Saturday, 20 April 2013

Where is the Aiki in Dentokan Aiki-Jujutsu?

Much is made of “ki” and Aiki in Aikido. Aikido is the way of Aiki. As I continue to explore and develop Aiki as a martial artist, I want to know where these principles can be seen in Aiki-Jujutsu, Aikido’s sister art if you will. Here are a couple of examples of where I believe the principles of Aiki can be demonstrably seen in the Dentokan Aiki-Jujutsu waza:

1.    Gyaku Kote Gaeshi & Tachi Gyaku Kote Gaeshi Shodan Gi

In the suware waza version of the technique, uke grabs both wrists and applies pressure. Tori responds by pushing down on their own knees with their fingers, and raising their wrists applies a slight amount of forward pressure using their own body weight. In this first part of the movement we find two very important principles – kuzushi and ma’ai. The forward pressure is to take uke’s balance (Kuzushi) and to create a gap (ma’ai) between uke’s hand and tori’s wrist. Here ma’ai and kuzushi work together, If too much forward momentum is applied, uke will be pushed backwards and release their grip in order to balance themselves thus breaking contact and losing the optimum ma’ai. The gap created by raising your wrists is essential in order to take the grip to apply the wrist lock. 

The wrist lock involves turning your hand 180 degrees so that your palm is facing you, then using your last three fingers you grip deep into the palm of uke’s hand. Once You have taken hold of the grip you extend your arm driving uke’s arm into their centre and rest their hand on your knee. Then taking the hand uke is holding, cut across uke’s knuckles and push their hand using the hand you gripped with, in order to make them roll out of the wrist lock. In this part of the movement the principle of marui (Ju) is applied. The turning of your own hand so that your palm is facing you is circular; the extension of your arm and cutting of uke’s knuckles in order to affect the wrist lock and roll uke is also circular. 

In the tachi waza version, uke grabs both wrists again but also draws their leg back to kick. As uke’s leg begins to swing, tori swings both hands out in order to break uke’s balance and steps back with the opposite leg. Uke is forced to stumble forward and is unable to execute the kick. Tori then applies the exact same movement as the suware waza version, bring their hands up so that their palms are facing them and taking the grip deep into uke’s own palm. Tori then slides the foot parallel to uke’s kicking leg about 45 degrees and simultaneously extends their arm into uke’s centre breaking their posture. Tori then cuts the knuckles as before, forcing uke to roll or flip out of the wrist lock. 

Here the same principles of ma’ai, kuzushi and marui are seen only in different ways. This time rather than kuzushi being taken by pushing, it is taken by pulling. If tori steps back too far, there will be too great a distance between them and uke and thus tori will not be on posture to affect the wrist lock properly as uke’s full body weight will be clinging onto them. By swinging the hands out uke’s balance is broken, negating their strength. Marui is applied in the same way, through the wrist lock. Ma’ai is also evident in where uke lands. If Tori is off balance during the technique or lets go of uke’s hand, uke could land too far in order to execute atemi at the end of the technique. Therefore the optimal ma’ai is for uke to fall next to tori in striking distance.

2.    Ude Osae Dori (suware & tachi waza) Shodan Gi

In the suware waza version, uke grabs tori’s arm by the sleeve of the gi near the bicep. With the free hand uke goes to throw a punch. Tori counter strikes using a metsubushi (a strike designed as a distraction usually aimed at the eyes) and then places their hand over uke’s grip in order to prevent them from removing their grip. As tori counter strikes with the metsubushi, they simultaneously apply forward pressure, gently locking up uke’s shoulder with the other arm. Once uke’s grip has been secured, tori then twists from the waist, thus applying the wrist lock and points in the direction they want uke to go, forcing uke to collapse and put their hand out to brace themselves. Once uke’s balance has been taken, tori takes their free hand and using the edge of their hand between their thumb and index finger push against uke’s tricep just above the elbow; while at the same time rolling their own shoulder in order to turn uke over onto their stomach. Maintaining the wrist lock tori knee walks to stretch uke’s arm out away from their body. Tori places one knee in uke’s ribs in order to prevent them from rolling out and applies the wrist lock.

Once more kuzushi, ma’ai and marui are at the heart of this technique. The metsubushi strike combined with the forward pressure driven through tori’s arm and up into uke’s shoulder and the turning at the waist, are examples of taking kuzushi. The turning over of uke’s wrist and arm after turning from the waist is an example of marui. In this incidence the marui is small not large. By keeping the circular movement small uke has less chance of regaining posture. If the circular movement is too big and tori takes uke’s arm over their head, then balance could be restored. Finally by placing uke face down onto the mat and maintaining one knee in their ribs this creates the optimal ma’ai as if tori is too far away from uke, uke could potentially roll out of the wrist lock when it is applied - good ma’ai needs to be maintained in order for the wrist lock to be applied successfully. 

