Aikido practiced without ‘mindfulness’ of the parts, turns budo into calisthenics, interesting techniques, but not a journey of discovery. Without ‘mindfulness the student is waiting for the main event, treating unsoku as a ‘warm up’: looking forward to technical aikido, kata, or randori, or weapons or whatever. Whereas, if ‘mindful’, the session unfolds through it’s constituent parts and the student is in the ‘present’, studying them one by one.
So, to begin with, we need to get into the present and remain there during unsoku practice and then throughout the class.
The basic principles underlying our practice are ‘mushin mugamae’ and ‘ido ryoku’: being in a relaxed but ready physical and mental state and being able to move freely and powerfully.
Unsoku allows us to develop understanding of and use these principles. Be where you are, not in front of the count, not waiting for the count, not behind the count. As soon as you hear the count, you move; then you stop. When you hear the next count, you move; then you stop, etc,. Simple but very difficult. Each count is an isolated event; you are not bouncing through a set of 8 moves times 3 directions; you are practising 24 separate moves, put together for the sake of learning: Tomiki Shihan was a genius!
This means that the person calling the count should separate the count to give everyone time to move and stop, fully stable with both feet weighted, 60/40 on the first set and 50/50 on the next two sets.
★You need to be mindful mentally and physically
★The count – to achieve quick movement, the count volume should be quite loud and sharp so your brain engages with ‘urgency’
★The count should be steady and allow everyone to start and stop before the next count – it is not a race or aerobics
★Speed – move very quickly from one position to the other, within but at the edge of your ability to remain stable; stop and stabilise before moving again
★The movement is called ‘tsugi ashi’ (succeeding or following legs/feet). To move very quickly, you have to ‘pull’ the following foot quickly after the leading foot, to catch up and land quickly. This requires contracting the inner thigh muscles strongly on each movement to pull the following foot after the leading one. It takes a lot of practice and ‘mindfulness’ of the body
★The posture should be slightly low but not exaggeratedly so (bend the legs slightly to allow you to push off quickly, as muscles are slightly contracted then expanded powerfully)
★Feet should be facing more or less in the same direction or with the toes pointing slightly out but no more than 45 degrees
★Head straight and keeping square to the body (look forward in the direction you are so, as you turn, look in that direction)
★Gaze should be relaxed and attentive so you can see 90 degrees either side without turning your head to ‘look’
★Shoulders should always be relaxed and not jumping up and down as you move
★Trunk should be stable and upright and in line with hips and shoulders
★Hands either by your side and staying relaxed but not floppy, or easier, thumbs hooked into your belt (once you are wearing one)
★Feet should slide on the tatami, not leaving and returning to the surface. This takes a long time to achieve but to begin with, lift your heels slightly then push off, trying to keep the balls of the feet connected lightly to the tatami. When you land each time, ensure the heels are placed down, touching the tatami (this makes a massive amount of difference to your aikido movement and understanding, when you start applying these principles)
★Posture generally: keep the same height as you move; move from your hara (centre) not your shoulders; keep your body (including hands) as one unit; look forward, not down, except checking from time to time when you first begin
In basic unsoku, there is only shizentai posture, so no leading leg on the corners (the first set where you lead either with left or right foot, is called ‘migi’ or ‘hidari shizentai’ – natural posture with a leading leg).
Also, this is tai sabaki as in ‘body positioning’, not as in ‘avoidance’. So on the forward and back movements (the first ‘set’), go straight forward and not to an angle forward or back. This is basic practice. It is about learning to move in aiki shizentai posture.
This is somewhat similar to the direct movement forward and back of Kendo practice (attack and retreat). Front foot facing forward, but in our aikido, rear foot 45 degree angle, heels in line, body posture directly forward. The beginning and end foot position should be approximately shoulder width and stable, so, after moving forward, look down when you first start, turn 90 degrees right on the balls of your feet, and they should be shoulder width. Same shoulder width stance applies throughout unsoku dosa.
This comes from Judo practice, where you would be gripping your partner’s gi, lapel and sleeve and working along a line, keeping square and stable to your partner, ensuring you land in posture quickly and have integrity in it. Relaxed but ready to go, but relaxed This set also references basic sideways avoidance from an attack.
As above, it comes from Judo practice, staying with your partner as they move off the straight line but also references avoiding to four corners from an attack (punch, kick, weapon strike, etc,.). The following foot is always challenged in this most difficult of the three sets, to catch up, land, stabilise, be calm in posture and mind, and move off quickly on the next count.
The whole relates to what we call the Shodokan Star, showing the eight directions
There are many gaps in this of course but I hope it will give you some pointers to help develop good movement and mindful training.
reproduced here curtesy of Paul Bonett - Brighton Aikido