View Full Version : Big Mind, Small Technique

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08-18-2009, 12:12 PM
Breathe in, relax the body and calm the mind
Breathe out, extend big mind
Small subtle technique

One of the things that drew me to Aikido was it claimed to be an art of body and mind unification, or at least harmony. Aikido, I thought, was supposed to be a spiritual art. While I do hear a lot of talk and lip service about it, I don't see a lot of it in actual practice and application. Why is that? Why does it seem that we just practice Aikido on a physical level expecting to get mental, emotional, and spiritual benefits without ever directly talking about, let alone training, in the mind aspect?

Many people come to Aikido for the physical exercise, the socialization, as a hobby, or even as physical self-defense. They don't want the Budo or the self-development so much. That way the practice of Aikido doesn't interfere with their current way of thinking and being. And I am okay with that. We all want happiness but perhaps we find it different ways and in different things. Not like they wanted or needed my approval or permission. Staying physically fit externally is fine. In fact, for many it is preferred. So they practice on an external physical basis. It is good for them. I want the physical technical proficiency too. There is a lot of sweat and good times shared. There are a lot of other places and interests that would be much worse for them personally, their families, and our society than the Dojo. So they are doing their part at their level of attendance, participation, and contribution. I think we need to accept and appreciate everyone, those who come and those who don't, at all levels. I just have to keep my mind and heart open and my mouth shut when training with them. While we train our bodies together, I also have to silently practice and train my mind and heart. It's a daily discipline thing.

Bye the way, my underlying belief is that when the body and mind become congruent, spirituality (which is always already present waiting for us to come to it) will appear already opened naturally. I once heard someone (I am not good at remembering names and sources) that the question is were we physical beings looking for spirituality or spiritual beings in a physical opportunity? Which do we identify with, our physical self, our mental self, our social self, or our spiritual self? Okay, this may be a whole other series of articles on how do we create and transform on an identity level. And let us not forget the people who believe that though a useful concept and construct, the self "I" doesn't really exist. It appears our self-centeredness and thinking its all about "I" leads to such suffering. Perhaps if we lose our strangulation hold on our singular separate sense of "self" (small mind and small picture) and attached to a more collective inclusive sense of self (big mind and big picture) the world may actually have a chance at peace. But again, that's a whole other series of article and not what I set out to write about this time.

As a couples and family psychotherapist, I noticed that this smaller (self-centered exclusive negative) mind/self always created a more dramatic and futile expression and effort such as depression, anxiety, and aloneness. The bigger (other-centered inclusive positive) mind/self created more subtle effortless movements and expressions of courage, compassion, and knidness. I know the differences in couples who think, speak, and act in "I" and "you", and those who think, speak, and act as "we". I wondered if the same was true in Aikido practice.

Try this the next time you are training at the Dojo. Pull all your attention (and subsequent tension) into the pit of your stomach. Think of nothing else and see how well you move. It would appear that being only aware of our own center makes if difficult to even move our own feet, let alone make the other person move. Under stress or fright, we tend to pull in. This may account for the fear response of freezing. This is not an advised position or strategy on or off the mat. To a predator, this is the mark of an easy target, prey, or victim. This is small mind. With small mind it takes a lot of effort to move anything. Holding on to the small mind and self (wherever that is and wherever we are holding it) makes movement and expression difficult if not impossible. To move with small mind, we need big exaggerated techniques.

Is the inverse true? If we hold big mind does our technique get smaller, more subtle. The mystics always talked about the "I/Thou" relationship, the split between self and others. I know that it is politically correct to accept, appreciate, and embrace differences and boundaries and we are taught and conditioned to be afraid of intimacy and enmeshment, getting too close and including others. I've never been a fan of political correctness since it prevents you from ever saying or doing anything true or courageous for fear of offending someone someplace at sometime about something that has nothing to do with them, but has everything to do with the way I perceive, understand, and express myself. So, instead of keeping your mind small and inside with the only extension being to the boundaries of your own physical body (but never past the point of contact and certainly without putting your attention there), try drawing the mental map of consciousness bigger to include everything around you (or at least include your training partner). Now instead of your mental map and intent of excluding the other person, it extends, invites, incorporates and integrates them. You include and connect, so as you move they also move. I think of this as big mind and small subtle technique.

Then there are those masters who can move with big mind and big technique and they are beautiful to watch because you can actually see what they are doing.

So in training, do I train with you (small separate mind) or do we train together (big inclusive mind)? Do I take a lot of effort to move you (big technique) because you are separate from me, or can I move you subtly (small technique) because we are connected? (It is a Zen Koan thing. Just ponder the question without really looking for the answer because its rhetorical and we all already know the answer, now we just need to courage and compassion to act on it.)

I look forward to the day the "we" can share space and time together.

Breathe in, relax the body and calm the mind
Breathe out, extend big mind
Small subtle technique

Thank you for listening, for the opportunity to be of service, and for sharing the journey. Now get back to training. KWATZ!
Lynn Seiser (b. 1950 Pontiac, Michigan), Ph.D. has been a perpetual student of martial arts, CQC/H2H, FMA/JKD, and other fighting systems for 40 years. He currently holds the rank of Sandan (3rd degree Black Belt) in Tenshinkai Aikido under Sensei Dang Thong Phong at the Westminster Aikikai Dojo in Southern California. He is the co-author, with Phong Sensei, of Aikido Basics (2003), Advanced Aikido (2006), and Aikido Weapons Techniques (2006) for Tuttle Publishing. His martial art articles have appeared in Black Belt Magazine, Aikido Today Magazine, and Martial Arts and Combat Sports Magazine. He is the founder of Aiki-Solutions and IdentityTherapy and is an internationally respected psychotherapist in the clinical treatment of offenders and victims of violence, trauma, abuse, and addiction. He currently lives in Marietta, GA and trains at Roswell Budokan.

