BUDO – Some thoughts – II

(An incomplete attempt at completing the line of thought of the first article )

There is a peculiar characteristic of any effort to intellectualizing an issue – it raises more questions than it answers. Probably why old veterans are quiet people, who appear reluctant to answer questions, and even when they do, the answers are short and terse, not long winded and elaborate. Anyway I think I will go a bit deeper into my mess and see what more can be found.

The “ What I should do? “ vs. “ What I desire to do? “ conflict seemed to clear the air somewhat around the warrior/saint anomaly. The ‘warrior’ is one who trains for strength, so this ‘desire Vs duty’ battle can be won. On the other hand the ‘saint’ has no battle to fight, there is no ‘desire’ and hence no ‘duty’, merger with nature is complete, all actions are spontaneous and in accord with the natural flow of things, effortlessness in everything – Ai-Ki-Do.

But all this understanding is still an intellectual exercise, efforts to integrate  this in my routine run into another wall – “What I want” is easy to identify, how to determine “what I should”?

A warrior is steadfast and consistent in his actions. But when I am not sure of what determines correct actions, how can I be steadfast. If there is any lingering doubt, all spontaneity is lost, the strength of purpose actually leaks away. Many times there have been instances where I thought I had the answers, only to find later that they were incomplete, partial and sometimes wrong.

My actions which at that time seemed to be ‘What I should do’ turned out to be ‘What I should not have done’ later.

None of the warrior codes seem to leave any space for growth. As I age, my perspective changes. Some things I did, when I was young, now seem inappropriate. So what to do. Does a Samurai cut his belly open when he is old and finds that he did something in his youth that seemed absolutely correct then but now appears inappropriate.

Course correction is an integral part of life. The right path seems to be so narrow that I am always going this way or that. Slightest gap in alertness and the mind goes on a tangent, and when I regain my balance the boat is so off course.

I have no answers, not even an outline or part outline of one. But some possible patterns have emerged. I use the word ‘pattern’ because this feeling of having caught the correct thread happens during events and actions so diverse and different with no common characteristics that it must be some kind underlying pattern.

For example – my Aikido training. As a novice I tried to learn the technique like 1-2-3, you know step wise. Get out of the way, slide hand along arm and grab palm, tenkan and so on. But I found that more I concentrated on getting each step right, more I lost the overall spirit of the technique.

When using the ‘Jo’, if I tried to get my ‘Tsuki’ correct by watching each action, first stance, then move left hand like this then right hand like that … , it invariably went wrong. Instead if I concentrated on taking the Jo and thrusting it into my opponent’s solar plexus most efficiently, everything falls into place easily. Somehow the technique self corrected itself when I am simply aware of the spirit of what I am doing.

It seems that the more I focus on one thing, the other things, equally important things, went out of focus.

It seems like driving, a new driver always holds the steering tight, haunches the shoulders and concentrates hard on the front. While the veterans hold the wheel loosely, and give equal importance to central and peripheral vision, easily retaining awareness of what is in front and coming from the side at the same time.

Inner harmony

(An except from Iron Balls and Elbow Power by Nick Waites. This book captures the teachings of Shihan Terry Ezra Sensei, Birkenhead, England.)

‘In aikido the ki of the individual self becomes unified with the ki of the entire universe. We ourselves must ceaselessly work to realise this union.’ – Morihei Ueshiba

The system of aikido to which Essani introduced me is based on the aikido ideal of harmony with nature and natural forces. In particular it is concerned primarily with creating unity within oneself, and subsequently between oneself and an attacker. Initially, when learning any new physical skill, our bodies try to continue performing familiar movements while our minds try to make our bodies perform unfamiliar movements. This creates a tension that only begins to disappear through constant repetition.  Essani’s system makes us acutely aware of our own physical/mental state so that we are able to recognise unnecessary tension. Once that sensitivity to what the Chinese call ‘qi stagnation’ is established, further training can work towards removing it. Through constant monitoring of simple movements and exercises we become sensitised to unnecessary tension, and we learn to release it. Eventually, optimum relaxation replaces instinctive but ineffectual body states and establishes itself as a learned instinctive behaviour.

