Updated: Apr 16, 2022
FROM EDITION 1, SUMMER 2019, OF THE TRADITIONAL AIKIDO EUROPE JOURNAL
'Before we can truly face an attack without resistance and join with it, lead it and neutralise it without damaging the other we must first put ourselves in order.'
Basic training is not just about learning basic technique, but about working on our physical structure and mental attitude. This work is not so much about adding as it is about returning to a basic that is inherent in the human design.
Looking specifically at human structure: The body has a beautiful design and is designed for function and ease of movement in a gravity field. The body is designed essentially as a tensegrity structure (see picture of a model below).
What does that mean? That the physical components: bones, joints, tendons, fascia and gravity act as a system of support and expansion where all parts work together. The body is not a compressive structure like a building of bricks with its parts welded together through compressive force. It is mobile, alive, responsive and resilient.
Breaking it down, and even though this is a multidimensional singular event, we can see imbalances and obstructions to this original state of ease in certain directions, specifically, eight fundamental directions of alignment:
Up - down
Front - back
Left - right
Inside - outside
In a balanced body all eight directions are ‘full’. The drop image is an image of a perfectly balanced tensegrity structure. The pull of gravity through the drop results in its expansion out in all directions.
To be ‘centred’ means that we have our ‘body-being-awareness’ at the centre of this balanced structure as well as permeating it thoroughly. All forces acting on the body and mind are dynamically integrated and we experience a state of dynamic rest and a sense of calm alertness, both physically and mentally. We are just where we ‘are’.
Also note that the weight of the drop is ‘below’. Front and back are equal as are left and right. There is a sense of spaciousness in these directions. There is no sense of constriction or of being blocked. A state of dynamic stillness pervades our experience of the moment.
The last direction brings together the forces of inclusion and expansion. But this can only be experienced once the other six directions are felt and allowed to fulfil themselves. They ‘set up’ the last directions so to speak.
This dynamic state of being balanced and whole, grounded and centred is our birthright. It is how our bodies and minds are designed to be. So basic training is about a return and deepening of this intrinsic state. When we talk about working on structure and ‘putting it in order’ we are talking about coming back into balance in these eight directions - and engaging in activity from this base.
'However, for most of us by the time we are adults experiencing ‘true balance’ is rare. How do we lose this birthright?'
Daily life (bad habits, sedentary living, etc) and negative mental ‘positioning’ (feelings of isolation, stress, fear, anger, depression, etc) create a fundamental state of division in our experience. Between ourselves and our bodily experience, between ourselves and our environment and between ourselves and others. A multi-levelled state of separation. The apparent inevitable result of our identifying ourselves as ‘who we are’ versus everything else. To the extent that we experience life as a struggle we have committed our sense of self to a position of resistance with our ongoing experience. Where resistance can take the form of ignoring, shrinking or fighting when facing any form of conflict.
In training we watch the grace and ease of movement of the teacher, their absence of reactivity, the power that flows through them and we do our best to copy and emulate. For a long time, we simply try to add what we understand we see to what we are already doing.
Which is the problem. It is not so much about learning new moves as un-learning the ones we come to the dojo with. We must become intimate with our reactivity, our resistance, our stiffness, and realise that it does not work. That we are not ‘at ease’ in this way of functioning.
In basic training we slowly and delicately confront and undo this reactivity. We become as conscious as we can of what we are doing. We look, we feel and we investigate. What is blending (awase)? What is being balanced? What is weight? What is movement? What happens in interaction? What is resistance? Our training becomes an investigation and a questioning of everything we are doing. And that questioning begins to affect everything we do beyond the training sessions in the Dojo.
We slowly get out of our own way. We let go. Things start happening differently. With greater ease. And with this direction the techniques actually start to make sense. Aikido techniques are not designed to work from reactive force, from a sense of ‘me against the other’. We find ourselves more and more ‘with’ our partners instead of ‘against’ them, the attack being seen as an energy to work with, an opportunity to learn how to move with ease under pressure. As this experience of greater connection and non-resistance deepens in our training, we find our daily life affected likewise. The confrontations and conflicts in our social lives, disease, defeat… we find ourselves engaging these ‘opponents’ in a different way.
The techniques are like doorways into another realm of functioning in the world, into interacting with others, which at the same time feels deeply familiar. When techniques begin working out with such seeming ease from that place, we sense the rightness of them. We ‘re-cognize’ this as so.
This is the magic within the creation of the founder of Aikido, Morihei Ueshiba.