View Full Version : Attention & Intention - Receiving and Projecting

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George S. Ledyard
07-11-2009, 08:21 PM
Once a student starts to understand that alignment is the key to being able to take the muscle tension put of his technique, it is important that he or she begin to connect the physical side of the practice with the mental. While there is some terminology which describes this aspect of practice in the classical Japanese arts which then made it into modern arts like kendo in an attenuated form, Aikido has largely not had any standardized way of talking about these principles.

In an effort to start understanding these issues myself and then being able to pass along that understanding to my students I have been developing my own English based terminology to describe these principles. I have also endeavored to connect these explanations with the older Japanese terms when ever possible. Many students have, through their readings, encountered these terms without necessarily being able to connect their meanings with actual experience on the mat, leaving their understanding of the terms murky at best.

I was lucky in my own Aikido to have had as my teacher a man who functioned on this level in his waza. Standing 8 feet away I could feel him effecting me. I would experience a tangible feeling inside me as he would shift the quality of his intention. There are plenty of folks around, even with high numbers after their names, who have no idea about this side of the art. Of course Aikido without this element is pretty much devoid of actual "aiki" so students of these teachers have little or no experience of the principles in action. Those who have experienced teachers who do function on this level are fortunate because they at least know that there is something there to be sought after in ones training.

In recent years there has begun to be a change. Starting with the first Aiki Expo back in 2002 hosted by Stan Pranin Aikido teachers made various connections amongst themselves which has allowed a far greater exchange of knowledge than had taken place previously. Additionally, a channel was opened up for an infusion of information from outside of Aikido proper from high level teachers of other arts which utilize the principles which could be considered "aiki" but might have different descriptive terminology or outer form. In my opinion, twenty years from now these events will be considered seminal events in the development of Aikido.

Anyway, I have started working with these concepts based on my own incomplete understanding. This is a "work in progress" which I find changing continuously as I work with various teachers and arts within and without Aikido. The challenge is to take principles which others may manifest in certain forms and connect them to our own forms.

The "Attention"

I would define the "attention" as the placing of consciousness somewhere, or on something. This would be related to, but distinct from, "awareness" which would be the condition of receptivity of ones consciousness. So we say "paying attention", "escaped ones attention", "lack of attention", etc. There is an aspect of volition to this. Ones Mind acts to place or focus the attention.

Human beings are basically programmed to feel the attention of another conscious being when it is directed at them. Snipers and security personnel at the highest levels know not to concentrate their attention on a subject as it can give away their presence. Almost everyone has had the experience of feeling someones presence and looking around to find a person looking at them.

A key component of higher level technique is an understanding that "connection" takes place well before physical contact is made. One effects and changes his partner's structure both externally and internally before they ever touch. One can often feel this taking place when one takes ukemi for someone at this level but the real goal is to do this without the other person even knowing you have done it until contact is made and its too late to change the attack.

So what is the aspect of the "attention" that changes in order to create change in ones partner? Essentially, this can all be talked about as "vibration", which would have really been how the Founder would have related to the concepts. The Kototama is the study of this vibration and how it functions to create the Universe and our experience of it. Since that is such an arcane and complex subject, most modern students of Aikido do not find explanations couched in terms of the Kototama especially helpful in advancing their training on a concrete level. So I will use another term to describe the aspects of the "attention" that can vary to produce different effects in the partner.


Intention describes the placement, power and quality of the attention. For instance, if I place my intention on your front and correct my posture to project, you will experience this as a sort of "push". You might feel as if you don't want to come into my space or even that you cannot. On the other hand, if I place my attention behind you, making you feel "included" in my attention, you will be aware of this fact but will not experience any resistance to coming into my space.

