Thursday, 20 December 2007

Sunday training photos

Thanks to our loyal I-don't-train-but-I-like-supporting-you-by-watching amateur photographer friend Tamas (I hope the description is accurate enough :)), we have a lot of photos taken last Sunday. They were pre-filtered by Chris and further filtered by me, now we have only 133 left to show :D. There are also others in the pictures, so the collection is a result of real team work :).

Like it or not, I'm the most frequently photographed person in this picture set thanks to the facts that 1. Karesz "Charlie san" sensei was away and made me in charge of the class, 2. we did some breathing and streching exercises at the beginning of the class, 3. I didn't really filter out many pictures about me :).

Enjoy the slideshow and in case I don't post anything here before Christmas I wish you a Merry Christmas and a nice Christmas meal, too :)!

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Monday, 17 December 2007

Shomen vs. Chopping wood

There's a very good blog about aikido that discusses the basic attacks, movements and principles of aikido but, unfortunately, it's not in English. However, if you want to read technical descriptions as detailed as a work of a mechanical engineer it is worth finding a Hungarian friend and ask him/her to translate a couple of posts for you although I'll try to use the knowledge I acquire from there in my posts.

The point of this new post is that on that blog there was a description of shomen(uchi) and we commenters started to compare shomenuchi with chopping wood. Indeed, they are quite similar and one can be used to get better at the other. Both are supposed to be straight vertical cuts with an instrument that is about a meter long (katana vs. axe) and both cuts are intended to separate the left and right sides of something that was a whole just before the cuts.

There are some differences, however, and I'd like to discuss them as well as pointing out whenever connection between the two cuts can still be made .

To start with, the katana should be balanced in weight whereas the axe is heavier at its cutting end. The axe is stopped by the stand the block is on if your cut is too strong and since the point of stopping does not really matter as long as the block is cut into halves it is much more useful to have some weight at the end of the axe and make the rest of it from wood so you can cut hundreds. You should also be able to cut hundreds with a katana but all your cuts must be as perfect as possible otherwise you may end up in two parts on the battlefield. It is important to finish the shomen cut at around waist level for which there are several reasons. Firstly, if you have already cut someone from head to waist it is unlikely he will fight back. Secondly, as the blade goes deeper down in your test object :) its momentum will dramatically decrease and eventually it can get stuck in the object's bone structure and you, unable to get it out quickly enough, will end up being cut into two parts on the battlefield. So try to cut until waist level because then you can pull the sword out the easiest way as you just move (your hip) away from the target horizontally (which way you can use our strength most effectively). Then you will be able to take on the next attacking dummy quickly. Thirdly, if the dummy is quick enough and moves away from your straight shomen and your cut goes all the way until the ground your katana will get dirty :). On top of this, you will become unstable and might just stumble or fall ahead which is when the back of your neck becomes open and you end up in two parts, this way head separated from body, on the battlefield.

Another difference can be that you always raise your sword, and hand if it is shomenuchi, in front of you because this is the way when your face, and basically all your front armor, doesn't become open to a straight attack, e.g. tsuki (forward thrust), from your enemy. In contrast to this, you can raise your axe at your side, the wood won't attack you. This way you might manage the weight of the head of the axe more efficiently, too.

Chopping wood can show you how to keep your instrument straight. If the head of your axe is a bit sideways you will surely see and feel that it's not the correct way of holding it. A slight difference in angle from vertical can result in very low efficiency and we surely don't want that.

Chopping wood also teaches us to keep proper distance. As it's only the tip part, say the last 15cm, of the katana that is very sharp and extremely tough you have to reach your target with that part. If you are too far you will miss the target, if you are too close your cut won't be efficient enough and unnecessary short distances in combat are very dangerous, anyway. In parallel, if you have an axe and you are too far from the block your legs (/front leg) will be in danger, if you are too close you will get a good 'shaky' indication for not doing it properly not even mentioning that you can eventually lose the head of the axe or break the handle.

