Sunday, November 05, 2017

Thoughts and Reflectiions

It's been awhile between posts. I started teaching again at San Jose State. I taught there from 1978 through 1994. One of the senior dojo students took it over. He was succeeded by another senior student. Two retirements later I am back. By and large it has been a positive experience. Reaching a group of largely new students and introducing them to Aikido has been entertaining and challenging. I certainly have a new perspective than my last stay. I substitute taught for one academic year 2012-2013. But largely my memories are of my earlier stay.

My challenge here has always been to satisfy the grading requirements of the university, ie quizzes, papers, exams, while at the same time trying to pass on something experiential about what aikido really is. It's still a challenge.One of the things I am reminded of is that a major part of Aikido is blending. It is easy to see Aikido as acquiring knowledge about and motor skills in the techniques. But each of the movements is about blending with what ever the attack is. Blending skills require more than mental knowledge and motor skills. They require that one suspend the 'I' and perceive feel from another view point.

So  blending has different layers of usefulness. On a personal level we blend with ourselves by being more relaxed, centered, grounded, present, here and now. On an interpersonal level it is oftentimes useful to step out of one's own viewpoint/philosophy to see and experience another viewpoint. It allows us to grow in ways we otherwise would not. Martially it makes sense to not oppose force but to unify with it and offer it better direction.

Agreement is when 2 forces decide to go or go the same way. Blending means two forces that are not possibly aligned to come together actually do. And it is a challenge. It is also what makes Aikido very unique among martial arts. The aim of the art is to create harmony. We examine that from different viewpoints, one being from the viewpoint of uke(he/she who attacks) and the other from nage(he/she who receives the attack and blends).. And in training we experience both roles, alternating between uke and nage. This is done in place of a competitive format. One way of looking at this is that both uke and nage are team mates, not on opposing teams. And both are working towards creating a connection with each other that produces harmony. The victory is the unity or oneness that comes with harmony. And it has the potential to take one out of oneself in a way that gets us out of the ego or the 'I'. Ueshiba Osensei referred to this as Masaka(True winning) Agatsu(winning over oneself).

Crucial to this is that both uke and nage must be in a listening mode. Does uke 'go with the technique' and if so what is the use of that in a martial sensei? One thing I have tried to explain to the new students at San Jose State is that uke receives or listens to the movement as opposed to just passively going with the movement. But part of uke listening to nage is ukemi(the art of falling or receiving the movement). And nage performing the movement is also listening or communicating with uke as opposed to just performing the movements with hands, feet, and body position. And where does nage ideally learn the movement? By playing the role of uke.