Wednesday, 31 October 2007

Bow - Part 2

In the previous post I introduced why you should bow during a training. Now there's a list of when bowing is expected.

  1. When you enter the dojo you bow at the door towards the middle of the room. You acknowledge the place of training.
  2. When you step onto the mat (tatami) you bow towards the kamiza (shrine) which is sometimes just a framed picture of O'Sensei. Some people do this in seiza (the traditional formal way of sitting in Japan) while others simply from a standing position. You show your appreciation towards O'Sensei who created this martial art. Please note that this is nothing to do with religion, you simply show your respect but it's not kind of worshipping a god.
  3. (When there is no space between the door and the tatami, i.e. the mat area starts right next to the door, you can bow only once.)
  4. When the training begins, you start with a short meditation in seiza and then first you and the master bow towards O'Sensei which is followed by a bow towards each other (students towards the sensei, sensei towards students). You may say 'onegai shimasu' (pronounced as oh-ne guy-she-mahss, you mean something like 'please teach me') when you bow towards your sensei. I don't think this needs any explanation. It is nice though that the sensei also bows towards you as he accepts teaching you and he can also learn from you during the training by correcting your mistakes or simply finding out which way of demonstrating a technique is best for students to understand how it should be executed properly.
  5. When the master finishes the demonstration of a technique the uke he 'used' (inappropriate, but sometimes used word) bows towards the master and says thank you (domo arigato gozaimashita). The students also bow from seiza as they were sitting and observing the master's demonstration.
  6. When you find a partner to train with you ask them to practice with you by going to them and bowing. You can say onegai shimasu (~ 'thank you for training with me'). Your partner accepts you by doing the same. Please note that rejecting someone is considered to be very rude and is never done unless you are to practice in pairs and two or more people bowed towards you at the very same time.
  7. When sensei says 'yame' (yah-meh, 'stop') or 'seiza', you finish immediately whatever you were doing (if it's possible, even in the middle of a technique except when it would cause injury, e.g. in the middle of a throw), and you bow towards each other and say thank you. You usually say this in Japanese but English, or any other language that are used by both partners, can also be accepted, you just need to show your appreciation.
  8. When you are practicing in groups and someone has finished his/her 'round' of being the tori (who does the technique, also called nage), s/he bows towards the next person who will take his/her place. If it's the first round, the order is usually from senior to junior (so that beginners can observe the technique more before actually doing it), if it's not the first round you should use your memory to remember who's next :).
  9. Some people bow towards each other after every uke-tori swap (usually after four techniques, two each side). In our dojo this is not practiced (probably to save time), we only bow when we are asked to take our place in seiza or change partners.
  10. When you don't understand anything and want to ask the sensei, I think you know what to do: bow :). But the most important thing is that you should go to the sensei and bow and not hail him like a taxi and when he comes to you, bow :). You do the same when you need to leave the room for whatever reason or need to stop for a while. This includes drinking some water which you should do only for a very good reason during trainings (e.g. in 65 degrees Celsius :)).
  11. At the end of the class, the same meditation-bow-bow procedure is followed as at the beginning of the training.
  12. Similarly, when you leave the tatami and dojo you do the same bows as when you were entering. This way you will use the same procedure to get back to the civil world as to forget about your daily problems when entering the dojo.
  13. If you are not training but watching the class, you also bow when entering and leaving. Apart from these, you only need to bow when the others, after the meditation, bow at the beginning and end of the class. During the meditation part you should stand up as another sign of respect.

This may sound many if you are a beginner but you will soon find it natural.

If I left something out please let me know in the comments, otherwise bow whenever you feel it is appropriate in reflection of the above points. :)

Monday, 29 October 2007

Bow - Part 1

If you come to England from abroad and you read the word 'bow', first you will probably think about Robin Hood :D. If you come closer to London you will see that Bow is a part of East London (and name of a station). But if you come to a dojo, bow takes on a completely different meaning again.

A bow is a fundamental part of aikido training. It shows respect towards the place you train in, towards O'Sensei (Ueshiba Morihei, the founder of aikido), your sensei (the instructor of the aikido class) and your fellow students. It is part of the training that you always show respect.

You must have seen films, movies with Japanese people bowing all the time. This is part of their culture, they show the appreciation for whatever they think you deserved it. It is very similar to the English culture though, just the manifestation of showing respect is different a bit. In England, you are always 'brilliant','fantastic' but at least 'nice' (ask foreigners how unusual this can be for them/us :)). Even if you don't like someone you don't tell this to them in their faces. I think this has a very nice ( :)) side as, even if you don't think so, you show some respect and don't allow the situation to become aggressive. After a while, you get used to forcing yourself to be positive and at the end you may as well end up becoming more positive (you can as well call it self-programming). So in an aikido training, bow whenever you think the situation allows a bow, this way you learn to respect others (even more ;)).

More on when to bow is to follow this post but you can send me comments before that if you like.

Monday, 22 October 2007

How to put on your hakama?

There are several ways to tie your hakama on. I think you should choose whichever you like best or whichever fits the length of cords (himo) of your hakama.

