Aikido training in Japan

Bear Cub Back in Action!

Last night was the first night of aikido in a couple weeks, and I went with an amazing amount of energy. I was incredibly reluctant to go, wanting rather to stay warm from the snow in my apartment and relax after my first week of school, but after we started warming up I snapped back into action in a way that even surprised myself. It also probably facilitated by the fact that there were only three black belts, me, and then five other kouhai (junior) white belts, so maybe practicing with the less experienced pumped up my confidence a little bit. But it also had another very interesting effect…

With beginners, initiating and executing movement can be a bit awkward in aikido sometimes. I experienced this during my last test when my uke (partner who was to be thrown) was not giving me solid attacks and standing really far back. I compensated by getting closer to him to initiate the attack. But that is not my responsibility as tori (thrower), and when I did so I put myself in a situation where I had to spend the technique compensating for a lazy or reluctant partner, which damaged the integrity of the technique. On the other hand, it takes a while to integrate natural and proper spacing and timing to techniques in aikido. So when we practice a wrist grab for example, experienced aikidoka will execute the technique as I’m grabbing for the hand, but beginners will misunderstand this and prefer to start from a static position with the uke grabbing the tori‘s wrist. This is an important process to experience as a beginner, as well as for the more experienced. Though I was bursting with energy in class, I came with a surprising amount of calm, and when practicing with lower ranks who had a wide variety of strange timings and reactions, I was able to wait for them to come into my space when they were ready, and then execute the technique. This is what I should have done in my last test with the reluctant partner. If they’re not making the attack, then I will stand there and wait for them until they’re ready. If they give a weak attack that doesn’t even land on me (like shomen, yokomen, or tsuki), then I won’t react to it. This recognition of proper distancing and timing made my aikido technique far improved to what it was before. How did I effectively make the transition to this realization? Watching skilled practitioners, and having good partners who adhere to this instead of compensating for weak attacks or “giving” me techniques.

But this realization applied to aikido technique seems small to its applications to social interaction. I consider myself a social person, but I have never been good at consciously adapting my mood to a particular scene. So when I am feeling very enthusiastic about something I like, something that is happening, or something that I think should happen, I usually just throw it on those around me and blow over any opposition. If it doesn’t work, then I usually leave. This is a pretty simple and crude way to handle social situations in my opinion. As a generally yang type of person (action-oriented extrovert), I would do well to practice some yin (reactive, listening, waiting) qualities. In aikido terms, I need not rush out to people as soon as I feel the impulse (because it’s usually faster and louder than other people like), but rather hold my energy patiently, and wait for my partner to start, and match it with appropriate energy. When my yang side takes over, people are either impressed initially and expect that kind of action all the time, which isn’t possible to maintain, or they are overwhelmed and offended. When I do rarely find the ability to remain in my space, be silent, and wait, things generally come to me. I wish that people would just act the way I want and do what I want all the time so that I wouldn’t have to change and the world would be perfect, but that will never happen. Absolutley never ever ever. I could leave and live a life alone away from people, but that doesn’t sound like much fun (I wouldn’t have anyone to practice aikido with!). So, I will try and learn from this experience, and let the world forge and polish me. I think my abundance of energy and enthusiasm does not translate to an inability for patience. Perhaps it may be harder to initiate the transition to this habit, but doesn’t make it any less effective. Next time people see me sitting there silent with a calm smile on my face, I wonder if they will realize that I feel like the thunderous power of Niagara Falls is surging within me, and I could jump 50 feet in the air at any moment provoked.

Patience. Calm. Moderation. Consistency.

I have to reiterate one thing I noted earlier in this blog entry pertaining to my reluctance to go to aikido last night …

GO TO TRAINING AS MUCH AS POSSIBLE! JUST GO!

My interest in martial arts stems greatly from an interest in philosophy, so I think I do an above-average amount of reading and thinking about martial arts in contrast to actual training. This has many advantages for sure, but means very very little without actual proficiency and physical integration. A whole lot of reading with minimal physical training is a whole lotta flimsy words in the wind. Theory must be based on real life physics and experience in order to be strong. In my aikido classes, we do a lot of reps of a lot of different (but similar) techniques with a lot of different people; after that, discussion and study will allow one to push their maximum potential further … which is what I’m interested in. So I guess the advice is:

GO TO TRAINING AS MUCH AS POSSIBLE! AND READ A LOT TOO! AND CHILL OUT!

Yup. That sounds good.

AND DRINK BEER!

Perfect.
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