Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Ikkyo, and making an argument

At my job, I'm often in the position of pitching an agenda to a sometimes reluctant audience.  I'm a Project Manager in a high-tech company, and my presentations often determine whether we're going to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on all kinds of stuff.   I can sometimes get a lot of "push-back," especially when the situation is complicated or difficult for a whole host of possible reasons.

So, the for the past couple of days, we've done Ikkyo in Aikido class.  First technique.  O'Sensei called it the "twenty-year" technique.   I, personally, have had lots of difficulty with this technique.  In particular, the timing is very tricky -- especially from a Shomen-uchi attack, and especially the way we do it in our Dojo, which is very, very direct and linear.  Even if I get the timing right, I often over-extend myself (I lean forward), which makes the technique hard to finish.

So, during my last presentation at work, I'm anticipating an attack from some "Uke" in the room, and, sure enough, there it is (Shomen-uchi -- a strike right to the top of my head).  It occurs to me that the visual presentation on the screen (the PowerPoint presentation) is like the hand/arm technique, and the technical, commercial, and political "posture" I'm taking, manifested in my physical and verbal delivery, is my "center."   
So, I focused on not letting what was on the screen get too far ahead of the attack, nor did I minimize it (a la "T-Rex arms").  I focused on my own posture, my own center, and how it related to Uke's.  I met the attack before it had built up any real power, and moved through it -- from my center.

The fight was over before it began, and nobody got hurt.   I even got comments after the meeting like "I don't know what you did, but it worked."

Yes, this stuff really works!

Friday, February 21, 2014


While Aikido, in general is not conducive to a "cookbook" approach, it can be useful -- especially for new students -- to have some "rules" to apply during practice.  Beyond the things we hear all the time like "breathe," "relax," "move," etc, I think there's a general pattern to our training that I'd like to suggest..

So, I'm still working on the snappy mnemonic that will be the cover of my best-selling book on Aikido (ha), but set that aside for a moment.  check this out:

S - See
A - Adjust (or Adapt)
B - Blend
L - Lead
E - End

(note that "Sable" means "very dark in color" -- like a black belt, if that helps)

Let's break this down.


To "see" the attack is take it all in, while not getting fooled, frightened, or distracted into focusing on it.  We talk about having a "soft focus" -- meaning that you don't physically focus your eyes on any particular spot, but rather you take in the whole scene.  Eventually this includes the whole room.  Sorentino Sensei teaches: Aikido evolved out of an environment that included "multiple attackers, weapons everywhere."

I even thought about using the word "Forecast," to indicate that we work towards seeing the attach before it even happens.  Not nearly as cool a mnemonic, IMHO (Fable), and really doesn't stress the "whole scene" aspect.  But we do try to work towards being ahead of the attack; responding, rather than reacting to it (but not having an agenda!).

Adjust, or Adapt

Once we see the attack, our first objective is to "not get hit" (or grabbed, or whatever).  To do that, we almost always talk about getting "off the line of attack."   Sometimes this looks like we turn (tenkan) to face the same direction as the attacker (Uke).  Sometimes we simply step aside to the "safe side" of the attack (shikakku).  There are also techniques, and individual styles, which stress a more aggressive line that seem more to own, or take over the line of attack, rather than adjusting to it. Often, these are more "entering" (irimi) techniques. Still, I think it's safe to say that getting off the line is a general principle of most Aikido techniques and philosophy.


Ah, yes, blending.  This is probably the thing that most students (at any level) find the most difficult.  New students especially find it counter-intuitive to blend with an attack rather than what is more natural, which is to oppose, block, or resist the attack.  It never ceases to amaze me how we seem to be hard-wired to go right into the attack when we, rather than go around it, and how we seem to retreat from attack in real life.

In Aikido, there are plenty of times when we project power directly into the attacker's center (he says as he rubs his wrist, recalling last night's Nikkyo demonstration), but always there's a way "in" to that point that does not involve directly opposing the attack.  It may not look like that at speed, or to a new student, it may be very small circles...  but it's true.


Leading the attack is the next phase, after we've blended with it and broken the attacker's center (shizuki).  Depending on the style of the practitioner, the body types involved, and the technique itself, this bit can be anywhere from big and round and flowing, to direct and linear and almost invisible.   But this is the phase in an Aikido interaction where we (as Nage) say to the attacker (Uke) "I've heard what you have to say, I'm not taking it personally, I have a better idea, and here it is."


I remember Frank Doran Sensei once saying "Aikido is about ending the fight (not winning it)."  In Aikdio, the "end" of a technique can be anything from disposing of the attacker and moving on to the next one, to pinning the attacker to the mat (gently and with love, of course).

So there you have it.  SABLE.   Chew on that for a while.