the 'energetic' encouragement especially). The latter has been coming up a fair bit on my own practice and in my years of teaching particularly. I hope to write about it more extensively when I find the time and am curious to hear peoples opinions on the topic once I get there. In regards to the former I am looking forward to next weekend, where we will certainly be working on similar topics with Philippe Orban Sensei here at our Dojo.

Mirjam Fisher Sensei is also featured in the video below, both as uke for Barbara Beste Sensei, and as nage, throwing me in a nice Irimi nage as if I were a fly. Good times. Now I'm excited to attend a seminar on 'Experiential Anatomy and Contact in Aikido' taken by Mirjam at the Seishinkai Frankfurt in a month and a bit..