Monday, August 26, 2019

Structure in Aiki practice; The Why and How?

“When an opponent comes forward, move in and greet him; if he wants to pull back, send him on his way.” - Morihei Ueshiba
Imagine if you have a weight to bear. Say perhaps a sack of potatoes. If you hold the sack away from your body with extended arms, you will have to use your shoulder and arm muscles to resist the force of gravity and you will become tired quickly. 

Now imagine you had those same potatoes in a backpack, the weight is close to your spine, and the straps of your backpack hold it firmly to your body. The weight of the load goes through your bones and much less effort is required in order to carry this load. 

One of my earliest exposures to this wisdom was seeing pictures of women in Africa carrying heavy loads over long distances. I remember thinking initially how strong they must be. Over time I came to realize that they were using their natural body mechanics in a more efficient way than what I was used to seeing. 

But how does this relate to our training? One is in the amount of effort required to generate power, and what that means for how much power we’re able to generate, and how long we are able to sustain that level of output. But for now, we can say that it feels different from uke’s perspective, to have someone move through them, versus having them exert force onto them. If you have a training partner who is willing to slow down your training practice enough to allow you to explore various options, you can work with each other to explore this difference and feel it for yourself.
But for now, to further explore how structure relates to the principle of effortlessness, and our ability to generate force, and sustain the ability to train over longer periods of time before fatiguing. Force is calculated as the weight of an object, multiplied by its speed. So, for example, with a punch. If your fist weighs a pound, and you’re able to accelerate it to a certain speed, then your punch will have the force of 1*speed… Now imagine if at the moment of impact, your punch was at the forefront of your unbendable arm, and that simultaneously, your centre was falling forward with your punch. The structure of your spine, and of your unbendable arm, would allow the weight / force of your whole body to be transmitted through your bones and into your fist. The amount of force that you’d be able to generate would be equal to your whole body weight * your speed. And while the speed that you can move your body might be less than the speed that you can accelerate your fist, the much heavier body will contribute to more force overall than what your fist would be able to generate on it’s own, even accelerated with the power of your muscles. 

This ability to generate more overall force, even with less muscle, is one of the ways that aiki-technology can help a smaller person work successfully with larger attackers. If we add the fundamental truth that gravity is always pulling our body towards the earth at a particular rate(speed) and we always have a certain body mass(weight), you can see how a certain amount of force(the speed of our falling in gravity * our body weight) is always available to us, with little or no muscular effort. 

Structure is what provides us with the ability to express that potential energy into our techniques. A simple way to experience this is to extend your arm forward in the same way that we do with unbendable arm, then ask a training partner to take ahold of our forearm with morote-dori. If we extend through our unbendable arm as if reaching for a glass of water, bend our knees to drop our centre, and extend through our legs (I’ll leave the seeming paradox of simultaneously bending our knees, while also extending through our legs for you to explore with just this acknowledgement, and the guidance that extending 
through our legs (or other limbs) doesn’t necessarily have to mean that they are completely straight.) 

In this position, all the force our training partner puts into our arm, will be transmitted through the bones of our arms, through our spine, through our legs and into the earth. Here our training partner can personally experience Newton's third law, the more that they push on you, the more they will feel force in their own body, even though we’re not doing anything to them. 

If, in this exercise, you feel yourself tipping over backwards, drop your weight more. If instead you feel your arm being pushed down to your hips, or collapsing, then start again, and focus more on reaching out through extension. 

This exercise allows us an opportunity to directly experience the feeling of structure in our bodies. If we don’t yet trust extension, or if we’re not extended fully enough, we might still have tension in our muscles. This tension allows us to move some of the force through our soft tissues, but this can be dangerous as the forces that we can be dealing with during dynamic training can easily be enough to sprain or tear muscles and tendons, and this is one of the common ways that we can be injured in our training. If we feel tension in ourselves, it can be a reminder to relax and reach out through our structure. Over time, as we begin to trust our structure to transmit energy, we will become more and more relaxed. This relaxation allows us the freedom move freely with our training partner in order to ensure that their energy is always being lead through our structure and into the earth. 

