It is interesting where the path will take you if you let it.
I'm always looking for ways to improve my budo practice. One way I do this is to always be on the lookout for good books or other information. Now I know, no one ever learned a martial art from a book, but sometimes one can find good ideas.
On this blog just last week, I had commented on ki cultivation and development and how I thought it was sometimes neglected in aikido practice. A few days later, I happened upon "Taijiquan: Through the Western Gate," written by Rick Barrett. Well, this book addressed all the things I had been thinking about recently and a lot more, too. Though I'm "familiar" with a lot of the basic tenants of tai chi/qigong, "Western Gate" presented them in a very practical, down to earth manner that I found very useful.
I usually look in these books to find some sort of "trick" I may be able to add to my repertoire. A new method of meditation, a phrase or two to get me thinking along new lines, etc. I was not prepared for Mr. Barrett's book, which was the kind of work that upends one's viewpoint and puts it down in an altogether new place.
I say it's a new place, but at the same time, it is also a familiar one. Time and time again, while reading the book, I found myself thinking, "I always thought so," "I suspected as much," or even better, "I never thought of that, but it completely fits!" It is a rare treat when a book resonates to such a degree.
Now here's where coincidence gives way to something else: Looking up Rick Barrett on the Net, I found that he teaches just a few minutes from my home. When things just come together like this, I suspect karmic forces are at work. I had to go to a class.
At the very beginning, Rick began talking about qi flow, relaxation, and body alignment and posture. Sound familiar? Readers of this blog will know I've been hammering away at these very points. But he didn't just say, "do this" or "not like that," but he took the time to demonstrate the whys and wherefores of all the points he was making. Although I was very aware that all these things are correct, I can't say I understood the reasoning behind them until a few light bulbs went off last night.
For example, I was amazed at the difference in my stability when I aligned my head properly; all the talk of posture lately, and I never even worried about my head. Also the dramatic difference in posture when standing on the balls of my feet -- and I thought I was standing on them already! We are always told the ball of the foot is the way to go in aikido.
But the really great moment was when we were working on the form a bit. We were transitioning the weight from one leg to the other, keeping grounded. Suddenly I realized I was in the middle of a perfect aikido throw. (You know, the thing which has been driving me crazy lately?) I've blogged about poor posture and not being grounded more than once during the past few weeks.
In the final analysis, aiki principles and tai chi principles are the same. I think this allied study will be very beneficial in a lot of different ways.
I am reminded of something I heard Henry Kono-sensei say once. He got the chance to ask Osensei, "Why can't we do what you do?" Osensei simply answered, "That's because you don't understand yin and yang."