In the tachi waza version the same principles and movement are applied again. The movements are almost identical while standing until the end of the technique. Uke grabs and strikes as in suware waza, and tori counter strikes with the metsubushi and takes kuzushi as before too. Once tori has taken uke’s arm and turned it over so that uke is bent over facing the floor, tori uses their own hip as an obstruction, knocking uke onto the ground while stepping out to stretch their arm away from the body. After stretching uke out, tori tenkans and then turning uke’s wrist, stands on it while straightening up poised to strike if necessary. Just as in the suware waza the marui movement here is small. If the movement is too large as tori takes uke’s arm over, uke could resist and regain posture. Here ma’ai is incredibly important; if tori steps out too far and tenkans too widely then their own balance is affected and control is lost over the technique.

When these Aiki principles are used together and correctly the technique will be applied successfully and full control over uke will be maintained throughout each movement. Aiki is paramount to the martial effectiveness of all Aiki-Jujutsu and Aikido techniques.

Saturday, 16 March 2013

What is Aiki? Part II

I wrote a blog last year about what aiki was from my understanding of the concept at that time. In hindsight I am embarrassed by this blog and my own ignorance and have considered deleting it; however, I've decided to leave it on my blog page as evidence of my ongoing study and understanding of aiki. I now approach the subject with far more humility.

For fear of appearing foolish yet again I am merely going to limit this blog to identifying the fundamental principles that from my study of Daito-Ryu Aiki-Jujutsu and Aikido are central to the application and nature of aiki. These are:

1. Ma'ai - the appropriate distance between you and your opponent to create the maximal effect of the technique.
2. Metsuke - the discernment of your opponent's actions and movements through the focus/fixation of your eyes.
3. Kuzushi - the breaking of your opponent's balance and posture
4. Kokyuho - the practise of breathing and the timing of your breathing while executing the techniques to create the maximal effect. 
5. Marui (Ju) - the circle. The geometric shape of the circle is of intrinsic importance to both Jujutsu and Aikido on a technical and philosophical level. I have read that it comes from the Japanese word "Ju" meaning gentleness or softness. It is a principle I have spoken of before when I have explained my interpretation of "Ju" as being "to yield".
6. Irimi - the point of entering into your opponent's attack. Irimi is - as far as I currently understand it - the combination of principles 1-5: it requires a good judgement of ma'ai, which is adjusted appropriately through metsuke, and the exercise of correct kokyu to effect kuzushi so that your opponent cannot finish their attack resulting in blending with that energy in order to create Ju. 

I am sure there are many more principles to the successful application and understanding of aiki that I am not currently aware of, so my list is not exhaustive. These 6 principles are what I am currently trying to learn and apply adeptly. What I am learning and growing to appreciate all the time is the very martial nature of aiki. As Katsuyuki Kondo, doshu of Daito-Ryu Aiki-Jujutsu explains without learning how to apply aiki, just learning the Jujutsu techniques will be for nothing.

Saturday, 9 March 2013

"Discover Who You Are"

Roy Dean, Jujutsu specialist and expert has spoken of the meaning of his famous phrase "Discover Who You Are", (which can be read here). In his article Roy touches upon a very important truth that resonates with me very powerfully. In his article Roy says:

"Allow the discipline (BJJ) to transform you.  A lot of people end up serving the discipline; they get injured, they give up their wife, they give up their job to chase the discipline.  The discipline should enhance your life, you should never serve the discipline." (emphasis mine).

As a Christian I believe all forms of idolatry are wrong, and the martial arts can become as much of an idol as anything else, spiritual or material in our lives. What Roy is expounding here conveys this very same principle. Jujutsu should not become an idol in peoples' lives. If it does then it cannot enhance only enslave. Idols are misplaced forms of worship and service. They are substitutes for the only true, living God. When we are living for our idol then our lives are out of balance, our priorities are misplaced and our relationships suffer. Only God can bring our lives into balance, the 10 Commandments are a fantastic example of this - serve the Lord God first then your relationships with your parents, spouse and community will fall into place. 