From this position, where we’re transmitting their energy into the earth, we can then let our center fall forward and down, towards the earth and we can see how, still without any additional muscular effort, we can fall through a training partner with less structure than ourselves. (Reaching forward and up through the little finger, so that we can cut behind and through them, helps with this, more than falling directly into them in a linear way) 

This approach to moving through our training partner can be used when we throw our pin them as well. Any time that we catch ourselves using muscular force, step back and ask yourself if there’s a way to fall through extension, so that we can generate more force with less effort, through our structure. 

By exerting less effort in each movement, we’ll be able to train longer before fatiguing. Which can contribute to our safety as well since, when we get tired, we often compromise our technique in ways that can result in injury. 
Proper structure aids transmission of energy and this seeps into every aiki technique making it fundamentally better.
PS: While you're here, have a look at the previous blog post on June's seminar. click on this link for that. Keep checking the blog for our next post on the seminar and adventures in Zurich :)

Tuesday, June 25, 2019

Nairobi Aikikai June 2019 Seminar (22nd-23rd June) at Japanese Embassy Nairobi

The 22nd and 23rd of June 2019 presented yet another opportunity for Aikido learning and sharing under the guidance and teaching of Sensei Andi Schriber from our partner dojo, Ikeda Dojo, Switzerland.
Members of Nairobi Aikikai and other Aikidokas from across the country joined for this two day seminar in Nairobi and the Aiki spirit flowed freely and harmoniously amongst all who were there.
The start of day 1 (22nd June, 2019) began with an intense warm up session with an emphasis on breathing techniques and how martial warm ups are not only meant to prepare our bodies for physical movement but also to embed Aiki movements within our memory such that these movements become second nature. Special focus was placed on the mastery of taisabaki and maintaining good form and balance within all Aiki movements.
The rest of the day included a mix of advanced and basic techniques building on foundation movements in Aikido and the integral role Ikkyo plays in advancing to other techniques.  Some of the movements emphasized on were those seen in Genkei kokkyunage, Iriminage, and Shihonage  among others.
The afternoon session of day 1 also had candidates for various Kyu exams perform various techniques in preparation for day 2 grading exercise. 

Day 2 of the seminar began with a healthy warm up session that incorporated multidirectional ukemi warm ups from the standard 2 direction backroll and shihogiri to 4 and 8 directional movements as well as front rolls and back rolls. This session also focused on the importance of intent and keeping ki even in our warm up.

The session progressed into exploring the basic movements of Ikkyo and Ikkyo ura focusing on the importance of always keeping and maintaining contact between uke and tori.  Contact creates communication and communication creates harmony and flow; this seemed to be the focus of the day. Several exercises around this were performed emphasizing on soft and unified movement.

Mid-morning explored the similarities between sword movements and open hand movements in Aikido. The importance of learning open hand techniques to improve our understanding of sword movements and the role of always connecting to the centre; Yokomenuchi entry was of particular importance as part of this practice.  A brief and informative session on Tanto-dori techniques followed focusing on the role of Kotegaeshi and Ikkyo (uchisabaki) in knife defense.

Further 6th Kyu and 2nd Kyu techniques were explored with Sensei expressing the centrality of understanding basic movements, the curriculum of Aikido and how basic movements inform more advanced movements eg breakfalls and complex dynamic ukemi
The day came to a close with grading exercises and the promotion of several Nairobi Aikikai members to the next kyu grade. Congratulations are in order to:

Walter Njoroge – 2nd Kyu
Kalevera E Imungu- 4th Kyu
Raphael Mwaura- 5th Kyu
Millicent Mbugua- 5th Kyu
Fidelis Wanjiku- 6th Kyu
Clarine Cherono- 6th Kyu
Anthony Kaguimah- 6th kyu

This is not the end, there is so much more to learn.
In closing Sensei noted with joy that the practice at Nairobi Aikikai continues to grow at a steady and encouraging pace and the sky is no limit for us.

Nairobi Aikikai is deeply grateful to Andi Sensei for his continued time and dedication to teaching us and Ikeda Dojo. Not forgetting everyone who created time to make it to the mat from all over the country and everyone who made the seminar a success.

The tatami should always remain hot and the dojo is always open to all. The Zurich seminar is fast approaching and Nairobi Aikikai representation should be strong and memorable. Get your passports ready!


