Synchronising – A physical, mental and social action.

This article is not an academic document, it is a secular interpretation, not an academic one. It is based on my personal experiences during my 60 years of practice in various martial arts and sports. Judo/Jujutsu, Shaolin Kempo, Karate, Aikido, Hakko-Ryu Jujutsu, Iaido, Jodo, Yiquan, Qigong,….. and guidance from many martial arts teachers. And most important, the ability to self-cultivation.

A scientific statement.

Synchronization is, in a broad sense, coordination of rhythmic oscillators due to their interaction.

Buzzwords or ability to use tough words.

It is almost standard to use scientific terms in articles to give it an academic flavour. Without the necessary knowledge, these words are transformed into “Buzzwords”. A word or sentence, often an element of jargon, which is fashionable at a particular moment or context.

Translating scientific jargon into a plain language for martial arts, can give you a better insight into the many exercises and techniques during your training. The most important thing to improve your martial art as a human being is the competency of self-cultivation.

Definition of self-cultivation: the development of one’s mind or capacities through one’s own efforts.

From the Merriam-Webster Encyclopedia

Synchronisation – Neural-Mental-Social

In Martial Art, footwork, stretching and releasing, winding and unwinding…. All these “actions of body and mind” need to be combined into a single and smooth movement. A whole-body motion creates a more efficient technique for overcoming the confrontation with an opponent. This process is known in the language of martial art: Rendo.

But rendo is more than personal synchronization. It is also in sync with the training partner and/or adversary.

Let us look at a very simple action of the daily life:

A person’s steps unconsciously synchronize with those of a partner when two people walk together, although their foot lengths and therefore their intrinsic cycles are different.

Obviously, it’s not just a physical synchronization. Synchronization has a number of levels. There are synchronized neural processes, mental activities, and social interactions. Neural processes are critical to physical or bodily synchronization. Mental activities are required to form a picture of something we like to accomplish. Social interactions are playing an important role in our society. Social media as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram…. part of our daily life.

Synchronisation on a physical level

Sports and martial arts are activities that are seen frequently on television or in other forms of media distribution. Unfortunately, the mere fact of watching competitions or sports activities on the screen or in a sport-stadium does not have a direct impact on the search for a healthy body (Mental and Bodily). We have to do physical activities like cardio workouts, flexibility programs and other forms of physical training to build or maintain a healthy body and of course a mind free from frustrations and depressions.

At a beginners level, martial art training is more focused on the physical side of training. But we cannot ignore the game of the mind and the interaction between the mind of the attacker and defender.

Synchronisation and differentiation

Differentiation is the process of dividing a homogeneous whole into parts with different properties. Characteristic of differentiation is that a whole remains and that the division into parts with different properties occurs within that whole.

In Martial Arts, whole-body movement is used to indicate the necessity of using all your physical and mental resources you have. Practising with the focus on all different resources is difficult, almost impossible, especially for beginners. Even advanced practitioners need a method to avoid an overload on details to look after. One of the chief instructors of the Japan Aikido Association made a remark during one of his semnars.

Perfection is a matter of 1000 details

Fumiaki Shishida, JAA Shihan

In a sense, he is telling us to practise with all the details. But I believe we have “to differentiate” and of course not to forget, the details are a part of the whole. The difficulty is to distinguish the various details for focused training without losing the whole.

An example can bring some clarity in this matter.

Tomiki Aikido put much emphasis on the use of “tegatana” during training. The hand can take different positions, and those positions are useful for different purposes in our hands. Using an exercise to indicate the hand position as a basic exercise for daily practice is, in my opinion, a waste of time. Tegatana positions are integral to a whole body movement and should be considered in the context of a whole body movement when using tegatana. Nevertheless, it is possible to do such an exercise when introducing the different positions of tegatana. As soon as possible, the tegatana positions must be included in the whole body movements of Tomiki Aikido.

A simple example of “synchronisation”

  1. Start posture – both “kwa or mata” are neutral – tegatana uchi-mawashi position
  2. Turning body by opening “kwa or mata” – tegatana is following body movement and synchronised with opening “kwa or mata”
  3. Body returns to start posture – tegatana drops to middle lower position synchronised with “kwa or mata”
  4. Body turn by opening “kwa or mata” – synchronising with lifting tegatana
  5. Body returns to start posture – tegatana synchronised with “kwa or mata”
  6. Movement is repeated…..

This simplified movement is an application of uchi-mawashi, soto-mawashi, uchi-gaeshi and soto-gaeshi. Synchronised with opening and closing “kwa or mata”.

Synchronisation and 6 Harmonies

Some of you recognize the word “Harmony” in a non martial art context. Take for example the harmony concept in music. Music can bring movement forward in the actions of humans, going from emotions to dancing. The main part of music is sound with the correct use of harmonies.