Chopping wood can improve your ballance, strength and if you do it long enough your shoulders should become more relaxed because if they are stiff you will get tired very soon.

One other advantage of chopping wood is that it also produces something useful (firewood) which shomen cuts with a katana don't (apart from improving skills).

Please note that I'm not saying you shouldn't practice shomen or shomenuchi often, it is still important, just that there is this chopping exercise that shows you different aspects of a straight cut, and to quote from Calvin's dad "it builds character" :).

An almost-real-world example for the usefulness of wood chopping is that of Heihachi Hayashida from Kurosawa's Seven Samurai (Shichinin no Samurai). He is the one who is from the "Wood-Chop School of Swordsmanship," cutting up kindling in exchange for his meals. If he did it then it should surely be useful ;).

And finally, videos:

A katana cut (shomen. I couldn't find a proper shomen with a sword):

How not to chop...

Mixing the two ideas... (don't try this at home because it destroys your sword; never mix up two ways of cutting; don't do anything stupid :))

Please let me know if anything is missing, incorrect or, by any chance, very good :).

Thursday, 13 December 2007

The meaning of the three aikido kanji

In the previous post we saw how the whole word 'aikido' can be translated to English. Let's see now what the individual parts of the word mean. Fortunately, every sourse I came across mentioned that the aikido includes three parts, AI, KI and DO. The number of Japanese kanji for the word is also three. Let's see how the individual kanji are explained in the online sources I've seen. Obviously, there are several descriptions that are literally the same for many webpages (the old copy and paste method possibly), so I'll include one text only once. One of the best descriptions I think come from budodojo and from a web page in Hungarian (find it translated at the bottom of the list).

  • Ai - harmony,
  • Ki - spirit, mind or universal energy,
  • Do - the Way

  • Ai - harmony,
  • Ki - spirit,
  • Do - the Way or Path

  • Ai - joining, harmonizing
  • Ki - spirit, life energy
  • Do - way, path

  • Ai - to gather or harmonize
  • Ki - universal life force/energy. This is the energy that we share with nature and all living beings
  • Do - an artful path of discovery

  • Ai - the kanji for AI (also pronounced GO and KATSU), as an ideogram, is often interpreted historically as a rice pot with a lid. This suggests the idea of meeting, joining or coming together. The character is often used to indicate harmony, union and reconciliation.
  • Ki - The kanji for KI means spirit. It comes from the X character in the lower center, meaning rice. The radical to the top and leading down to the right represents vapor. Together they originally indicated the vapors rising from cooked rice and now indicate the idea of spirit or unseen force. Today it is generally used to indicate an invisible, spiritual energy or life force.
  • Do - The DO kanji (also DO, TO, and michi) is composed of the wavy radical to the lower left meaning movement and the element to the right meaning head or chief. These were used to suggest the idea of the main road and finally came to mean way or road. In the context of aikido it takes on the common abstract meaning of way or way of enlightenment. DO is used in many Japanese words regarding traditional Japanese martial arts including; budo, judo, kendo, kyudo, karate-do, and dojo.

  • Ai - translated as "harmony," this term is most commonly associated with aikido, where one combines their energy with that of their opponents.
  • Aiki - "harmony meeting." When one combines an opponents' energy with their own for control.
  • Ki - "spirit." Ideally, the mental and spiritual power summoned through concentration and breathing that can be applied to accomplish physical feats. This centralized energy, possessed by every person, can be manifested through the practice of just about any manifested through the practice of just about any martial discipline.
  • Do - "way" or "path." When this term is used as a suffix to a particular style of the Japanese martial arts, it is indicitive of more than just a means of combat. Do indicates a disciplineand philosophy with moral and spiritual connotations, with the ultimate aim being enlightenment.

  • Ai - 'to meet, to come together, to harmonize'.
  • Ki - 'energy, spirit, mind'. In a larger context, Ki means 'the spirit of the universe', and not just the spirit of human beings.
  • Do - 'the way'. It signifies that the study of Aikido does not involve merely self-defense techniques, but includes positive character-building ideals which a person can incorporate into his or her life.