A basic exercise to play with this would be the following:
Stand with three or four people around you in a semi circle. Ask them to relax completely and simply be receptive to any feeling of change between you. While they are doing this you should stand looking at the floor. Try to actually think about some detail on the floor so that your attention isn't drifting to the folks standing around you. First, simply look up and place your attention in a big arc behind them so your awareness includes them but is not ON any of them. Ask the folks around you to note how that felt. Then repeat the exercise but this time when you look up, put your attention in front of them, as if your mind wee touching their chests. This time see if you can change the quality of intention to actually push them outwards. Try to feel as if your mind had filled the space and was continuing to expand. Once again, ask your partners to note how that felt different from the first exercise. I have never had anyone who couldn't feel the difference, although some were more sensitive than others. One time I did this at a seminar and a very relaxed beginner actually went backwards off balance as if he had been physically pushed.

So changing the intention determines how the partner experiences the mental aspect of connection. It is a crucial part of Aikido work. I was at a camp in which my teacher harangued the students present because they had no idea how to project their intention. Looking around the room, I could see he was correct. You could "see" that most of the folks in the room had managed to get their energy into their hans but nothing in their swords. In other words their attention stopped at the linit of their physical bodies. Others, had managed to get their attention out to the tip of their swords. If you had pushed on the sword tip, you would have felt the outward flow of energy. But standing 8 feet in front of them, you felt nothing. They had no idea how to project that attention out beyond their physical reach.

In my opinion, it is a problem with the transmission to have a room full of yudansha who need to have this corrected. This should be taught from day one. This should be taught right from the start as you teach the beginners proper physical posture. In fact, the ability to project effectively is directly related to having an integrated posture. All of the elements of physical structure as related to "internal power", discussed at length on the forums, related directly to the ability to project ones attention and effect the partner at a distance. They are not separate issues although one might have developed some internal power and not chosen to spend much time working on the mental aspect.

The people who had the good fortune to work with Ushiro Kenji Sensei on one of his visits to the US could see these principles at work. He would have you stand in a strong, integrated posture and push on you to no effect. Then he would use his intention to disorganize your structure and push you over with two fingers. He could form his intention into a barrier into which you felt you couldn't advance. He'd simply advance and back you up until you had no more room to retreat.

This whole issue of the mental connection changes everything in Aikido. The Mind precedes the body. The body doesn't move without a signal from the mind. The usual process for most folks involves the use of the five senses, but primarily sight, touch, and sound. Their senses perceive an action or an opening. That perception registers in the brain, the brain sends a signal for action to the body and the body responds. If one is a beginner, there is a certain amount of thinking involved before the signal is sent for the body to move. In advanced folks, the signal goes out faster than conscious thought.

The problem here is that this is a relatively slow process. The sixth sense or intuition functions faster than any of the other senses. The ability to connect with a partner on this mental or psychic level can change ones entire experience of time. Ushiro Sensei talks about action that takes place inside half a second. For most people, half a second is the time it takes to perceive something. process it, and initiate an action. The intuition allows one to complete ones action inside that half second.

Receiving vs Projecting
So here we have the other function of the attention. Not only can we effect the partner before physical contact by projecting ones attention and changing the quality of that intention but we can also "receive" information along the same channel.

The physical relaxation required to utilize aiki in ones technique is impossible to achieve in one is mentally tense. The body is a direct reflection of the mind and visa versa. If ones mind is tense (through fear, aggression, anger, whatever) one cannot "feel" the other person. There's just too much "noise" drowning out the info. (It's the same with physical tension... If you are tense, you are feeling you, not the partner.)

When one starts to relax the mind, one can place ones intention on the partner and begin to "feel" them make changes in their intention. It is possible to "feel" them make the decision to move. This is huge because that perception takes place before the information from any other sense can process.

An exercise to practice this involves the use of fukuro shinai for safety. It's a simple exercise. One person stand in gedan hasso (low position to the rear). The other simply stands in seigan no kamae (tip pointed at the eyes).

The person in gedan hasso attempts to initiate with a tsuki attack. The person in seigan no kamae does not attempt to "counter" this attack in any way. At the moment of perceiving that the decision to attack is forming, he slides forward about a foot. Unless the participants are wearing equipment, it is important that the person sliding forward not actually complete his entry with his own tsuki. Simply by sliding forward he owns the space and the tsuki is defeated.

