Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Space invaders

I had an interesting talk with my instructor on the phone today. Interesting on many levels. He talked about how the art has always been forced to conform to the conditions at hand. For instance, when he was in Japan practicing, physical space was at a premium so they practiced anywhere they could. One Japanese instructor he knew found a 12x60 foot space between two buildings and had it roofed and that's where they practiced - thirty to sixty aikidoka in a 12X60 space. My instructor cites this type of condition as an influence in Tomikiryu developing the linear look and feel that seems apparent in beginners.
If you look at the photos in Ueshiba's book (I don't remember if it's in Essence or in Budo) the dojo space in which some of the shots are taken is extremely small. So small, in fact, that it appears that they would only be able to do suwari and maybe hammi handachi practice in it. In such a situation, the art has to conform to the space. There are also photos in that book of them practicing outside.
In America we are used to having larger spaces around us. When I was at University I was used to roaming around on a mat space that was larger than 40x60. When I moved to McComb, all I could afford was two 4x8 folding mats. We laid them out in a line to practice rolling breakfalls and we laid them out in a square to practice Judo nagekomi (starting in the corner and throwing into the center of the mat). Eventually I saved up for an 18x36 space. This is the mat space we practice on now. We had it laid out in a room that was about 22x50 until we renovated and moved to the new Mokuren dojo. Now we have the same mat space but it is in a 20x40 room with lower ceilings. So even though the mat space is the same, it feels smaller. Even so, we had plenty of room for the 15 some odd aiki buddies at the gathering in October, and several of the buddies expressed the opinion that that was one of the best clinics/seminars/gatherings they'd ever been to with some of the best aiki...
If I understand rightly, Bryce and John in Florida are practicing in a roughly 6x8 space surrounded by couches. At University we had a similar mode of practice when we were away from the large dojo. We called it 'room randori,' and it was a blast! So, really all you need is a space large enough for uke and tori to stand and not be in each others' ma-ai. That's sufficient for room randori.
Anyway, it's interesting to me that because of space constraints we may be practicing in a manner more similar to the old masters in Japan. It's also interesting to consider the limited space conditions typical of traditional aiki practice as an answer to those folks that say that aiki is not such a good martial art for 'real world' situations because the aikidoka has to have large spaces to move about in?

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