zondag 14 december 2014

Spontaneous Throw

There is a saying in Budo that translates as “Enter form, exit form”. The phrase refers to the process of learning that we go through during our journey along the path of Budo.
When we walk into a dojo for the first time we are trying something new, something that we have not experienced before. We are “shoshinsha” – beginners with an openness and willingness to learn, and a certain naturalness in our movements but without form.
Once we start training we learn a variety of techniques and variations, physical exercises, as well as breathing and meditation methods. We are in the process of entering the form.
Gradually we are more and more skilled in the techniques and all of its variations. When during an exam a name of a technique is called we can perform the technique without hesitation.
But then, after years of dedicated training, we suddenly realise that all that we have learned is nothing but a vast amount of techniques and its variations. We have been accumulating forms. And while doing that we have lost the sense of naturalness that we had as shoshinsha.
It is here that we begin to realise that there is a higher degree of understanding, and we start to see how we can free ourselves from mere form. Simple things that we thought we understood start to get a deeper meaning, basic techniques are realised as part of something new and different. In fact the whole art gets a different and deeper meaning. We have exited the form and have returned to the original state of naturalness that we had as shoshinsha.
Tom Verhoeven
Auvergne, autumn 2014

zondag 30 november 2014

A time of crisis in the practice of Aikido

When practiced seriously and correctly, true Budo is bound to bring the practitioner to a point of confusion, despair and a time of crisis. This is part of genuine growth.  It feels like ones knowledge and experience counts for nothing anymore. One doubts everything and everyone. In reality one is at the brink of a much deeper understanding – it is at a moment of such a crisis that one needs the support of a sensei more than ever. And by sensei I do not mean an instructor in techniques or tactics, or a well-known exponent of the art whom one idolises,  but someone that has committed his life to Budo, practiced daily and went through the same agonies of confusion and despair to get to that ultimate core of deeper knowledge.

On the other hand the confusion may also come from looking at different styles of the same Budo, or different interpretations of one particular style. Which is like comparing notes with fellow students after a lecture or asking the opinion of colleagues, who do not have more knowledge on the subject then oneself. 
In modern society we value the latter and we question the former. We doubt the experienced and knowledgeable people. We do not trust the master-craftsman. We no longer seek guidance by a mentor.  We think we can, given time, figure it out all by ourselves. This is an illusion. At best one manages to form an opinion and the weight of that opinion is just as much as everyone else’s opinion.  We justify our own opinion by referring to ourselves; it is my opinion, it is how I do it, it is my practice, my style or best of all; it is my Way.  But it is of course nothing but a dogma. In the end it will lead to nothing but more opinions. And about opinions one can argue and most people do.
Although we may find it hard to accept, there is a truth in the practice of Aikido that seems hidden and maybe even obscure to some. It is through dedication, practice, study, reflection and meditation that one over time will start to see a glimpse of the truth. Teaching the theory of the truth will not help. A sensei can at most hint at the right direction.  On needs to experience and realise it by oneself.  

Aikido founder Ueshiba Morihei O Sensei  

Tom Verhoeven
Auvergne   Autumn 2014

woensdag 26 februari 2014

Common mistakes; Shiho nage

Shiho Nage


A common mistake while practicing a technique is an eagerness to move too quick. Fast movements give the feeling of better or more real.  If Shite moves too quick he may lose the connection with Aite. 
To compare it with baseball;  It is like swinging your bat as fast as you can while the ball has not arrived yet.  You will miss every time.  No matter how good or fast your swing.

Moving too fast usually has a bad effect  on one’s posture.  Everyone’s body posture and  - movement differs.  And your technique should fit your own body posture and way of movement.  But there are things that everyone should try to avoid.  A good example is the placement of foot and knee;  they should be in line all the time. This goes often wrong in techniques like Shiho nage, where turning the body (tenkan) is involved.

Aite needs to stay connected to Shite as well,  he should be committed to the attack and stay alive during the whole technique with the intent of looking for an opening (suki) to take over the technique.

Sometimes we see that Aite is too willing to go down;  this breaks the connection with Shite.  This eagerness to fall down may look good for an audience, but as a method of practice (keiko) it is useless.   

Shiho nage
A good technique is not defined by the manner in which Aite falls. A high fall does not mean that it is a good technique !

correct alignment of front knee and foot
 Here the arm of Aite is folded in a natural way. Fold the arm in an unnatural way (gyaku) and the risk of injury becomes very great.

Photo with O Sensei;  as he completes the turn his foot and knee are aligned, the arm of Aite is folded in a natural way. The upper body of Aite is already in an arch, the whole body of Aite is about to fall. 
Compare the position of the hands in this photo with the first photo. 

