Saturday, 14 July 2007

This goal was nearly the end of me.

Putting it bluntly, it nearly killed me. I have no other recourse but to be philosophical about it. I enjoyed my time training at Aikido but it will have to end now.

Two weeks ago I was diagnosed with a subdural haematoma and admitted to hospital for surgery almost immediately. The internal bleeding that was crushing my brain, causing violent headaches and swollen eyes, was the result of an injury sustained in the dojo more than two months earlier.

I am fortunate that the pain became so great that I elected to go to hospital. Without the body’s finest warning system telling me that something was wrong, I may have collapsed never to wake again.

I am out of hospital now, and recovering well. I am more fragile than before, with a hole left in my skull where the pressure was released, and the blood drained. There is always a risk of repeat injury, for which I will need to be on my guard against.

I intend to continue blogging about Aikido, out of my love and respect for the art and it’s philosophy. I might need a little time to think how best to communicate it through my blog ‘uchuuaiki’. Thanks for your readership up until this point, I look forward to your continued support in the future.

Saturday, 2 June 2007

Straight back into training for black.

“Work is love made visible.”
- Kahlil Gibran

Aikido is tough love, the injuries are sometimes quite brutal, and there is constant wear and tear on joints and ligaments. But we persist, even though the risk of injury is there. My neck is healing from whiplash sustained at practice, and although it is far from one hundred percent, I am glad that I have trained throughout my recovery.

Being more aware of my injury has helped me to become more aware of my equilibrium, my centre of gravity, and as a result last night I felt light and energetic for the first time in a long while. The chiropractic and massage therapy probably has a lot to do with it also.

It is hard not to flinch or baulk, and even more difficult to commit yourself to a technique if you fear being injured again, but it is precisely this fear that can lead to injury. It has been said that the only thing to fear is fear itself, and that anyone who says they aren’t afraid is lying. Fear is like any other human emotion, if we deny it we risk it manifesting in a negative and destructive way. Conversely if we embrace it, increase our awareness of it we can learn from it and grow as individuals.

Needless to say I would prefer to take the later path, acknowledge my fear, and move through it.

Monday, 28 May 2007

The 45th All Japan Aikido Demonstration- Nihon Budokan Tokyo

Blend with the
Universe of Heaven and Earth.
Stand in the center of all.
In your heart take up the stance
Of "The Way of the Mountain Echo".

- Morihei Ueshiba

From 第45回全日本合気道演舞大会

My journey to heart of Japan's martial arts has come around full circle once again. I am humbled, as I always am, to be a part of something so wholesome and rewarding, and to take part once again as a beginner.

This year was my fourth trip to Tokyo for the All Japan Aikido Demonstration. I am grateful for the patient yet firm instruction of Ueno Sensei, Kuroda Sensei and Ishitani Sensei. I am more resilient than ever before and my technique continues to improve due the quality of my training partners, Matsui san, Hata san, Ian Hitcham, Hans Deichstre, Takeuchi san, Sugi san, Steven Charles, Hitomi san, Matsui kun.

I can only hope to be less conspicuous in white next time, although being in white does have it's advantages. People don't expect much from you, so it's good to surprise them once in a while. I noticed that even in the final demonstration, Aikido Doshu M. Ueshiba still wore a white belt. I wonder what the significance, if any he placed on that choice.

One thing is for sure, wearing black without the right spirit has nothing over wearing white with the right spirit. There will quite a bit to follow on last weekend's events, I still have quite a few photos to upload and some video to edit. I'd like to express some of my views on the training we had at the Aikido Honbu on Sunday as well, but that might have to wait until another post.

Until then, yoroshiku ne!

Thursday, 24 May 2007

I'll need a little more patience.

Perhaps it wasn’t such a good idea to put a time limit on this challenge to reach black by the Aikido Conference in Tokyo this weekend. After all I don’t decide when I am ready to take the test, my sensei does. With recent injuries and the general perception that I am not always at the dojo, then I guess it’s fair that I won’t be going to Tokyo in black.

I am excited about taking part in my fourth All Japan Aikido Demonstration, spending time with my dojo friends and training at the Aikido Honbu. Perhaps it will be my last time for quite a while, because early in the next year I will be returning to Australia with my wife and young family, to start a new life.

Aikido has now become a part of my life, and as much as my significant other persists in calling it a hobby, I know there is no way of putting a stop to it. It is as if a the dam walls have been opened and the floodwaters are rushing into the valley below. I am still a beginner, but I am taking steps in the right direction.

So let it flow, I feel relaxed and with five days holiday ahead, there will be plenty of opportunity for recreation.
To tell the truth, I am a little relieved that I won’t have to wear a hakama to the hombu. I’ve heard they can be a little hot and sometimes difficult to move around in. If you are there, you might see me, I’ll be conspicuous in white.

Saturday, 12 May 2007

Friday morning sessions.

It was good to see everyone having fun on Friday morning, I usually find these sessions a bit more relaxed than Saturday or Sunday nights or even Wednesday nights for that matter. I'm not sure how long the dojo has been open on a Friday morning but for a long time Steve and I were the only two students there with Ishitani sensei (centre).

Steve is the big guy on the right, we used to live together before I got married and we would catch the train in from our apartment closer to the centre of town. Steve recently was graded for his black belt and pretty much lives for Aikido, we became friends when we were both searching for a martial art nearly four years ago.

