Winter Camp, 2007, Part Two

At this past Winter Camp, I had the opportunity to stay with my good friend, Abhijit Dasgupta. Abhijit is one of those rare people you meet while training who started alongside you, progressed through the ranks with you, and continue to push and inspire you. Abhijit has now plunged into the blogosphere with AikiMusings, which I highly recommend you check out. He’s extremely articulate and frequently* knows what he’s talking about.

In his first post, Abhijit discusses the main concept that Sensei Maruyama expressed during Camp. It is a relatively simple notion conceptually, but can be expressed in many ways. During Camp, some of the phrases he used were:

  • “Throw away impurities”
  • “Have a good feeling”
  • “Be comfortable”

These phrases all point to a single idea: effective technique comes from within. Conceptually, this is an easy notion to understand; certainly, we have all felt a calm sense of power when we are relaxed in body and (for want of a better word) spirit. To put this idea into practice, however, to harmonize the idea in the mind with the actions in the body–that is not an easy task. Sensei more than once pointed out that it is a very difficult idea to teach. At least, in the conventional step-by-step instructions we usually want to receive.

As we trained over the weekend, I realized that capturing these more abstract concepts are what camps are all about. The enthusiasm and focus at camps are intense and immediate. Similar to what you experience at a concert, the energy at Camp is infectious. It’s circular, as well: the energy of the room raises my game, which in turn gets me to be even more energetic myself, which is then picked up on by the people around me. Camps, in my mind, become an excellent example of how to capture Sensei’s concept of one’s “best feeling.”

Now that I am back in my home dojo, I have been thinking a great deal about how to capture that feeling more often. After all, it is not the number of people that really matter, but this level of infectious enthusiasm that makes the difference. I re-remembered a passage in Sensei Rick Berry’s book, Stepping Off the Mat, in which he describes a man he met. This man, when asked how he was doing, replied: “I’m doing GREAT!” The enthusiasm from this man, answering what is typically a mere polite question, made those around him feel better and more energized. One can only imagine what life would be like if that outpouring of energy from people was the norm.

However, as I wrote before, Sensei was very clear that, while good technique depended on a good feeling, saying that you “felt good” is not enough. One must then prove it through the application of technique. This is, to me, so important. It would be so easy to say “I feel GREAT!” but only show it on the outside; inside, you know you’re putting on a front. Were you on the mat and attempting this charade, you immediately know it because your technique simply becomes unreliable at best, and ineffective at worst. To be blunt: effective Kokikai technique becomes not only a means of self-defense, but also a means of proving to yourself that your internal energy is legitimate, and not some la-la land nonsense. I wonder if some of the criticisms of Aikido stem from instructors who focus on this internal feeling, but not the external proof…

*Actually, he knows what he’s talking about almost all of the time. But I have to tease him.

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