Tag Archives: Aikido

There’s Only This

Three essays about living in the moment.

周六在政治大學上合氣道,有做名為後兩手取腕㧕的技法。此技法是對手從後方抓手脖時將他帶到前方、通過一肢手向下壓制 。再練習當中,先輩問我:
「你有沒有感覺上你在推我?」
「有」
「你想要控制我,但是要先控制你自己。」
我再做一次,仍有推他的感覺。先輩就有幾會得平衡感再站直了。他解釋
「你推我,我也只會跑得遠。但是你破勢了。要先控制你自己才可以控制我。」
我點點頭 。然後試試將他帶到前方後,不推而讓他靠近我身体之處將他指導下去。此時做得好。

釋放希望控制別人時,反而較易得到希望的結果。

Saturday evening Kizomba class
The lead teacher is a Brazilian woman with skin the color of a milky café latte and big bright eyes. She shakes my hand, in greeting, and as we exchange names she continues to hold my hand, and maintains eye contact. I feel connected, and the rest of the room falls away, and I feel as if the rest of the room has fallen away for her, too. It feels completely natural, but not sexual. It was like sharing a glass of water with a friend on a hot day.

When we break contact, she becomes teacher again, and I assume my role as student. I feel a deep admiration, and wonder if I will ever be able to make people feel as comfortable.

During one set, she sees that we are uncomfortable with each other. Many of us are meeting each other for the first time, and kizomba is a dance done in close proximity. “Ok,” she says kindly, “hug it out. I want you to hug each other, get it all out. Connect with your partner.” She leaves a moment of silence, and then continues with teaching us another move sequence.

There is a male instructor. I ask him a question about leading a move called the Estrella. He shows me by facing the same direction as me and connecting his right hip with my left hip, and he counts beats and moves. I move with him, and instantly understand.

After the kizomba class, I go with B, O, and K to a salsa party, B (who is Taiwanese) said of a Taiwanese instructor that he was the “best Taiwanese instructor, excluding foreigners,” because she said “there is something the foreign teachers have that Taiwanese teachers don’t have.”

I think I know what it is – I felt it in the way the female teacher made time stop a little for self-introductions by holding onto my hand a little longer. I felt it in the way the male teacher took me through the timing for the Estrella without using any words to explain. I think it is in the way Brazilian or other Latin American people are so comfortable with touch. They use it just as fluently as they use words to talk. Americans feel like they need to talk to stay connected. Japanese people feel like they need to maintain a respectful distance. Taiwanese people use touch a little bit more, but Latin American people are carrying on entire conversations with touch. I felt a little homesick for a place I’ve never been.

土曜日のキゾンバクラスの後、サルサのパーティーにいった。ある男と話したて分かった事。サルサはオンワンとオンツーの踊り方がある。違いは踏み出すのを一と五の表紙にするのか二と六の表紙にするのか。私はずっとオンワンで踊ってきたが、最近のニューヨークと台湾の流行はオンツー。音楽は同じサルサの音楽けど、踊り場の人の動きを見ていてもよくわからなかった。待っても何も起こらないけど。
踊ってない女性に聞いた 「オンツーでしょう?」
「そう。」
「俺はオンワンしかやったことがない。」
「私は逆にオンツーしか踊った事がないけど、リードすれば頑張って付いていく。」
そこで踊った。何回か失調したけど、協調を取り戻して、案外一緒に踊れた。なんだかオンツーの踊りなれている人の所為かビートの前に動こうとしている用に感じて凄く流暢に動けた。
曲が終わったら、「ありがとう」と俺が言った。
「あんまり付いていけてなくて、ごめんね。」
「いいえ、とんでもないです。」
前話した男がこっちに来て「いい動きをしているね。」と褒めてくれた。
俺は微笑んだ。「ほんとに?いやーね、相手はオンツーしかやったことがなくて、俺はオンワンしかやったことがなくて、よく動けたな。」
「オンツーは少しなれないといけない。俺もずっとオンワンだったが、今はみんなオンツーしかやらないから、なれるしかなかった。少しずつなれてきた。」一拍おいてから話し続けた「まだオンワンのほうが少し得意けど。」

これで自分の歳をちょっと感じた。それと同時に、やってきた事は無駄じゃない。この曲で二人がしてきた訓練をもとに、失調を許してお互いの意図を探ったら、よく動けた。一曲では始まり、進捗、そして終わりがある。そこでの勝負は一方通行でやり直しがない中で、いかにお互い支え合って楽しく動けるか。もっと踊りに限らず、即興的に、相手のいいところに準じて、利になる事がしたい。

How to do a Mental Reboot

Last night, I went to Friday evening aikido training at Minato-ku, showered and headed the Yokohama Station bus terminal, bought pizza and a beer on the way, and after arriving at the bus terminal, sat and waited for my bus to come, eating my pizza and beer. I’d sweated a little at practice, so I relished the tomatoes on the pizza margherita as they burst in my mouth, and the tingly coolness of the beer. Simple pleasure. I often read when I eat alone, which I truly enjoy, so to fully concentrate on eating just then was a pleasure.

At 10:45, I boarded my bus, read, and when we stopped at a service area at Ashikaga just past midnight, got off to brush my teeth, then read some more on the bus, and slept.