If I needed to do it for the first time I would try to copy someone I know. You might have a master who prefers you to tie on the hakama in a certain way and expects you to do so either. I think it's also easier to copy someone as you can ask them to stop whenever you want/need or ask them to explain how they do it.

Before getting my hakama I looked up ways to put it on on the Internet. I found several figures, a couple of videos but there were too many ways to do it so I couldn't choose immediately. I had to wait until I got my own hakama and I tried a couple of versions because I didn't want to go to my first hakama training without any knowledge about how to tie it on.

Although later, I recorded how the advanced aikidoka do it in our dojo. This is a version I had never seen before online (unbelievable! Amazing! :D:D) but they say it is the easiest and quickest way, and I believe them :).

However, I do it differently (I am allowed to :)). I think my way of doing it is a mixture of things I found on the web. I try to follow a video found on youtube but finish with the 'flower-like' knot (which is from another document). I'm not including a video of me now, you would get bored at my speed as a beginner hakama wearer. Watch my video source instead.

I think the most cited (and copied) non-video method is in the document created by Bu Jin (pdf). Many other web pages use the same figures to illustrate how to tie a hakama on.

Other hakama-tying resources:

Some, for me at least, interesting ways of tying on and wearing a hakama:
- some people don't wear a belt so their hakama tying is different and not really applicable to us.
- the traditional Japanese way to tie a hakama also falls into this category as you don't wear a training obi with your hakama in civil life (or the belt is different).
- I saw aikido practitioners wearing a hakama and belt 'inside out': hakama inside, belt tied on top.

My knowledge about traditional Japanese clothes is limited to what I read in some articles online so if there is anything I didn't get right or missed out please tell me about it in your comments.

Wednesday, 17 October 2007

The standard

There isn't a lot to add to these videos. I just watch, learn and wish I could do them like the Doshu :).

The following two videos are two from a bunch of recordings about Ueshiba Moriteru demonstrating aikido techniques. Check out the videos' related sections for the others.

Tuesday, 16 October 2007

Hakama - colour and who can wear it

The colour of the hakama in aikido is much easier to write about (than about belt colours). It's normally black, while sometimes indigo blue. O'Sensei also wore white ones and I think I remember a video about the late doshu Kisshomaru wearing fairly bright hakama but never seen the current doshu wearing non-dark hakama (he even wears white belt!).

As far as I understood if you are higher in dans you can have your name (in Japanese) embroidered on your hakama (right-back). You may also have the logo of your dojo/organisation in the front.

The hakama colour guide might be easy but whether you can wear them it's a bit more complicated. This wasn't the question with belts as you always need to wear one to hold your gi together, but since you can train without hakama there are various regulations about it.

According to hombu (centre of aikikai aikido, Tokyo, Japan) men can wear hakama from 1st dan, women from 3rd kyu. Our organisation belongs to (or reports to) hombu but we wear them from 2nd kyu regardless of sex. In some other aikido organisations you wear them from day one, at other places you don't wear hakama at all (for safety purposes, see the previous post). There are also places where you can wear hakama whenever you want but people usually wait until their first kyu exam and start wearing them afterwards.

I think an aikidoka in hakama looks much nicer :) which is probably due to the fact that everyone I saw in hakama had some aikido skills (and a proper posture) already. One of my reasons I kept up training was that I wanted to earn the right to wear hakama. Now I'm getting used to wearing it and my next aim is to be able to change my white belt to black.

All these variations (this applies to belts, too) and changes are part of the human nature, I guess. Noone thinks exactly the same way as anyone else, and hadn't been diversity of individuals of species there wouldn't be a civilisation today. So maybe one rule for belt colours and hakama will emerge in some time proving to be the 'best' practice but these rules may still exist parallel to one another. Just like squirrels and kangaroos :).

Friday, 12 October 2007

About safety

One of the reasons one might start doing aikido is that you want to feel safer. I too wanted to gain some self-confidence and just generally, wanted to feel safer in the street at night (though the places I lived in before coming to London were not particularly unsafe).

Another aspect of safety in aikido appears when you are actually practicing. You obviously don't want to harm either yourself or your partner or anyone practicing within the dojo. For this reason, i.e. to avoid injuries, we should train carefully and should not do silly things to show how much you know ("let's throw the uke as far as we can...").

When practicing, it's always the tori who controls the technique, hence he is responsible for the safe execution of a technique. The tori can control where the uke is thrown as the uke sometimes can't see where's some space to be thrown (and the tori is supposed to lead the uke anyway).

There is one more way to prevent injuries, and this is clothing. If the sleeve of your gi bottoms are too long, you or others can step on it and, because you can't step properly, someone might get injured. Hakamas are even wider, looser-fitting and might also cause injuries when they are too long or the aikidoka is not prepared to wear them safely.

I think this is why many aikido dojos do not allow students to wear hakama until they acquire certain skills and experience (3rd, 2nd kyu, 1st dan). Two things I wouldn't like are wearing hakama from the first day or not wearing hakama at all. I think these are rather two extremes as a beginner doesn't even know how to walk (especially in shikko dachi) and I wouldn't like to take the nice look of a hakama away from advanced students. Saying that someone doesn't wear hakama at all is being overcautious but tell me if I'm wrong in this.

