The Rosetta Stone
August 1, 2022
This letter is structured a little differently as it is dedicated to one idea - Aikido and the Rosetta Stone, an analogy of my practice that I want to share with you. This is not a lesson but my personal idea of my practice and maybe it will create an active dialog with many of you. Included is a section at the end with Hal providing his thoughts on this. And of course, the events and other announcements are included.
I have inserted links to sources, additional reading and, well, some of the links are unrelated and just my sense of humor. Please enjoy.
We had a lovely young lady join our kids program this past week. Welcome.
· Kids Testing – Saturday August 6, 11:30 am. Come support, cheer, encourage and admire the skill and knowledge of the future of Aikido. We have an amazing group of over 50 kids and 20 youths in the dojo. Let’s show them how proud we are.
· Lehrman Shihan – Wednesday, August 10, 7:00 pm. Lehrman Shihan teaches the second Wednesday of each month. This is a mandatory class for all ASNJ instructors and an exciting treat for all our students and guests. We welcome visitors from other dojos who would like to attend.
· Hosting Camp Riverbend for a Day of Aikido. Thursday, August 11, 10:00 am - 3:00pm. We will be hosting 20 kids for two classes.
· Lehrman Sensei Seminar at Portsmouth Aikido – October 8 - 9, Portsmouth, NH
Help a Sensei Out
We are hosting a field trip for Camp Riverbend on August 11. I will be leading two classes of 20 kids each that day: 10:00am-11:30am and 1:00pm-2:30pm. I would greatly appreciate help from any adult or teen member of any rank to work with the kids that day. Please contact me.
The Rosetta Stone
What’s in a Technique
This concept sprung out of a class I taught. To recap; I had not been on the mat for a few weeks between being in Maine (and getting root canal.). The root canal, thankfully, was not a big ordeal. Mostly painless. I slept through forty-five minutes of it. I did something unusual this time; I went to the dentist when the pain started and did not wait until curled up in a fetal ball before admitting I needed an appointment. I, like many, try to avoid the big bad dentist when in dental distress.
During warm ups, I grabbed the jo and did some techniques as I like to do a weapon technique before we start Aikido techniques. We started with kokyuho. First as a back stretch then as a technique. I was working on the openness in the upper body and the placement of the feet when entering into the throw.
I ended up focusing the class on the final step; the step behind uke’s back at the end of the technique. I showed when your front foot is placed next to uke’s back foot, the one all their weight is on (hopefully at this point) causes uke’s spine to change, to cause them to lose balance. The foot needs to be very close to uke because if you are away, your arm as your point of contact is over-extended and that will not work. If your step is too shallow, nearer to uke’s front foot, then you do not have any room to shift past their center. All aspects of the technique are important, but we focused on when you place your foot in the correct spot, without doing anything else, uke’s spine shifted and curved; the uke lost their center and balance without your using force or experiencing conflict.
I went around and worked with everyone to show them the experience of placing the foot in that spot. When a student did it correctly, the proverbial light bulb lit up. It was easy to experience. The technique worked. But why? What was magical about that spot? “Nothing” I told them. I grabbed James (well he grabbed me, this is Aikido), the biggest, strongest guy in class and I did the technique ‘wrong,’ stepping too far away and still got his spine, not deep enough, still he lost balance. I was using the information from the technique, learning the lesson, the connection to uke and being below their center. The placement of the foot is crucial and paramount for each technique, but it is only crucial in the way it teaches you how your body and position affect uke’s spine and balance. Your foot does not magically cause uke to lose their posture, you do. The placement of the foot, in the magic of the practice of Aikido, gives you a way to experience how you can affect uke without conflict. This aspect of this technique is there to teach a lesson; the lesson is when you do not use strength and harmonize with uke, the technique works. The technique is not magic, that is all you.
This is what Aikido teaches me: If you use strength, the stronger guy wins. If you don’t, then the centered person is the one left standing. Focusing on technique as the only aspect of the practice is short-sighted and like only eating the crust of the bread thinking that is the whole sandwich. If you want to only focus on technique, then study Aiki-jujutsu (Aikido before it was Aikido.). O’Sensei learned techniques and did “something special” with them and thus created Aikido. To learn the “something special” thing, learn what is hidden in the Rosetta Stone of Aikido.
I had this epiphany the next morning about the lesson of the Rosetta Stone as an analogy for learning Aikido and the roll (pun intended) of technique in that journey. I had used Martin Buber’s concept of language to describe how language is a necessary for conceptual thinking but that was, I have been told, too obscure. I get that a lot. In researching this letter, I asked some people (starting with my wife, of course) about the Rosetta Stone and the most common response was “the Language App?” So, trying not to step out of the frying pan... (I hope we all know that reference), a little background on the non-digital historic Rosetta Stone and the metaphor it teaches.
