Tuesday, 27 November 2007

Trust and an attacking uke

Sometimes I'm a bit impatient with beginners who don't understand that uke has to come and attack and it's not really the way of harmony if one partner's intention is to resist or interrupt an already started motion. For example, some beginners 'attack' as if they didn't really want to. They hold your wrist but as soon as you move they release it or stop and unless you tell them what to do a couple of times every training there isn't much improvement. As a partner (being tori) I usually explain that 1. uke is an attacker so has to attack and come forward until he can't 2. if you stop and release my hand you might easily get a punch in your face (which I don't demonstrate).

Be warned: I might sound confused in this post and that's because I'm still far from understanding how things really work in aikido and how some existing knowledge and experience can be effectively passed on to beginners to improve them so we can practice in harmony and can further improve more quickly. I think about these things a lot and, from time to time, I come up with new interpretations, ideas which are often based on something I hear or read.

A couple of weeks ago I read a blog post about trust. It made me think. It also made me realise that my thinking is still of a beginner's and there's still an incredible amount of knowledge to gather along the Way (there are some points in life when we realize how big the world is and how small we are in it).
I'm very similar to the author in the sense that I, too have substantial experience in trusting too much. One point he made was that if you trust your tori (aka. nage) too much you can easily run into one or two punches (which is the opposite of the example above but I'll get to that point later). As I described, this was my problem too and I learned to slow down a bit but I still often forget to keep away from that atemi (and usually this is when I start wondering how someone with a relatively short arm can easily reach my nose :)). Now, what if you are tori and uke does exactly the opposite of my approach, i.e. grabs you but doesn't come forward to attack despite the master's explanation about attacking? I think it can a question of trust. Not attacking can easily be a self-trust problem for a beginner: he doesn't know what exactly is going to happen and he's not confident whether he can roll/fall properly. But if the person is not a complete beginner I think this behaviour also shows that he doesn't trust his partner which should not be the case. Luckily, as someone practices more this becomes less an issue and you can actually begin to practice in harmony. But before that it's very hard sometimes.

I don't blame anyone who's not attacking. There might be other reasons for not attacking apart from trust problems and if it's a lack of trust then that can have a lot of reasons, too. We live in a world where nobody trusts others. And obviously, if you generally don't trust people you can't be expected to trust others right after taking up aikido.

Another point is that if you trust too easily you shouldn't expect the same from everyone else and shouldn't be frustrated if your uke won't attack properly (this has also been made clear in the post I mentioned above). Eventually, you will earn their trust and you can enjoy practicing together much more (at least this is what I always tell to myself when my blood pressure is starting to increase :)).

I think training in aikido could actually increase your level of trust (and hopefully not the blood pressure :)) and during training you can teach yourself to trust some people in a relatively safe environment in order to make your life better. Own example: training can help you a lot to overcome fear and lack of trust so that you can build healthy relationships with other people (you can ask my wife about this ;)).

Monday, 26 November 2007

Time and timing - part 1

A couple of days ago I was standing at the bus stop in the morning and saw two cars parking on the opposite side of the street. I could see their alarm lights blinking because it was still dark.

Their timing was very interesting, almost as if they were parts of a clock: one alarm the 'tic' the other the 'tac'. I noticed that if I stare at them and focus on the lights they seem to blink faster. If I concentrate even more, they will seem to blink very quickly. When I cleared my mind and just looked at the street with my brain turned off (if was easy at 5.30am) they were blinking less frequently.

This was very interesting because I've just read about the perception of time in martial arts recently. I read that if you clear your mind time seems to slow down. If it slows down it means that your reaction time decreases giving you 'streched' time to react to any attack more quickly. It was nice to see this effect in reality. Otherwise the article would have been just a couple of paragraphs about the mystery of time in martial arts.

This is why old Japanese martial arts (Koryu) teach you to stare at a distant mountain instead of your opponent. Staring and focusing too hard is not good :) . It's a bit like "freezing" without any shock experience.

Some aikido masters tell you to consider this effect and behave accordingly. Since there's no mountain in the indoors dojo it would be hard to focus on it unless one wall's wallpaper shows mountain Fuji (which I think would be nice :P). Instead you should watch the whole picture and should not focus on a particular attack (e.g. shomenuchi) but a moving figure, at least as far as I understand from the article. Probably this is what we would describe as looking for the attacker's intention to attack and start a technique before the opponent moves (as we react on his intention to start).