08-25-2009, 07:22 PM
The I/We question might be a great first step towards a path of introspection. I have noted through many a long night pondering the qua of life, this question is much like holding sand in your hand. The more you think about seeing life through a "we" perspective, the more you are forced to think of your actions and presence in the "we" perspective, and the "we" perspective, like the sand slips through your fingers, away from you. Because by thinking about your self and how you fit, one is thinking a great deal about them selves.
I see a chance to avoid this, by releasing the sand, releasing the concerns about if you are in the right perspective, and turning the focus on finding a right balance for your perspective.
Focus on others while altruistic and noble is ultimately a failure of mind because one is relaying on the growth of others, not on one self. A focus on the self can lead to great insight, but that insight is often lonely because the others in the world are left out. A balance between the I and the We leaves ones mind open to gaining new insight, and better still, giving that gift to others.
This goal of balance extends far further then the dojo, consider it when the person in front of you at the express line has too many items, and keep it in mind when you day dream and let a traffic light go green with out moving. By balancing the I and the We you might find your self forgiving unintentional slights against you, and laughing at your own unintentional slights against others.
A personal drive towards balance might just give you the big mind that is needed for the best practice of aikido. The small technique starts with the big mind, and then takes a lot of time on the mat.
Pondering Mr.Seiser ideas leads to great pathways. I thank him for allowing exploration.

08-26-2009, 12:04 PM
The I/We question might be a great first step towards a path of introspection.... I thank him for allowing exploration.
Osu Kohai,

Thanks for taking the time to read and respond.

Agreed, IMHO, "we" is a much better starting (and ending) place than "I". Balance includes both. Looking in for self and looking out for others. We all win or we all lose.

Allowing exploration? Like I was taught, I only suggest a direction, the rest is appropriately up to you.

Rei, Domo. See you on the mat.

Alister Gillies
08-31-2009, 06:33 AM
When studying the Way, everything accumulates. When carrying out the Way, everything reduces.

09-02-2009, 04:29 AM
When studying the Way, everything accumulates. When carrying out the Way, everything reduces.
Well said.
Compliments and appreciation.
Rei. Domo.

11-25-2009, 07:13 PM
Sensei seiser,
I have a question perhaps unrelated but since its all i can think of right now, i'll just ask it right here.
For the past two years, i usually train by myself since nobody in the club trains outside. Lately, i have had people who sometimes appear out of the woodwork to train with me but they are all usually beginners. So i usually end up spending all my time correcting them rather then refining my own techniques. I like to help but when they usually leave before me and i still train after they r gone for a bit. But having just come from one of those sessions, i feel completely drained. Calm but drained. What kind of perspective would you have if u were in this position?? Turning them away is not an option. I do not refuse people who ask to train with me, but it gets to me.
Thank you for your time,

11-26-2009, 09:18 AM
But having just come from one of those sessions, i feel completely drained. Calm but drained. What kind of perspective would you have if u were in this position??

If this was a technique, one might suggest you are using muscle instead of energy. In other words, you are trying to hard.

As a therapist, I learned that if I was drained at the end of the day, then I was doing most of the work.

Perhaps, out of good intent, you are trying too hard. Perhaps you are not congruently present and partially resent the time taken from your own training.

I have only recently stepped up and started to teach openly. I find that helping others through it helps me understand the techniques and principles better. I no longer see teaching as separate or different than training.

Perhaps the resistance that drains you is some mental conflict or contradiction that needs your attention to help you grow.

Just as in a lot of things in life, I have to "let" myself and "let" others. Too often when I feel drained its because I tried to "make" something happen.

Hope that makes some sense and is of some small assistance.

Thanks for asking. I always take that as a compliment.

Rei, Domo.

11-26-2009, 10:02 AM
Sensei seiser,
You are right (or at least we are in agreement, either way you would like it :), i did dislike that it was taking time out from my own training and that they were not as committed as i am. I'll stop trying though and let it happen. But it feels like a pendulum effect that one keeps going from one extreme to the other i.e. keep trying very hard or becoming passive. Because its so easy to become a passive viewer who just lets things happen (about which i was told to correct in the past by my sensei). I'll try to find my balance (or let myself find the balance :D).
Again, i sincerely thank you for your time,

11-26-2009, 10:05 AM
I guess the reason why i even asked it here now was because the line that you wrote whether i should train alone or train together struck a chord here. Now i shall strive to train together with everybody.

12-05-2009, 12:41 PM
INow i shall strive to train together with everybody.

Whether we are th teacher or the student, we are training together and learning from each other. The positioning is arbitrary and egotistical. I have been forced into teaching, which has taught me a lot about Aikido and especially myself.

Many who train with me kid me that when I training I am teaching too, and when I teach I am training too.

In Tenshinkai there is only one Sensei, and I am not him. So no matter what my position in the class, I am always the student.

Rei, Domo.