Life doesn’t Happen in Hanmi

The shomen at Centerfield Aikido

On Sunday, June 6th I had the amazing pleasure of training at Centerfield Aikido in Occidental California with Mary McLean Sensei. The dojo is a tent structure surrounded by the wooded hillside and at certain times of the day, the trees silhouette the ceiling and sides of the walls. Birds flying overhead provide moving silhouettes as they come over the ceiling. There is a magnificent shomen built by one of her students and lends graciousness and beauty to an already magical environment.


We trained and worked on yokomenuchi koto gaishi. First we we worked on the strike, then the throw, practicing getting off the line first and connecting with our partner and finally executing the technique. There were quite a few things I really enjoyed about her aspect of training:

As uke (the attacker), she suggested that while it’s ok to give your partner something to work with, try to stay balanced so that I can receive anything my partner can choose to do and be ok with it. This means that although I’m giving forward intention, if my partner chooses to do another technique that brings me in a different direction, then I can go there equally as prepared as if he were to do the called upon technique.

She likened this to a conversation. Both as uke and as nage, if we get too enmeshed with the wrist or the throw itself, it’s like opening up a conversation with someone with the only interest of proving your point. When we get too entangled, we don’t listen to our partners and we cannot have a clear conversation. We don’t hear the arguments because we are too embroiled in our own direction to go any other way.

All of this was great. However, I really enjoyed a quote she mentioned from one of her teachers, Terry Dobson, who said “Life doesn’t happen in Hanmi.” Hanmi is a stance used in Aikido and other martial arts. In the most literal translation, if we are about to be mugged or physically harassed in a street situation, we cannot ask our attacker to wait so that we can find our center and get into a defensive stance. By that time we are wounded, robbed or worse.

More often than not, we do not have that opportune moment to prepary ourselves to hear a hard conversation, to get accused, unjustly reprimanded, or be told something unexpected. Hopefully our training helps us be ready for life to come at us in any direction and allows us to find that balance so that we can go with it and act, rather than react, crumple or simply fall.


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Shomen uchi

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.

Road to 1st Kyu – Week 5 Day 3 – all caught up



Originally uploaded by markdeso

“The purpose of training is to tighten up the slack, toughen the body, and polish the spirit.” – Morehei Ueshiba

I seem to be playing catch up this week. Last nights post was for Thursday. Today’s post is for our Saturday class.

We worked katate dori shiho nage, both the omote and ura versions, as well as more koshi nage techniques yesterday. I had the good fortune of working with a couple of the black belts on both of the shiho nage versions; one of which will be my uke for my upcoming test, the other will be on the testing board. I respect and welcome their critiques. They both are upping the ante as it were, and helping me pick up the finer points of these techniques.

Sensei is also very supportive of the testing candidates. He works with us so that we are performing these techniques at our appropriate level. “Mary had a little Lamb” sounds different when a piano student first starts on the piano keys, versus a few years in, where they can support the melody with chords and bass lines, versus when he turns into a master pianist, that can throw jazz chord substitutions, syncopate the melody and still have it be very recognizable as “Mary had a little Lamb”.

So, Sensei and the other yudansha works with me at the level appropriate for my rank. Yesterday on the ura version of shiho nage, he was working with me to not turn my head and luck before I turned into the technique. There is a slight lapse in connection as I turned my head so he was trying to correct that.

The thing I enjoy most is the constant refinement. We can always polish technique and get it to be better and better. If this is the case, then we can polish and refine ourselves. God knows I need the refinement!

Road to 1st Kyu – Week 4 day 3 – Train Joyously


Originally uploaded by markdeso

Train Joyously
– Morihei Ueshiba

Today’s class was a good class. We worked on nikkyo ura and sSankyo Omote and Ura and koshi nage. We’ve done these techniques many times but it’s always a good thing from time to time to pick these techniques apart from time to time. Sensei does a really good job explaining our techniques from a body to body perspective as well as on a purely physical perspective.

Signing off with the following thought:

“Train Joyously.” If our world is our dojo what does that tell us?