Inside Nihon Goshin Aikido ~ #34
January 5, 2016
In This Issue:
Awareness ~ “The eye that observes”
Happy New Year Nihon Goshin Aikido Aficionado!
I trust your Christmas was an outstanding one, and that your New Year’s Resolution is off to a rousing start. If you need help goal setting (especially as it relates to martial arts), please click here to read an article I wrote last year for just that occasion.
1. Operational Habits in Nihon Goshin Aikido and Miyamoto Musashi’s Historic Martial Philosophies on Awareness.
As to our Aikido interests today, I thought it might be fun to look at an idea presented in Miyamoto Musashi’s, “The Book of Five Rings.”
Miyamoto Musashi’s Background
Miyamoto Musashi (1584-1645) was a renowned samurai swordsmen. He was a true icon of the samurai age, fighting over 60 individual matches (duals) without defeat, and participating in at least three major battles. Stricken with what is believed to be throat cancer in 1643 (two years before his death, and two years after the death of his Lord) Musashi retired to Reigan Cave on Mount Iwato (sometimes also referred to as “Mount Iwatono”) to write his ideas down. “The Book of 5 Rings” is one of the results from his time in the cave. Spend any time studying martial arts, and you’ll hear excerpts of “The Book of 5 Rings” or his other book, “The Way of Walking Alone” quoted.
Aside from the books he wrote, Musashi’s art essentially died with him. After the death of Lord Hosokawa, the Japanese Lord who was hoping to codify Musashi’s martial art style, Musashi lacked a sponsor, and he never received an official endorsement for his martial style.
Though certainly tragic at the time, in some ways not having a specifically derived “martial art according to Musashi” is advantageous because Musashi’s thoughts traverse all martial situations and styles. One of his popular sayings: “You have to want to cut.” Is an example of an idea covers all bases. One could see how this notion of commitment (eg: “ wanting to cut”) could be applied across the entire combative realm, whether it be a modern day army sniper, an MMA fighter, or a Nihon Goshin Aficionado. We must want to cut when it is time to cut!
Awareness: Miyamoto Musashi and Metsuke :
What did Musashi have to say about Awareness (what you look at in martial situations)? Consider the excerpt from the Earth Chapter of “The Book of Five Rings.”
“In seeing the eyes, do so in a large and encompassing way. There is observation and there is seeing. The eye of observation is strong. The eye of seeing is weak. To see the faraway as nearby, and the nearby as faraway is essential to the martial arts. To know your opponent’s sword, yet not to “see” it at all is very important in the martial arts. You should make great efforts in this. The use of the eyes is the same for martial events whether in individual combat or in large confrontations. It is essential that your eyes do not move and that you be able to see on both sides (of your opponent).... Master the use of the eyes, and do not change that use under any circumstances. This is something you should investigate thoroughly.”1
This passage is timely for our running conversation on awareness. As you might remember, in the release of our last newsletter [“Inside Nihon Goshin Aikido ~ #33 (December 2015)], we included among its contents a discussion on “metsuke,” and a formula for the eye and seeing that the late Sensei Jim Giorgi had drawn up as one of his “Principles of Aiki.”
Sensei Giorgi’s formula went like this: “Metsuke = Awareness (What You Are Looking At) + Breathing + Corporal Awareness (eg: Body Stance)”.
Rather than considering the entire formula in last month’s newsletter, we only focused on the first component in the equation: “Awareness (What you’re looking at).” In Sensei Giorgi’s Metsuke formula, “Awareness” focused on the notion of “where we look.” For lack of a formal term that I was aware of, I called this area of observation or this focal point, “The Magic Triangle” for the purposes of that article.
If you will remember, The Magic Triangle refers to the linear shape formed by drawing lines connecting uke’s chin, and his Ai & Ki chest patches (see picture to the left). In this fashion, the lines form a Triangle. Furthermore, by observing the action inside this Triangle, you see every potential attack without focusing in any particular area.
This is a critical understanding: with your concentration focused in the Magic Triangle, you never look uke in the eyes, as it deters you from your overall objective of maintaining broad awareness of uke’s general posture and your own surroundings.