The Egyptian pyramids are filled with written text dating back thousands and thousands of years. The texts are written in Hieroglyphics – a written language composed of pictures. The written language was not random but a set of pictures like we older folk remember in the kid's magazines we read in the doctor’s waiting room. This problem faced by historians, as the language was not made up of letters, they were unable to translate the Egyptian hieroglyphics. Then during Napoleon's invasion of Egypt in July 1799, the Rosetta Stone was found by the invading French soldiers in the city of Rosetta (I know, how original.). On it, a written decree (law) from the 13-year-old man, Pharaoh Ptolemy V Epiphanes in 197 BC. The decree was written in three different languages, Demotic (a newer form of written ancient Egyptian), Hieroglyphics, and Greek. We already knew ancient Greek (Doesn’t everyone?), so the Rosetta Stone allowed us to learn how to read Egyptian Hieroglyphics. We could now explore the Pyramids and learn the secret hidden of that ancient culture that was right there in front of us (If you count hidden ??? in a huge stone pyramid with its mazes and trap doors hidden in plain sight ???).
I was taught, back in ‘ye olden’ days, when I went to school, the Rosetta Stone was a metaphor, meaning something that can provide clues or help us to understand something that would otherwise be undecipherable. It is a key to help learn something that was not otherwise easily learned.
Now that I got that explained, in my journey of Aikido and as well as Tai Chi Chuan, I needed not just to learn the techniques in each practice, but to perfect them. In that process, the techniques allowed me to see the principles there hidden in the art. The concepts of relaxing, of being extended, of rooting, of having correct posture, breathing, moving as a whole, turning the waist, weight transfer and most importantly, how all these are used to communicate with my practice partner or worst case scenario, attacker. (You know, all the stuff I have written about in the first 100 letters I have written.).
When I was starting learning Aikido, you know the first 10-15 years, I saw only magic in the techniques. I saw my teachers do things and somehow, from my perspective, magically, they made uke fall or go flying across the room. I did not see how they did what appeared to be nothing but so much happened. I thought the technique, through some hocus pocus that O’Sensei developed did it. Now, some 40 years later, I see how wrong that was. The technique, like the Rosetta Stone, was just there to teach me to relax into my center, to move from my foot, to extend and connect with uke, etc... you get the idea. The technique did nothing, it was all me. The technique was only there to teach me to read Hieroglyphics – the language I was now about to start thinking in. Lou Kleinsmith (who’s Saugerties dojo help found the Woodstock Aikido) often said we are doing the “Art of becoming more You-ish.” which has become my understanding today of what I am learning.
The technique, like the Rosetta Stone, is there to unlock the secrets hidden in the pyramids. If you think the technique as the end product (the inscribed hieroglyphic), then you would use the Rosetta Stone to do nothing but only repeat what is written in 2,400-year-old stones, never to use that information to unlock the mysteries of an ancient people. No, that is a waste. The technique, like the Stone, is the key to unlocking what we do not know, to take the information and unlock the unknown.
Play with the technique, do it perfectly, in every way you can and see how it effects uke. See when the foot is placed correctly and what happens to your partner without strength and then see WHY. There is so much to learn. Take in everything you can, perfect it and then run with it. Create new. Be bold and never stop learning. Maybe you will discover the next Rosetta Stone and unlock another mystery.
Or just read my letter and click on every link.
An Artist Perspective by Shihan Hal Lehrman
In discussing Jay's "Rosetta Stone" musings it led to my expressing a parallel way of understanding the same concept:
All arts are the same in some ways, by necessity, as they arise from the reality of nature. "God creates, man arranges."
Let me try and draw a parallel between Aikido training and the process of creating a play.
A playwright starts with a realization of an inspiring subject or characters. Then the characters start to take shape. Scenes begin to organize themselves; characters meet and go into action with and against each other and then the words that they speak start to be written down, ultimately with complete precision. The script has been created!
THE SCRIPT is handed to the actors. The actor is given the words and the stage directions and he starts to live with them and through diligent investigation and experience he becomes his own personal version of the character that the playwright envisioned at the beginning of the process! The words and the stage directions are not the end product! The end product is the living, always new in the moment, experience shared between the audience and the actors.
Try this on for size:
O'Sensei, after a lifetime of study and experience, had a realization that inspired him to create the Aikido that we practice. Our method of training is akin to the script of the playwright.
We are given our stage directions...how to dress, how to bow...how to interact with the other characters......
The Aikidoka starts to investigate and experience the techniques and through a diligent lifetime study, investigation, and experience he gradually becomes his own personal, brand-new version inspired by the original realization of O'Sensei, who wrote the script for us to "play" in.
In theatre, the script is the framework, not the goal. The words must be given fresh life every time and the audience walks away with a piece of the playwright's inspiration.
In Aikido, the techniques are the words, the language of the art. The techniques are something beyond a tool to be used on Uke. In Aikido, in an interesting way, both Uke and Nage are both audience and performer. In that interplay between them, with their shared investigation, they are invited to join O'Sensei, to whatever degree, in a realization, freshly alive in the moment of a growing vision of the world that O’Sensei discovered!
"God creates, man arranges." --George Balanchine
Sensei, Aikido Schools of NJ