Practicing (1)

Reflections on A Consideration of Aikido Practice within the Context of Internal Training by Ellis Amdur

Like traditional instructors of almost any art in China and Japan, teachers of internal strength or other high-level martial arts techniques will only offer such training to students who consider everything they do of such importance that they incessantly practice even the trivial solo exercises that seem far divorced from form and fighting applications; that they take any statement, no matter how obscure and gnomic, as holding some essential knowledge. Rather than being spoon-fed, you must scrabble in the dirt to pick up the rare grains that are thrown down. Some in the West may find such a concept outrageous, but what I have found over the years is that if you continue to appear before the teacher, increasingly nourished by such mean fare, you may eventually be ushered to the table where a banquet awaits. ===>

Consider that, until recently, these skills were the equivalent to plans for a Predator Drone or “stealth fighter.” They would only be offered to someone considered both worthwhile and trustworthy.

In the book on Sagawa, Sagawa states that his techniques only work because the opponent doesn’t know the same skills, that if the opponent were physically bigger and stronger, if the opponent had the skills, he couldn’t beat him. So if everyone was walking around with knowledge of those skills, you’d have a lot more opponents out there you’d be defeated by, even accounting for the small proportion of people who would actually achieve any high level.

===> In truth, many allegedly great teachers have nothing more than such scraps to offer. On the other hand, people find the teachers they are meant to find. If you are being cheated by a teacher and do not recognize it, then, from one perspective, you’ve found exactly the teacher you are suited for.

“Being cheated” above is equivalent to not realizing that you are not being “increasingly nourished by such mean fare” i.e., you don’t have the sense or intellect to see that you remain in the same state of “hungry”.

One final point: the jury is still out for me whether open teaching produces a greater number of high-level students. … high-level skills will only be acquired by an elite few — those who are both innately talented, and obsessively, pervasively committed. … It is possible that, although the “open” teacher provides a more pleasant, psychologically supportive training environment, he or she may have, at the end, the same number of great students: one or two.

Speaking for myself, the jury is in. Even if a teacher goes the extra step and helps students come to see that which they cannot initially see, most people will not develop that sense. They either lack the innate ability to figure out how to improve or otherwise change their sense; they lack intrinsic drive to really challenge themselves; they lack explicit drive in the form of faith in their teachers ability and teachings; and possibly in combination: they may be stubbornly and steadfastly convinced of some other thing or other frame, which cannot be replaced such as by their teacher’s teaching.

This proportion of people who will end up being that rare “one or two” is always going to be low. The debate can be about whether it can be increased, or “seeded”, to increase it to two or three or more, and thus what kind of environment one believes one should create.

One thing about aiki: it, alone, will not make a strong martial artist, anymore than the ability to lift six hundred pounds.[vi] However, it offers the martial artist the opportunity to imbue any and all techniques with a different method of generating power and managing incoming forces. To use a crude metaphor, it is the change from monaural to stereo, or monochrome to color. In one sense, nothing changes: in another, everything.

Conceptually, I came to the same conclusion several years ago. “Aiki” is a quality. As Saotome sensei says, “To be or not to be” in the context of, “Don’t do”. As I’ve explained to some people: if you become a nice person, you’re nice whether you’re helping someone fix their house or standing in line at the supermarket; being a nice person isn’t the same as doing nice things; similarly, saying “thank you” does not make you a grateful person, putting yourself first in a situation does not make you an egotistical/egoistic person.

One cannot “stop a spear,” unless one is more skillful than the attacker wielding it.

The gist of this part is that people may pursue just the philosophy or ideal, not attempting to master the technical aspects. It’s easier to do. This is talking about a thing as opposed to doing the thing, or talking about a skill as opposed to the skill itself.

However, in regards to bettering the world and increasing peace, I feel that the word “skill” gets used in a way that is one step cruder than when we were discussing earlier about imbuing all of your actions with “aiki”, about being not doing. In other words, people who value the technical aspects may do so overly, like emphasizing saying the words, “Thank you”, more than being a grateful person.

This is particularly crucial when we consider that we and the world is full of imperfection and not clarity. In regards to real life and metaphorical “battles”, there are probably even more occasions to stumble and take “non-fatal” hits. One may stumble in battle. This may lead to defeat, but it may also be a chance to stand up again. That ability to stand up again and the exact way in which one dealt with the opponent’s attack may be very different depending on how you are as opposed to how you do.

It’s crucial to understand that failing may mean defeat, it’s probably also important to keep in mind that there is lots of indecisive stumbling and poor hits that may happen, too. Training toward ideal is important important, but if the ideal is valid, then such training should actually be somewhat effective even when done imperfectly.



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