I went over to help Aiki-Doh!-ka rake leaves the other day, and when no one answered the door, I wandered around back to see if he’d started without me. Sure enough, there he was, surrounded by small piles of leaves and practicing jo solo # 1 with his rake. When he saw me, he greeted me cheerfully and went to the garage to get a rake for me. We raked quietly and peacefully for a while until all of a sudden I was startled by a blood-curdling yell.
After checking my shorts, I turned around to see A-D grinning at me through a gentle rain of crimson and gold leaves.
“Aiki, what the…”
“I was scaring the leaves off the tree with a ki-ai,” he explained, going on to tell me that he wanted to get all the leaves gathered up today.
“I came over for a peaceful afternoon A-D - gimme a break!”
He assured me he’d behave and we continued to work until we had the entire back yard tidied up, resulting in a humongous pile of leaves. I assumed we’d bag them all up, but Aiki-Doh!-ka insisted it was a perfect opportunity to practice hyaku ukemi. Well, I have to admit, it was kind of fun, although we had to do a bit more raking afterwards.
After we’d finished, he disappeared into the house - I presumed to get some beer - only to return carrying the mother of all pumpkins, his katana trailing from his belt.
“Now we practice do giri,” he said, an eager grin splitting his face from ear to ear.
That, thank goodness, is when my cell phone rang…
I’ve been going through a period of training that has felt very static and unproductive and so I’ve been attempting to re-engage by focusing on my basics. (It’s all ‘basics’, isn’t it?)
In practicing my kihon dosa, I’ve come to the realization that Aikido is controlled falling. Just like walking.
When we walk, we do so by falling forward (by pushing off with one foot) and allowing our body to ‘catch up’, causing us to swing our ‘off’ foot forward to catch us and maintain our balance. We seem to be able to do this in a very relaxed and natural way. (Assuming we’re over the age of two!)
If we approach our movements in aikido the same way, we’ll enjoy the same natural relaxation. Try it and see:
Next time you do tai no henko ichi, ’soften’ (bend) the front knee enough to cause yourself to begin falling forward and allow you back leg to come up beside the front foot (to maintain balance). Then, as you angle change and drive off with the ‘new’ back foot, feel yourself falling forward again until the front foot ‘digs in’ as your momentum diminishes, or rather is overcome by the friction of the front foot ’skidding’. Your body will still be falling forward slightly and this is what causes the back foot to draw up until you achieve balance in your new stance.
The idea is that when you’re falling, you’ll feel free, free fom the tension and over-control that often plagues us (me, anyway!) when we perform our basic movements.
As you do this more and more, in all of your aikido, you’ll begin to saturate your technique with delicious moments of ‘free fall’ until the entire experience is as simple as, well, falling off a log…