Monday, March 21, 2016

Not receiving energy

An aikido thought

When we watch Sensei at Camp, it is quite evident that the attacker’s energy never reaches him. Sensei has already won before the attack even happens. Even in a “confrontational” exercise like katatori kokyunage, which we commonly start camp with since it is quite foundational, most of us are caught out trying to resist the attacker’s push. We receive the attack’s energy. Sensei mentioned this Camp (and I guess I’ve realized the concept theoretically) that it feels like he’s wearing a shield on his torso when the attack happens, so it never gets to him. Some will probably consider this a ki shield. But what’s going on here? Sensei always says, “if I can do it, you can do it”, so it must be rooted in the natural laws. It must also be experientially and kinesthetically questioned and researched.
The concepts of ki and how to extend it and manipulate it are not (indeed cannot be) contravening the natural laws, but are in some ways mind tricks to allow the body to do its job. Thankfully we’re not computers where every little action has to be explicitly layed out. The concepts of ki, extension, relaxation, timing, rhythm, are but a way to allow the body to do the right thing innately. Anything to do with ki really has to do with appropriate relaxation and tension, as well as positioning to take advantage of natural vectors where attackers would be weak. The strongest ki appears to be a fine interplay between relaxation and tension, with the strongest state being in a “sweet spot” between them. This is probably why the older principle “Relax completely” doesn’t make sense; it takes some tension to perform any action, and it is the interplay of tension and relaxation both locally at the point of attack and globally within the body and mind that determines the strength and quality of the practitioner. I suspect that sweet spot is not determined physically, but by the state of one’s mind and the ability of the mind to be clear enough to direct appropriate actions based on the attack. The challenge is to calm the mind enough to allow just the right amount of action (the Goldilocks principle) and not provide either too little or too much energy. There is a tolerance range for this (which is why even beginners can successfully throw attackers on some techniques when they get it close enough), but the level at which Sensei is operating shows a fine tuning of this principle so that what he does is probably as close to “just right” as humanly possible (and I believe he’s still working to make it even closer to “just right”) so that the attack becomes easily re-directed and neutralized, even against the big guys.
I wrote many years ago that the biggest challenge in aikido is to get out of one’s own way, to get rid of artifact. That is still the central theme, but increasingly I realize that it’s not just getting rid of bad habits but also cultivating the right good habits so that we can find the sweet spot in our practice.

Translational research

Why did I start writing about this topic tonight? Thinking back to Camp and Sensei, I felt that the same principles would hold against more emotionally driven attacks that we can receive from family, friends, co-workers and strangers. Coping with such attacks doesn’t mean shutting down emotions and having a “don’t care” attitude of aloofness. That is only for fictional alien characters like Mr. Spock. Emotionally, it is natural to have a reaction, but we must train ourselves to have the appropriate reaction. Not hysterics, or uncontrolled anger, or despondency. Once again a sweet spot of tension, recognition, relaxation and action. This is really hard! If I think back to my aikido career, the transition from when I started to today really is a series of learned and absorbed actions that I perform without thinking during practice that allows me to be in a much better state physically and mentally than when I started. It seems one would have to have similar learned processes to appropriately react to emotional attacks. Aikido helps here too, I believe. Keeping one point, positive mind, and trying not to anticipate attacks are a starting point. Eventually getting to a point where an emotional attack can be neutralized without causing negative reactions or irreparable damage to the attacker or a relationship is a challenge, and maybe aikido can provide a roadmap to finding that sweet spot.