As I mentioned, in the Lexington, SC dojo where I train, there is not a formal name for this area of focus, which is why I took the liberty of naming it for my own purposes; borrowing “The Magic Triangle” from my soccer days. That said, I have since heard that the Nihon Goshin Aikido dojo in Spartanburg, SC calls this area, “The Football.” Which is interesting as it replaces the triangular shape with a football shape. Essentially an ellipse, “The Football” adds a notion of depth to the Triangular shape of the Magic Triangle ~ or “Awareness Triangle” ~ which is my new preferred name.”
Regardless of the terminology we use to describe it, the area of general focus is essentially the same, and the benefits are certainly consistent.
By focusing on uke’s “Football” or “Awareness Triangle” we are able to observe everything we need to see ~ including the all important the space directly behind our attacker.
Seeing the attacker and the space behind our attacker ~ is the ultimate objective of awareness. Note that the area behind our attacker is not static either. It encompasses a 360 degree arc (complete circle) as you incorporate your circular Yang Blend movements!
There’s a reason we incorporate the Yang Blend into our aikido. Simply put, the Yang Blend (Irimi Tenkan Tenkai) is pure randori ingenuity as it helps identify the movements of additional attackers if/ when applicable. This is especially true when The Awareness Triangle or The Football is incorporated with our circular Yang Blends. When combined, you see everything in the 360 degree arc ~ without ever turning your head. This is huge. Philosophically, the more I study it, the more I’m a fan of the 360 degree Yang Blend (so basic to our style).
What focusing on the Awareness Triangle or Football looks like:
As we said last month, in extreme circumstances fomented by Hollywood fight choreographers, an exaggerated focus on the Awareness Triangle might look like the scene from “The Matrix” when Neo begins to realize his true potential and fight Agent Smith. Note the brief, disinterested, action just before Neo takes a bladed stance with only his left hand blocking (see gif image in the left hand column). The focus I’m referring to is only the action just before he blades his body. This observing without seeing posture demonstrates a correct, albeit slightly exaggerated, idea of proper attention to the Awareness Triangle. Note how the eyes observe all, but focus on nothing. This is a kind of an exaggerated idea of what you’re going for.
Not Proprietary: The Awareness Triangle is Not Altogether Unique to A Particular Style of Self Defense:
Apparently boxers also use it. Although I did not mention it in last month’s newsletter, I remember watching an old interview with one of the few boxers to ever beat Cassius Clay (Mohammad Ali). In the interview, the boxer (Kenny Norton if I remember correctly) said something along the lines of this: “I knew his jab was coming because Ali’s chest muscles would twitch just before he was throwing the jab. Seeing the twitch, and knowing it was coming, allowed me time to get out of the way, and I could counter it.”
Nota Bena: the leadership in Spartanburg, SC (which is the dojo the leadership of the Lexington, SC dojo spun out of), was not quite certain where The Football concept originated. Add to that a couple of comments I’ve received on the Awareness Triangle from students in the North who seem to look a little lower ~ more in the solar plexus area ~, and we may have a situation where a modification was made at some point [potentially due to height differences between Mr. Bowe (tall) and Mr. Weber not quite as tall)]. Still regardless of where we are looking, the “broad view” of the situation is stressed ~ even if we may not be observing quite the same area.
If The Awareness Triangle, or The Football, or a broad focus on the area of the solar plexus is not in your martial tool bag for some reason, please consider adding it. It takes nothing away from what you are already doing in training Classical Technique, and adds to what you hope to do on the street.
2. The “Thoughtful Man” and the “Empathetic Man” Defensive Posture: Two Twists on Making Your Every Day Stance Your Fighting Stance:
If you are ever in a situation in which an attack is probable and telegraphed, it might make sense to start with your hands up ~ whether you’re in an everyday stance, hamni stance or what have you. In other words, if you know an attack is imminent, “Get your hands up!”
But how? Well, if the situation is tense but not yet combative, and you adopt a fighting stance by quickly raising your hands, balling your fists, and tucking your chin (to get into a boxer’s stance) ~ you very well may provoke the very encounter you seek to avoid!
