55. Self-Imposed Limitations
57. Aikido Seasoning Redux

56. Aikido Seasoning

Hmmm....a little salt, some garlic, maybe some gumbo file.....oops you caught me in the middle of thinking about the Cajun Holy Trinity (of cajun cooking and gumbo..a little onion, a little celery,. a little.....).

Aikido seasoning is a topic that I'll consider trying to expand over a post or two since it's a little easier on me (and you) to NOT have a single post that takes 4 days to read.

For the record it should be obvious that I'm not talking about seasoning food but rather, the seasoning or maturity or depth of true understanding that we derive from just simply being on the mat for years and making a ton of mistakes and doing good and bad, right and wrong, precise and imprecise in all facets of Aikido practice.  This includes what we say and do, how we train, how we treat our ukes and juniors and seniors. 

Seasoning in Aikido is the same as seasoning in life and with enough of the right kind we end up old and gray and people consider us to be old and wise, instead of old and dumb (or silly).

As a kid, I was always in a hurry to grow up.  I wanted to get out of knickers and into long pants.  I wanted to cross the street and go to the store by myself without mommy holding my hand.  I wanted to drink alcohol and drive a car NOW and not years from now.  I was really impatient and as a result I'm now 58 years old and many, many, many times regret (severely and sincerely regret) that I was so impatient that I missed many of the lessons the old geezers around me tried to teach me but that I missed because of my "ants-in-my-pants" impatience.

Today I was sitting at my desk and was just surfing the web since today is one of those days when I have so much to do and I'm so far behind that instead of feeling energy about the job and the opportunity to make more money I just feel the weight of the grind (I need to win the lotto since I bet I'd be really good at being retired.....  ;-) .......).

I'm surfing so much I start to reach for my can of Dr. Zog's Sex Wax for my board and I stumble across a blog with my name as one of the topics.  This of course catches my attention since not all of the comments were complementary (not really bad either for that matter so I'm not complaining, I just found the discussion interesting since it's not often you get to see what others think).  Interspersed throughout the blog were various comments on my method of teaching and of running the dojo.  So being the curious guy that I am, I tracked down all the threads and found out who it was and once I made the discovery, I had a flashback like a 1968 hippie on LSD who's been hanging out at Barton Springs too long and had a big "Like WOW MAN.......far out....like deja vue!"

I suddenly channeled my old Sensei and had a brief moment of fully and completely understanding his viewpoint and for that momentary flash of satori no longer thought that he was some insane samurai plopped down in Texas 200 years out of time and 5,000 miles out of place.

He once said, "It's too bad that so-and-so left the dojo because he'll likely never understand.  He left before it was time to leave.  He's too impatient and the cakes not baked."  So I course had to ask why and after about 3 hours of conversation on a work night and sitting in the dojo until after 12 midnight I was starting to ask myself why I had to ask why; until I remembered that I had to be patient and not have those teenage ants-in-my-pants any more.  I had to sit through the lesson in order to learn the lesson, as-it-were.

So Sensei talked about learning and how difficult it is to fully understand the larger picture with only limited information and how common it is in the martial arts and in Aikido for a student to think that Sensei is withholding data or not teaching correctly or that Sensei just doesn't know the information and then leaves for "greener pastures" with a better Sensei.  In order to get this into the blog so that it makes some direct sense I'll do some "paraphrase-ing" and "example-ing" for this and the following posts.

In this blog I ran across, the writer complained that one of my senior teachers had tried to teach him tenchi-nage but had left out the part about the breath.  The undertones of his comments was that my senior student (and by extension me) didn't know about kokyu.  His blog was about kokyu-nage and the application of breath during the throw and he had a long list of the waza in our ryu of what throws did and did not utilize kokyu even though he understands the waza he listed little since he had essentially just learned them and had not gone through the forging process so many Aikido Sensei talk about.

He now trains at a different dojo and was commenting that "they" showed him what we couldn't.  Well, at first I was thinking what in the world is this guy talking about and then the deja vue struck me wtih its' import.

He left our dojo as a brand new Shodan who, after being promoted, promptly proceeded to go on hiatus like many new promotees are wont to do; i.e, he got lazy and quit training or even showing up at the dojo  So here's the rub and here is what Sensei meant when he gave me the lesson so many years ago.

How can I teach you to correctly apply breath to throw tenchi-nage (or any waza for that matter) if you still are unable to get your feet in the proper position for the waza to begin with (or your arms or your hands or your overall posture, etc., etc.,)????

How can I, or anyone for that matter, teach you the subtleties of a waza if you can't tie your pants correctly?  In other words, how in the world can any Sensei teach you the advanced and more intricate parts of a waza if you have only just learned and blocked out the basic form and are still working on that?

