Aikido is a non-competitive martial art that can be practiced by almost anyone. Aikido techniques do not rely on physical strength but rather develops relaxed power through the focus of intention and Ki. The result is a creative method of non-destructive conflict resolution.
Aikido is practiced on many levels. The first level is includes the development of stamina, flexibility, and learning how to focus one's intention. The second level is built on the first and stresses self-defense techniques that teach the natural order of movement. In this process the students also become adept at ukemi, the art of rolling, falling and protecting oneself. Aikido provides the opportunity for the development of the entire person. It is a workout of the entire body and mind and results in increased strength, overall physically fitness, flexibility and centeredness.
At the third level students are gradually introduced to the secrets of receiving and harnessing the power of ki, they also develop spatial awareness and learn to judge proper timing and distance. During this training the goal is to establish and maintain an energetic connection to your partner and to lead them off balance. This eliminates the need for more destructive means of resolving situations.
The highest level of aikido is mind over matter. This involves the use of visualization techniques, the power of intention and ki, breath control and meditation. Aikido is truly a spiritual martial art that explores themind - body - spirit connection. This advanced level of training at Shobu Aikido reaches a level not easily found elsewhere. The student learns how to manifest power and effectiveness by the focusing of intention alone. This level depends on and can only be reached through the refinement of technique and the students own deepest feeling. For this reason it alternates between the physical and the spiritual.
In the process of practicing aikido, students inevitably find themselves less stressed and more energetic, better equipped to manage life's many conflicts with calm control. Aikido is great for adults and kids alike because practice encourages respect for self and others, self control, cooperation and responsibility.
Gasshuku or weekend long intensive seminars with William Gleason Sensei are available seasonally.
Children's aikido classes provide a friendly, non-competitive environment for students to become more physically fit, agile, flexible, aware, focused, and relaxed. They learn how to safely fall, roll and perform a variety of self-defense techniques in a supportive, comfortable setting, and parents like Aikido because kids learn how to be powerful without becoming destructive.
Article on Yamaguchi Shihan
From the Aiki-Budo.net website:
Seigo Yamaguchi was one of Morihei Ueshiba's "first generation" students. Unlike some of the others of this generation, however, he never gave his personal interpretation of Ueshiba's art a particular name, in part out of respect for the man who was his teacher, and in part because the style Yamaguchi ultimately developed was too intangible to be given something as tangible as a label or a name.
This raises right at the start the key problem with the Yamaguchi style, though it is the same problem that besets any spiritually oriented martial art that tries to transcend the limits language sets. It is the perennial problem of how to teach an art or belief that has an ineffable end, when the means available to do so are mostly effable ones! How is it possible to impart, and for other people to learn, a truly "formless form?"
This is not a dilemma unique to martial arts. Painters, musicians, creative writers, and dancers all face the same problem. Religious teachers do too. Anyone who has mastered any art, or who has come to have a particular faith, and who then seeks to teach it to others, confronts the same difficulties. If they insist too much on the "correct" repetition of the physical forms in which their art or faith is expressed (playing the correct scales, saying the correct prayers, etc.) they risk getting a stereotyped, mechanistic result that is not going to be a true expression of the art or belief involved. They risk inculcating mere technique, that is, a mere facsimile of what the art or faith involves - one where the outer forms are reproduced without a real understanding of what these forms actually mean.
This dilemma is usually resolved by the teacher trying to pass on his or her feeling of the art or belief, in such a way as to free, rather than inhibit, the student's understanding of what is to be done. Teaching becomes a very different practice when done this way. It stops being a matter of the teacher insisting that the student copy what the teacher does. The teacher stops "teaching," that is, in the sense of "training" the student, and tries instead to create the opportunity for the student to learn. The teacher then educates (that is, he or she "leads the student out"). The better the teacher is, the better he or she is at creating these kinds of opportunity.
This requires a very personal teacher-student relationship. It cannot be done, that is, by requiring the student to conform to a pattern of performance determined in advance. Nor can it be done en masse. Yamaguchi chose this approach. His students, and their students, mostly do likewise.
