Saturday, 25 April 2015

Concentration

I recently picked up my copy of Karate Jutsu by Funakoshi and had one of those light bulb moments.  Essentially this relates to explanations of form and concentration.  I’ve been thinking about this for the past 2 weeks and thought I’d share my thoughts on this with you all.

Lets take this standard martial arts flyer:


It’s amazing that all martial arts flyers I come across usually include the word “concentration” as a key benefit of training.  So this got me thinking, does Aikido really offer improved concentration.  In Karate, elements of concentration are more apparent.  They occur in the breathing patterns, the stances, the timing of movements - all this through the medium of Kata.  Take this clip for example, look at the concentration:


As an aside note, as a kid that was my favourite competition kata also.  Anyway, few can argue how well these Kata are executed.  The dedication, commitment and concentration required in regular training to carry out a demonstration of this standard is just applaudable.

So turning then to my art, Aikido/Aikibujutsu, I think we have all seen really bad Aiki demonstrations where there appears to be no form, no stances, no concentration - just two really over weight people waddling at each other and magically falling over.  For today I don’t propose giving a YouTube example of this as we’ve all seen it.  In truth our art is not alone, you see this in Judo, Karate, Jujutsu etc. also.

I must admit that because of the philosophy often ascribed to Aiki by the Ueshiba brand, this inability to apply form to Aikido is more common in our art than others.  In fact, many argue that Aikido should have no form at all and hence they don’t bother trying to develop it.  This reminds me of something Joe Thambu Shihan said to me many years ago, Aikido starts with the kamae (stance), without the stance you cannot do the kihon doza (basic body movements), without the kihon doza  you cannot do the basic kihon waza (basic techniques), without the kihon waza you cannot move onto free form practice.  For Joe, each segment of Aikido requires concentrated effort on a key element of training.  Without the basic stance, ultimately you can’t do the techniques nor put them into practice - it’s all connected.  It is near impossible to turn up one day and achieve the end goal without going through the stages of progression and really perfecting each in turn.

So lets see how this looks when concentration is applied to the basic movements in Aikido:


Notice that all the movements are exact and specific.  There is no lazy walking around without purpose, lack of discipline or casual body swagger.  Instead there is specific concentration applied to the form itself, on the movements, on the stance and timing.  This, for me, is how we should be aiming to train, especially at the start of our Aikido journey.

Once you’ve mastered that, Thambu Sensei offers us a really good example of what we should be aiming to achieve as an end goal.


Coming back then to the point in question, does martial arts offer improved concentration - yes, but only if the training regime allows for this.  This improvement in concentration is achieved by focusing on our stance, body movement, timing and technique.  Training which offers formality, like Karate Kata, specifically in terms of bowing, kamae, and engagement with get other, offers a centralised and focused way of improving one’s concentration.  It is my belief that we should attempt to employ such feeling in our own training least we fail to achieve a key achievement of our training, namely ‘concentration’.

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