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Ryutai - The elusive Freestyle Aikido practice

posted 12 Jan 2010, 17:32 by Unknown user
Ryutai  - Freestyle Aikido
Ryutai level aikido is the highest level of techniques examined in our grading syllabus (though we get to see the senior dan grades start to cut loose from this and go higher with Kutai and Kontai)
Ryutai level is often only glimpsed during tanninzugake,  with nage sporadically finding themselves 'in the zone' but with careful and diligent practice it can be achieved more often.

The secret of Ryutai level is built on the foundation of all of our earlier training and might  be summed up by having good Ki extension and that feeling of being in harmony.

Also gaining a good understanding of Aikido practice and Ki comes only through regular, rigorous and quite often vigorous practice as we push ourselves to our limits and then redefine our limits.  Fortunately all of the elements are integrated into our art by Maruyama sensei and built up through regular practice as we progress through the syllabus of all the aspects of aikido (not just our favourite bits). 

To understand and develop Aikido and  Ki we need to have 
 a) A mind and body that works together
 b) A robust analogue of experiences of how to keep that state whilst working with 
      a partner and under pressure, 
 c) An understanding of how to be sensitive to the Ki and energy of another 
 d) An understanding of how to focus and direct our Ki.

a) Mind Body Unification through Taiso
Although we call them the warm ups the exercises at the start of class are developed for specific purposes and have specific names:
The Toitsu Taiso are mind body co-ordination exercises to help learn how to keep mind and body together through a range of movements, focused movements and sometimes strange postures.
The Junan Taiso are the exercises for health and help learn and extend the limits of mind body co-ordination through stretches from the tanden - without tension
The SowaiSho - moving the power of the tanden out to the extremities of our body and beyond
The AikiTaiso - apply all of the above into martial movement that focuses relaxed power to a single point and beyond

b) The Catalogue
Traditional martial arts scrolls were issued in the ancient arts of Japan, they were a catalogue of techniques mastered by a student. The scrolls themselves might be metres long, name the techniques (or an allegory of them that would be meaningless to a student not of the school) and contain the lineage of the school as well. 

Aikido Yuishinkai contains such a catalogue of techniques that extends well beyond just the grading syllabus.This syllabus teaches us how to move our bodies to stay in harmony with an attack and to apply technique that is appropriate to particular energies/attacks from uke. The catalogue is meant to be just a starting point, though the greater your catalogue of techniques the more possibilities open up. 

Under Ryutai many techniques begin to merge and a robust catalogue leads to robust Ryutai technique. This catalogue you learn primarily by the doing, as nage

c) Sensitivity
The other half of the catalogue is as the second person in every kata  - the uke. As uke you learn predefined responses to technique that are teaching you aikido principles and preparing your body for higher level technique. In the ancient arts of Japan (Koryu arts) the role of uke was often performed by the teacher. Why? Iit is the hardest role to master. To provide the correct energy of the attack, to adjust your energy for nages understanding and to receive from nage safely is as hard to master as the art itself. The great thing is that everything youlearn as uke helps you as nage, at Juntai level uke learns to follow nage.

This skill of sensitivity is what turns the potential for good aikido into good aikido. 

Alas many never make the transition and forever muscle technique. Why? The challenge when moving from Juntai to Ryutai level is transcending 'making a technique work' and instead 'allowing it to work' through the energy provided by uke. 

We learn the skill of allowing technique to work when practicing being as uke at Juntai level and learning to follow. Now as nage at Ryutai we must provide some bait for uke and follow their attack. Drawing them closer we lead them, follow their response (repeat as necessary for long techniques) then apply focused ki at critical moments, follow uke's reaction. Technique ceases to be something done to another person and becomes a 'conversation' where uke and nage swap and ride each others energy.

Endo Sensei - Conversation with uke


d) Focusing Ki - Weapons
Aikido came from the weapons arts and wemust regularly return there to maintain its honesty.  We learn weapons through a variety of  practices
Solo Kata - here correct footwork and the development of power while staying relaxed is developed and refined. Only through hundreds and thousands of correct cuts does our body learn the fundamental movements for aikido.

Paired kata - nowhere is the potential for injury higher than in paired weapons practice.  In open hand an inch misjudgement can be compensated for. Weapons are a little less forgiving. Incorrect placement of the body, sword, alignment and timing are all hard to cover up in this practice. Ma-ai is the traditional word for correct distance and correct timing and one of the best ways to practice this at an advanced level is with the Kumijo introduced by Williams Sensei

Aikido Yuishinkai Kumijo

The tori arts - the taking arts. Nowhere is it more challenging to do text book aikido than when facing down a meter of razor blade and even with a wooden replica its pretty tough  

The nage arts - most commonly jo-nage though we can also do bokken-nage with an undrawn or drawn sword. The nage weapons arts were essential skills for any samurai who might be grabbed or have his weapon grabbed or pinned. Deprived of his weapon he might be rendered helpless, however if he is able to use aikido and our regular techniques the attacker is either thrown or the weapon becomes free to be used.