Little House In Ise

March 23, 2009, 18:33
Filed under: Aikido | Tags: , , ,

This is not intended to be about the “martial effectiveness” of Aikido, irrational fears of personal invasion, street-fighting or what not. I am addressing a flaw that I see in my performance of Aikido in the clinical environment of my dojo and relating that to apprehensions about handling personal violence.


相田みつを 作

          At that time
How will you move?

by Aida Mitsuo

How will you move? Hell, will you move? When you need to, will you be able to move? Even after years in the dojo, if bad shit happens in real life will your training kick in? So far as I am aware, the zen poet Aida Mitsuo was not a martial artist. He very likely had something entirely different in mind when he splashed the thoughtful zinger above onto paper. That said, it gets directly at one of my darkest fears: would I freeze? I want to know but I don’t want to be a situation where I would find out.

Self doubt aside for the moment, my instructors have pounded it into my head over the years that survival is not a matter of moving right or moving elegantly. When things have gone so irrecoverably wrong that art becomes weapon, just about any movement is better than none. In randori (乱捕: “free-style” often with multiple attackers) training we are frequently told to keep moving, don’t stop, don’t make yourself a target, turn, enter, lower your center, MOVE!

In weapons work a different philosophy applies. When closing with an armed attacker there are more and less safe areas to stand, approach or withdraw. If the weapon happens to be a sword (my current source of stress) the relatively safe areas are extremely narrow and the range of attack much greater than one might imagine. So, random movements or turns are NOT appropriate for anyone not wanting to emulate a kebab. Move, yes, but it must be the surgically precise move appropriate at that moment.

When training to take weapons away from armed attackers, the assumption that is most commonly seen in Aikido dojo is that an attacker has gotten the drop on you and their weapon is drawn. The technical goal is then to evade the attacker’s blade and disarm them without getting cut (running away, never seems to be an acceptable goal — I just don’t get that).

Weapons are force multipliers — a person weighing 50Kg might not be intimidating in their shirtsleeves but wielding a 30 centimeter knife they project much more martial force. That same person with a sword has the potential to be very intimidating. Intimidating enough to make me to freeze momentarily. On a gross mechanical level I can make the techniques work but I feel my own hesitation and know that it is a critical flaw. Even before trying to achieve Aiki or even a vague sense of “doing it right” I must get past this ghost that pins me down when I need to be throwing myself forward. “Ignore the cut, think only of cutting*” I’m just not there… not yet.

Similarly, if in a moment of enormous stress, when adrenalin rushes and the heart pumps rage into the brain, would I be pinned to the spot? Would I move? I don’t know and I don’t want to find out.

* Miyamoto Usagi or perhaps Miyamoto Musashi, one of them said it anyway.


Random Wandering Badasses
March 15, 2009, 19:54
Filed under: Aikido | Tags: , ,

Way back in the day, I used to be a gamer, not PC or console gamer but paper, pencil and funky dice. As either DM or player I was a classic example of a D&D playing nerd. Represent! One of the sometimes annoying and sometimes brilliant elements of D&D was the “wandering monster”. An encounter with a wandering monster was, in theory, a random event that the game master had not really planned. Sometimes the encounters were lame (orcs, kobolds, etc…) but sometimes you’d run into something cool and different and the balance of the adventure would turn on the whim of the dice.

I have been running into many of what I have begun to consider “Wandering Badasses” lately. Or rather, whenever I train in Watanabe sensei’s class. Watanabe sensei is noted for “no hands throws” sometimes called “spirit throws”. Without getting into the reality or applicability of such Aikido, I have attended his class with a relatively open mind. True to his reputation, his demonstrations are beyond typical grab-and-throw Aikido. Bluntly put, I don’t get it. Nor have any of the partners I have encountered in his classes either. Also, not one of them has fit the fuzzy-foofy stereotypical image of flowery Aikidoka who are unwilling or unable to either throw or take a punch. They have all been wandering badasses.

The first was a big tall white guy (from Osaka) who came to train at Honbu for the weekend. Neither of us “got” what the sensei was teaching so we just pounded the crap out of each other since that was so much simpler. Then there was the college kid. He wasn’t really a badass in the sense of massive guns and size but he wast fast, skilled and more than willing to remind my solar plexus (throat, ear, etc…) that if I didn’t pin him just right then I was “open”. Finally, there was the “Salary Man”. He visits monthly from Niigata and, apparently, trains as though the apocalypse is due any day now.

This was another instance of me knowing I was in trouble from the moment I laid hands on the guy. Call it training, instinct or whatever, I knew that I had picked another serious shit-kicker just by grabbing his wrist. At the start he tried very hard to reproduce the mysteries of Watanabe sensei’s Aikido but failed. In failing, his plan B was to reset his Aikido back into the physical realm of twisted joints and inhuman leverage. Following his lead I tried to do spirit throws but, from what I can tell, a lot of that requires that you intimidate you partner until they want to fall down without your help. My partner was having none of this so I had to go to plan B too. By the end of class, we were both huffing, puffing and soaked with sweat.

This wandering monster definitely made the adventure for me but I still don’t understand what the wizard was doing…

Another Washout
March 4, 2009, 21:42
Filed under: Aikido | Tags: , , , , ,

Test results were posted last night and, once again, there was not a single 参段(sandan)candidate who passed. More and more I have gotten the feeling that the 3 dan test is a barrier that Honbu has set very high. OK, maybe it should be obvious that the test would be tough but I had hoped that as it approached that my confidence might improve and it would seem less daunting. In fact, it seems that this path is leading to a rougher and rougher trail — a nasty traverse high above a scree slope…

Melodrama aside, the test results firmly pulled my head out of my latest spat of internal maundering. On the inside I have been maintaining the conceit that I am mostly ready for my 3 dan test and all that is left is the training time book-keeping. However, I have trained pretty hard with a couple of the 3 dan candidates and felt that we were pretty well matched in skills. So, if they didn’t pass that means that I probably would not have either…

Damn… reality checks can hurt. How is it that my ego grew so fast? Damn! Ten more months and they are NOT going to be book-keeping… I want to go train right NOW!

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