By Kim Taylor, Renshi, CI Sei Do Kai Guelph ON, Nanadan
Maybe. Then again, anyone who really misses me and decides to look up all the stuff I wrote will soon hate my guts. I haven’t a clue where it all is, and I sometimes find myself reading something on the net that sounds pretty good (it’s good if I agree with it), then sounds kind of familiar… then I look at the author.
One of the class suggested that maybe it’s a good idea to just practice for a while and answers to questions will come.
Yes, that happens. But really, when I’m gone you’ll have 40 or 50 years to work away at it. While I’m here why not just ask. Letting the kata teach you is a wonderful way to learn… perhaps the only real way, but you can take shortcuts. You can get an initial direction from someone who has gone before that might save you a lot of time. Any question that you ask today has likely been asked by someone (or me) over the last 30 years or so.
On the other hand, there are books and videos out there that must contain pretty much everything I know. (Read them when I’m gone. Lord knows nobody reads them now.) I commented that I know more now that I did, but another student (who is visiting after moving away for several years) pointed out that I’m probably just saying things in a different way.
Could be right, could be right. It’s not like I’m creating anything here. Morihei Ueshiba created Aikido. If you look at the videos of those who learned in the early days and then those who learned toward the end of his life you see differences. Is the later stuff more something or other than the early stuff? Go join the arguments if you have an opinion, but there is a difference.
Is it style or actual substance? Early and late aikido is recongnizeably Aikido. Rough vs smooth? I’ve heard that said but in my experience of looking at people who practice lines from different years of Ueshiba’s life, rough vs smooth is a beginner vs experienced sort of thing. You are learning, you’re rough. Enough years of practice, it gets pretty smooth and pretty subtle.
I’d like to think my sword is a lot more subtle than it used to be. It’s certainly closer. I read a story somewhere which told of a student who noted that Musashi only moved an inch to avoid a cut. He said “well spotted”, you need to start at, say, six inches and then practice to bring it down to half an inch. What’s the secret of avoiding a sword strike by half an inch? Keiko.
Learn everything you can from your sensei right now. Do what he says, don’t argue, he’s trying to get as much stuff crammed into you as fast as he can. You’ll have 40 years to work on it once he’s gone.
There are no shortcuts to getting to that half inch distance. You have to train your eyes and that means rewiring the brain and that takes time. Something as simple as lining up directly in front of your partner takes time. You think you’re right in front? Use a mirror, can you see yourself in the mirror behind your partner? You’re not lined up directly in front! Line up, check, line up, check. Keep checking until you don’t have to check any more.
As for the rest of it, the mind reading stuff, that takes much longer. Pay attention to your partner, pay attention to sensei, especially if he’s likely to wander. Most old guys wander a bit. Listen, watch, be open and you can usually pick up clues as to where he’s going. If it’s sensei and you’re a senior student he will be leaking clues all over the place in an effort to teach you how to pick them up. There were times during my training when I wanted to take my teacher and shake him and say “Use your words! Tell me what you want me to do!” I didn’t, and I got better at it.
Still not good at reading minds but at least I know what it looks like. If I can start you down the path you will have 40 or 50 years to work on it after I’m gone.
Want a starting exercise? Get a partner and match swords. One partner is to attack in some way as quickly as possible. The job of the defender is to move his sword into the place where the attacker is about to move. No faking, no trickery, attack and pull your strike just before you make contact but be accurate. Move the sword into the space softly, just in case your attacker jumps right onto the point. That’s it, have fun, don’t hurt each other. Oh, and if you aren’t attacking when your defender pulls his sword aside, go right down the middle. No fakes to get him to open up, be honest. Pay attention to the timing, how long can someone wait for the attack before they jerk their sword aside?
Be patient, wait for the signs.
You’ve got 40 or 50 years to work on it.