I’ve been practicing the martial art Aikido off and on for the past five years. Aikido is different from other martial arts because we don’t learn to attack others or harm our aggressors. An Aikido sensei (Japanese for teacher) won’t teach you how to punch or kick, nor will he or she teach you how to block an attack. Instead, Aikidoists learn to do a few related things: move out of the way and be in a safe place, blend with the attacker and face the same direction (so as to see the situation from the attacker’s point of view), and use the energy from attackers to throw or pin rather than harm them.
Aikido appears complicated, and to the new practitioner, it is far more challenging to learn than the basic kicks, punches and blocks of karate. But Aikido is deceptively simple. Although there are thousands of ways to put together the basic techniques, they all arise from simple principles: blending, using the attackers’ energy to prevent harm to oneself or the attacker, and mixing and matching the same core techniques, depending upon the situation. Simple principles, however, can be extremely challenging to master, as anyone trying to live according to the MOGO principle to do the most good and the least harm to oneself, other people, animals and the environment knows well.
Personally, I find Aikido to both come naturally and be very difficult at the same time. As I watch my sensei demonstrate a technique before we practice it, I have to pay close attention, using my mind to make sense of what I am seeing. What did he do with his hands, his hips, his feet? When exactly did he enter or move out of the way? How did he execute the technique so effortlessly without using strength but rather energy? Stuck in my head as I am, I try to think my body into practice. But this is not necessarily the best way to learn Aikido, even though it is the most obvious.
A couple of weeks ago, I participated in a full day Aikido seminar with the extraordinary Konigsberg Sensei, practicing for many hours. By the end I was so tired that I had trouble concentrating on and thinking through what I was seeing Konigsberg Sensei demonstrate. And because I was so tired, I couldn’t muscle my way through anything (not that this works anyway, but even less so by the end of the day). My mind temporarily relaxed, and I found that my Aikido practice began to improve. My body took over where my mind had been, and my body had come to understand things on its own, without the intervention of my mind. This was a revelation.
I spend lots of time in my head. Although I’m a dancer, hiker, runner, ice skater, snowshoer, cross-country skier, etc., I rarely do what Mary Oliver asks in her beautiful poem, “Wild Geese,” to “let the soft animal of your body love what it loves.” Yet, in my exhaustion during the Aikido seminar, I had a moment of this “body grace” in which I trusted my body and it did not fail.
Often, our bodies know more than we think. We would do well to trust them. Intuitions, fears, joy, excitement, anxiety – these are felt and experienced in our bodies, and so we have insight otherwise hidden behind the veils of our clever and easily manipulated minds – that is, if we dare to pay attention to and trust our bodies.
Author of Most Good, Least Harm and Above All, Be Kind
Image courtesy of marius.zierold via Creative Commons.
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