Harmony within oneself leads to a sensitivity to an opponent’s weaknesses. Rather than being preoccupied with the need to overpower an opponent, we develop the ability to identify an opponent’s intention and attune ourselves to it. Then, together, we find a way to dissipate the attack harmlessly. It becomes rather like dancing with a slightly reluctant partner.

The emphasis on harmonious interactions between ourselves and attackers requires that we become aware of our instinctive need to oppose attackers’ intentions. We learn to meet and join with an attack rather than to block it and force it into a new direction. For example, when an opponent grabs my wrist as a precursor to striking me with the other hand or a foot, my natural reaction might be to break the grip by pulling away from it. This gives my attacker energy to oppose and overpower, leading to a struggle between two opposing forces. Essani teaches that in this circumstance I must align my grasped arm so that it becomes an extension of my opponents arm. Then, my neutralisation of his technique will give him nothing to oppose since he will not be conscious of any interruption to his attack.

The Benefits of Aikido

The benefits of Aikido are many, and can last a lifetime. As a path of self-development, Aikido leads towards the integration of mind, body, and spirit – towards making us complete human beings, which not only benefits us, but benefits the people around us.

Physically and psychologically, Aikido is at the same time very complex and yet very simple. The changes it can make in our lives begin at the surface and go as deep as we let it.

Specifically, physical benefits of Aikido practice include increased balance, coordination, reaction, and sense of timing; improved posture, flexibility and aerobic conditioning; a greater awareness of our bodies and how we express ourselves through our bodies; and a more relaxed and confident presence.

Mental benefits include this increased self-awareness and relaxation; better ability to resolve conflicts and deal with stressful situations in a calmer and more positive manner; greater self-confidence and self-discipline; and the constant challenge of self-development and learning new skills.

Spiritual benefits include being able to improve one’s own quality of living; to break or change old habits and conditioning; to see things with greater clarity and perceptiveness; and to have a greater intuitive understanding of ourselves and the world around us.

Aikido is well-suited for self-defense. Aikido techniques are done against a variety of attacks – kicks, punches, strikes, chops, grabs by one or both hands to wrists, elbows, shoulders (from front or back), combination attacks, some knife or gun attacks, and attacks by more than one person. Because it trains not only the body, but the mind and spirit as well, it is a holistic approach to defense and self-protection. Aikido training develops one’s energy and expression of energy and enables the practitioner to maintain a calm state of mind under adverse conditions. On one level, with increased awareness and self-confidence and better posture and movement, you will be able to avoid potential situations. On another level, if someone does attack you, your training will enable you to react in a way the attacker may not expect, which may diffuse the attack by itself.

Yet on another level, if you are in a situation where you do have to do something, Aikido teaches you basic, effective body movement, techniques, escapes, and immobilizations that you can use to protect yourself in many situations.

The Birth of Aikido in India

Yin and Yan of Aikido. (Sensei Paritos Kar with the author as uke.)

Pic: CMA Times. January, 2007 (New Delhi)

The New Delhi Aikido Dojo was opened in November 2004 by Sensei Paritos Kar, a 4th Dan Black Belt from Aikikai Hombu Dojo Tokyo, who returned to India after living for 15 years of in Japan.

Sensei Paritos Kar is one of the few martial art instructors in India to have the courage to start teaching aikido professionally. To come to Delhi to open an aikido dojo was undoubtedly a big decision for him to make: aikido is almost unheard of in India and it is considered to be a non-competitive “sport” and so it does not interest schools. Moreover, it requires mats and a dedicated space. However, Sensei Kar’s sincerity and dedication helped him to overcome the initial difficulties and attracted like-minded people to help him in his mission.

During the two years of the dojo’s existence, the active membership has grown stronger: as of now, there are about 30 adults, Indians and foreigners, men and women, all training cooperatively. Many current dojo members have a martial arts background. However it is often said that once you start practicing aikido, it is practically impossible to go back to other martial arts because aikido is so different in its approach.