As Dean says the martial arts should enhance our lives but they are not to be served. Later this year I will emigrate to Japan to marry my Japanese fiancee. I do not want to lose the skills and experience I have gained through my training in Aiki-Jujutsu; I do not want to lose the passion I have for Jujutsu. But I am not moving to Japan primarily to practice the martial arts. I am not going there to slavishly serve or indulge my own passion for Jujutsu. Jujutsu has a place in my life and yes my life has been enhanced by it - but it is not the most important thing in my life. I am encouraged by Dean's article, a man who has dedicated so much of his life to the mastery of Jujutsu in all its forms and expressions and yet has retained his perspective and priorities on life. There is much wisdom in what Dean says about the meaning of "Discover Who You Are". My fiancee and faith mean more to me than Jujutsu.

Dean opens his article by claiming:

"Jiu-jitsu is one of those rare life disciplines that can be interesting for decades… and it can stay with you in different periods of your life."

My life this year is moving from one state into another - from singleness to married life; from my home country of England to Japan and all of the cultural changes that that will bring. My training in Jujutsu will have to adapt or be put on hold to work around my other priorities. Jujutsu will always have a place in my life but that is not on a shrine where I bow before it and sacrifice everything else for it.

Saturday, 2 March 2013

A Christian Perspective on Budo II

In my original blog entitled 'A Christian Perspective on Budo' I explored the idea that the martial arts and Christianity are not mutually exclusive or morally incompatible. I covered the concepts of spiritual warfare, self defence, pacifism and Jesus' teaching on "living by the sword and dying by the sword". 

In this blog I intend to examine the nature and meaning of mercy and the power of God and how they relate to Budo.

The Power of Mercy:

Mercy, a word that connotes weakness in some and a concept that others recoil from out of pride. Compassion, kindness and forgiveness are all aspects of mercy that some find incompatible with the real world. Mercy is often used as a synonym for pacifism. But there is another aspect of mercy that is often overlooked: the power of mercy.

Rather than mercy being for the weak, antithetically mercy is for the strong. Only the powerful can be truly merciful, for no-one in a position of power requires mercy. Only the strong can bestow mercy upon the weak, who are in their power.That is the true nature of mercy. Is the pacifist able to be merciful at the hand of an attacker? When a person attacks with the intention of causing harm or even death, can a dogmatic pacifism that is lead by a misguided understanding of "turn the other cheek" really be able to administer mercy? Was the expression and teaching of Jesus "turn the other cheek" a lesson in mercy at all? Many Christians have interpreted it as such. However, many of Jesus' more difficult teachings can be better understood when they are put into their historical context. In the First Century, a Roman officer would strike a servant using the back of their hand as a sign of superiority over them. By teaching "turn the other cheek" Jesus was actually empowering His followers not to allow others to treat them as inferior, for turning the cheek would force someone to hit them with the palm of their hand, an act only conducted amongst equals. 

Mercy is an intrinsic part of God's nature. Yet, God is the antithesis of weakness for God created the universe "ex nihilo" (out of nothing). Consider the Big Bang - the force of which was so immense that it formed gravity, solar systems, galaxies and created all the atoms known in the periodic table. Quantum Physics has discovered yet more the incredible power of God now that we have knowledge of the unverse at a sub-atomical level. The expansion of the universe is evidence of the Big Bang. The Big Bang then is testimony to the awesome power of God, who is known in philosophy and Natural Theology as the First Cause of the universe. 

The same God who created the universe ex nihilo and who established the mathematical Laws of Physics is also the God who immaculately impregnated the virgin Mary and became incarnate in the person of Jesus. Jesus the Son demonstrated all the attributes of His Heavenly Father. Jesus was never weak - the same Jesus that taught "those who live by the sword, die by the sword" was the same Jesus who supernaturally calmed the storm, walked on water, healed the sick and lame and raised Lazarus from the grave. Jesus had power over nature and death. Let us look more specifically at an event recorded in the Gospel of Mark, the deliverance of the demon passed man oppressed by a Legion of demons.

"For Jesus had said to him, “Come out of this man, you impure spirit!” Then Jesus asked him, “What is your name? “My name is Legion,” he replied, “for we are many.” And he begged Jesus again and again not to send them out of the area." Mark 5:8-10 (bold mine)

A Legion in the Roman army could be any number between 3000-6000. In this encounter between Jesus and a demon possessed man Jesus demonstrated He had total authority over the demonic spirits of the spiritual realm. These demons, possibly by susceptability or sheer force of numbers had oppressed their host victim so that the man harmed himself and dwelt in the local graveyard, a place of ritual impurity in ancient Israel making him an outcast, cut off from Jewish society. Yet despite their intimidating numbers they literally begged Jesus for mercy. How could Jesus command such authority over and strike such fear into such a great number of demons without the power of God?

Let us look at a second example, this time a moral rather than supernatural example of Jesus' power: the story of the adulteress brought before Jesus for stoning.

