There’s a classic Bill Cosby sketch with Noah and the ark.
This skit captures something about my first year training in aikido. Within the dojo there exists a specialized lexicon; some terms are Japanese and some are English. At the time, I found usage of some English words (“relax,” “extension”) as indecipherable as “onegaishimasu!” It took a while, and translation; but eventually, the terms sunk in. As a new student, my main vehicles for receiving instruction were visual and verbal. However, a single technique may employ multiple subtle, abstruse concepts (center, balance, timing, leading, extension, etc) which experienced practitioners have woven into their aikido. Expression of these concepts is more easily explained through the physical, rather than through a verbal cascade of instructions.
For me, it was helpful to think of training like learning a new language. When studying a language, a reasonable first step is to work towards literacy; that is, learn the alphabet, grammar, conjugations, declensions and develop vocabulary. With a dictionary at hand, it’s possible to navigate an entire language with these basics. After study and practice, eventually one acquires fluency – allowing freedom of expression. In the same way, it’s possible to recognize names of aikido techniques or concepts and be “literate.” But executing techniques and tying everything together, (timing, blending, center, extension, harmony) demonstrates fluency.
To push the language metaphor further, one of the best ways to develop fluency is to get out there and start speaking! It’s the same with aikido – we’re all on the mat together, trying to physically express something. So onegaishimasu!, get out there, keep your extension and relax!
(Photograph Copyright © Javier Domínguez, 2017)