I'll continue with my other theories and thoughts about timing in another post later. Until that you can comment on this post :).

Tuesday, 13 November 2007

Banner, logo, cherry, plum

I finally replaced the default imageless banner of the blog.

As you can see now it includes our newly designed logo and three drawings.

The logo is based upon a couple of ideas.

Firstly, the shape is based on the motif which is used by several Aikido organisations in their logos. Our mother organisation's logo is very similar but it is very similar for the Japanese Aikikai and several other Aikido organisations (for example, in the logos of the Dutch Aikikai Foundation or the British Aikido Federation), too.

First, I remembered someone saying that this motif was the cherry blossom (sakura) which is

[...]Japan's unofficial national flower. It has been celebrated for many centuries and takes a very prominent position in Japanese culture.

There are many dozens of different cherry tree varieties in Japan, most of which bloom for just a couple of days in spring. The Japanese celebrate that time of the year with hanami (cherry blossom viewing) parties under the blooming trees.

(Source Japan-guide.com)

I was looking for confirmations that the flower was really a cherry blossom but I couldn't find anything that would confirm this theory (and memory) of mine. After a couple of ours I told myself to stop looking for cherry blossom and start looking for something else in case the flower is not cherry. I remembered that the number of 'petals' in the logo is always five no matter which organisation uses it. Starting my search from this fact brought some unexpected results: the flower is a plum blossom! I also found a quote from O'Sensei explaining what the five petals mean.

Three thousand worlds
Burst into bloom
The flower of the plum
Now, if you are able to read this and say to yourself,
'Of course, the plum blossom has 5 petals,
each one represents one of the five elements:
earth, water, fire, wind and void (air),'
then you will be able to say that even a tiny plum flower is able to teach you something of the Universe. The blossom is an expression of the spirit of the Great Universal.

(from O'Sensei's Memoirs)

Now back to the logo. I took the sunrise-mountain (is it mountain Fuji?) part of the previous version of our logo by fellow aikidoka Janos Molnar. Changed the colours so that the new logo's middle part is primarily red, and changed its main image from the picture of Charlie san and me at a demonstration to a picture of a samurai. The samurai picture is an stylised version of a photo I made about a samurai doll in the British Museum a couple of years ago.

Banner: Although the initial idea for the header background was a Japanese style landscape drawing, I put on three aikido drawings instead. I made them when another fellow aikidoka lent her graphic tablet to me for a couple of weeks. The decision to put these was rather simple: currently I don't have Internet access at home but I felt the need to urgently create a banner picture during the weekend :D (..and I don't have the tablet now but would be unable to create a nice and stylish landscape anyway). If I find a good Japanese landscape online or people start complaining about the drawings, I might replace them. Or maybe I replace them regularly whenever something new comes to mind :).

If you like the new logo and header section please leave a comment. Leave a nice and constructively critical comment if you don't like them ;). I'd also appreciate if you wrote comments regarding the flower-problem.

Nice food after training

There weren't too many people in Sunday's training so I just want to show the skippers what they missed :).

It's not that we did techniques blindfolded, practiced shomen with bokken but what we had after training.

Enjoy the view of the food and Happy Birthday to Armand!

Friday, 9 November 2007

How to fold a gi properly

Many people put their gi away into their bags after training as if the keikogi was a piece of kitchen cloth. Even if you wash your gi when you get home I think it deserves a "fair treatment" until it gets to the washing machine. I rather don't describe the look of the poor uniform if you just pull it out of your bag when you next use it. Despite these bad examples, I see many beginners who try to fold their gis but I also see a kind of confusion on their faces as they don't know how to do it properly.

My suggestion is that you can fold it anyhow you want but try to minimise the wrinkles. This will also show others how tidy you are. The next couple of pictures and bullet points illustrate how to fold a gi the way I learned it.
But before I get comments about how dirty my gi is as opposed to what I'm preaching above, please note that my gi is white and clean, I just photoshopped the images to emphasize the folds better ;).

  • Step one: put the jacket down onto the tatami (or any other clean surface) as shown.
  • Step two: Put the bottom of the gi on top of the jacket at its middle.
  • Step thee: Fold one side of the jacket onto the bottom and fold half of the sleeve back.
  • Step four: Do the same with the other side of the jacket.
  • Step five: Now fold the bottom part of the gi bottom up.
  • Step six: Fold the bottom up once again.
  • Step seven: Repeat this for again, and it will look pretty nice as the last fold will just fit on the rest of the gi.
  • Step eight: Wrap your belt around your folded gi and tuck the end of it below the already wrapped belt sections.

