Friday, March 02, 2007


I wrote a while back about the concepts of zanshin (remaining aware), mushin (acting without analysis), and kime (explosively focussed concentration). Basically my assertion was that we need to develop a healthy balance in our martial arts between these (mostly) mutually exclusive states of mind.
Different martial arts seem to specialize to different degrees in these ideas. Karate, for instance is all about kime, while aiki (as I understand it) is more about zanshin - to the point that I'd be willing to say there is almost no kime in aiki. I know Ueshiba said "Aikido decides between life and death in an instant," and this is used to promote the idea of kime in aikido, but I don't really think that dog hunts. Maybe that will be a topic for another post.
Today I want to talk about zanshin. Remaining aware. There are a couple of practices that lead to a greater awareness of your surroundings as you are playing the role of tori.
  • proper posture - The aiki posture we use almost exclusively is shizentai (gesundheit!) - the natural, upright posture with feet under hips. Musashi called this "stance of no stance" and talked about remaining "open in all eight directions." I take this to mean that a neutral stance keeps your options open - but it also means that upright posture makes you more alert in all directions. Try this: stand upright and look straight ahead. notice what you can see in your peripheral vision in all directions - up, down, left and right. now, bend over 90 degrees at the waist and look straight down and check how much you can see. upright posture gives you a better field of vision - thus better awareness.
  • The ura forms. Tomiki collected seventeen fundamental techniques that occur a lot in randori into a kata and named it (uncreatively) Junana Hon Kata (the 17 fundamental forms). I don't know if it was coincidence (I suspect it wasn't) but almost all the techniques in Junana are omote forms, meaning that tori enters in front of uke and executes the technique from there. For most of these 17 techniques, we also frequently play with the ura forms, meaning tori enters behind uke and stays there while doing the technique. This tends to take the form of entering, turning 180 degrees behind uke, then throwing. A cool side effect of this 180 degree turn is that it allows tori to see what is going on all around him before he commits to busting uke. Zanshin!
So, next time you're practicing your aiki, consider how upright, neutral posture and the ura (turning backward) forms allow for greater situational awareness. Look around a little bit!

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