"It takes a hundred times to remember the moves, a thousand times to make them beautiful, and ten thousand times to grasp their essence." - Anonymous

Monday, June 10, 2019

Reishiki 101

"A good stance and posture reflect a proper state of mind."
~Morihei Ueshiba
Any group has expectations for behavior, actions that are expected, or considered rude. This is especially true among warrior societies where unnecessary conflict among trained individuals can result in serious injury or death. Even today, in militaries around the world, good order and discipline are important aspects of every soldiers training. So too in ancient Japan, did feudal lords have a vested interest in minimizing conflict and discord among the warrior caste. Ultimately any samurai injured or killed because of conflict during peace, was a warrior unable to be deployed on the field of battle in times of need. Thus Bushido arose as an important aspect of samurai training. Reiho (etiquette, respect, or courtesy) was an important aspect of that moral training. In modern times, this concept continues to be an important part of Japanese martial arts. Schools will often have a Reishiki policy, where they outline the expectations for how students should behave in order to keep good order and discipline within the training environment, and show each other the courtesy and respect that will minimize the potential for violence or unnecessary conflict within the training community.
O’sensei, the founder of Aikido, had a set of ‘Rules for training’ that many of his students took with them to their own schools when they became teachers themselves.
  • Aikido decides life and death in a single strike, so students must carefully follow the instructor’s teaching and not compete to see who is the strongest.
  • Aikido is the way that teaches how one can deal with several enemies. Students must train themselves to be alert not just to the front, but to all sides and the back.
  • Training should always be conducted in a pleasant and joyful atmosphere.
  • The instructor teaches only one small aspect of the art. Its versatile applications must be discovered by each student through incessant practice and training.
  • In daily practice first begin by moving your body and then progress to more intensive practice. Never force anything unnaturally or unreasonably. If this rule is followed, then even elderly people will not hurt themselves and they can train in a pleasant and joyful atmosphere.
  • The purpose of aikido is to train mind and body and to produce sincere, earnest people. Since all the techniques are to be transmitted person-to-person, do not randomly reveal them to others, for this might lead to their being used by hoodlums.
While these rules offer valuable guidance for our training, they were written principly for Japanese students, within the context of Japanese society at the time. Basic Reishiki was common practice throughout society and didn’t need to be explicitly specified. As the training moved out of its native Japan, and students from other cultures began to train, some of these implicit assumptions needed to be stated more clearly for people who weren’t raised within Japanese society.
When I started my training, my teacher’s reishiki policy included many of the sentiments found in O’Sensei’s rules for training, but also included practice guidance for how to behave in the training space. Including instructions such as:
  • Keep your uniform clean, your nails short and remove jewelry before practicing.
  • Upon entering the Dojo hallway, remove your shoes.
  • Make sure your feet are clean before entering mat.
  • To show respect for the Dojo, please avoid leaning on walls and doorways.
  • Be early to class. 15 minutes is on time, 30 is early.
  • Bow when getting on and off the mat.
  • While on the mat always address the instructor as sensei.
  • Always greet the sensei upon entering the mat to begin training.
  • Always bow to your partner before you begin to practise and after you have completed practise.
  • Say thank you often.
  • Pay close, silent attention to instruction and leave the mat for water, etc. - only during practicing time (not during instruction).
  • When in doubt, ask a senior student or your instructor. “The only inappropriate question is the one not asked.”
  • It is the responsibility of every student to cooperate in creating a positive attitude of harmony and respect.
The posted policy ended with the reminder that “Aiki is the harmony of relationships.” speaking to the importance of etiquette in fostering a positive and healthy training environment.
As we move forward and the training reaches more people from different cultural backgrounds and with different lived experiences. As we become more aware of the unique perspectives and challenges that different people face, I believe our approach to how we offer the training has to adapt and evolved to these new circumstances. In my own offering, I start my reishiki policy by saying: 
“This is a safe space, we strive to provide an environment where everyone can relax and be fully self-expressed, without fear of being made to feel uncomfortable, unwelcome, or unsafe on account of biological sex, race/ethnicity, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, cultural background, age, or physical or mental ability. We will respect your right to self-respect and dignity and ask that while you join us here, that you offer others the same. If at any time, any aspect of the training makes you uncomfortable, you ALWAYS have the right to abstain from the practice until you are ready to rejoin.”
In addition to the points made by O’Sensei in his Rules  for Training, and by my instructor, I also include guidance such as:
  • Please avoid standing with your hands on your hips or with your arms crossed in front of your body.
  • You may ask for clarification at any point in your training, but idle chatter should be saved until after class.
  • When receiving personal instruction during class, sit in seiza and watch intently. Bow formally to the instructor when the personal instruction is finished.
  • Be sure to properly bandage any open wounds, let the sensei and your training partners know if you have an injury that you’re training with. If you do bleed on the mat, inform the sensei and anyone training nearby, then excuse yourself to bandage the wound and clean up the mat before returning to practice.
  • Please consider your representation of our training community when interacting with others outside of the dojo.
  • Lastly, though we offer our practice sincere effort and solemn respect, we should also train with an open hearted joy and celebration in the gift of the present moment.  While visiting other schools, please train in accordance with their traditions
Some modern practitioners are dismissive of traditions that don’t seem relevant in today’s society. This isn’t ancient Japan, and most of us aren’t Japanese, so it’s understandable why we might question the virtue of continuing with Japanese traditions. Hopefully in this short exploration of the role of reishiki, I’ve been able to show how etiquette, respect and courtesy help contribute to safety and a positive & healthy training environment where each of us can grow, in our skill as aikidoka, and as human beings. 

