Reflections by John Wang on Training

What I'm about to put into words will probably make me appear petty. But what happened is the genesis of some inner clarity. So here it goes. The dojo hosted Jenny Flower Sensei for a weekend seminar. There were four classes on Saturday. The weather was hot and muggy; the mat was packed. From the first technique, my legs already started to shake and I knew it was going to be a very tough day of training. (For those who get dehydrated easily, it's not a good idea to drink coffee before a long day of training.) I was sure Flower Sensei would call me up a few times for ukemi -- I was excited. That excitement gradually turned into dread as we moved from the first class to the second to the third. The mixture of dread and exhaustion at that point was starting to affect me.  Near the end of the third class, I was called up. What followed was a shameful display of ukemi that made me cringe as I saw it later on video. What I saw was someone whose sole interest was "hey look, I can take ukemi." I went up and did a dance and flapped around like a fish that was dropped by a fisherman onto a wooden deck.

 

I first started studying Aikido under Yahe Solomon Sensei. One day during practice he looked at me and said, "This is not a performance art. That beginner takes better ukemi than you." I have thought about those words on various occasions. On a superficial level, they meant that my practice lacks the connection necessary to improve. On a deeper level, they meant "stop adding things because you are a superhero in your own mind." They meant that the unnecessary stuff I add to ukemi only detracts from the practice. It has been 10 years since I heard those words. I have found those words apply to me on and off the mat. They certainly applied to me when I took ukemi for Flower Sensei.

 

As I understand it, a true encounter happens when both the uke and the nage react to each other spontaneously and naturally. The uke attacks strongly but properly with his center. He finishes the attack in good posture ready for a follow up attack if possible. The nage feels the uke encroaching his space and reacts by using his center to affect the incoming uke's center. The ensuing clash or blending of centers creates an energy that results in a technique. The ending remains uncertain until the very end. It just happens. For me, it'll happen when I stop hoping/trying to "look good" while doing it. It'd also help if I can stop jumping around like a dead fish gasping for its dying breath.

 

-J. Wang