The partner initiating, on the other hand, is attempting to feel when there is a break in the mental connection from the partner in seigan. Over time you will be able to "feel" when your partner's intention breaks or if he becomes resistant or stiff mentally thereby making him incapable of moving fast enough to beat your tsuki.

Another exercise, meant specifically to train this facility is to stand with swords in the same way described above. The person in seigan projects strongly towrds the other as if to helod them outside his space with his intention. The person initiating the tsuki simply stand in a relaxed but ready position with forward intention. Then,without changing anything else that might be visible, the person in seigan should shift his attention to something other than the partner. In my case I like to suddenly think about the tow on my back foot. The person doing the tsuki should be able to feel that shift of attention and execute the tsuki.

My wife, Genie, is a former national champion fencer. When I did this exercise with her,there was no discernible gap between when I shifted my attention and when she was moving. Three things need to be present to have this happen. First, there must be a mental connection between the two partners. They establish a sort of mutual resonance so that when one shifts anything, mentally or physically, the other perceives that shift instantly. Second, mental relaxation is required to "feel" what is going on. Physical relaxation is essential to being able to translate ones perception into action in that small gap of the partner's mental opening or suki. And third. the quality of the intention must be forward translating into a posture that is energized forward.

Imagine a drag race in which the lights are proceeding down towards green that signals "go". One car is burning the clutch, the only thing preventing movement is the brake. The other has his car in neutral. When the light changes the first car releases all that forward energy and is flying down the track. The other driver has to put the car in gear and then start accelerating. I am sure no one thinks that the second car has a chance against the first yet most folks in Aikido stand in kamae with a neutral intention. They think they will see the attack and respond whereas it is really all ready over before anyone moves.

Attacking with Ki
To really be able to take advantage of a mental opening that my last a fraction of a second, one must understand how to energize properly for an attack. A simple experiment on this would be the following:
Stand across from your partner. Both of you are in mae gedan (sword low in the front). Your partner will attempt to execute a tsuki attack at any time he thinks you might be "open".

Initially see if you can execute your own tsuki when you perceive that the attacker is coming. The one that takes the line first will be the one that gets the tsuki. If your partner is good at attacking (if not the exercise is rather moot), you will probably find that a) you are late and b) you will start creating tension trying to start earlier and move faster.

Then try this visualization: Place your attention on the partner's center (not their weapon). Try to feel that your are pressing on them a bit with your posture. Make sure you drop into your center so that your legs are "soft" and you are ready to release forward. (If you stand with weight back, you will be to late moving forward). Try to relax your mind so that you are "feeling" for a shift in the other partner's intention. Then, while streaming your intention out the tip of your sword, mentally feel as if you could connect your sword tip energetically to the partner's center. Try to feel as if your sword "wants" to be on that target and that you have but to release it and it will be there. Then have the partner try again. If you can do this successfully, you should find that the other person simply cannot get ahead of you. No matter how hard he tries to come in fast, with no warning, you feel as if you are "already" in before he even starts. This is the feeling you want in all of your Aikido. This is the Mind if Irimi. You may choose to trun, step back, move off the line, whatever... but this mind has to be present or no other movement works. Irimi precedes all other movement. Mental irimi precedes physical irimi.

Up to this point, we have basically been discussing the issue of attention and intention from the standpoint of what happens before physical contact. But this are of investigation is also central to what happens after contact is made. Placement of the attention is absolutely crucial in Aikido technique. Pete Trimmer Sensei used to say "Look for the instant in your technique when you attack the attack".

This is an important concept. If your attention goes "to the attack", you have virtually made the attack strong. It is essential that you actually "receive" the energy of the attack to your center (bring the power of the attack to your spine) while all the while keeping your attention "inside" the attack. This is another concept I got from Ushiro Sensei; the notion of "inside the attack" and "outside the attack".

An attacker has the ability to set his focal point for his power. If you meet him at this point, he is strong. If you try to escape, you will not effect him and he will continue attacking. If you attempt to deal with the attack itself, he will actually be empowered because you have bought into his focal point by putting your attention right where the energy of his attack is located.