  • Ai - mutual
  • Ki - spirit (from Middle Chinese khi)
  • Do - art (from Middle Chinese daw', thaw).

  • Ai - the first and most important kanji which means "meet, come together, harmonize".
  • Ki - which means "soul, mind, spirit". In a larger context, Ki refers to the spirit of the universe and not just the spirit in human beings.
  • Do - which means "the way", to signify that Aikido involves an outer and inner practice over the long term.

  • Ai - unity, harmony, love, identifying with something
  • Ki - living force, energy of centered power
  • Do - way, means of something

  • Ai - harmony
  • Ki - energy, spirit
  • Do - the way, path, road, philosophy of...

  • Ai - it means 'harmony'. The aim of aikido is to create harmony. Harmony with ourselves, our partner we train with and harmony with the world.
  • Ki - this requires a more explanation. The kanji itself has two parts. The part below the (approximately) horizontal line denote the rise fields, the part above show the vapour above the rise fields. It doesn't mean much for us westerners but the vapor above the rise fields means life and livelihood to the people of the East. The original meaning of this kanji has changed over the past centuries. Today Ki means universal living force, energy that is present everywhere. It is the same as chi in China and prana in India.
  • Do - the meaning of Japanese do and Chinese tao are identical. Both of them mean 'way', 'road' or 'path', but not only the road we put our feet on but rather the road we walk on and we get somewhere; the way that leads to our objectives.

When I almost finished this post I was looking for individual kanji pictures and my Chinese colleague suddenly turned towards me and said 'I know this one!'. That was the 'do' kanji. So I took the opportunity to explore what these three kanji mean to the Chinese. Here's what she said, with approximate pronounciations:

  • the AI kanji - [hei, he] - come together, fit
  • the KI kanji - [chi, qi] - air, vital breath, 'if you don't have this you die'
  • the Do kanji - [dao] - philosophy, path, way, direction, method, principle

For me it's very interesting. Same kanji, sometimes completely different pronounciation, similar meanings. I learned something new again :).

Did I miss something important? Please let me know in the comments.

Monday, 10 December 2007

Translations, interpretations of the word AIKIDO

On my way of reading articles about aikido I've come across several web pages that explain the basics of aikido to visitors who don't know much about this martial art. Most of these pages contain an introduction to aikido, what the main principles are, who was O'Sensei and when did he create aikido. One thing that was particularly interesting to see was the variety of interpretations of the word 'aikido'. The translations and interpretations are mostly very similar but different versions might include different aspects of the word's meaning.

The following is a list of translations and interpretations that show how others describe the word aikido. They aren't sorted in any way, I just include them as I found them.

  • "A way of harmonizing with the universal spirit"
  • "An artful path of discovering how to gather and harmonize the energy of the universe"
  • "Together the characters ai ki and do indicate a spiritual path to unionizing or harmonizing spiritual energy"
  • "The way of harmonious spirit"
  • "The way of harmony with universal energy"
  • "The path of harmony"
  • "The way of harmony"
  • "Harmony of spirit to find a way"
  • "The harmony of body and spirit"
  • "The art of non-resistance"
  • "The non-fighting martial art"
  • "The way of harmonizing with the universe"
  • "The art of creating unity"
  • "The way of unionising with the inducement of the universe"
  • "The way of harmonious inner power"
  • "The way of spiritual energy"
  • "Martial art of harmony"
  • "Art of love"
  • "Harmony of love"
My personal favourites are the 'way of harmony' and the 'art of non-resistance'. These sound simple enough to understand and clearly describe the main principles I see in aikido. Aikido is a martial art, so art describes it well. It is a way of life if practiced in a devoted manner so way is also a good descriptor. Our aim is to use the attacker's energy so we should not resist his attack but redirect it. If there is no collision of forces then both harmony and non-resistance can be achieved. I think it is not possible to describe ki in one word so I wouldn't use the direct interpretations spirit, energy or inner power as they individually do not capture the total meaning of the word. Also, I need to learn much more to be able to understand translations that include the words universe and universal energy. Maybe later I will understand these as well and then I'll use them to explain what the word aikido means.

