View Full Version : 082) Sensitivity Training to Enhance Your Aikido: June 2011

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Marc Abrams
05-31-2011, 10:10 PM
Sensitivity should be an important skill to develop in Aikido.  I am not talking about the new-age sensitivity where everything should be dandy; all is good and equal and harmony thwarts all violence.  That kind of sensitivity sounds good, but does not add to a necessary awareness of reality, which is an important skill to have when confronted with a conflict.  The sensitivity that I am talking about is an acute awareness of yourself in your world.  The following story is a true one and one that clearly illustrates that kind of sensitivity that I am talking about.
Yagyu Munenori, headmaster of the Yagyu Shinkage school of swordsmanship was viewing the cherry blossoms in the garden of his villa in the Azabu section of Edo.  His page was standing behind him holding his sword in an upright position.  Munenori suddenly turned around looking for something.  He then retraced his path back to his drawing room.  He sat down with his back toward the posts of the tokonoma and began to engage in intense contemplation.  After some time, a page asked him what was wrong.  Munenori recounted his experience of looking peacefully at the cherry blossoms when suddenly he felt a sense of danger.  He looked around and could find no enemy and he became very concerned that he was hallucinating.  He considered this an inexcusable lapse for a samurai to have had such a misperception.  One of his pages suddenly prostrated himself on the ground in front of Munenori  and pleaded for forgiveness.  He told Munenori that when he was observing him watching he cherry blossoms, it occured to him that he would be able to strike his master with a sword without him being able to respond in time.  This brought a smile to Munenori’s face, for even in his middle sixties, his sensitivity was still very acute.
Situational awareness is a critical part of accurately assessing and responding to events and interactions in our lives.  Maintaining a calm center is a crucial component.    A simple approach is to teach one’s self to exhale when startled and/or facing an approaching attack.    Increasing the intensity of attacks and using multiple attackers are some other ways of helping to maintain a calm focus during this critical time.   This is not an easy task to achieve and takes diligent and consistent practice be able to remain calm if someone tried to really to assault you.
We only have a limited about of psychological energy at our disposal at any one point in time.  If we use a lot of this energy toward dealing with our thoughts and feelings, then we have that much less to use in attending toward the outside world.  It is important for us to  place a calm intent all around us, rather than a narrow, singular focus.  Beginners frequently develop tunnel vision toward the perceived contact point of an attack.  We can focus our training toward preventing this dangerous tendency.   The attacker perceives this tunnel vision and uses it to direct an attack away from the focused attention.  We can have our ukes try and exploit this opening if we create it.  When you are taking in everything, the attacker does not feel the presence of openings.
Connecting with the uke happens at an energetic and physical level.  There are plenty of people  who choose not to believe in a connection at an energetic level.  Those same people would also have a hard time trying to deny that communication is made up of verbal and non-verbal components.  People walk into a place and get a “vibe” about the environment.  If people choose to not utilize the nonverbal component of interacting with another person, then they are choosing to not utilize a handy tool.  We can work on increasing our level of sensitivity.  Systema has an impressive array of training methods to accomplish this.  I employ a number of approaches in teaching to help increase students’ sensitivity at a energetic level.
Connecting at a physical level can also impact the degree of sensitivity that we can use in connecting and understanding what someone is trying to do to you.  Fred Little Sensei had a wonderful way of describing a way of making physical contact akin to handling an infant.  A “light” touch does stimulate more sensory and tactile nerves than a “death grip.”  Sustaining contact with a person in a sensitive and connected manner deprives the attacker the feedback typically used to effectively continue attacking.
We will spend this month exploring how sensitivity can increase the effectiveness of our Aikido.  This applies to our training as both uke and nage.  We will work hard at increasing our level of sensitivity and explore the impact on our ability to perform techniques and take ukemi.
Marc Abrams Sensei

(Original blog post may be found here (http://aasbk.com/blog).)

Mark Freeman
06-02-2011, 04:50 AM
Hi Marc,

Good post, thanks.

I couldn't agree more with your thoughts on sensitivity and connection. For me, focus on this aspect of training has provided me with the progress in aikido that I seek.

The advantages of the light touch as opposed to the death grip has fascinated me for a long time. The hard grip, in my opinon, prevents the freedom of movement that is required to maintain balance throughout a dynamic encounter. If nage creates connection before the physical death grip takes place, and is then completely sensitive to ukes energy, then leading that energy and therefore the physical body is effortless (or very close to).

I think that some people relate light touch to ineffectiveness, they just can't see how the soft can overcome the hard. I think they are hampered by their own ability to let go of a limiting concept.

Sustaining contact with a person in a sensitive and connected manner deprives the attacker the feedback typically used to effectively continue attacking.

I use this concept in teaching all the time, if I want to discover exactly where the student is creating a problem in their technique, I will take ukemi, following their every move, with sensitivity and connection. They cannot feel me until it is too late, my hold on them is like 'water' until the moment they 'fail' the technique, at which point the water turns into 'rock', in that they are trying to 'muscle' a connected structure, which feels solid. It is the lack of feedback that you mention that gives this interaction its uniqueness. A great teaching tool.

Although our curriculum contains many techniques, and many different forms of attack, it all boils down to the same thing for me. They are only vehicles for studying the essential principles of our art. At the heart of which is sensitivity and connection, without which, there can be no aiki/aikido.

have fun with your training.