On the other hand, if you place your attention "inside" the focal point of the attack, on some level his mind recognizes this fact and his structure starts to attempt to reorganize. You place your power "inside" of his. There are some simple exercises to demonstrate this but they really have to be felt. A verbal description wouldn't convey the meaning.

At recent seminar we hosted with Raso Hultgren Sensei from Missoula she talked about putting your energy "through the partner, not at the partner". That is a great way to describe this. Just remember that when someone talks about "energy" in this sense they are talking about placing the attention. The physical energy simply goes down the channel created.

One last exercise that can help to understand how to "give direction" to the attention when physical contact is made: Stand in hanmi or shizen tai... Have your partner grab with katatetori. Make sure you have a good, relaxed, extension in your arm so that it doesn't collapse if he pushes a bit. Then using your body, not your arm, start shifting progressively deeper inside the opponent's attack. Touch the wrist, touch the elbow, touch the shoulder, touch the far shoulder, touch the far hip, touch the far foot. If you have accomplished this they shouldn't be able to lift the back foot. You can try shifting to the front foot or the front hip; each creates a certain type of connection with the partner.

This is how technique is created. An attack is made, received, connection is made through the body and direction is given to the energy of that connection. For many people this is a radically different way of thinking about technique. Most folks are fundamentally dualistic about how they think about what they are doing. I am going to throw him. Unfortunately, this way of thinking virtually creates the intention of "no you are not" in the opponent. I think that anyone wishing to take his technique to a higher level needs to change this way of looking at things.

There is far more to this whole concept of "intention". It can transform the entire arena of striking. Ideas like "striking with zero power", "taking the intention out of the strike", even "striking with Love" all change our whole perception about delivering impact. But this is an area which I am not qualified to discuss. I have experienced strikes from people who utilize these ideas but I can't say that I understand them. So folks wil have to find that somewhere else. But just the ideas discussed here should give many people a lot to work on.

This is an area that can transform ones practice. It doesn't require changing ones "style", one can keep all the technique one wishes in any variation one wants. But starting to think about how these factors make technique work can completely change the experience of both givng and receiving technique in a dramatic way. I hope that his provides a bit of direction on the topic. I feel that I am operating at the level of Energy 101 yet my Aikido has been completely transformed by these concepts. I will keep refining my understanding with the help of folks who understand more than I do and I will continue to share what I find with any interested folks.https://blogger.googleusercontent.com/tracker/8994761102223176865-1746782570012973?l=aikieast.blogspot.com

More... (http://aikieast.blogspot.com/2009/06/attention-intention-receiving-and.html)

07-11-2009, 08:53 PM
Very interesting piece and very close to the spirit of aikido. Yet I have trouble digesting the analogy of the drag race where the aikidoka is holding back a charge through 'braking' instead of surrendering his body and intention to everything.

07-12-2009, 11:49 AM
Is what you are referring to here part of what is often classified as internal part of the six harmonies?

The Three Internal Harmonies being:

Your spirit or "emotional mind" (xin) harmonises with your intention (yi)
Your intention harmonizes with your breath and physical momentum ("qi")
Your breath and physical momentum harmonise with your physical strength (li)

07-13-2009, 12:01 AM
I applaud the work that went into trying to address these issues in plain language and concrete examples/exercises.

George S. Ledyard
07-13-2009, 02:13 AM
Very interesting piece and very close to the spirit of aikido. Yet I have trouble digesting the analogy of the drag race where the aikidoka is holding back a charge through 'braking' instead of surrendering his body and intention to everything.
Most Aikido folks I train with do not understand forward intention. That intention must be engaged before it is time to actually move or they will move too late. If your mind is "already" in, then the body simply feels as if it were released.

George S. Ledyard
07-13-2009, 02:17 AM
Is what you are referring to here part of what is often classified as internal part of the six harmonies?

The Three Internal Harmonies being:

Your spirit or "emotional mind" (xin) harmonises with your intention (yi)
Your intention harmonizes with your breath and physical momentum ("qi")
Your breath and physical momentum harmonise with your physical strength (li)

Since I have no background in the Chinese art i would hesitate to say that they mean exactly the same thing I am talking about but I would say that these principles are closely related. I didn't really get in to the aspect of how the breath relates to all of this.

