Saturday, August 12, 2023

All Practice is Fake.

 All Practice is Fake.


The internet recently reminded me of its endless capacity for "frankness" when we posted a short video of a technique.  Chants of "fake" and less courteous remarks came rolling in.  Aikido often gets a bad rap in the internet world for being "fake."  Between some genuinely poor representations of the art and that, when well, done it does look effortless, it's not a surprising reaction.  There are many more brutally "real" looking arts out there for the public to compare Aikido against.  But what is "real"?  What is "fake"?


Let's face it, your, mine, and that other guy's practice are all "fake."  Except, of course, Master Ken's (always re-stomp that groin!).  Practice is not a real fight.   Our lives are not on the line.  No one should ever, ever, come to the dojo to intentionally injure their practice partners.  Granted some places might skirt that line a bit more than others.  I have personally practiced with an instructor who would routinely land full hits on the demonstration partner.  Whether this was carelessness, a lack of control, or just being the A-hole he genuinely came across as, I can't say for sure.  But what I can tell you is that I wasn't there very long.  That kind of treatment is antithetical to any reasonable interpretation of Bushido.


So what is "real"?  Is resisting real? Maybe, if it is natural, but so often it is not,  If you are practicing a new move slowly, certainly it is artificial enough that resisting is not constructive feedback.  Is attacking the technique "real"?  Well maybe, but it again would have to be natural.  If you set out to practice technique 'A;' against attack 'B', both parties have prior knowledge of what the other is going to do, so is that natural? Is that constructive?


So real must be at least full speed, random attack, and random response.  Oh yes, we also have to be willing to hurt each other.  So no mats.  No gear.  No pads.  No rules…. No lawsuits?  So "real" practice isn't a real thing.  It certainly is not conducive to learning or having a dojo that lasts more than a week.


This shouldn't be misconstrued as a license to practice fantastical techniques that have no hope of working if one were in real situation.  We must endeavor as martial artists to honestly evaluate our practice and its potential effectivity.  We must strive to be good, "honest" attackers.  Never just playing along but also never breaking the 4th wall to defeat the technique.  If the technique is a throw we shouldn't discount that we are on a thick mat and know how to fall really well and just pop up like concrete isn't a thing.  If the defense is a kick and we're all padded up, let's not discount the fact that unprotected ribs can and do break.  We also have to be sure in our practice that a successful defense is the ultimate goal and therefore realize that the attacker is destined to fail.  We can never allow personal hubris to interfere with that.


Different martial arts have different responses to attacks.  Different philosophies.  That doesn't make all the ones you don't practice invalid.  Yours probably works for you, and that is great. Keep doing it.  But another art may be just as effective for someone else.  There is also nothing wrong with a little cross training now and then, or evaluation of what other arts do and why they do them.  This broadens and deepens our understanding of our own chosen art.  Evaluating to understand and grow is a positive exercise.

Sunday, July 16, 2023

"There is no spoon"

"Will that work on the street?"

"People don't attack like that!"


A recurring thematic question in any dojo is "will this work in real life?".  Every martial art has some degree of formality and a set of rules of engagement.  Boxing, for instance, is certainly applicable to a "real" life fight, but training in boxing is fundamentally a contest.  Its training goal does not end up being self-defense, it is a contest of skill, strength, endurance, and heart.  There's a ring that contains it.  This just a reality of training is and is in no way a slight.  These constraints are necessary to develop in that art.  I only pick boxing as an example as it is likely to be most familiar to the most people.  All forms of martial arts have constraints and rules of engagement.  They are necessary and are not intrinsically bad.


Aikido is no different and therefore it is natural for students and observers to question our "formalized" attacks and set of techniques.  Tsuki for example is not a common attack in the wild.  The problem is that out in the wild, it's wild.  There aren't standard attacks.  There are skilled and unskilled people all over.  Just look at security videos on YouTube and you will see that there are no end to the wild punches, half-assed kicks, and drunken tackles that no sensei would want representing their art.  But, what those attackers lack in skill they often make up in fervor.