"The teachers of the law and the Pharisees brought in a woman caught in adultery. They made her stand before the group and said to Jesus, “Teacher, this woman was caught in the act of adultery. In the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now what do you say?” They were using this question as a trap, in order to have a basis for accusing him. But Jesus bent down and started to write on the ground with his finger. When they kept on questioning him, he straightened up and said to them, “Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her. Again he stooped down and wrote on the ground. At this, those who heard began to go away one at a time, the older ones first, until only Jesus was left, with the woman still standing there. Jesus straightened up and asked her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” “No one, sir,” she said. Then neither do I condemn you,” Jesus declared. “Go now and leave your life of sin.” John 8:3-11 (bold mine)

Here we see that Jesus is the only person with the moral authority sanctioned in the Law of Moses to stone this woman to death. Jesus would have been completely justified in executing this woman for committing adultery. But Jesus refrained because Jesus understood that His act of mercy would produce new moral and spiritual life in that woman and the death of her old sinful one as He commanded her to "leave your life of sin". Mercy is the act of giving life. 

The Synergy between the Martial Arts and Christianity:

An expression of this kind of mercy demonstrated by Jesus and found in the nature of God can be seen in the way of the Japanese Sword. The katana is actually the sharp, killing edge of the blade. The blade of the Samurai sword is single edged, one side is sharp the other blunt. The tip of the katana was the sharpest point and this determined the nature and style of Samurai armed combat. The katana was not a stabbing weapon, it was a cutting weapon using a slicing motion. This style of combat led to defensive sword deflections using the blunt edge of the blade known as ukenagashi in Kendo and Aikido. 

The blunt edge of the sword is known as the kisana, translated as the "mercy edge". Thus the Samurai sword is both a weapon to take life and to give it (katana/kisana). This duality is at the very heart of Budo and Christianity. God is both Holy and Just, the Judge of sin and the executor of divine judgement upon evil, as well as merciful forgiving everyone who repents of their sin and believes in the name of Jesus for their salvation. This duality is known in Christianity as propitiation.

"and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God's righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus." Romans 3:24-26

Jesus took humanity's punishment for our sin upon Himself on the cross as He suffered God's divine judgement. Through this act of crucifixion and sacrifice Jesus also made it possible for God to forgive us our sin and show mercy upon the repentant. God is merciful precisely because we cannot earn our salvation and eternal life. Eternal life is a gift of God, an act of His righteous mercy at our humility and repentance. 

It is a principle of both Budo and Christianity that you cannot give life without first learning how to take it. Jesus chose to give life to the adulteress even though He could have legally and morally justifiably taken it. In the same way through the practise of martial arts you learn how to show mercy when confronted with violence. This is known legally as "reasonable force". Under the Law citizens are legally and morally allowed to use an escalating scale of force to defend themselves based upon the level of violence they are confronted with. This ability to judge situations and the discernment necessary to understand the consequences and implications of your actions is best learnt through the martial arts. Only when one knows the effect of a technique can one gain the self-control not to use it. Thus self-defence becomes like the act of using the kisana edge of the sword - merciful rather than lethal. You are able to protect yourself and ultimately your enemy by restraining yourself from using a technique that could cause permanent injury or even death.  

To be able to overcome violence physically in self-defence and refrain from lethally injuring your enemy is true mercy. This philosophy is at the very heart of Aikido - the way of love and harmony. As the goal of all Christians is to become more like God in nature and character, the martial arts can become a useful vehicle through which to cultivate a deeper and more profound understanding of mercy.

Friday, 1 March 2013

Steven Seagal Aikido Master

One of the things that inspires me the most about Steven Seagal was his dedication as a younger man to mastering Aikido. In this interview with The Voice Seagal explains his martial arts journey that led him to embracing Aikido and moving to Japan. As a young man in Japan Seagal trained rigorously and explored all facets of Aikido, including the mystical teachings of the Omoto-kyo religion. 

Seagal had a deep conviction that Aikido needed to work not just in the dojo but also on the street, something that explains how he was able to successfully cross over from the world of Aikido to Hollywood action movie star. Seagal's Aikido in the words of his own students was "severe", his black belt gradings legendarily brutal. While not all Aikidoka will approve of Seagal's contribution through film to the art, his career and example as an Aikido instructor (being known as Take Sensei) is one of the biggest influences in my desire to one day make the transition to Aikido. I love Seagal's description in the interview of the "soft...sublime... and the wrathful" aspects of Aikido. He has shown me that Aikido is able to be a powerful form of self-defence. What Seagal has demonstrated throughout his career (as can be seen be seen in the documentary The Path Beyond Thought) is that "soft" needn't mean weak or ineffective. Aikido as budo is a dynamic martial art.