Monday, November 26, 2007

Another Aikido Story

This is a second hand story, told me many years ago. At the time, the protagonist was named, so it’s of greater weight than an urban legend, but I’ve forgotten the name, so it’s still possible that it is apocryphal. Not that it matters.

The protagonist was an American, who had gone to Japan to study Aikido at Hombu Dojo, the school established by Morihei Ueshiba, the founder of Aikido, known as O Sensei, which translates as “Grand Teacher.” Hombu Dojo is the home of the World Aikido Federation, and my membership card informs me that I am the 188,047th member of that organization.

One evening, the student was on the train, returning home, and a man in workman’s clothing entered the car. The workman was obviously drunk, and was elbowing people aside, making insulting remarks, “spoiling for a fight,” as it were. The student thought to himself, “I have been studying Aikido for a long time, but I’ve never had the chance to put it to practical use. Perhaps now is the time.” So he blew the workman a kiss.

This enraged the man, and he began to stalk forward. But an old man on one of the seats called out, “Hey! What have you been drinking?”

The workman was momentarily confused. “Sake!” he said after a moment. “I’ve been drinking sake! I love sake!”

“Ha!” the old man replied. “I knew it! I love sake too!” He patted the seat beside him and said to the workman. “Sit here. Tell me about where you drink. Is the sake cheap and good?”

So the workman sat himself heavily beside the old man and began to talk. Within a few minutes he was in tears, telling the old man about his troubles. He’d lost his job. His woman had left him. He was broke and unsure how he’d pay the month’s rent. And so on.

The student retreated to the next car and got off at his stop, feeling like a fool.

My first Sensei once talked about the movie, The Outlaw Josie Wales, in which there is a scene where Chief Dan George watches an impending gun fight between Wales and some outlaws, where Wales made sure to come at them with the sun behind him, to give himself an edge, the Chief observes. “We always look for the edge,” my Sensei said. “Technique is an edge. Physical conditioning is an edge. Ki is an edge. Knowing what you want is an edge.”

Being able to fight is an edge, but so is being willing to not fight. There are a lot more options when you’re not fixated on the idea of winning the fight, and having options is an edge, too.

Note added 11/29/07: My Sensei informed me that this was a fairly famous story involving Terry Dobson Sensei. In fact, a little tracking finds it here. He tells it better, of course, but I note with some significance that despite having heard the story over 20 years ago, I still remembered the important details.


black dog barking said...

Empathy, Archimedes' Lever of the social universe.

Slightly OT: the single Google ad in the right column is an interesting addition. Because a) part of the Google thing is serving ads they judge to be of interest to me and b) I have blocked Google from tracking my web wanderings, this single ad should radiate a Google-sense of this site. Eg, an ad for Carmen Sandiego memorabilia from the other day.

Twice, including today, they've offered to set me up in high-end real estate. The other was a tower with spectacular views of SF and the bay. Google thinks UI is pretty tony digs. Should I straighten my tie?

James Killus said...

Google thinks UI is pretty tony digs. Should I straighten my tie?

I think it's cool that they put ads for Saturn automobiles based on my essay about a moon of Saturn. That should put the "tony digs" rumor to rest, I think. Come as you are.

Arnaud said...

I may be going on a slight tangent here but, here goes:
I work in and manage bars and pubs ans some could be quite rowdy. I often found out that even people looking, spoiling for a fight are not always ready for a fight. They need to work themselves up before they can actually throw the first punch. They need to go through the whole prelude, the whole ritual too often seen in drunken fight around the world.

Knowing this gives an edge too. Most of the time it means keeping the person off balance by not responding to the obvious signals, by taking the piss or by being overly reasonable but it can also mean being aggressive, being seen as ready to fight at the wrong moment, way too early, way before the other had time to prep himself up (it's nearly always a man) because in that case he will back down most of the time.

Still haven't been in a fight so far, so I must be doing something right!

James Killus said...

In the last class I taught (I teach infrequently, so I get to think a lot about it between occasions), I taught the three standard openings to yokomen uchi, which is a sideways strike to the head, cousin to the roundhouse or a hook.

One opening involves fading back to receive and emphasize the uke's swing, letting him go off-balance (or even pulling him in a bit), followed by any number of maneuvers, the most common being shiho nage, which sort of twirls his hand right back at him.

The second opening is a brief block, not enough to arrest the strike, but allowing it to slip by, and sliding to uke's outside, where you can do almost anything to him, pull him backwards, elbow him in the throat (yes, Aikido is such a gentle art), or control his wrist, elbow, etc. The really cool thing about this opening is that it puts you into your opponent's blind spot, and if he blinks at the right time, you can seemingly just disappear.

The third opening is a quick rush to uke's elbow, before he can get the strike off. I told the students that this is a "domination move" for completely ending the encounter before it really begins, usually while one's opponent is working up the will to actually begin the fight. It's for exactly the sort of situations you allude to, and it should never be confused with a "fair fight" because those occur only in sports, and Aikido, like real life, is not a sport.

sharaze said...

Hi, I wanted to let you know that I posted a link to this post on my school's blog. Thanks for the permission!

James Killus said...

You're quite welcome, sharaze.