What is so enigmatic about sounds that provoke emotions in us? Is it just a physical phenomenon of vibrations or something more dynamic? This question can also be asked in martial arts. Our being starts in the mind, creates a kind of vibration of energy, and the result is a movement useful to apply as a waza. Everything has to be synchronised and in harmony. Without this, chaos is looking around the corner. In your search for effective movements or techniques, you will discover that martial art teachers use the word Qi or Ki.

The discussion of the word Qi or Ki in a Western “consumption” society becomes ridiculous if the focus is mainly on materialism. Fortunately, martial artists are often open-minded.

Chinese martial arts recognise 6 kind of synchronisation or in their words 6 harmonies.

Internal Harmonies

Internal Harmonies is about the way you are using your energy needed for physical movements, internal and external.

  1. Xin (fighting-emotional-survival spirit or also called “heart”) and Yi (intention or wisdom mind)
  2. Yi and Qi (physical energy)
  3. Qi and Li (strength – the physical manifestation of Qi seen as a movement – internal and external)

External Harmonies

External Harmonies is about the syncronisation of major body joints

  1. Hips and shoulders – Connection of the 4 main body joints
  2. Knees and elbows – Knees are driven by hips, elbows are driven by shoulders
  3. Feet (ankles) and hands (wrists) – Strength is controlled by the center through shoulders, hips, knees and elbows

The center is the core of the body and has 3 main parts

  1. The central part of the head
  2. The lower part of breastbone
  3. The gravity center of the body

Synchronisation of all thes elements is a main part of the training. If this is not included, your martial art will not function as a whole body system with different part working toghether in harmonie.

Many Japanese Martial Arts have borrowed some of these concepts in their training program. Of course, they added a Japanese flavor, expressed in the different forms of Budo and Bujutsu.

The equivalent of the Chinese words (or concepts) in Japanese can create some confusion.

Xin or spirit: Shin, kokoro…
Yi or intention: I, Zanshin,…..
Qi or energy: Ki,….. the physical manifestation of power is called Chikara

Tanren, forging the mind and body

Tanren-gata and shinken-gata

In martial arts, the terms tanren-gata and shinken-gata are used to indicate the difference between a kata to enhance body movements and a combat-oriented kata.

Tomiki Aikido kata/katachi may also be categorized as tanren-gata or shinken-kata.

Most basic kata (basic15, basic17, tanto basic17, ura-waza….) can be categorized as tanren-gata. A series of movements or techniques for practicing the body movements necessary for the creation of an effective technique.

Koryu no kata are essentially a sort of shinken-gata, a series of formal techniques focused on combat. There is one exception in the Koryu no kata, the dai-yon kata omote and ura are tanren-gata to improve the body movements needed during the “randori” training.

Renshu and Tanren

Renshu 練習
This training is intended to study the waza found in kata/katachi which are already understood at a base level. The goal is to improve the movements of the entire body in a given context. It may be a combat setting or a randori setting.

Tanren 作務 (building physical and mental strength)
It focuses on improving physical and mental resilience through physical and mental training. For a true practical application of an effective technique, physical fitness and mental resiliency to pain and discomfort are necessary. Tanren actually precedes the other one, renshu. Without tanren, the numerous kata/katach waza become a hollow shell. If there is a demonstration (embu) or a grading (shinsa), the evaluation must take into account the outcome of the tanren and certainly not a show of acrobatic performances. It is not an object of entertainment.

Beyond 10,000 Hours: The Constant Pursuit of Mastery

Robert Greene (born May 14, 1959) is an American author known for his books on strategy, power, and seduction. Although he has a controversial reputation, his idea on “Mastery” is worth a study.

His book on “Mastery” makes a compelling case that mastery is earned, not granted. He describes three distinct phases of the journey, I) Apprenticeship, II) Creative-Active and III) Mastery. His advice is to keep in mind that the goal is not to become a Master, but to continuously pursue mastery with a purpose.

He also mentioned, you need at least 10,000 hrs of practise to forge the mind and body.

Shu-Ha-Ri

The concept of “Shu-Ha-Ri” is certainly a similar concept and Renshu/Tanren is a part of it. We have to use “Tanren” or the forging of the mind and body for the next step: Renshu.

If you have time and energy, you can walk the path of mastery with regular training. But this training has to be of high quality in other words: Renshu

Kenji Tomiki began training under Morihei Ueshiba in Daito-ryu Aiki-jujutsu in 1926. He was largely responsible for the compilation and editing of the text in Morihei Ueshiba’s 1933 training manual “Budo Renshu” (published in English under the name “Budo Training in Aikido“).