Techniques, whether in Aikido or any martial art for that matter, are specific "what-if" cases.  It is impossible to imagine, let alone practice, every "what-if" scenario.  So we need to select a common set of "what-if" cases that we can use to develop the principles of our art.  They need to be common so that they can be knowable; so we can exchange ideas; and we can be able to evaluate progress of the integration of the principles.


This concern is not even unique to martial arts.  How many people do you know that got hired to do algebra or calculus or read words.  Those jobs are pretty slim.  But there are lots of people who use those tools and concepts in their daily lives.  Those techniques we learned in school are not their own end, they are a means to do greater things like build cars, launch rockets, stream movies, and write music.


So, no, people won't attack like "that" on the street, and no, that technique will not be 100% applicable to the street.  But techniques are not the end goal.  They are a tool for us to communicate and learn core principles.  Get out of the way, relax progressively, upset their mind progressively, maintain our posture, feel and steal their posture, then lead them to fall, as hard or as softly as we need them to fall in the situation.


What can be a valid conversation is do we have the archetypes of attacks and responses covered by our selected "what-ifs".  Did fashion shift and everyone is wearing batman gauntlets, well then we need new responses for hand strikes.  Did we revert to 1700's architecture and all buildings have like 6' ft ceilings, well maybe we don't need the shomen (over-head strike) archetype anymore.  These are silly examples but they illustrate the thought, do our archetypes cover the bases of both attacks and how we respond?  So long as they do, then we can continue to practice our core techniques to develop the principles of our art.  If they do not, then we evolve. 


When Sensei Maruyama came to the United States, he had to evolve and change our cadre of techniques. The principles of Aikido were sound, but they playground had changed.  People in the US were more varied in size and many are very big compared the Japanese population.  Widely varying heights eliminated certain techniques as being viable general case solutions, so they went away.  Western cultures never sit seiza in real life.  So kneeling techniques went away.  The "what-ifs" of Aikido Kokikai® therefore evolved because they needed to.


Any high ranking martial artist eventually comes to the realization that there is no technique.

Friday, July 14, 2023

One Point

Beautiful night in the dojo on Thursday. Marcella Sensei is “ki” testing students at the end of class. In our seated posture, called “seiza”, we push down and in toward the spine to evaluate the quality of the posture. We should be relaxed and have an awareness of our physical center of gravity, which is near our belly button. The mental awareness of our physical center and good posture built around that physical center along with a relaxed mind create what we refer to as “One Point”. It is a convergence of our physical (center of gravity) and mental (awareness) and spiritual (relaxed feeling) centers. Each center is improved by coexistence with the other. Practicing obtaining and maintaining this feeling reduces stress, increases both experienced and projected confidence, and optimizes how we use this mortal coil in everything we do both on and off the mat.
 May be an image of 6 people and people performing martial arts

Thursday, July 13, 2023

Mechanical Cousins

Kote Gaeshi and Shiho-nage are kissing cousins when it comes to body mechanics of uke (the attacker). In the setup, they can look quite different but as we go to execute the throw part the two become very similar, if we look at what is going on with uke’s body. In both we we are trying act along the wrist to the elbow to the arm to the shoulder down through their side to their hip through their leg to take the last bit of stability afforded them by their foot. That path is like the rope around a pulley picking up a weight (their footing). The difference is we can’t just yank on the end of the rope because the pulley is virtual. It’s not really there. This yanking is a natural and common error in our early Aikido career techniques. We have their wrist, we want them down, so we pull down. But it doesn’t work and just annoys our practice partners. If we instead think of their body like the rope, and act like both the pulley and the force on the rope, we add an upward rotation before the down. This lifts through the “rope” and destroys the last of their posture, resulting in them falling instead of being dragged down by a level of force we may not possess. 
 May be an image of text that says 'Fixed pulley Pulley Load Force'
 #aikido #MindBodySpirit #martialarts #aikidokokikai #kokikai #dojo #selfdefense

We miss you!

 Been away from the mat for a while? It's never been too long to step back on the mat. You'll be surprised how much you remember as well as realize how much you missed it.