Monday, June 7, 2010

The Art of Peace

I'm writing this looking out on the view above from the top of Alpe D'Huez - I'm in the middle of a training week laid down with a cold whilst the guys are off tackling the Galibier.  I wish I was with them, but actually I'm kinda enjoying sitting here in the sun, doing nothing but listening to the birds and mulling over a few thoughts.

I'm sure you will have heard of the classic Sun Tzu text The Art of War.  It is all the rage in today's board rooms and has much to teach about the intricacies of conflict, leadership and overpowering your competition.  Having reread it recently I feel however it has little to offer me about triathlon.

For me, success in this sport is not about beating my competitors.  It is a paradox, in that my goal is to finish high in AG, but I cannot do that by focusing on other people in the race.  I can only do that by looking to myself and striving towards improving my physical and mental performance.

The Art of Peace is one translation for Aikido, developed by Morihei Ueshiba (see image right), arguably history's greatest martial artist.  Aikido is not about attacking your opponent, it is all about using your attacker's strength and momentum to disarm them.  In fact one of the essential tenets of the art is to protect your opponent under all circumstances - wherever possible not to harm them unless it becomes absolutely necessary in order to avoid harm to oneself.

It is a beautiful and strange martial art, truly effective for the technically proficient, the attainment of which will take many years of careful practice.  I'm no practitioner myself, but I think there is much that can be learnt from Ueshiba's teachings. Taking a few quotes from O Sensei:
Victory over oneself is the primary goal of our training.  We focus on the spirit rather than the form, the kernel rather than the shell.
 Whether you're doing aikido or triathlon or any other endeavour, the benefit comes from the pursuit of mastery and commitment to continual improvement.  I guess the type of endeavour matters - it needs to be true to yourself and preferably not damaging to others.  Sport is a natural fit for this pursuit, but excellence is not necessarily found in results, victory is over oneself - and that is why dopers have failed the moment they give in to the drug, no matter what happens after that fateful decision.
In your training do not be in a hurry for it takes a minimum of ten years to master the basics and advance to the first rung.  Never think of yourself as an all knowing perfected master; you must continue to train daily with your friends and students and progress together in the Art of Peace.
Well that doesn't need much explanation and personally I find that quote particularly humbling.
Large does not always defeat little.  Little can become large by constant building, large can become little by falling apart.
Constant progress over years can produce exceptional results - Ueshiba himself was at his most accomplished in his 80s when he had lost his physical strength and had to rely wholly on his technique and his mastery of ki.  There are many stories of him overcoming the most intimidating of opponents who would wish to test themselves against the master.

Large we can equate to genetics or a large engine.  It is not the be all - a little engine can be made large with due care and a large one can quickly deteriorate with neglect. This is equally true of mental strength during the race - a well trained mind coupled with a fit body can do a heck of a lot on race day. Chrissie Wellington is a mere wisp of a girl, but she must look pretty big putting the smack down on male pro athletes on the big island.

The final quote is simple but one that I will do well to constantly remember:
Always practice the Art of Peace in a vibrant and joyful manner
And with that in mind, I think it only right to put up a link to some aikido ass kicking, or at least a demonstration of the beauty of this discipline in the hands of a master.  This is a video of Nobuyoshi Tamura 8th Dan performing randori where multiple uke (combatants) attack a single defender.

It seems balletic and choreographed but it is not - it is only because the uke are so proficient at falling that bones and ligaments are not torn apart:

If you enjoyed that here is a slightly longer (6 min) demonstration by Tamura, which includes many techniques including kendo (wooden swords), defending against knife attack and finally another awesome randori:

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