The uniqueness of aikido lies it its spiritual philosophy which was taught by the founder, O-Sensei Morihei Ueshiba and encompasses an attitude of peace and love for all living beings and a oneness with nature and the cosmos. As peace and love have no enemies, an aikido practitioner has no enemies, no opponents to fight. Any aggressive force directed at an aikido practitioner is redirected and effectively neutralized without doing harm to the attacker. The aikidoka’s response is fast, the technique is invisible and it utilizes the aggressor’s own energy and turns it against him. This normally is enough to stop the aggressor in his tracks and to prevent an escalation of the conflict.

Aikido training is not soft or easy by any means. In fact, it is considered one of the most technically difficult and even “esoteric” martial arts. However, the good news is that there are no age limits in aikido. In the Hombu Dojo (The World Aikido Headquarters), Tokyo, I saw many senior people, some in their seventies and even eighties, practicing aikido on a regular basis. There was an elderly man who had knee replacement surgery who was a regular in the early morning class, always with a small foldable stool to help him to do the sitting techniques. The age factor is not a problem in aikido. On the contrary, with many years of practice the techniques become awesomely powerful and imperceptible. The practitioner does not rely on muscle strength but invisibly blends and utilizes the energy of his or her partner/opponent.

I have never met a person who claimed that they had perfected their aikido. The aiki spirit is ever elusive and the search for perfection lasts a life time. It becomes a way of life for many practitioners. In our dojo we have regular visitors from abroad. This is another tradition: an aikidoka while traveling prefers to carry his keiko-gi (practice uniform) and a hakama (black traditional samurai pants) with him – just in case there is an opportunity to practice.

Aikido practitioners from different counties are welcome to practice in our dojo. Through them we get exposure to different styles and, indirectly, to the teaching of various great aikido masters.

In 2006 the dojo was fortunate to hold 3 seminars conducted by distinguished aikido masters: Shihan Gaku Homma Sensei, the founder and chief instructor of the Nippon Kan, Denver, USA, Shihan Terry Ezra Sensei, the founder and chief instructor of Komyokan Aikido, UK, and K. Sakurai Sensei, 6th dan from the Aikikai Hombu Dojo. Not only did these senseis came and stayed in New Delhi at their own expense, they also taught the students for free. Their mastery of the art combined with their goodwill has helped to boost the nascent art of aikido in India and give tremendous encouragement and experience to our pioneering aikido students.

It is evident that after the two years of hard work and sacrifice on the part of Sensei Paritos Kar, the New Delhi Aikido Dojo has finally established itself and is poised for new growth. We hope that the year 2007 will be rich in aikido experiences and events and that the dojo will attract more dedicated, talented Indian students capable of becoming aikido instructors.

Report: Aikido gains popularity in India (2)

NDTV.com, Sports Section
Thursday, March 16, 2006 (New Delhi)

A martial art similar to Kung Fu called Aikido is gaining popularity in India.

In spite of there being just a single instructor in the whole country, Aikido has definitely made a small beginning in the Capital.

A narrow corridor leads you to the Aikido centre in New Delhi. A small but dedicated lot of aikido students meditate just before starting the day’s practice.

This Aikido centre was started about a year back by Sensei Paritos Kar and is the only one of its kind in India.

“Aikido is a self defence martial art but the difference between Aikido and other martial arts is the way to harmony.

“Aikido is not only physical but it’s also a physio, psycho and spiritual martial art. So in the physical aspect, it helps very much,” said Paritos Kar, Aikido instructor.

Hands-on approach

Aikido promotes a hands-on approach to healing. It energises the joints, improves circulation and even coordinates breathing.

Paritos Kar, a fourth dan black belt has been practicing Aikido for 15 years in Japan.

What’s striking about this art is that there are no competitions. It simply encourages a person to follow his own path of Aikido.

“A proper exercise is something that exercises you completely and not just physically. It’s also an exercise where you’re emotionally and spiritually involved because what you are doing is not just normal moves,” said Manisha Mathur, an Aikido student.

In a bid to popularise the art form in India, the Aikido foundation hopes to bring in some more instructors and even introduce it in schools.

Aikido may be in its nascent stage but with the growing awareness of alternative sport and sophisticated fight sequences in Bollywood, it may soon become extremely popular with the common man.