Tom Verhoeven
Auvergne, winter 2014

woensdag 5 februari 2014

Bushido : Education and training of a samurai

This is a chapter of the book "Bushido", written by Inazo Nitobe .

were conducted accordingly. The first point to observe in knightly pedagogics was to build up character, leaving in the shade the subtler faculties of prudence, intelligence and dialectics. We have seen the important part aesthetic
accomplishments played in his education. Indispensable as they were to a man of culture, they were accessories rather than essentials of samurai training. Intellectual superiority was, of course, esteemed; but the ord _Chi_, which was employed to denote intellectuality, meant wisdom in the first instance and placed knowledge only in a very subordinate place. The tripod that supported the framework of Bushido was said to be  -Chi -Jin -Yu_, respectively Wisdom, Benevolence, and Courage. A samurai was essentially a man of action. Science was without the pale of his activity. He took advantage of it in so far as it concerned his profession of arms. Religion and theology were relegated to the priests; he concerned himself with them in so far as they helped to nourish courage. Like an English poet the samurai believed "'tis not the creed that saves the man; but it is the man that justifies the creed." Philosophy and literature formed the chief part of his intellectual training; but even in the pursuit of these, it was not objective truth that he strove after,--literature was pursued mainly as a pastime, and philosophy as a practical aid in the formation of character, if not for the exposition of some military or political problem. From what has been said, it will not be surprising to note that the curriculum of studies, according to the pedagogics of Bushido, consisted mainly of the following,--fencing, archery, _jiujutsu_ or _yawara_, horsemanship, the use of the spear, tactics, caligraphy, ethics, literature and history. Of these, _jiujutsu_ and caligraphy may require a few words of explanation. Great stress was laid on good writing, probably because our logograms, partaking as they do of the nature of pictures, possess artistic value, and also because chirography was accepted as indicative of one's personal character. _Jiujutsu_ may be briefly defined as an application of anatomical knowledge to the purpose of offense or defense. It differs from wrestling, in that it does not depend upon muscular strength. It differs from other forms of attack in that it uses no weapon. Its feat consists in clutching or striking such part of the enemy's body as will make him numb and incapable of resistance. Its object is not to kill, but to incapacitate one for action for the time being. A subject of study which one would expect to find in military education and which is rather conspicuous by its absence in the Bushido course of instruction, is mathematics. This, however, can be readily explained in part by the fact that feudal warfare was not carried on with scientific precision. Not only that, but the whole training of the samurai was unfavorable to fostering numerical notions. Chivalry is uneconomical; it boasts of penury. It says with Ventidius  that "ambition, the soldier's virtue, rather makes choice of loss, than gain which darkens him." Don Quixote takes more pride in his rusty spear  and skin-and-bone horse than in gold and lands, and a samurai is in hearty sympathy with his exaggerated confrère of La Mancha. He disdains money itself,--the art of making or hoarding it. It is to him veritably filthy lucre. The hackneyed expression to describe the decadence of an age is "that the civilians loved money and the soldiers feared death." Niggardliness of gold and of life excites as much disapprobation as their lavish use is panegyrized. "Less than all things," says a current  precept, "men must grudge money: it is by riches that wisdom is hindered." Hence children were brought up with utter disregard of  economy. It was considered bad taste to speak of it, and ignorance of the value of different coins was a token of good breeding. Knowledge of  numbers was indispensable in the mustering of forces as well, as in the  distribution of benefices and fiefs; but the counting of money was left to meaner hands. In many feudatories, public finance was administered by a lower kind of samurai or by priests. Every thinking bushi knew well enough that money formed the sinews of war; but he did not think of raising the appreciation of money to a virtue. It is true that thrift  was enjoined by Bushido, but not for economical reasons so much as for  the exercise of abstinence. Luxury was thought the greatest menace to manhood, and severest simplicity was required of the warrior class, sumptuary laws being enforced in many of the clans. We read that in ancient Rome the farmers of revenue and other Financial agents were gradually raised to the rank of knights, the State thereby showing its appreciation of their service and of the importance of money itself. How closely this was connected with the luxury and avarice of the Romans may be imagined. Not so with the Precepts of Knighthood. These persisted in systematically regarding finance as something low--low as compared with moral and intellectual vocations.  Money and the love of it being thus diligently ignored, Bushido itself could long remain free from a thousand and one evils of which money is the root. This is sufficient reason for the fact that our public men  have long been free from corruption; but, alas, how fast plutocracy is making its way in our time and generation!  The mental discipline which would now-a-days be chiefly aided by the study of mathematics, was supplied by literary exegesis and deontological discussions. Very few abstract subjects troubled the mind  of the young, the chief aim of their education being, as I have said,  decision of character. People whose minds were simply stored with  information found no great admirers. Of the three services of studies that Bacon gives,--for delight, ornament, and ability,--Bushido had decided preference for the last, where their use was "in judgment and the disposition of business." Whether it was for the disposition of public business or for the exercise of self-control, it was with a practical end in view that education was conducted. "Learning without thought," said Confucius, "is labor lost: thought without learning is perilous." When character and not intelligence, when the soul and not the head, is chosen by a teacher for the material to work upon and to develop, his  vocation partakes of a sacred character. "It is the parent who has borne me: it is the teacher who makes me man." With this idea, therefore, the esteem in which one's preceptor was held was very high. A man to evoke  such confidence and respect from the young, must necessarily be endowed with superior personality without lacking erudition. He was a father to the fatherless, and an adviser to the erring. "Thy father and thy mother"--so runs our maxim--"are like heaven and earth; thy teacher and thy lord are like the sun and moon." The present system of paying for every sort of service was not in vogue among the adherents of Bushido. It believed in a service which can be rendered only without money and without price. Spiritual service, be it of priest or teacher, was not to be repaid in gold or silver, not because it was valueless but because it was invaluable. Here the non-arithmetical honour-instinct of Bushido taught a truer lesson than modern Political Economy; for wages and salaries can be paid only for services whose results are definite, tangible, and measurable, whereas  the best service done in education,--namely, in soul development (and this includes the services of a pastor), is not definite, tangible or measurable. Being immeasurable, money, the ostensible measure of value, is of inadequate use. Usage sanctioned that pupils brought to their teachers money or goods at different seasons of the year; but these were not payments but offerings, which indeed were welcome to the recipients as they were usually men of stern calibre, boasting of honourable penury, too dignified to work with their hands and too proud to beg. They were grave personifications of high spirits undaunted by adversity. They were an embodiment of what was considered as an end of all learning, and were thus a living example of that discipline of disciplines, (end of part 1, to be continued)