Thoughts: Raising our hands with an open handed, calming posture ~ with palms facing out towards the attacker is certainly valid, but could it give away too much? Does it make us appear as someone who ‘fears’ conflict ~ thereby inciting potential violence? I’m not sure, but here are a few alternatives, or variations Hands Raised Palms Out posture that we might also consider. Enter the “Thoughtful Man” Fighting stance” and the Empathetic Man” Fighting Stance. See video to the left for complete details.
3. Website Updates:
I’ve made updates to the website.
In the Randori Section I posted an article titled, “Randori: A Nihon Goshin Aikido Randori Training Tutorial” ~there are three videos which detail training methodologies and tactics, as three videos that breakdown some of the more intriguing multiple attacker scenarios from my old sho-dan test (including one that goes to the the ground) in which I analyze and critique the action frame by frame. If you’ve got a sho-dan test coming up, or you want to polish up on the way we do randori, these videos may be worth your time. Please check these additions out.
4. Seminar Announcement:
A. Charlotte, NC (First Weekend in February): Are you going to be anywhere near Charlotte, North Carolina the first weekend in February? If so consider attending the Grand Opening of Aikido of Charlotte’s new 1,600 square foot, 72 tatami dojo space in Huntersville, NC. Andy Demko, Shihan, and member of USAF’s technical committee will be the primary instructor for the 2 day event. I will be there! Click here for more information, and to register.
B. Covington, GA (First Weekend in June): There will be a Nihon Goshin Aikido Seminar at the Covington, GA dojo. Sensei MacEwen will be the primary instructor. The dates are the first weekend in June, so mark your calendars. I’ll have more information about the seminar in next month’s newsletter.
5. Newsletter Subscribers:
More subscribers is the goal ~ so can you help us grow our Newsletter Subscription Base by passing the website along to your training buddies and asking them to subscribe?
Our hope is to be an inter-dojo clearing house for all things NGA, but we need more subscribers to do that. Best of all, it’s free, and who doesn’t like the word “free!” Click Here to Subscribe! (And make sure you forward this link to all your training buddies, and would be training buddies).
Do you have an announcement? If so, we would like to share your information on Seminars, Dojo Expansions, Relocations, Grand Openings, Promotions, and/or Other Information with our subscribers. Please forward all of your announcements to us so we can get the word out. Send us the information on your announcement, and we’ll post it here for you.
In last month’s edition of “Inside Nihon Goshin Aikido” (December 2015) I incorrectly listed the thickness of the dojo mats in my own dojo in the article titled “The 5 Best Aikido Floors I’ve Trained On.” For the record, the Lexington, SC dojo mat is not a 1/2 inch thick. It is thicker than that. This is the actual formula. The Lexington dojo incorporates a single layer mat system which is comprised of connected rolls of 1.375 inch cross linked, closed cell, foam mat laid on top of a wood laminate floor, seated on a concrete slab. The entire mat is covered with a seamless vinyl tarp, and locked down with a wooden frame around the perimeter. It is also HUGE!
Here’s to a solid 2016. We look forward to what the new year will bring in all things Nihon Goshin Aikido. Let's meet on the mat together soon!
1: The Book of Five Rings by Miyamoto Musashi, translated by William Scott Wilson, Copyright 2002, p.33
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Unless otherwise stated, the author’s views, musings, and opinions do not necessarily reflect the attitude of leadership within any of the various Nihon Goshin Aikido associations, or unaffiliated Nihon Goshin Aikido dojos.
Sensei Giorgi on the Power Keeping An Open Mind in the Defense:
“Although it is tempting, while facing the attacker in self-defense line, to pre-visualize how one would respond to an attack by using a particular technique, this is "death" if done in a self-defense line and even more deadly if there is more than one attacker. It is cognitive anticipation, which is the antithesis of the open, spontaneously responsive state of mind (mushin) and fluidity of movement that we as aikidoka are cultivating with our training. John Lennon is credited with saying "Life is what happens to you while you're making other plans." In Aikido, "Death (getting hit) is what happens to you while you're making other plans."
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