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Sensei was discussing with me the concept of the limbic brain, the part that controls our autonomic nervous system. More familiarly, it is the system that regulates the "fight, flight, or freeze" instinct when we are confronted in a dire situation. She points out that in the wild, a lot of prey enter the "freeze" state when captured by their predator: once it feels the lion's jaws lock in on its neck, the antelope's body goes stiff as it mentally discharges from reality, defaulting to the natural instinct that helps keep it from feeling pain. If the lion accidentally slips, the antelope seemingly comes back to life, rigid body contorting in a few spastic shakes. Where just a moment ago its body prepared it for death, survival instinct kicks back into gear just as quickly, the nervous system pumping jolts of adrenaline to re-activate every fiber of muscle and allow it to get away.
Underneath this human skin, we are primordially the same animals, experiencing similar urges during a physical confrontation. Depending on our natures, we default to one of the three responses, and in aikido, this is arguably most apparent when we practice jiyu waza, free-form attacks and defenses. Unbound from the confines of repeating a demonstrated technique over and over, perhaps nothing is quite as liberating—and as intimidating—as being allowed the freedom to attack and defend ad-lib. Jiyu waza is aikido's closest to a competitive martial art's concept of sparring in that you never know wha