Auvergne,  Winter 2014

dinsdag 28 januari 2014

Teachings of Tamura sensei

Tamura sensei as Uke

Around 1980 I went to an Aikido seminar with Tamura sensei as the teacher. I was much impressed by what he did. But at first I did not really comprehend what Tamura sensei was teaching.  Or rather, I did not understand what he expected me to practice.  He would show a technique three, four times, but  the technique would look different every time.  So which one should you practice ? 
By taking classes from Yamada sensei in the following seasons I started to see what Tamura  sensei was really teaching.  Yamada sensei would teach techniques that had a particular sequence,  a particular rythm,  a specific form.  In practicing the techniques Aite had to learn to respond in a specific way to fit the technique.  In other words, Aite had to learn ukemi to complete the form of the technique.  This is the way that most Aikikai Aikido schools nowadays teach Aikido.  In fact, the form of the basic techniques seem  even more fixed then they ever were.  This was however never the case with Tamura sensei; his technique was a response on what Aite offered him.  And Aite changed the amount of force, speed of the intent of the attack every time he attacked. That is why Tamura sensei’s techniques  looked different every time !
While training in a fixed form can be a good teaching-tool to a certain extend, if that is all that there is to it than Aikido has become a restricted version of Budo as O Sensei originally meant it to be.  An endless repetition of kihon waza (basic forms or techniques) will not lead to an understanding of the path of Aiki – for that one has to discover within oneselves the way to intuit the intention of the opponent.  Or as the founder of Aikido would say understand how to resonate with the other.

In this text Tamura sensei explains some of his thoughts on Aikido:

Aikido is an individual journey.
I avoid trying to sell it .
It is sufficient to just do it and to sense it.  If you do not sense it you will not understand.
If you think too much you separate your spirit and body.
Aikido brings together, gathers.
We teach what we learned in Japan, but there is more than one way to understand what you have learned.
In Japan , teachers do not explain anything if you have not understood by watching. One cannot understand through what is being said.
In life, if you want something you seek.
I want you to appreciate the practice. But nobody can make you enjoy the process. You have to choose yourself to gain from it. You must first change your heart.
Everything in life needs a center. You must place a center somewhere.
In our body , the Seika Tanden , just below our belly is our center.
A Center is strong. It is immobile. With a strong center the rest can move freely.
I practice Aikido because it keeps me healthy , an old man must stay healthy .
If you found Aikido , I would like you to continue . But it is not up to me. It is up to you.
Ultimately , it is your Aikido. What I am doing or thinking does not matter.

L'aïkido est un voyage individuel .
J'évite d'essayer de le vendre.
Il suffit de faire et le sentir , si vous n'avez pas le sentir vous ne pouvez pas comprendre
Si vous pensez que trop vous séparez votre esprit et votre corps
Aikido les rassemble
Nous enseignons ce que nous avons appris au Japon , mais il ya plus d'une façon d'apprendre ce que vous savez
Au Japon , les enseignants don t expliquer disent-ils, si vous ne comprenez pas en regardant . Vous ne comprendrez pas être dit.
Dans la vie , si vous voulez quelque chose que vous rechercher.
Je veux que vous apprécierez la pratique Mais personne ne peut vous faire profiter du processus . Vous devez choisir d'en profiter. Vous devez d'abord changer votre cœur .
Tout dans la vie a besoin d'un centre . Vous devez placer un centre quelque part.
Dans notre corps , theseika tanden , juste en dessous de notre ventre , est notre centre .
Un centre est forte . Il est immobile . Avec un centre fort le reste peut se déplacer librement
Je Pratique Aïkido parce qu'il me tient en bonne santé, un vieil homme doit rester en bonne santé .
Si vous avez trouvé l'Aïkido , je voudrais que vous continuiez . Mais ce n'est pas à moi . Itsup à vous.
En fin de compte , c'est votre Aïkido . Qu'est-ce que je fais ou réflexion n'a pas d'importance .

8ème Dan Shihan