So this was what Sensei was referring to and what he taught me that night.  You simply have to be on the mat a sufficient number of hours AND you have to have actually THROWN that waza a sufficient number of times (1,000's) in order to understand the base level before you are ready to understand the middle level, before you can understand the advanced level, before you can understand the super advanced level, before you............................well, you get the idea.

He actually was a good a Shodan with much potential but having only just seen tenchi-nage, he simply was not ready for the advanced concepts or a discussion of the idea of using the breath for throwing and, even if the senior player who was teaching him tenchi-nage talked about focused breathing (kokyu) whether that kokyu was physical or mental or spiritual (yes grasshopper, kokyu encompasses all three and is not ONLY air and blowing up balloons) would he have understood or even heard the words, his mind being focused only on the position of body, use of kuzushi, direction of happo-no-kuzushi, body drop/body rise, etc.?

So as a brand new Shodan, does he really have the ability (the seasoning) to ask the question, "Say, where's the kokyu?"  like the old tv commercials where the old lady walks into the burger shop and asks, "Where's the beef"?  If he had asked that question as a Sandan or Godan then sure, it's time to talk but as a newly minted Shodan?

I have only recently (recently being the last 2 or 3 years) acquired a number of advanced dan ranks that are capable of understanding the use of kokyu and they have been pleasantly surprised.  I am now taking them through all the advanced kata and showing them where to apply the breath since, unknown to all but the most advanced players, kokyu is actually a facet of ALL aikido waza and not just the ones with the phrase "kokyu-nage" tagged onto their name.

To look at a quote from a book by one of the well-knowns, Gozo Shioda, "....In Aikido we use terms like "kokyu power" or "focused power" to refer to the power that we develop........Kokyu power is produced when we push ourselves to the limit making the most efficient use of the capabilities that lie within our own bodies.  Consequently, anybody, no matter what kind of person, can use kokyu power.  The only problem is whether or not you practice in such a way as to develop it.  Another important point is that kokyu power is not limited to Aikido alone....."

Hmmm, looks to me that kokyu power is a part and parcel of everything that is Aikido, that it is not limited only to specific waza labeled "kokyo dosa" or "kokyu waza" and that once understood (repeat, understood AND internalized) it can applied to just about anything.........."kokyu-dish washing" or "kokyu-sushi cutting"........and don't think I'm joking here folks because "KOKYU POWER' can be considered as the most appropriate way in which to apply power and focus and internal juices to ANYTHING YOU DO!

As Sensei said, he left too soon and in my mind he has ants-in-his-pants because if he had hung around long enough we could have assisting him in understanding this.  Sometimes information can only be understood by hanging around and picking it up by osmosis since the concept can't readily be transmitted like a joke at a comedy club.  Sometimes the Budo concept of "direct transmission" means letting it rub off on you over a very long period of time.  Afterall, this ain't (sic) Star Wars and we're not having an attack of the midi-chlorians and satori doesn't come by the 6 pack; it takes a lot or really hard work over a very long time.  Anything worthwhile always does which is what the word "patience" means.

So the first part of this lesson on ants is don't begin to claim that you are not being taught the recipe for the "super-secret-sauce" until you have been around long enough to understand the lessons being offered you (or know the difference between a cup, a tea glass, a handful and a pinch when seasoning your gumbo).

And to be fair and honest about it, you as a student need to stay with your
Sensei until you learn the parable of "ants-in-your-pants" and it matters little whether you're my student or his student, or an Aikido player or a Judo player, or a french horn player or a MMA guy.  Stay with it long enough to fully, FULLY understand and only then start making value judgments about whether or not you're in the right dojo.

We'll spend the next few posts on this general topic since I think it's important for all Aikido students to understand.

L.F. Wilkinson Sensei
Aikibudo Kancho
Aikibudokan, Houston, TX
September 2009

Comments

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Jeff D.

Sensei

I stumbled across your blog after searching for the dojo out on the web and am now following it.

As a classical violinist I couldn't agree more with your statements above. I began playing violin at the age of 4 and you can ask my poor parents how much of a struggle it was to get me to have the patience to sit down and actually practice! I had to discipline myself to practice at least an hour a day in order to progress on anything, and most of that hour was spent on honing up my technique or getting one bit of a piece I was working on perfected. Only though this painstaking practice and repetition did I master the entire song and gain a better understanding of the instrument. While many of my fellow violinists have long since quit the instrument after finishing school, I have kept it up and am thankful I did.

I am trying to apply this same discipline to my studies at the dojo. Although I am still a brand new player into aikido having only started in June, I have found that by focusing and perfecting my foundation I have gained a much better overall understanding and appreciate for the art.

Thanks for the updates!

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