In Aikido, our practice is primarily done with a partner. In a typical Aikido class, the teacher will demonstrate a technique, call out the attack and the students will pair up. “Uke” plays the role of the attacker. “Nage” plays the role of the person responding to the attack. Usually, uke will attack times and then the partners will switch roles.
Although Jean Maggrett does not practice Aikido anymore, she frequently sits on our testing boards. At 81, Jean has practiced Aikido for 30 years. She is a student of Bob Nadeau, and a contemporary of my Sensei, Bob Noha. I have had the wonderful benefit of her perspective and guidance on both my second and first kyu tests. She is enthusiastic and encouraging to all who practice our art and is an advocate for the benefits that Aikido can bring you off the mat.
In Aikido, a basic sword strike is called Shomen uchi. It is performed by raising the sword directly up above the head, and then striking down directly in front of you. There are many other arts that have a similar strike, kendo being one of them.
Our Sensei relays a story about a friend of his going to a seminar where visiting 9th dan kendo master was teaching. His friend was eager to find out what secret techniques he could glean and snuck in early to watch the kendo teacher warm up before the seminar started. He was surprised to see the teacher warming up by performing Shomen Uchi over and over again.
It’s important to remember the basics and keep them in our practice always. Some of the basics in life:
- I love you
- I’m sorry
- You can depend on me
- I need help
- Thank you
- You’re welcome
He ended class today with a zen quote that I really liked:
At first, I saw mountains as mountains and rivers as rivers. Then, I saw mountains were not mountains and rivers were not rivers. Finally, I see mountains again as mountains, and rivers again as rivers.
Everything comes back to our own versions of Shomen Uchi.
One of the things I love about the Aikido dojo I attend is how Sensei relates certain themes and weaves them into several different classes. Lately he’s been working with a theme he calls “dimensionality”. The process is as follows:
We do a technique to establish a baseline. After we perform the techniques a few times with our partners, we start to process the following:
Lineage – what is the lineage of this technique? Lineage has some deep connotation in martial arts, so to clarify, it’s simply “what do we do to prepare for this particular technique?” We could ask the same question, “what is the lineage of preparing for a meeting?” In essence, Sensei simply asks, how do we think of and prepare for this technique. How do we think differently about this technique than another.
Energies – Sensei will then ask us to think about the energies that we invoke to perform the technique. Do we feel earth, spiral, center? Can we relate it more to circular, triangular, square? Can we feel fire, water, or the energy of the void as we perform the technique.
Space – What is the space that we build in order to perform the technique. What does it feel like? Is it big, small, thick, airy?
The “I” – Because we do not practice Aikido in a vacuum, and these bags of bones and organs and blood have a spirit that provides guidance to the physical, what does adding the presence of what Sensei calls the “I”, our unique physical experience as individuals, bring to the lineage and energies of the technique we are performing.
Innate Knowledge – As we go through this technique, what do we know about it that transcends words? How do we move from a perspective of innate understanding of a technique that we’ve worked time and time on the mat?
Citizenship – What is the sense of citizenship and ownership that we have as we have our partners inhabit the space we have created? Does it encompass and engage our partner? Is it inclusive? Is it exclusionary? Is it playful? Violent? Aggressive?
Saturday morning, he gave us a framework to work in, in this process. He asked us to view this from the perspective of earth energy. I had some interesting revelations going through this process. Earth energy for me begat gravity. I started to think of the inevitability of gravity. I started thinking of how, because of gravity and the limitations it brings, I will not fly, I’m weighted down, I’m burdened by this physical fact and cannot escape it.
As we processed and went through the class, my perspective changed to that of framework: rather than gravity being the inevitable, I started thinking not in terms of burden or limitation, but rather framework. Given the physical fact that there is gravity and gravity affects my existence in a very real way, how can I move through and what are the qualities of gravity that I can use, learn from, and grow with.
Finally, gravity simply just “is”. It lost the forboding connotation of the inevitable, and lost the academic or opportunisting connotation of framework. It is a fact of life. It is all around and something to accept. I can feel limited by it, I can learn from it, but until I accept something that simply is, I will not benefit and grow.
The reason I’m talking about this has not a lot to do with Aikido, but rather some things that are going on in my life right now. There are somethings that I need to accept as fact. I can fear it, I can learn from it, but until I simply accept, I won’t grow. In order for me to live my life to the fullest, I need growth in my life. Growth comes sometimes through painful realization, and is not always guaranteed. I wish that growth was inevitable, like gravity, but I am ok with the process as it stands…and I’m up to the task of growing my spirit and caring for my soul.