In this book, the assumption is that you have already done your Tanren, creating the foundation for Renshu.

Shu Ha Ri, a question of Mutual Respect

A personal view on the concept of Shu Ha Ri

Keep, break and leave

As a westerner, am I to understand “Shu Ha RI”? If we simply read the words “keep, break and leave”, it gives a sense of “no respect” to your teacher. Of course, in the history of martial arts, there are numerous examples of the breakup of the founder after an argument, mostly a “money” argument.

However, there are many examples of leaving the teacher after he has given permission to leave. The teacher understood very well that the disciple needed a certain freedom to grow as a person practising martial arts. The teacher trusts the disciple, and the teacher knows that the legacy is safe in the hands of the latter.

When Kenji Tomiki became an 8th Dan by Morihei Ueshiba, this was a sign of confidence and also an indication of liberty permission. Of course, there are also signs of political motives as far as relations between Tomiki and Ueshiba are concerned. This topic is not central to this article and will not be expanded.

The idea of leaving is a mutual decision between the master and the disciple, and depends entirely on the understanding of the concept of “keeping and breaking”.

Keep and break

As a matter of fact, the concepts of “keep and break” are very simple. On the other hand very difficult to understand by a western person. There is a famous quotation by Morihei Ueshiba and for him the Westerners are “yes, but people”. If he really made that quote, I don’t know, but it’s going around in martial arts circles.

During the “Keep” relationship with our teacher, we learn from the teacher’s experience and we may ask questions about something we do not understand. Of course, we never criticize the teacher. We learn the basic elements of our martial art.

Depending on the time we practice and study, our understanding goes in the direction of “Break”, and this can lead to a very difficult situation. This is a period of your formation where you can see that truth has different aspects. You always learn from your teacher, but you can add personal insights into your training. Your teacher acknowledges this and sometimes will give you some advice.

The two, teacher and disciple, are still interacting positively during the breaking period. Otherwise, the outer world will see disagreements and this can have a negative effect on the functioning of the martial art school.

Randori, 3 types of practising

The relationship between the 3 kinds of randori and Shu Ha Ri may not be obvious. But they certainly have something in common.

  • Kakari geiko – Shu
  • Hikitate geiko – Ha
  • Randori geiko – Ri

In kakari geiko, the roles of attacking and defending are determined. We can talk about teachers/attackers and students/defendants. Sure, there is some freedom in timing and distance.

During hikitate geiko, the attacker has the freedom to interact during the actions of the defendant. There is still the role of teachers/attackers and students/defendants.

Randori geiko is not a shiai, not to win medals. Randori geiko is a process for the physical discussion of the art of fighting. Both practitioners recognize the equality of the two.

The Shiai Paradigm

Shiai should reflect the power and beauty of martial art during a public performance. Spectators must be attracted by the skills of the competitors and not by their brutal and aggressive nature.

It is true that in the shiai there is a certain rivalry, but also the respect of the adversary. When we figure that out, winning a medal is no longer important. The most outstanding performance you can offer is your reward. Whatever you know may be used depending on the circumstances. When you become obsessed with earning medals, your approach will be inflexible from a living human perspective. Respect for other people’s lives and ideas is more precious than winning medals.

The role of the teacher and student is an important factor when approaching the competition. In particular the role of the teacher is significant in the education of the martial art career of the student. The teacher’s respect and attitude toward the student without a medal should be positive.

How to improve someone’s skills comes in the first place.

The Kata & Randori Dilemma

“A kata is not fixed or immoveable. Like water, it’s ever changing and fits itself to the shape of the vessel containing it. However, kata are not some kind of beautiful competitive dance, but a grand martial art of self-defence – which determines life and death”….Kenwa Mabuni….Okinawa

Some martial arts instructors believe that they execute “kata or formal exercises” in the same way as the founder of their system. If you understand something about “Shu Ha Ri”, then you know that’s a little beside the truth.

The development in kata is already discussed in another blog post on katachi and kata. Kata and randori are 2 sides of a coin, but there is a 3rd part of a coin: kata and randori and….

In martial arts, we see the evolution of basic body movements to katachi and further to kata. Again, the term “Shu Ha RI” is like that.

Once you find the freedom of Kata, the application will go smoothly to randori. There will be no difference between kata and randori.

Of course, if you stick too much to Shu Ha RI without understanding the real meaning, you will be locked up into fixed forms without flexibility of mind and body. You will never find the liberty of Kata and Randori, which is the true dilemma of martial arts.

Tomiki Aikido: Past and Future

In her book “Past and Future”, she attempts to explain the real values of Aikido as a martial art with a message. There are no techniques explained, but the value of the book is at a much higher level: How to practice Aikido!

More books on Tomiki Aikido