We haven't seen Amber, on Steves right, at the dojo for a while, so it was good to see her putting everything into the session. Amber and I work together, I'd like to think we have a pretty good relationship inside and outside work. It certainly makes you more comfortable with people when they bend your arm at unatural angles behind your back as they are pressing you into the floor.

Sugi san (behind Ishitani sensei) is another regular, and probably is in the dojo 4 times a week. She is a little fragile and injury prone like me, but she throws everything into her training. She also speaks great English, I think the only time I hear her speak Japanese is when she swears, which is not very often.

Matt, on the left of the picture has been doing Aikido for about a year now, and is really doing well. He has a natural athleticism which makes it easy for him to incorporate new techniques. There is often so much to remember about each technique, which can be a bit overwhelming at first, but he has the right spirit and enthusiasm to do well.

So these are the guys I train with, we are an odd bunch, all different shapes and sizes, but we have a lot of fun together. See you all again next Friday, right?

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Friday, 4 May 2007

Over thinking.

“Never look down to test the ground before taking your next step. Only he who keeps his eyes fixed on the far horizon will find the right road.”- Dag Hammarskjold, the 2nd UN Secretary-General

I’m over thinking, and how it gets in the way of practice, no amount of thinking about a particular technique will help me become better at it. It is the old paralysis through analysis that that turns a freely executed technique, warts and all, in to a hesitant and harmless exercise.

Yesterday morning we practiced more katatedori kokyunage (wrist hold breath throw : 片手通り呼吸投げ) and tsuki kokyunage (knife strike breath throw : 突き呼吸投げ), and the sensei drew attention to the fact that a technique executed by a white belt is different not only in appearance to the same technique done by a black belt. A white belt is concerned with form and peforming so as not to draw to much attention to their weaknesses. A black belt is concerned with meeting with and directing the opponents energy in accordance with their strengths.

Putting yourself in an advantageous position against an opponent requires an intimate knowledge of where that opponent is in time and space, not just an awareness of your own technique. All too often once the opponent has taken a hold of your wrist it is easy to forget they are there, hoping that a well executed technique will have the desired effect. Entering and disrupting the opponents balance requires that through that contact point, be it the wrist, the shoulder or the waist, you feel the opponents power.

There are usually two erroneous responses to recieving an opponents force. One is to retreat from it too quickly leaving a gap into which the opponent follows (Newtons 1st Law of Motion). The other is to bump up against it, or push it away, which normally results in a equally strong response in opposition (Newtons 3rd Law of Motion). These two principles, pondered upon by Aristotle and Galileo, and enumerated by Newton, are just as important when considering the execution of
Aikido techniques.

The middle ground is to direct the opponents mass moving with a certain acceleration through application of a force (Newtons 2nd Law of Motion). When we combine our technique effectively with the assault of the opponent we acheive a much greater effect than if we were acting alone.

I get the greatest impression of this when we do zagi kokyuhou
(seated breath technique : 座ぎ呼吸法), the harder you push against the opponent the less likely they are to budge, letting the opponent in results in almost immediate defeat. Finding the rythm of your own breath and positively feeling the opponents strength allows you to find a small moment, or opening, that allows you to take control of both of your centres.

Tonights practice is sure to be more preparation for Tokyo, and perhaps another black belt grading. I will take care to be fully aware of not only my own technique but also the strength of my opponent.

Thursday, 3 May 2007

Enter and pivot.

Wednesday night there were only four of us in the dojo, so we had a lot more time to devote to some basic principles. Two fundamental parts of Aikido are the enter (iremi: 入れ身) and pivot (tenkan : 転換), when combined with a sliding step (sabaki : 捌き) they can put you in any corner of the dojo, or more importantly into the best position against any opponent.

Iremi 入れ身
Keeping the centre of gravity low in a half forward stance (hanmihandachi: 半身半立ち), and being aware of the distance between you and your opponent (maai : 間合い) drive forward with the front foot. As your opponent attacks you can easily rush in to meet them in a controlled way. Entering directly via the line of attack, you should be able to defuse that attack before it builds up any momentum. If you commit yourself to entering the opponents space there is no need to fear any attack, empty handed or otherwise.

We practiced this against a stabbing attack (tsuki : 突き). If done correctly, the forward motion and a slight pivot of the hips, turn the waist and shoulders turn parallel to the line attack, putting you in a position of advantage behind the opponent.

Working against multiple opponents, adding the tenkan allows you to turn to face your next aggressor while maintaining your balance and advantage over the first opponent.

Tenkan 転換
Stepping forward with the hind foot, placing it in front of you perpendicular with the line of attack, put yourself on the blind side of your attacker. At the same time draw your rear foot around behind you in an arc, so that you have completed a turn anywhere between 90 and 360 degrees.

You should be now facing your opponent again in the half forward stance, ready to defend against the next attack. Against multiple opponents, the enter and pivot, combined with a sliding step is essential in avoiding harm.

Sabaki 捌き
Of course all of this is easier said than done. Rigidty and inflexibility is just as detrimental to proper execution as a light and floating centre of gravity. The sensei likened the movement of sabaki sometimes to a breath of wind, other times to a rushing wave.

Keeping the centre of gravity low, and driving forward while not allowing the body weight to lift in the slightest, gives Aikido it’s smooth and graceful appearance. It also acts as powerful leverage to get under or behind your opponent and lift them of the ground with a combination of rotating or angular defenses.

I`m looking forward to my next session tommorrow morning, I am going to focus on keeping my centre of gravity low and maintaing form. I still have a little way to go before a full recovery from my whiplash the week before last so I’ll also be hitting the ground as smoothly as possible.