Last Sunday, at our Sport Aikido session, I concentrated my attention on ‘mushin mugamae’, a concept, principle and approach in Japanese budo which adds a whole dimension to everyday training and is critical to first rate kata practice and presentation.
If you are privileged to see an Iaido or a Karatedo master demonstrating kata, they will bring their budo alive, even though they do not have an actual ‘opponent‘. To an onlooker, the opponent, though invisible, is ‘there’!
Intrinsic to their practice are: kamae (guard or stance), metsuke (eye contact), maai (distance), zanshin (focus), plus other technical elements helping create their exquisite movement. Underpinning those will be mushin mugamae.
Many of you will have heard the phrase, ‘the 10,000 hours’; the hundreds and thousands of repetitions needed to take the rough edges off a skill to create a thing of beauty. In martial arts, we have uchikomi (repetition training), practising the same movement over and over again until it is completely natural and simple. At the session, I spoke briefly about a kata being like a great sculpture, created by removing all the unnecessary bits. In aikido, this sculpture is created by two people, not one as in those other arts. That makes it even more demanding and difficult: we need to fully harmonise with our opponent, creating aiki in all moments of the kata. It must not be flamboyant and showy, but calm, smooth, unhurried; effective and powerful. Throughout the kata, every meeting will be slightly different; it’s bound to be. To be effortlessly ready, our approach has to be mushin mugamae: ready for whatever happens, thanks to our many hours of preparation. We are living beings, not robots, so our aikido needs to have that ‘every moment is a new moment’ feel, not a choreographed set of techniques but a living, pulsating piece of budo, full of heart, yet calm and serene.
If you see the power of nature, water or wind, it moves inexorably forward. Our aiki needs to be like that; naturally powerful, created by simple, effective idoryoku (effortless power created through movement). The best kata players are not showy or flashy. But, they are determined, purposeful, calm, focused, simple, effective, like nature.
Finally, you need the judges to look and be pleased by what they see. Don’t make them doubt you know what you are doing together. Aikido kata is a paired practice. It takes two active participants. Of course, uke’s aikido need to be similarly simple, controlled, not flamboyant but showing true receiving of the aiki, merging with tori, staying calm throughout.
There is a lot more to be said on this matter but first of all we need to routinely practice our aikido with this approach, repeat and repeat until it is shining like a polished sculpture and becomes irresistible. Mushin mugamae is not just the goal but also the way of achieving the goal.