Charles Hill
07-13-2009, 02:39 AM
I have trouble digesting the analogy of the drag race where the aikidoka is holding back a charge through 'braking' instead of surrendering his body and intention to everything.

Hi Ahmad,

If I understand Mr Ledyard's metaphor correctly, the aikidoka is not "braking" himself, the brake is his/her partner's intention. When the partner's intention goes off, you naturally move forward into the space where the intention formerly was.

Mike Sigman
07-13-2009, 09:18 AM
Is what you are referring to here part of what is often classified as internal part of the six harmonies?

The Three Internal Harmonies being:

Your spirit or "emotional mind" (xin) harmonises with your intention (yi)
Your intention harmonizes with your breath and physical momentum ("qi")
Your breath and physical momentum harmonise with your physical strength (li)I'm not really sure that six-harmonies movement totally applies to Aikido, although it is difficult to rule it totally out because of the attendant logic about jin/kokyu-forces. There is always a little bit of everything that will happen if even one factor is legitimately used in the equation.

The three internal harmonies might be better expressed like:

The heart (Xin) leads the mind (you have a desire to move and that desire triggers the mind), the mind leads the qi (this is easy to show physically but too hard to write), the qi leads the strength.

If it is the correct strength that is led/manifested, then it is the jin, which is considered to be a physical manifestation of the qi/ki. "Kokyu" strength is just jin that is developed/accompanied by the power of the body that is developed through breathing exercises, stretches, correct practice, and so forth.

In terms of "alignment" being a big factor, I'd say that such a comment is misleading, if we're talking about the ki/kokyu strengths. Take for instance the photographs of Tohei being pushed by an Uke while Tohei has his back turned, is leaning over, on one leg, and so forth: it's not "alignment" he's using, but "intent". And "intent" means to use the type of strength being discussed in the internal three harmonies.

FWIW, if Aikido used the full six-harmonies, I think Aikido movement would look quite different. Again, though, it's a matter of levels and gradations of these skills.


Mike Sigman

Joe McParland
07-14-2009, 12:28 PM
Attention & Intention? Nice! Sounds like thoughts (or maybe just term linkages) I shared with Ron Ragusa a month ago here:

Aikido: Uke, Nage, and Mushin

For a more recent, though somewhat tangential post on the continuing effort in this line, from the same blog:

Aikido: "Something doesn't feel right..." (http://inexhaustiblethings.blogspot.com/2009/07/aikido-something-doesnt-feel-right.html)

Looking forward to comparing notes on the journey...

Russ Q
07-15-2009, 04:26 PM
Hello George Sensei,

We worked on some of these drills in the dojo last night. Very, very useful drills - thank you. It was good because we were all very tired after due to the intensity of having to maintain one's attention for an extended time...(sad, I know, but most people, including my self simply are not used to that)...and it's a great reference to bring students back to when practising other waza. When "it's" on, it's an amazing thing....too profound for words.

Thank you again!


George S. Ledyard
07-16-2009, 10:35 AM
Hello George Sensei,

We worked on some of these drills in the dojo last night. Very, very useful drills - thank you. It was good because we were all very tired after due to the intensity of having to maintain one's attention for an extended time...(sad, I know, but most people, including my self simply are not used to that)...and it's a great reference to bring students back to when practising other waza. When "it's" on, it's an amazing thing....too profound for words.

Thank you again!


I am glad you found them helpful. Last few years Saotome Sensei has really been giving people a lot of hell about their lack of ability to project their intention. It is my considered opinion that this should be taught from the beginning, since everything later on depends on it. Why end up with a bunch of yudansha who have been training for years who don't have any idea how to even think about the issue?

This would be the primary area of focus of someone like Ushiro Kenji the Karate teacher. On the other hand, if you look at the Systema folks like Vlad and Michael, at least at the beginning of the training they seem to focus most on the receiving side rather than the projecting side.

I am of two minds on this... Most folks associate power with tension. So when you start to try to get hem to develop the ability to project, they typically tense all sorts of things, both mentally and physically. That's why I like those exercises because there is an element of competition in them which gives instant feedback if you are carrying tension. Tension of any sort slows you down and makes it difficult to really resonate with the other guy.

