Sunday, April 07, 2013

Form and Technique in Aikido

I really enjoyed an interesting blog( by Ian Carey. He is a very talented you jazz musician who can be heard in San Francisco and the East Bay. He wrote about technique in Jazz. Now jazz is often perceived as free form, so what would be the need for technique in such a free form of expression? I began to ponder a lot of what Ian said and began to see that there might be similar issues in Aikido around the same topic. So I decided to do a blog about this.

Ueshiba Osensei is quoted in the book "The Secret Teachings of Aikido" as saying:"Aikido has no forms. It has no forms because it is a study of the spirit". Quite a statement. And without forms how can you have technique? So let's ponder this.

In jazz you have songs, even standards. In Aikido you have ikkyo, nikyo, irimi nage, kokyu ho.........Yet  jazz players like Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie, Chet Baker go way past the song and to quote Artt Frank, "They tell their story".....They are expressing themselves at a very deep, even at what we may call a soul level. Now all those I mentioned above have 'chops' or technique. Yet it is almost as if their story is so strong the 'chops' came to help them tell it. Bruce Lee would respond to those who told him he was an exception and gifted past them that he felt it was the desire for truth and self expression that created the gifts. So for a musician expressing oneself at a soul level or having a story to tell might be an expression of something called spirit. In fact Chet Baker once told Artt that he(Chet) had/felt the spirit to play.

So the question is, what is spirit? To me spirit is by definition unseen. Yet it is something that expresses itself through incredible talent or   power. We see the results of spirit on the move, not spirit itself. For example the Giants of 2012 exhibited great spirit in overcoming adversity and winning the World Series. In Ueshiba Osensei's movements we see what me might call outer forms through the movement of his body in relationship to an attacker's body. But to me what they are both expressing is the movement of a creative unseen power that is coming into the situation to resolve it harmoniously. And beautifully. Of  course there are forms to be learned but the mastery of the forms is related to some sort of self mastery. Robert Nadeau sensei is always talking about the importance of being very easy with the 'I'. That the body and the movement are arguably part of some original perfection and without the 'I' 's interference would return to that perfection.

Especially when young there is the tendency to see oneself through one's technique. Ian talks about how seeing oneself in relation to one's chops is a very up and down proposition. Linda Holiday sensei and I in our first visit to the Shingu dojo found we could go through incredible ups and downs just based on how our techniques were going during the Aikido training. Yet training in any form whether music or martial arts can really strengthen the 'I' when at some point the 'I' must surrender to something let us just call spirit. Graham Bruce, who knew Chet Baker, told me sometimes musicians would just get into it and have a duel or competition around chops. Sort of like playground basketball where the players would try to outdo one another. And Graham said Chet could play a couple of soft notes with such feeling he would shut everybody up. I'm sure when Osensei was alive there wasn't any discussion about who had the best technique. So to me this is the outer manifestation of spirit.

So maybe we can equate spirit as the journey, and the techniques/forms as signposts that help us along the way. As a part of being connected to Osensei's lineage, we train in the techniques and forms of the art. At the same time let us dedicate ourselves to understanding and actualizing what spirit might mean. Those interested should check out the Osensei  Revisite weekend in Occidental California May 17-19.

One other thing I'd like to mention about Ian. We both share the same favorite samurai hero. He and I are both huge fans of the Ichikawa Raizo Nemuri Kyoshiro(Sleepy Eyes of Death) film series. A group from Aikido of San Jose attended the opening for Ian's group's new cd 'Roads and Codes' at the Sound Room in Oakland. And here is a piece from that cd titled none other than 'Nemuri Kyoshiro' :


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