The other week Robert Nadeau sensei showed me an interesting article in the San Francisco Chronicle about what scientists have found out about our brain and learning.. Here is a link to that article:
Basically researchers at UCSF studying the brain's motion-control system found that the brain is geared to constant adjustment. Therefore any movement pattern over time will have a tendency to drift off course due to this. This was initially studied in macaque monkeys. And locally the researchers took advantage of this to check this in humans. They decided to study an elite athlete to see if this held for the human brain. The basis of competitive athletics is to be able to hone a skill to where it seems repeatable. Locally Golden State Warrior fans are treated to the astonishing accuracy of NBA all star Steph Curry and his ability to put the ball through the hoop from seeminly anywhere. A pitcher must in baseball be able to throw strikes and must able able to adjust them to game situations and to different hitters. So since most everything is recorded on film these days they studied Dodgers lefthander Clayton Kershaw , who during the 2014 REGULAR season had a season for the ages(21-3 won/lost and 1.77 earned run average). They traced him for the season charting only the four seam fastball. They found the same drift in his mechanics as he threw this pitch over time. AS much as we value the ability to repeat an action in sports over and over, this is not how the brain works or even wants to work.
So how might this relate to Aikido and more specifically to Ueshiba Osensei's Takemusu Aiki? One of the first things a student is taught is pattern. This is how you rolll. Front. Back. This is a side fall. As you get more advanced, this is a breakfall. This is how shihonage is done. Feet. Hands. Now this is how ikkyo is done. Now some of this is essential. Without a framework for movement practice is not possible.But the findings of the researchers seems to indicate any sort of emphasis that is too mechanistic and stresses repetition of the same movement is doomed drift due to the brains ability to adjust. In fact the brain wants to adjust. So my sense is that the pattern or form be taught in a clear way that emphasizes feeling and being in the moment. Therefore allowing the student to experience whatever pattern that is being presented as an alive experience as opposed to a set routine to some degree from the beginning is crucial. In more ancient times all learning was direct from teacher to student, ie jikiden
or direct transmission. I remember a movement in 1974 at the Shingu dojo when Hikitsuchi sensei used me in front of the class for a sword demontration of take no ken
(the sword of bamboo or circle). I attacked him with a shomen strike which is a quick direct movement. He seemed to shift into another space and followed a curved circular route to get behind me with his cut. It was eerie and wonderful at the same time. My quick time movement was met with a much slower time movement which exactly met and matched mine. When I demonstrate that movement I call up the same space. It is hard to teach someone like that as students try to be mechanical and repeat the movement. I only felt that once. It was never repeated.
Getting more into what Osensei might have meant by Takemusu Aiki, he is quoted in The Secret Teachings of Aikido
"Aikido has no forms because it is a study of the spirit."
Now here it is easy to say that he is getting esoteric and spiritual. But what does he mean by spirit? Oftentimes ki is translated as spirit.. Osensei referenced the 3 realms of manifest hidden divine. He also referenced spirit fluid hard soft(also translated as spirit, flow, willow diamond). What if leaving out divine and spirit, these represent the dimensions of the universe finer to less finer to dense. Let's postulate the existence and being of something that when it begins to move is spirit. And spirit as it goes from finer to denser begins to identfy as an ego or an 'I'. This 'I' gets so entwined with the dimensions finer to denser it forgets its essence of what it was at its beginning or inception. Hence the need for what Osensei meant perhaps by misogi, the unentwining of the 'I' and the stuff(dimensions of the universe finer to denser) so that the 'I' can return to its more original or divine level. The tendency in the manifest or dense level is to have a definite mechanistic approach to the movement. But the 'I' can too early have a memory of its more divine level and go spiritual way too quick. Either approach would to me obstruct both a true journey back to the more original or divine, and would also cause a lack of appreciation for the stuff of creation, which also came out of the divine.
Here are a few quotes from his The Heart of Aikido
: The Teachings of Takemusu Aiki:
"Aikido is the eternal principle of the universe."
"Aikido is the heavenly truth that marvelously functions as takemusu aiki."
"Aikido is the way that harmonizes heaven, earth, and humankind"
"Aikido is the marvelous functioning of kototama and misogi."
So Aikido is or comes out of an eternal principle that perhaps defines and explains yet at the same time sustains the universe. It is not too much of a stretch to connect principle with heavenly truth, and to see his viewpoint that takemusu aiki is the functioning of that truth, ie how it works both with itself and within the dimensions of the universe. At present I read heaven as that original thing. I read earth more extensively to mean the dimensions of the universe from finer to dense. And humankind to mean our condition, ie this principle originally meant to be dynamically on the move now fixed as an ego/'I' mainly either in the dense material or on a spiritual journey looking for the finer. Currently I see kototama as a connector between the stuff and the 'I' allowing the 'I' to its more original state of being. We know that matter is really vibration, and the 75 kototama sounds might represent a type of code allowing the more divine aspects of both creation and oneself to manifest in the here and now. And of course misogi is referenced. How can one return to one's true being when one either locks mechanistically into physical movements or goes on a journey into the finer to find itself, ie transcendence? One thing Ueshiba Osensei was adamant about was that heaven, this more original sense of ourselves was right here and now, and that transcendence was of the profane realm, ie could lead you astray. But for those prefering a mechanistic physical approach, we goe back to his original quote:
"Aikido has no forms because it is a study of the spirit."
One thing I will admit is that studying Osensei's words is difficult because the same word, for example kokoro
, can be read interchangeably as heart, soul, or spirit. For my own purposes when whatever it was started to move, ie the start of the universe or creation, I tend to call it spirit. The rest is for now at least the great mystery.
I think it is somewhat common to consider Takemusu Aiki as simple technical variation. Remember it is the functioning of that original heavenly truth. We can begin its study with the movements and shapes of the techniques of the art. But to begin to really touch that I feel we must begin to understand ourselves at truer and truer levels and to understand the universe/creation in the same way. Quite a load, I must admit.
As much as Aikido as a martial art shares some similarity to sport, I have found in recent years a closer connection to music.My sense is that Osensei, using metaphor, was a great classical player who as he got closer ot this own true self went into jazz. I think it is easier to see Takemusu Aiki in jazz terms than martial movement. Is a great classical background necessary to get to Takemusu Aiki? Miles Davis graduated from the Juillard School of Music. Chet Baker learned it on the street. His close friend Artt Frank recently emailed me that Baker even in the melody of the song never phrased the same way twice. I am not sure Ueshiba Osensei ever looked at even shihonage as something you repeated twice the same way. He said in the Secret Teachings that technique was totally dependent on the here and now situation.
The thesis of the newspaper article was that Clayton Kershaw's brain operated the same way a monkey's does. But so do all our brains. We are creatures of evolution and change....And hopefully development and evolution.
A word or two on Kershaw. He is brilliant at what he does. And in the regular season he owns the Giants. I compare him to in my day Sandy Koufax, who seemed to dominate the Giants whenever he pitched. But maybe someday we will meet him in the playoffs and see what happens. Go Giants!