Rhythm and Timing

I’ve spent a bit of time lately thinking about rhythm and how it relates to both Aikido and music. I’ve played guitar almost all of my life and as a musician, I’ve understood the importance of rhythmic patterns in music. If I am to play with other musicians, then this is the framework that we communicate our musical expression, through the rhythm of the music.

Rhythm happens in everything, and it naturally happens in Aikido. Form can only be achieved through several moments in time and it’s timing and rhythm of a partner that I see I need to address most if I’m to be fluid in my technique. The act of blending with a partner smoothly is done through the understanding and acknowledgment of their own rhythm; too fast and you will end up hurting them, too slow and the technique can be weak.

I remember having a music teacher talk about the same thing. He was on a piano and was talking about technique. He talked about playing in the lower registers of the piano and then having to moe up many keys to the higher register to play a high note for a piece. He demonstrated this by playing notes on the lower register, pausing and then finding that he has to hurry up to the higher notes of the piano to still keep time with the temp and rhythm of the piece. He then demonstrated his movement where as he finishes the last notes of the lower register, he doesn’t pause but rather moves fluidly to the upper registers. There was little or no aural difference but the point he was making was that it aids the musician in his piece of mind to continue confidently, to feel centered and grounded as the performance goes on.

So almost 30 years later I can take this and not only apply it to my music but allow it to cross over into my Aikido training too.

Aikido and music have much to share. The term “Harmony” is first, a musical term. In music, harmony cannot happen without the concept of time, and the frame work that allows harmony to happen is rhythm. If I am hurried in my technique, cannot harmonize and find my partners rhythm, my Aikido will be no good. Neither will my music. More importantly, there is a voice and an inner rhythm that I need to pay attention to and allow myself to heed the ever changing rhythm inside.

I’m looking forward to my class this afternoon. Onegaishimasu!

First Katori Shinto Ryu Class

I’ve been having a growing interest in sword arts for a while now and have slowly gathered up the keikogi, hakama, iaito and cleaning kit to join Aikido of Santa Rosa in their Katori Shinto Ryu training that they offer. So, I had my first class at Santa Rosa Aikido. I really enjoyed it! It was tiring, my hakama kept on slipping down down, but it felt really good to be there. I spent the first half hour learning how to bow in, lay out my sageo, bow to my sword, etc. There is a lot of ritual surrounding this art and as I have somewhat of an understanding as to why, practical reasons are: you are working with a weapon that can have lethal consequences if it inadvertently slips out of your hands. The ritual surrounding the entrance onto the mat heightens your awareness and respect to the sword and the training you are about to undertake. I worked on my first draw, strike and resheathing of my sword. It’s interesting to watch everyone make it look so easy when it seems so awkward to resheath my blade.

After we were done with the iai portion we went onto the 2 person kata practice. I was a bit out of my element and overwhelmed. There was a lot of information to digest at once. (thank god for youtube) but i think that we need that sometimes. i like being overwhelmed and then after time and diligence, the light bulb turns on. The people are really nice and very helpful. My biggest woe is having to figure out how to keep my hakama on… thats my first priority… I am tired today, I’m sore in weird parts of my body, and I have a big grin. I had so much fun!

Surrendering to Center

After a long long haitus, I’ve been back doing Aikido training for 4 months now. Mondays we have a beginners class that i make a point of going to because I enjoy the instructor that teaches that night and I feel strongly about spending the time working on the basic building blocks of my art. It’s something i didn’t have the patience for before but now I feel that it’s an absolute necessity. I heard a classmate yesterday say something that was very profound, probably one of the most profound things I’ve heard on the mat. We were describing what “center” means to us, and more important, what we do with our center. She said simply that she feels the need to “surrender to center”.

What this means to me is that center happens. “Center” is that element of myself that I cannot avoid. it is me, the good, the bad, the ugly. Therefore, I happen. I happen everyday, whether I am alone, with my lover, my son, my friends, my coworkers. Surrendering to center means that I need to embrace my demons, make peace with them and thoroughly love me for who I am.

In Aikido, our techniques work much better if we have a partner that can take a good throw. Working with a good partner can be akin to finding a really good dance partner, someone who can take the energy you give them in your technique and do wonderful things with it. Or when your partner throws you, they can throw you in such a way that just feels right. Sometimes in our training though we get partners that don’t have as much experience than we do, perhaps they are not mentally on the mat that day because of something else going on in their lives. Maybe they are obstinate and will make it hard for you to throw them, or even worse, throw you harder than you are used to. It’s an interesting microcosm that the mat presents.

“Surrendering to center” means that all i can do is my best when I’m throwing or being thrown. If my partner is uncooperative, inexperienced or over-experienced, these elements of my training are out of my control. I can only do the best that I can with the tools that I have. Everything else that happens will happen the way it was meant to. The lesson I can take off the mat, that seems to be repeated in my life is sometimes I have no control over other peoples actions, but I do have control over mine. “Surrendering to center” allows me to do this, to blend and become ok with the inevitability of life, the future and whatever good or bad things will come my way.

There are many terms where I’ve heard center used in similar context. “Move from center”, “find your center”, the concept in Wing Chun of “taking the center line of your opponent”, etc. But I’ve never quite heard “surrender to center”. Those three words have, in a moment changed, or rather solidify how I view Aikido, how I train and how I live.