My Developing Eye

I happened to be watching an older instructional video of Moriteru Doshu last night and noticed that this time it looked different than when I saw it before. I actually thought to myself that his aikido was pretty amateurish in the video. I quickly connected this experience to something I’ve experienced a few times in the past: I see or watch someone who I consider to be vaguely highly skilled, and at some point they do not appear to be as highly skilled as I thought before. (I presume that they didn’t in every case worsen or whatever change they might have undergone somehow got framed by my mind negatively.) I came to view this experience as an indication that my ability had advanced or at least that my eye developed.

Very soon after watching the Moriteru Doshu video, I watched a couple of All-Japan demonstrations by Endo sensei on Youtube. One was from this year, and another from one or two years ago. I actually watched the older one first, and thought to myself, “Something about this bothers me. Something about the way he moves is not sitting right with me.” Then by chance (or more accurately, while goofing off at work) I viewed the most recent video and confirmed my first impression when I saw it months ago – something was better. This time when I viewed the most recent video though, I actually identified one specific thing – the thing that didn’t sit right with me in the older video.

When I was sitting in on a conversation last April between sensei and George Ledyard, I was actually somewhat relieved and affirmed to hear Ledyard say that good posture is not some superficial add-on or decorative extra touch that helps technique. Indeed, organizing one’s body in that way is core to the technique. The thing that I saw in the older video of Endo sensei was that it looked like he would frequently scrunch down for an instant, especially when receiving a strike. In the most recent video that momentary scrunching was virtually gone. (I haven’t watched the video thoroughly and dissected it.)

Why didn’t I notice before? Why did I notice now? Why did it look “off” to me now, at least more so now than before? I attribute it to my progress. Specifically I have been watching myself when I am practicing and Ikeda sensei when I am observing him (not taking ukemi for him), and have been paying significantly more attention to the “trick” aspect of what we have mutually been working on recently and what I interpret Ushiro sensei and Saotome sensei to be doing. It really has been a typical journey in developing a sense that I didn’t have before.

Tangent 1: Why did it look “off” to me? > When I was first trying to make sense of my interactions with Endo sensei and what I could call his teaching me, it seemed obvious that he did not have an agenda. Instead he would seem to take note of whatever he seemed “off” to him and would simply mention it to me, graciously more than once. Implicitly it demonstrated that he was paying attention to me and seeing me through his own lens, which is actually what I wanted since I could presume his lens to be more refined than my own. It also was an implicit reciprocal dialogue that consisted of how I responded to his comments and so on. So, it certainly isn’t a crude, explicit dialogue e.g., “Please tell me what I should do better.” or “I want to fix this particular thing. Please tell me how.”

Tangent 2: In developing my eye for what Ikeda sensei has been working on, and more recently relevantly what Jun is also exhibiting, the task that is included in seeing what’s going on is to experience it. Oversimplistically the goal could be to at least continue to experience it as I have before – “experience” meaning receive the technique as it is meant to be given even if it is not absolutely perfect. However the situation cannot be that simple since the fact is that I do know, I can see, and that knowledge or information informs my own internal processes. I think many people in my situation use this information to thwart the technique instead of receiving it. Indeed I think this is one of the uses but it should be appropriately and constructively used – later, when I have the beginnings of the capacity to see specifically how the technique is imperfect and what factors on my part make it inappropriate or unsuitable. It will not be constructive to me to thwart a technique just because it is not perfect if I am still in the beginning stages of embodying that technical ability myself. In other words I won’t be able to acquire it if I actively use my capacity to avoid receiving it. The task is then, how to receive the technique is as it is meant to be given in the context of knowing what’s going on and being privy to some transparency. If I attempt to go about it intellectually and imagine how I should or would be affected by the technique, it simply won’t happen – at least not when working with a technique that I cannot do myself or with a higher-level person. (It could be done as “pretend” when working with a beginner however.) It is an interesting challenge to, instead, suspend my awareness or, perhaps more precisely, cognition, and give myself to the attack and receive the technique as if I were unknowing and sincere, not disingenuously. The challenge then entails that I let my body and mind work “naturally” – which is not possible or at least not a simple matter once I am conscious of certain things (like learning of the existence of a choice; once I know of a choice then to not take it becomes a choice). I think that the way to go about it is to have self-knowledge – and since that is a neverending endeavor, striving for self-knowledge is inherently interwoven with taking ukemi, receiving technique, and acquiring extrinsic knowledge and ability.

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