I was chatting with a fellow aikidoka the other day about the aikido journey, and the difference between doing aikido with someone vs. doing aikido to someone: when you practice aikido with someone, it becomes an act of co-creation.
What are we creating when we do aikido? Well, many things: strong, flexible minds and bodies, confidence borne of right behaviour, self control, to name but a few. But the one that stands out for me is unity. Aikido is sometimes translated as “The way of Harmony” and harmony comes, in part, from unity.
Unity in aikido exists on many planes: within oneself, with one’s partner, with the dojo as a whole, and with the rest of the world that exists off the mat (the ultimate training ground, where we spend most of our time).
Unity within ourselves is the harmonization of mind, body and spirit. When our mind is clear and focused and our body is relaxed, and our spirit is engaged with a loud ki-ai, aikido is effortless.
When we work with our partner in an alert and attentive way, unity will increase, and both participants will show improvement.
When we are mindful of the rest of the dojo training at the same time, through the considerations of etiquette and helpfulness, we are all raised up together.
When we apply all of the lessons we learn on the mat outside the dojo, ripples of harmony and peace spread throughout our community and find resonance in the world.
These ‘planes’ of practicing unity all serve as entry points and attention given to any of these modalities will yield improvements on all planes. For instance, if you focus your attention on your partner, your ‘mind chatter’ will fall away, allowing you to be more unified within yourself. If you act in a polite and considerate way at the dojo, you help to create a more unified atmosphere for everyone’s training, including your own.
Give it a try and see what happens.
Aiki-Doh!-ka and i were on the sidelines having a breather while we watched Moose-Doh!-ka go through his paces in jiyu waza. His uke was getting some major air on his breakfalls and I commented on this to A-D, suggesting that, in addition to being punishingly muscular, Moose must also be learning to extend his ki.
“It’s not ki”, said Aiki, “it’s B.O. He never washes his gi”
“Yikes!” I responded.
“Yeah, I was his uke earlier, it was like grappling with a skunk. Uke is just trying to get clear as fast as he can so he can breathe again.”
I began to watch more closely, and realized that uke’s sankajo face was appearing on all the techniques that Moose was applying, and concluded that uke’s pain originated from another source, as A-D suggested.
“We’re going to have to take him out to the parking lot again and hose him off, just like last year, ” I said, dreading the thought. It took four of us applying yonkajo to all his limbs to hold him down. Not to mention the prolonged contact with the squirming, odorifous mass that was Moose-Doh!-ka. I walked over to Sensei to break the news, vowing to get dibbs on being the hose-holder this time…
Last night we moved the dojo. The community centre where we have trained for the last 13 years is undergoing renovation, so we will live temporarily in another nearby community centre. This meant that we had to move all the mats and a few other odd bits to our new quarters.
A small convoy of pickup trucks and about twenty members rallied to the task and it was done in no time at all, including a test layout of the mats and a few breakfalls. (Who could resist? I wanted to go back with a flashlight and pick up all the loose change.)
What stood out for me was the joyful and eager attitude of everyone involved as we made human chains to ferry the mats, load the trucks and carry them up a flight of stairs to our new home. People were practically falling all over each other to help. This is a group that obviously enjoys each other and working together, and I’m grateful to be a part of that.
Afterwards, as Sensei said a few words of thanks, I studied the faces of everyone listening and watching, and I was moved by the respect and admiration of my fellow members for this man, a man who has given so much to so many.
I know that Sensei wanted things to go smoothly, but he needn’t have worried - I don’t think I exaggerate too much if I say that anyone there last night would gladly take a bullet for him…
We were practising rotary throws last night and I have to say that, despite a difficult beginning, A-D was looking pretty good. At the beginning of class, though, things were not going well: he looked like a cross between a whirling dervish and Edward Scissorhands going ballistic on a hedge. After class, I asked him how he managed to turn things around. As he sipped his beer and gathered his thoughts, I readied a napkin to take notes.
“Well, first of all I had to try all the things that didn’t work.”
“Like what,” I prompted.
“For shite or uke, ” he queried.
“Let’s start with shite.”
The following is the gist, based on my napkin note-taking, of what he said:
Things that can go Wrong for Shite:
Things that can go Wrong for Uke:
Well, there you have it, direct from the mouth of Aiki-Doh!-ka (by way of a soggy napkin).
How often have we wished we’d arrived home five minutes before the rain started instead of five minutes after the heavens opened up? Or bought a stock just before its meteoric rise instead of after it began its tailspin into the penny stocks?
In business, we hear the expressions “Location, location location!” and ”Timing is everything!” all the time. These maxims are true in the ‘business’ of aikido, too. We must learn to be aware of placement and timing (opportunities!), and practise our ability to use both these elements to our advantage in ‘making a sale’, i.e. throwing uke. In other words, we must be in the right place at the right time.
Static techniques emphasise this in a most meticulous way, but sometimes proper placement and timeliness go out the window when we’re practising jiyu waza, or so I’ve been finding out lately.
Being in the right place begins with ma-ai - the ‘distance of opportunity and co-operation’. We see effective examples of this in nature all the time: hawks flying in tandem, schooling fish, geese in formation, wolves on the hunt; the spacing of trees in the forest, cacti in the desert.
As shite, you must move (forward!) to establish this this. If you stand still waiting for uke, you’ve lost the initiative and your best chance to take control of the situation and lead your partner. So seize the moment (pick your moment) by moving in to maintain your ma-ai. And remember, while ma-ai is the distance between your centre and that of your partner, having your hands ‘up’ in kamae gives you an ‘early warning system’.
Now you’re in a position to intercept the attack before it builds up any steam. That’s right, you guessed it, “attack the attack”. Lead uke by reaching out and meeting the strike, guiding it (and the attached body) to where you want it: in your centre.
Once you’ve made contact with your partner, it’s important to move at the same speed, and tune into the little cues that dictate the timing of what you do next: re-direct, apply a control, etc. Feel their motion, watch their balance, listen for their feet when they re-plant. When you match your partner, you will be able to ‘pace and lead’; together, you will co-create the outcome and ‘close that sale’ in a mutually satisfactory way.
Can you say “Ka-ching?”