Yamaguchi placed primary importance on the ability to catch the feeling of good movement. By "good" movement he meant movement that actually practiced the key aikidic principles of non-competition and loving, expansive power. He mostly taught this feeling in small, one-to-one, groups, where direct transmission was possible. His students tend to do likewise. Takeda Sensei, for example, likes to teach small groups of students. One reason is that in a large class he cannot get around to all of those training to give them the feeling of what he is doing. He is also not always happy doing demonstrations, since to see what he is doing from the outside is to risk radically misunderstanding what it is that he is actually doing. That understanding can only come from intimate contact. It involves direct interaction with Takeda Sensei himself.
Technique is important. We have to teach something, and we teach technique. It is not enough to flounce around trying to catch the feeling of cosmic flow like a bunch of stoned hippies. Which is why many teachers argue that "basics are basics" and in this sense, they are absolutely right. To Yamaguchi, however, how we teach the basics was just as important as what we teach when we do so. If we teach basics as physical technique only, for example, we risk closing the student down around that dimension of aikido, and we risk preventing him or her finding out anything else. If we teach basics as mental imaging, however, we also risk closing students down, though this time around that dimension of aikido instead. We are likely to inhibit their understanding of anything else, likewise. If we really want the practice of aikido to lead to a sense of oneness and harmony with the universe, then that is how we have to teach the basics. After all, the universe, as far as we can tell, is expanding. If we want to be one with the universe we have to expand too. That doesn't mean eat more. It means letting go. It means teaching technique in such a way as to allow the learner to use what is learned to "let go" with.
It is often argued that there is a linear progression here, and that we have to master physical form first, before we can move on to mental imaging and spiritual awareness. This is the brick-by-brick approach, and it is a time-honored way of teaching an art or faith. The trouble with the brick-by-brick approach, however, is that it tends to result in brick-like walls that block our understanding of what the art or faith has to teach. The means we use to teach with, in other words, ends up frustrating the ends that art or faith can serve.
There is an alternative way of teaching. It is known as the whole-part-whole approach. Here the student is introduced to every dimension of the art or faith from the very beginning. They are tossed in the deep end, as it were. They are expected to cope with the physical, mental and spiritual dimensions of the art or faith right from the start.
In terms of aikido, the physical tends initially to dominate our awareness, since what we are being asked to do usually feels pretty unfamiliar. We usually feel physically tense and anxious and awkward as a result. This does not preclude a sense of the mental and spiritual coming through, though, even at this very early stage. Indeed, people can catch a glimpse of the spiritual depth of aikido in their very first lesson. Later, as the physical forms become more familiar and more automatic, they become less intrusive and the balance shifts. It's as if the whole art were a seesaw. Over time and with training, the physical end of the beam (which is always connected to the mental and spiritual parts of the beam) gradually moves down. At the same time the others parts move up, into our training and into our everyday awareness. The mental and spiritual emerge, that is, as training objectives in their own right. The deeply meaningful glimpses of them that were had from the start are had more consistently. The physical dimension recedes almost completely. The mentalist dimension follows it, leaving the spiritual dimension (which was always there) to emerge and its emacipatory potential to become clear.
So: what does this mean in practice? A typical lesson in the Yamaguchi style is not so different from that of any other style. We bow on. There are warm up exercises. The teacher demonstrates a particular technique. Students pair up and train, taking it in turns to be attacker and defender. The teacher circulates, providing personal instruction to individual students. The teacher then demonstrates another technique, which students rehearse, and so on. At the end of the class there are warm down exercises and we bow off.
A typical lesson lasts an hour and a half, and covers five or six techniques. There is not usually a lot of time spent on exercises that rehearse some aspect of technique. Doing whole techniques is the basic teaching form.