The other thing is the colour of the belts. I'm much more flexible in accepting coloured belts for safety reasons but I also think that as the Japanese could live without these colours for ages so should we. The purpose of aikido is also to work, practice together with anyone so if you don't know how advanced your partner is you can either ask or start the techniques slowly to find out where s/he is in his/her Way.

Safety is for not getting injured and concerns about it should not take anything away from people. I don't go into a dark alley during the night if I don't feel safe but I shouldn't feel unsafe during a walk at night anywhere (e.g., a well lit street). If someone really wants to hurt you they will, but such mean people are, I hope, very rare. Similarly, accidents can happen in aikido trainings but serious accidents are also very rare.

Wednesday, 10 October 2007

The three ways of practicing

I read somewhere in an article that there are three ways to do an aikido technique.

  1. where the uke grabs the tori and holds his arms hard trying to prevent him from moving. Obviously, the challenge here for the tori is to start the technique and then finish it as well as he can.
  2. when the uke has some attacking speed (plus the initiative). The tori doesn't have to focus hard on getting out of uke's grasp but he can do a technique in a bit more relaxed manner, the uke won't struggle trying to hit or kick you (or holding you down/back), and you can do the technique in harmony.
  3. when it's the tori who initiates the movements by making the uke come forward and attack. After this initial movement you work together as normally.
I personally don't really like this categorization though we can still practice all of them from time to time. Maybe it's because I'm not a master yet :).

The first point is what beginners tend to do every time. This is the 'what if I hold you like this, what if I come back here and kick you here' approach. If I do a technique slowly, the result with beginners will obviously be this and there's hardly any harmony in it (which we should achieve). If I do this quickly with a beginner they may get injured. Struggling is not aikido anyway. Unless, you are specifically asked to do techniques this way, e.g., ushiro kubishime.

The third point, where tori takes the initiative, is ok as long as both of you have some aikido experience. This one is a bit weird if you do a technique slowly. Changing the speed during the execution of a technique is not really realistic neither it is advised. Changing the speed like this can be dangerous, especially for beginners who tend to speed up once they think how to do that part of the technique. For example, if someone attacks you slowly with a shomenuchi you should react with the same speed to work in harmony. However, if you are a beginner you are often late with starting a technique which you sometimes may try to compensate with rapid (and not stable) execution.

The second way of doing a technique, though, can be practiced by everyone, you can focus on doing the technical details well, do the technique in harmony and beginners can be taught to work without struggle and, at the same time, without being too relaxed ('cool'). Also, you can do techniques slowly.

I prefer seeing when an instructor demonstrates two ways at a time: 'You can do it this way, you can do it that way but never mix the two and, especially, never switch between these two ways within the execution of a technique'. One of the best examples comes from jo exercises: when you finish a technique with a tsuki, you can stop the end of the jo near to the head of the opponent or you can thrust properly (stopping the jo's tip behind the head) but next to the head... you can imagine what happens when you mix the two.

If there is a hole in this theory I hope someone will correct me in the comments :).

ps. After reading back my post, it seems that the three-way theory might be ok but needs advanced students to practice them. I wouldn't teach the 'hold the other' method to beginners as they are never soft and relaxed (which is understandable, this is one of the reasons they start training). I would teach the 3rd method in an easy manner to carefully show beginners when they need to keep attacking (as they often tend to stop in the middle).

Let's work in harmony.

Tuesday, 2 October 2007

Belt colours in aikido

I was reading a few of fora and web pages about grading systems in aikido and it seems aikido organisations and individual dojos are very creative when it comes to the colour scheme of their belts.

Firstly I'd like to say that our organisation (and hence, our dojo) has a very simple a rule about the colour of our belts: it's either white or black. White (6th kyu to 1st kyu) until you become yudansha and from then on black (1st dan, 2nd dan, etc.). This is the same for the traditional/classical/original aikido - aikikai - which is lead by the doshu, Moriteru Ueshiba (Ueshiba is his surname in Japan).

As far as I know, the other colours (yellow, blue, etc.) have been invented for westerners as this would fit into our culture better. In my opinion, having these colours is against the spirit of martial arts as it focuses on some goals at different levels and not on actually doing aikido, practicing. It shouldn't be the end of the road that matters but the way you get there. You should enjoy doing aikido and should not pursue the 'next belt'. This is not a competition.

Our black-and-white system can be a bit frustrating when you go to seminars where a 5th kyu plucks up the courage to instruct you on how to do a technique and you are, for example, a 3rd kyu. However, as someone gets closer to his/her dan level it becomes obvious that until you actually get there you are basically a beginner, really just tasting what aikido is. And it is said that real learning starts when you become a black belt aikidoka.

To see the colours of other aikido dojos and organisations, I created a figure (from top to bottom: from many kyu to dan levels) and then went artistic with it. Try to use the polar co-ordinates photoshop filter on the first figure yourself to get these pictures.