This blog post was prepared by aspen apGaia, friend of Nairobi Aikikai with editing assistance by Imungu Kalevera (Nairobi Aikikai). Largely, the views represented herein reflect his wealth of experience in Aikido.

Friday, May 10, 2019

Sensei Andi special session May 2019

“We need to remember that the primary goal of Aikido is harmony and good relations between people. If we don't cultivate a harmonious heart along with technical skill, there will be a lack of integration in our practice, which will show up in behavior off the mat.”
Linda Holiday, Journey to the Heart of Aikido: The Teachings of Motomichi Anno Sensei 

On the 7th-9th of May 2019, Nairobi Aikikai once again had the pleasure of having our Sensei, Andi Sensei in Nairobi for three days of learning, flying and throwing.
It is always and honour to learn and this session was no different. Sensei guided the Aikidokas of Nairobi through exploring various aspects of the art including stressing the importance of structure, balance, mastering taisabaki, combining approaches and techniques.
Sensei also made sure to teach on techniques at different levels of the various programs. 1st Dan techniques, 2nd Kyu,3rd Kyu and 4th Kyu techniques formed the bulk of the program for the three days.


The tatami indeed was smoking and the dedicated Aikidokas of Nairobi Aikikai left nothing to chance. It was all sweat and more sweat.  Some of the techniques covered included;
Day 1 (7th May)
  •   Katatori menuchi ikkyo/kotegaeshi/tenchinage.
  •   Aiki otoshi omote/ura
  • Ryote dori shihogiri/shihonage
Day 2 (8th May)
  • Ryote dori ikkyo/shihonage into kotegaeshi (Henka waza)
  • Shihogiri and shihonage from ryote dori (maeshi irimi tankan entry)
  •   Kokkyunage from ushiro ryotedori
Sensei also spent the last minutes of the session exloring aspects of varied entries from yokomenuchi attack eg Yokomenuchi ikkyo (ushiroashi irimi tankan entry, mae ashi irimi entry), Yokomenuchi kotegaeshi (ushiro tankan vs mae ashi irimi entries)

Day 3 (9th May 2019)

Sensei emphasized on the importance of proper open hand technique using bokken cutting techniques as a template for movement.  The session also explored interesting exercises and thereafter techniques from aihanmi entry, circular cut ikkyo and horizontal cut ikkyo.
This session also explored varied combinations of techniques from Ushiro ryote dori such as
  •   Ushiro ryote dori ikkyo/nikko/sankyo/kotegaeshi.
  • Ushiro ryote dori ikkyo-nikkyo-sankyo-kotegaeshi (progression)
As an add-on Sensei explored questions around making a tenkan effective by always connecting tori’s centre to the point of contact and how to effect shihonage from various positions including lowering tori’s body in the case of a reluctant uke.
We are immensely grateful  to Sensei for taking the time to come and train with us but the action is not over yet. If you missed, then you missed out but prepare for June Seminar (22nd-23rd  June, JICC) and September seminar, (14th-15th Sep, Zurich)

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