When I stepped off the bus at 7:45 this morning, I found myself in Shingu. Fun time-space warp effect. I have to smile. This is my fifth time in Shingu, and three of those times, I have taken regular trains, a twelve-hour journey. Traveling by regular train, there is definitely the sense of time passing. Scenery changes from the Tokyo megalopolis, heading southwest along the urbanized Eastern Seaway, buildings giving way to wide fields of Aichi Prefecture, then one final urban megalopolis in the form of Nagoya City, then down south along the eastern coast of Mie Peninsula. As soon as one passes Nagoya, the accents change from the flat accent of the Edo Plain to a more lilting accent of western Japan. I can hear it in the chattering of passengers and in the conductor’s annoucements. For me, having spent my first months in Japan and subsequent vacations in western japan, the effect is akin to when I go home to Georgia, and transit through Washington D.C. or Chicago. The accents change when I change planes. Hearing the accent change is the first welcome that I get. The last time I came, I came by express train, and the effect was similar, but much speeded-up.

This time, though, space-time warp, the effect compounded by the bus driver having had us draw the curtains closed around the bus. Having stepped into a darkened box in Tokyo, I stepped out of a darkened box into Shingu, more well-rested than I’d figured on being. Very nice.

I thought I’d stop by McDonalds on the way to the Dojo to get breakfast and coffee, but when I got there it was dark inside. Had they gone out of business? I looked around and saw a sign that said 9:30-20:00. It was past eight. Here’s a small-town McDonald’s that doesn’t do breakfast.

I only passed two other people walking as I headed toward the dojo. I thought to myself that I appreciate the quiet, but that I have also grown to like the bustle of the city. The personality of the cities comes out in the dojos. Honbu Dojo has lots of good, positive energy, but I find myself talking very little in general. Naturally we greet each other and chat a little, but generally people need to leave soon. Tokyo is a place where people run full speed toward their dreams, and it feels very odd to simply saunter along. Kumanojuku Dojo in Shingu has lots of good, positive energy, as well, but things are less formal. With the flattened hierarchy, people give each other more advice during practice. And people have more time. Hakama-folding extends into a small talk session, and frequently into a bit of extra practice. In mindset, there’s more sauntering than running.

One should, as Thoreau urges, feel free to march to the beat of a different drummer, but it is so nice to find a place where the people are marching at the tempo that one wants to march. This feeling of finding a rhythm is what I felt when I first threw myself into the dashing energy of Tokyo, and what I felt after being well into my sabbatical year in 2012, when I first discovered the strolling laid-backness of Shingu.

Being out of step with one’s surroundings is not easy. One of my English friends started having panic attacks in Tokyo, and he was completely cured of them when he moved into the countryside, and a counterexample is a young artist named Kobo Hamada from Shikoku I once met at a small exhibition in Tokyo. His video art featured short films that he showed on small tablets that hung on a wall. Two I remember well. One was a young man and woman who ran away from a group of friends and got lost in the woods together. There was an accident, and I think both of them died. Another was a man alone in a tall grassy field with a drum and an electric guitar. He made sounds by throwing them to the ground. The drum sounded with a thud as it hit the ground and had a lingering resonance, and the guitar when it hit the ground emitted the twang as all of its strings were set into vibration. Eventually the fingerboard broke off.

I asked him where he got his inspiration, and he said that he was trying to depict the mentality of people where he was from. The feeling of having grown so rooted to a place that it is impossible to move. The feeling of seeing people move away and the countryside hollow-out, but being unable to move. I thought, just as I need vacations to the countryside, this man needs to take more vacations to the city.

Arriving a the Dojo, I came upon Tim, speaking with a student from a neighboring town, whom I’d only ever seen in his Aikido uniform, but from his rubber boots and pocketed windbreaker, gave me the impression of being a fisherman. They had just finished morning practice. Morning practice ends at 7:30, but they’d stuck around for awhile – it was 8:30. They were talking about visiting shrines, and what walks were nice. The conversation is remarkable only in that it is so seldom that I shoot the breeze or come across people shooting the breeze in Tokyo. I think I have a lot to learn or remember here.

Tim asks me what I want to do while I’m here. I tell him I’m here to train, to meditate under a waterfall, and to do the torch run. Outwardly, I am here for these things. Inwardly, I’ve found as I start on my 3rd decade that I’ve become more controlling, more regimented in my life, and slower to make friends. These are things that I’ve learned but that I don’t need. I hope that with training I will sweat it out, that the waterfall will wash it away, and that the fire I carry from the shrine on the mountaintop will be drawn into my body, and I will carry it back with me to Tokyo.

Creating

I am training with Tokuda-san, a young uchideshi, a live-in student at the Honbu Dojo. We are taking turns applying kotegaeshi, a hand reversal technique. When it’s my turn, I control his balance through his right  hand downward to his right front foot, and point his fingers toward his face as I wrap my right hand over the back of his. I step in and throw. He breakfalls, and stands to meet me again. He attacks again, this time with his left hand. I parry, controlling his left hand as I direct his balance downward and weight his left front foot. Instead of stepping in to throw, as is usual at Honbu Dojo, this time I pivot on the balls of both of my feet as I draw his balance forward, as I was taught in Shingu. I can read from the surprise on his face that this is new for him.

We switch roles: my turn to attack, his turn to parry and throw. I attack. He controls my balance downward, but instead of stepping in to throw, he wraps me in with a slight twist of his body. He doesn’t throw, but unwraps, and I respond by trying to retake my balance. He wraps me in again, and I realize his elbow is close to my nose. Then, he wraps me in and controls my balance into the ground. I breakfall and roll out. I attack again, and as he controls me downward, I can see this time that he is definitely experimenting with the distance between his forward elbow and my nose. I laugh.

We switch roles: my turn to parry and throw. I experiment, and find that it’s unnatural for me to actually be able to touch his nose with my elbow. But, it seems to me to be a good backup – if I were to lose control of his arm for some reason, my elbow is there near his face. I laugh. “This is a bit evil, isn’t it?” He laughs, too.

And there we are, trying things out, working within the form, experimenting with deviations from form, seeing what works, and creating Aikido for ourselves.