Tonight I have three lessons. The first concerns ukemi. The second concerns the legitimization for the seemingly unorthodox or unrealistic way of practicing aikido. The third is just about personal things I learned about my Sensei. These are the most significant and specific lessons I have come across yet in Japan.
This first thought about ukemi actually came to me before tonight’s practice, but is definitely worth mentioning. This relates to a post I made months ago about the proper foot position while performing a forward roll. The argument was between one method where the top of your foot is on the ground and it looks as if you’re sitting on it, and another method where you roll onto the ball of your foot in a ready-like position. In post about this quandary, the conclusion was that the first option allows your body to relax more through the roll which means it is more smooth and puts less tension on the ankle joint. Also, it follows in the reasoning that when one performs a roll, the whole movement must be considered and one, and so stopping in the middle to assure the legitimacty of a position is not so important as to the whole effect. This is in retort to one who performs the latter position with the weight on the ball of the foot and reasons that it adds more mobility and readiness in the middle of the technique. If you perform a roll with the intent of looking back the way you came, which is often the case in aikido, then I believe the latter position is most desirable. But for purpose of performing a full roll forward, the first option is best for the sake of fluid movement.
The new revelation I had tonight concerns the question of which position is easiest to move from if stopped in the middle of the movement. Some arguments for the ball of the foot method are that when in the crouching position, it is much easier to get straight up and move forward. This is true. In the other option, it is much more difficult to get straight up into an erect position, but would you really want to do that? And just because it’s easier doesn’t make it better. What I mean is that in the crouched position, getting up from such a position requires solely thigh strength and puts a lot of tension on the knee. This feeling was emphasized in my body tonight because my thighs are more sore than they have ever been in my life from hiking in the mountains this weekend which says a lot concerning playing football, an emphasis on squats in weight training in the past, and doing Strengh Shoes; it is impossible for me to rise out of that kind of squating stance right now because I have to use such thigh muscles. Think about it. This is not “natural” or “easy” just because you can get up out of it faster than the other method. From the other method, perhaps you would eliminate the option of getting straight up out of the picture completely. From that position, (sitting on your foot with it’s top against the ground) perhaps you would execute a technique from the sitting position (suwari-waza), or more easily, just roll again to one side or backwards, building momentum and thus making getting to your feet a feat (haha) that requires little self generated muscle use. I’m sticking with the sitting on your foot reasoning.
Next, is the reason for aikido’s seemingly strange style of techniques. Specifically, a lot of techniques in aikido require the uke (partner, attacker, opponent) to maintain a grip on the wrist, long after it seems one would do so in an actual conflict. Well, for a combat-minded aikidoka, if the uke breaks the grip, then you use C.T.C.W. (closest target, closest weapon) and go straight to dismissing your opponent with a strike. Aikido techniques are not combat-inadequate because of the emphasis on maintaining a connection, because if the connection is broken, then you simply end it with a strike. That is what a lot of other martial arts practice. Opponent attacks, you neutralize and strike (or do both at the same time) and the situation is over. Aikido practice seeks to continue the movement past the striking immediate knockout. From here you can go many directions. Perhaps to follow the higher philosophy of never hurting an opponent, that you never resort to inflicting physical pain. In this case, if an opponent breaks the grip, then you simply step back, and wait for them to initiate again, and you move out of the way again. Perhaps you believe you are better training your body to adapt to change within movement. Perhaps you’re learning to move with another body without using muscle-flexing strength. Whatever. There are many reasons for aikido’s “strange” ways, but if you think it’s not combat-effective, then just input a strike when the aikido rules are not adhered to. That’s not breaking any rules of aikido, because there aren’t any, and you are just making it more martial.
The true gem of this lesson was when Sensei showed me a connection between tenchin-nage and an uppercut-hook-cross combination he learned from Kenpo. If you start the technique from a wrist grab, you do the punching combination. If the opponent holds onto your wrists, then you can’t punch them, but the move looks like an aikido tenchin-nage and the opponent is thrown. If the opponent lets go of your wrist, then the movement manifests as a strike, and the fight ends with the opponent knocked out. This is not just aikido or kenpo, but body movement with another person for a specific means.
The last things I learned were personal things about my Sensei. When I go to Uozu for practice, Sensei picks me up in his car at the Kurobe dojo, and we have a ten minute car ride to chat. Tonight I found out that Sensei did not get into being a priest because of his family. It seems usually such temple life is usually passed down through the family. However, Sensei choose this life, fairly late I think compared to the norm. Earlier, he lived in Kyoto where he was a tax accountant. I asked him if tax accounting was boring, and he said that if it was his money, it wouldn’t be boring, but because it was for a bunch of rich strangers, it was boring. Duh. I learned that later on when he came to Toyama, he was working as a fisherman, and would go on 40 day trips to the Pacific Ocean on a huge boats for work. I have yet to make connections between all these points, but I have a lot more car-rides with him to figure it out. In the Japanese context, I would call him strangely normal.
This is only my second time going to the special Uozu dojo, and my aikido experience has skyrocketed to another galaxy. In the normal class, there is so little time with Sensei, so little time to talk, so little time to show application, so many varieties of reasons for practicing, and for the most part, practicing of the basic techniques; techniques you would find in the arsenal of any aikido dojo I think. Today on youtube I was actually watching a demonstration by the Doshu Moriteru Ueshiba. Doshu means that he is the grandson of the founder, and thus holds a special position in the aikido world. Anyway, in the 7 minute demonstration, all he did was the regular techniques, the same stuff you’d see in any dojo. He did them very well. Maybe perfect(?). But if I went to a demonstration from the Doshu and just saw that, I would be pretty disappointed. In the Wednesday Uozu class, Sensei shows us other variations of techniques that you don’t usually see. They all have the core basics of aikido, but presented and manifested in a … more nanto naku kinda way.
So there’s also a Saturday Uozu class, but Sensei can’t pick me up, and still says it’s too far by bike. By now, I think he knows he should tell me straight up if he doesn’t want me to come, and I think he would honestly feel bad about making me show up by bike … so I think I’m going to make the judgement to show up anyway. I will consult Hosogoshi tomorrow, and make a decision.
My job is becoming increasingly more mundane, my paper image of Japan is becoming more 2D, my patience for daily Japanese conduct is getting on my nerves, and my mind is wandering to other places already, but goddamn, the aikido is unbelievable.