So, even when you are talking about projection, it is imperative that this is done via an increasingly calm and relaxed mind. So exercises which serve to "ramp up" folks focus and intensity are good but you have to combine them with practice that keeps reinforcing "stillness" of the mind and relaxation of the body at the same time. I like doing slow to medium randori practice for this. It demands people focus their attention on multiple centers while letting them stay unstressed (relatively) while connecting that state to their bodies. It's like systema but with an Aikido outer form.

Lorel Latorilla
07-17-2009, 11:03 AM
Good post, George.

What you're talking about here is "ki-ai" (as Ellis Amdur would term it) or "ki projection" (as Ushiro Kenji would label it). I have a few thoughts about this understudied phenomenon.

1) Although this is trained through 'breathing' dynamics in the martial arts, ki-ai can also be found in other disciplines. Ellis Amdur mentioned in another forum that charismatic politicians, psychotics, pick-up artists/seducers, etc. have similar skills that martial artists have as far as imposing intent goes. The traditional conception of a ki-ai is that of a spirited shout. However, this kind of ki-ai has the same function as 'intention'--you are imposing your will and your desires on the other person. With that said, an audible ki-ai also has its silent form. While different in form, the function is the same. A silent ki-ai also functions to dominate the will of the other person. So Barack Obama, pickup artists, Charles Manson who do not necessarily 'scream' to dominate the will of the aite, are 'masters' of a silent ki-ai or 'intent'.

2) Either people are not aware of such training in 'intention' or some people just lack the 'confidence' in their skills in a particular area. The former is just a matter of finding appropriate training and/or honest experimentation while the latter takes deeper work. For one to increase confidence and skills in intent, then the person needs a personal system where skills are trained and experimented with and are given feedback for further refinement. Once someone has enough good reference points built up from the individual's personal system, confidence increases. For example, a seducer can 'impose' his will on girls through trial and error, and by going to night clubs 3 days a week. He gets success, and more notches on his bedposts, his confidence increases, making him more relaxed, and more aware of his breathing patterns and psycho-physical organization (or lack thereof) and which type of manipulation (of these things) can best project intent and dominate the will of the other person. For a seducer, his confidence in his skills to bed women is the foundation for his intent skills. For the martial artist, it can be in his confidence in his body, or in his grasp of 'technique' or battle tactics that is the foundation for his ki-ai skills. What the best foundation is for ki-ai is another topic worth discussing.

3) If a person is tense, does that mean that the information/the energy you're projecting is 'drowned' out by an individual's tension/adrenaline? Perhaps "intention' or "entering" still requires a particular target; we're not just shooting in some random area in the aite's personal sphere. Our intents are pointing at something and that is the other person's intent or attack itself. Even if a person is tense, it's not as though he is without intent, he could have pure intent to attack. In that case, your intent goes into his attack and split his attack as it were. Or you can enter a person's defense and overwhelm. BTW, I have no clue how to do this and how to properly train it (other than experimenting with it of course), and is probably high level martial arts. Vlad and Mikhail even consider this (this is what they call 'psychic energy') as the highest form of skill in the Russian system.

07-19-2009, 07:47 AM
So glad you shared this. Energy awareness and focus has been a part of my life for a very long time. I am hoping Aikido will help me to refine and sharpen my control of it. Many times I have literally felt someone enter a room before I have seen them. And have often used this energy to move people or influence them in some way. It comes in very handy in the horse world as well. Horses are very sensitive to such things sensing and reacting to intent long before physical stimulus.

Most folks associate power with tension. So when you start to try to get hem to develop the ability to project, they typically tense all sorts of things, both mentally and physically.

I have found that Tension tends to inhibit this particular ability. A state of relaxed alertness works best. Ready to act but not preparing to act. When you do act it can be with great force or with very little. Focusing on the outcome you desire changes the strength of it.

Now I can use this pretty well in many situations at work and in life. I am so looking forward to the day it snaps into place in my Aikido.