Tuesday, 6 November 2007

My first Aikido experinces

If you are talking about aikido in public, probably the first reaction to pop up will be something like “oh yes that Steven Seagal stuff”. Funny though, I didn’t even now this “common sense” until I was doing aikido for about a couple of months. Well, maybe that was my luck; otherwise I would never start learning this beautiful martial art. Not because I have no respect for Seagal, of course I had also enjoyed his movies, but because I don’t really like aggression (and now we all know that was only about entertaining), it wouldn’t be the real motivation to catch up with it.

Fortunately my master Laszlo Elsner 5.dan have more sense of harmony, so after seeing my first ever training in early 1999, I got really excited about something absolutely new (for me, of course :) ), therefore I was already taking the following class in my jogging trousers and my favourite Red Bull t-shirt (you have to look cool, hah?). I remember having pain in my knees, ankles after the first fallings, but I was absolutely determined to survive J At the beginning the progression wasn’t quite easy for me, because the majority of the club was pretty beginner-guys being graded for 5th, 6th kyu, or had no grade at all. So I started to attend classes also in my masters headquarter club, where I could also practice with some guys having hakama. Soon I realized I was utterly addicted to aikido, having 5 classes a week, plus helping out in the children's classes on Saturdays and Sundays, which made it 7 trainings a week…
The reason for doing aikdo is simple: I found something that I was missing and I would really miss in my life. Not just Aikido, harmony or the universe’s energy, but friends. Friends who really made my last decade, and hopefully they will so in the following few ones :).

Monday, 5 November 2007

Smile and relax - humour, hakama, east of England

An aikido training should not be too serious. You should respect others, O'Sensei and the dojo (see prev. post) but a smile is never frowned upon if it's not out of hands :). Our masters ask us to smile when executing a technique. It shows that you enjoy the class, don't take things or yourself too seriously and your muscles are relaxed enough to do a technique in harmony (without collision of the Forces* ;)).
Your muscles should not be too stiff for aikido, and smiling helps a lot in this. A relaxed body can perform better.

The former Soviet Union had a coach for the men's 100m sprint who accepted someone as trainee only if the person passed a quick test: he had to run the 100m with a rolled paper in his mouth (it's exactly like playing fetch just completely different :)). If the paper stayed intact after the sprint the runner was OK, otherwise dismissed. The reason was that if you clench your teeth you can't be relaxed enough to give 100% when running. It was used in this short distance run mostly because if you run longer distances (as many of you go running for 30-60 minutes or so), at the end you should end up more relaxed as being stiff is not sustainable if you exercise one thing for a longer period anyway. Since aikido is rather a "short-distance-many-times" exercise (seiza-practice-seiza-practice,technique-pin-technique-pin, etc.) it's important to be relaxed before you start doing a technique.

Many web sites offer some aikido humour (cartoons, "funny" songs :)) and, especially in children's classes, there might be some humorous aikido games as well. (I like these games in adult classes too as my inner child is always ready for games ...unlike the comrade leader in old eastern times who said "I do understand humour just don't like it" :D)

A couple of days ago I came across some videos and photos my brother took in Hungary (where I'm from). I'm not showing these videos here because, although funny enough, drunk people falling off horses during a local traditional festival are not really appropriate for this blog :). However, I have some pictures showing (reasonably sober) people in old clothes that prove the historical relation between the Hungarian and Japanese :). Look at the pictures, what are they wearing? Of course, it's a Hungarian Hakama! :D It is called "gatya" or "bőgatya" which also shows the relation because the words have (almost) only 'a' vowels in them, and 'k' and 'g' are very similar in Japanese, too! Remember, "Kote" (forearm) and "kaeshi" (reversal, return) becomes "kotegaeshi" (a name of a technique) when used together! Amazing! :D Almost a complete match! It's like getting from "deer" to "beer" in one step. :) And should I mention that hakama was worn initially by horseback samurai? It's all way too obvious. :D

Enjoy your trainings, add some comments here if you feel like doing so.

*I read that George Lucas took, at least partially, the idea of the Force in Star Wars from an aikido master but more about this maybe later in another post.