Friday, June 28, 2013

Question Everything? 6/28/13

Question Everything?

How many techniques?

I was teaching a basic Aikido class when I got one of those questions where a student wanted a simple one word answer, but I couldn’t give it to him.  These are the moments when I realize the great complexities of martial arts and why I love them.  The question was “How many techniques are there in Aikido?”  A valid inquiry, as we were doing a basics class.  It was his second class, and he was trying to establish a finish line, or a goal standard.  As I often do in Aikido I went with my immediate answer. 
“Two, Tenkan and Irimi,” I said.  “The rest is just flapping your arms around.” 
This was obviously not the answer he expected.  He looked at me with a combination of disbelief and confusion.  You know the Scooby Doo look when you talk to your pet dog, to give it a command and it kind of tilts his head when he doesn’t understand the order you just gave him?  That was the look.
O Sensei performing an ikkyo pin
So I told him there were about 25 different locks and throws and various attacks to trigger the different defenses.  If you add them all up, it totals somewhere near 300.  (In hindsight, there has to be more than that, but I had read that number somewhere and was repeating it.)  He seemed more satisfied with that answer and went on, learning and enjoying the rest of the class.  But the question stayed with me.  I could hear it echoing throughout my noggin for the rest of the evening.  There is a famous quote from O Sensei  saying there is only one technique in Aikido and many believe he was talking about ikkyo.  Personally, I think he was saying aiki, or blending was the one technique.  But I go back to my original answer: Tenkan and Irimi.  Is that all Aikido is?  If there are only two things in Aikido why have I spent the last 12 years learning how to do two things?  Shouldn’t I have been able to learn them by now?  I imagine similar questions were going though the student’s head. 

That being said, tenkan and irimi are two very complex things.  Every time they are performed it is a different experience.  Every person you perform a defense against is different.  Even if you you’re with your “training friend,” that person you train with consistently, he is different every day.  Your partner’s attention, enthusiasm, strength, and intent are different every time he performs shomenuchi.  Therefore, your perception of the attack, timing, and force, are all different every time it is performed.  That is the unusual and special trait of the martial arts.  Other arts don’t have to deal with this lack of changing levels of observance.  A painter doesn’t have to worry about the intent of the canvas.  Even in more physical, group interactive arts, like ballet, the belletrist only really needs to concentrate on his own performance.  They rely on everyone else to perform as well.  It is a more like a team effort in sports.  I have a job, and if I do my part, the whole will be accomplished. 
Martial arts don’t do that, and Aikido in particular, is about the feedback from your training partner.  Your partner gives you constant feedback.  As you move his wrist like so, his shoulder moves as such, which means I have to shift my weight like this… and so on.  You are not learning a technique so much as building a collective of experiences.  Your body, without conscious thought, is remembering other situations that were similar and making the adjustments based on previous examples.  This is why those two moves can be simple to learn and take years to become proficient, yet never perfected.

Originally posted on

No comments:

Post a Comment