Saturday, June 26, 2010

Principles - 意 Intention

Chinese - YI, Japanese - イlong E sound

One a the realizations I keep learning, forgetting and relearning is that Aikido is truly an internal art form. Philosophy and intention genuinely affects and shapes the expression of physical principles and technique and as much as anything we do with our bodies. What we are thinking about expresses itself on the mat and in our interactions with our training partners. I once heard a great teacher talk about 'internal work' really separating the artists from low and high caliber. He was not talking about esoteric meditation or KI manipulation. He was discussing the long process of hammering out and refining motivations and intentions.

Let us get a dictionary definition to explore the idea further.

Intention - purpose or attitude toward the effect of one's actions or conduct

Even though superficially the master and student are performing the same physical motion, the motivations and attitude will be different. I have often seen Aikido technique as a window into the mental / emotional mind of an artist. In a way technique is a seismographic needle of the soul, clearly drawing the lines of mind on the mat with a partner.

I have seen intention and touch played out daily in my professional career as an educator. I once saw a teacher come into work, sad because of some relationship issues. She taught deaf blind students. The teacher signed a greetings into the hands of her student. Much to my surprise the student signed back. "Why are you sad?". Through simple touch the student was able to feel sadness. Moral of the story, far more is transmitted through touch than you will probably ever understand on a conscience level.

Intention in Tensho script

When I work out with a new student, or a sports judo guy, from first touch I feel their intention. They want to win. The motivating intention behind their actions is a desire to control me. On the other hand when I touch an advanced person I often feel no intention. Some of my teachers operate in a state of 'mu-shin' or a mind devoid of conscience intention. Other teachers focus on a concept in their heads while they practice, such as 'move to freedom' or 'resist nothing'. The difference of the feeling of a technique from someone whose mind is bent on controlling you, versus the same technique from someone who is focused on simply moving to a place of freedom is staggering.

A passage that Lowry Sensei wrote illustrating this idea of how intention affected his ground game. Simply by changing his motivating intention, he changed his martial arts overnight.

"Once upon a time at our dojo there lived a genuine bad ass judo grappler (Korean/American National Judo Champ- been playing since he was 5 -- son of a judo 7th dan ) -- named Gene, he was around several years as I was just getting into judo and though my aikido made me comparable to him in standing work, on the mat in ground work he was so far ahead of me that he would inevitably destroy and humble me. I hated ground work anyway and gene's crunching on me didn't help any. But I had to put up with this shit to do judo -- so I took my licks -- one day the light dawned on me that maybe the aikido ground work was the way to go with this guy-- my teacher at the time had emphasized that the survival/pure defense game is much more efficient than the offense/ win/playing beat game by a factor of 10 to 1. So what did I have to lose? I was getting trounced anyway, day in day out, why not just slip into survival grappling mode and see what would happen with ole Gene? So I tried it out -- I didn't try to do a dam thing to Gene -- I just kept my ass moving, rolling, turn in, bridging, shrimping, any way I could-- I gave him a constantly moving target and never tried to stop and do anything to him -- it was amazing -- went on for about 20 min. -- Gene finally got so frustrated that he stopped and asked what was doing -- how was I thwarting him ? When just the day before he had been so clearly superior , this day he suddenly found himself in another reality."


  1. good line: "In a way technique is a seismographic needle of the soul..."

  2. I am glad you liked that. I was not sure how clear of analogy it was.

    I appreciate your responses. It sometimes feels like blogging into a black hole. Nice to know there is a reader!

  3. Maybe it's blogging into a worm hole . It goes in and comes out who knows where.

    Technique is a situational application of an on-going constant principle . Intention is the
    choice of purpose to use that specific technique.

    Or something like that.