After the end of every class there will usually be a session of ukemi, where more experienced students throw less experienced ones twenty or thirty times. It is an optional extra, but it is a feature of the Yamaguchi method, and it serves a very particular purpose. When we act as the defender we are usually very self-conscious. We are trying to get the technique "right," trying to get the "correct" feel, and so on. When we act as an attacker, however, we don't have to worry about any of these things. We can simply attack, with a free will and an open heart. In the process we get more of a chance to catch the feeling of good (loving, powerful, spontaneous, relaxed, centered, spiritually expansive) movement. As the attacker, in other words, we get more of a chance to catch the feeling of good aikido. We can be less worried whether we have our left little finger up our right nostril, or our right toe in line with our left ear-lobe, as we tend to be when, as the defender, we are trying to master a particular technique. We have more of a chance to "let go."
Of course, we have to cut our coat to fit our cloth. We can't throw a seventy-year-old beginner around the way we would a twenty-two-year-old youth in his or her physical prime. Even for a young player, we have to be mindful of that student's capacity to take ukemi and we have to work within those limits, carefully extending them as experience dictates. But within limits, nearly all students can do ukemi. They can use the opportunity it provides for them to catch the feeling of good movement, particularly as they get more tired and lose the ability to use physical resistance to stay in control. They can practice "letting go."
Another feature of the Yamaguchi method is the way in which pairs-training is done. The attacker attacks with the energy appropriate for the defender. The attacker seeks neither to over-whelm the defender (“take that, you swine!”) nor to under-whelm him or her ("whoops!"). Either too much force or too little force will deny the defender the optimal learning opportunity. It will deny the defender the most appropriate level of force for that defender.
Judging the appropriate level of force requires great sensitivity. When the roles are reversed, and the defender becomes the attacker, the duty to do the same thing also gets reversed. Each student ends up helping the other, and done like this, the learning process becomes a truly collaborative one. It then proceeds very quickly and harmoniously. The training process is not a street fight, after all. It is a training method, that may eventually provide street-fighting competence, but certainly not to begin with. It is possible to teach aiki-jutsu by competitive means, but aikido can't be taught that way.
This is often the hardest point for beginners to appreciate. As a defender they want to resist. They also want to attack in a competitive way. This makes sense in purely self-defense terms. But aikido is not just about self-defense. It is a way-to-harmony-with-the-universe with a self-defense application, which is something very different. Understanding this difference, and training for this difference, can be very difficult for someone who doesn't understand the principles at stake.
It can take some time for students to appreciate the importance of this point and why the training method must be 100% collaborative. It means training in a way that is consistent with aikidic principles. The benefits of doing so eventually become so obvious that few students want to train otherwise. In the end even the most skeptical, even the most rigid in body and mind, usually get to see the point, and train accordingly. Some find this much harder to do than others, and some seem to resist regardless, either by continuing to compete or by continuing to be such flexible attackers that they are able to stay ahead of the movement and stay in control that way. People like these just have to be worked around, however, in the hope that they will eventually come to understand what they steadfastly refuse to appreciate. Ukemi training can help here, but there is no formula for putting aikido awareness where it isn't. If there were such a formula, we would all be wonderful aikidoka. As it happens, we are not, which should tell us something about how difficult it is to impart aikido awareness, particularly to those predisposed to deny that it works.
A Yamaguchi teacher will verbalize the internal aspects of the art. Takeda Sensei, for example, will describe the feelings he is trying to impart, particularly when he is demonstrating them to the whole class. What he verbalizes is invariably very simple. Getting Takeda Sensei to describe aikido can be rather difficult, since he really does seem to believe that the point of the whole process is in the "feel" not the "say." And to watch him do aikido, or to train with him, it is very easy to agree. Aikido is very simple, that is why it is so complex. Aikido is very easy, that is why it is so difficult. We find a million ways to intellectualize what is going on to stay in control of the movement as it occurs. There are a zillion physical tics that frustrate our understanding of aiki-awareness. We find it very hard, that is, to move in a way that is not egocentric. It takes great trust in the truth of good movement to do so.
Trust like this comes from personal experience. It is usually impossible to persuade someone who thinks otherwise to change their mind and heart by verbal means alone. This is why all of the above is ultimately irrelevant unless there's a chance to feel what is being said too. This is why all that has been written here won't make much sense without practice, practice, practice.
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