The original kanji pictures are from Aikiweb.

Friday, 7 December 2007

Aikido in a business plan competition

To learn how businesses work and how they should be started, I entered the 'Pitch your idea business plan competition' at the university I'm at. It included a series of one-day courses about finance, marketing, intellectual property rights, etc. and we were asked to come up with a business plan of our own and create a short executive summary of our plan. The summaries were judged and the best 10 got into the final where we needed to 'pitch our ideas', convince the panel of 8 businessmen and -women that our plan was very good. We had to talk for 5 minutes and there was 10 minutes for questions. They it was like in Dragon's den but I haven't seen any episodes from that TV programme.

But why is this interesting to our aikido blog? Because my idea was related to aikido. Initially I just thought I wanted to set up a fictional business and teach aikido - fictional because I wouldn't start a proper aikido class with my 2nd kyu, obviously. So I worked on this idea and soon realized that there isn't too much money involved, so unless I have 40 years experience I won't start a highly profitable aikido business. Just read some of the latest entries from aikiweb by Erik Calderon (titled 'I QUIT!' and 'Aikido SUCKS!').

The modified idea was to do an aikido therapy, which was based on the idea of martial arts therapy. I set up and submitted the new business plan, talked about it in the final, answered questions and received a certificate of participation.

I didn't win but I still won. Not a prize but experience, opportunity to talk to knowledgable people and other students with ideas. I also got a £20 book token which was given to each finalist, a free certificate to put on my wall :), several free lunches and a half-ready business plan with feedback to improve it.

ps. The final took place in a very nice building near Barbican station in London (right next to the building which is used in the Poirot films as the detective's office/home) so I couldn't help asking someone to take a picture of me in the room during the break after my session :).

Have a nice day everyone.

Monday, 3 December 2007


This is just another week when I read something, think about it, observe it and write a post about it. This time I read an article about the correct posture in modern life and aikido.

The main idea I understood was that the skeleton but especially the muscles of humans are not evolved for sitting in chairs and in front of computer screens. Our ancestors had to walk a lot, lift heavy objects and they needed the optimal body structure for this as well as a proper use of this structure. A very interesting point in the article is that knees and leg muscles (e.g. the quadriceps) of modern mankind are much weeker than those of our fathers, grandfathers, etc. We don't need to sit on the floor any more because we have chairs and tables. We don't need to lift heavy objects as often because we have forklifts :). Since we don't need to exploit our muscles and bones to achieve highest efficiency, unfortunately, we tend to use them in a far from optimal manner. Just think about how you pick up something from the floor. You will probably bend and use your muscles in your back to lift that thing. Bending becomes our default motion to 'go down' to reach something positioned low and since our body is not designed for this our back, and life at an older age, will suffer its consequences. Just to experiment, I counted how many times a day I bent instead of squatting, but I stopped counting after 40...

I think the Japanese are luckier in this sense because they still actively sit in seiza and it might be easier for them not to overuse their waists.

The proper practice to lift up something, for example, a watermelon :), would be to keep your upper body straight and upright, squat, pick up that melon and stand up while you are still in an upright position. You need to use the strength of your legs and position your hip for the ideal lifting position.

This is the same for aikido. We tend to bend too often and it's very hard to learn to keep the proper upright posture. It also sounds easier to bend when you take down your uke but as the pain in my back and waist the day after training proves there should be a better way to execute techniques. I feel lucky that we can practice suwari waza as well. There we need to use our toes and leg muscles that are otherwise not exercised and taken care of properly. We also need to use our hips so there is a higher chance that if we do it properly won't suffer that much when we grow old. And even when we grow old, we can still practice aikido which is a very good thing. Just have a look at aikido masters over 70.