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Correct feeling is achieved when my mind and body are coordinated. Correct feeling defines my strongest possible state wherein I am able to realize my full potential as a human being. Correct feeling is a broader based idea of power than simple strength. It is the power to be and act according to principles that I choose to live by regardless of whatever external forces are acting to impede me.
What then, you may wonder, is coordination of mind and body? Simply stated mind and body are coordinated when they are in the same place at the same time doing the same thing. My body is always exactly where it is and always exists at now. My mind, however, due to its ethereal nature is not limited to any particular place or time. It can be anywhere, anywhen. In fact due to the time lag inherent in the processing of sensory stimuli, my mind, unlike my body, is forever shut off from now. My mind can approach now without limit, but never quite get there. This leads me to conclude that perfect mind/body coordination is not possible. My body can never move off now, my mind can never quite reach now.
Mind/body coordination is not something I either have or do not have. If my mind and body were totally disconnected then there would be no me to speak of. The degrees of mind/body coordination form a continuum that is limited by total disconnect on one end and perfect unity on the other.
Aikido study is my way of bringing mind/body as close to unity as possible.
For those of you who've never heard of Flag Rock, it's located in Housatonic, Massachusetts on the northwest side of Monument Mountain. The views from the rock are spectacular; south along Route 7 to the Sheffield Flats bordered by the Taconic Range, west the Catskill Mountains where the setting sun provides an endlessly changing picture show as day wanes giving way to a night sky full of stars, directly below the village of Housatonic. My friend Steve and I have spent many nights camping there.
There are two trails leading to the top of Flag Rock. One trail is short and steep the other long and of gradual incline. Both trails lead one to the same place but provide distinctly different experiences getting there. The short trail is quite steep for pretty much the whole way up the side of the mountain. Carrying a pack up that trail is a … focusing experience to say the least; the focus, at my age, being surviving the walk. There isn't much opportunity to admire the surroundings; my vision is narrowly concentrated on where my next step is going to be, awareness turned decidedly inward. The long trail is just the opposite. Gradual incline, plenty of opportunity to check out the woods and local scenery; my awareness turns outward to my environment.
Aikido, like Flag Rock provides me with multiple paths that I can travel. Each path provides me a different experience and allows me to concentrate my awareness according to the dictates of the situation. The paths of Aikido
Staying rooted while standing and being stressed is all well and good but Aikido requires that I be able to be rooted while I'm in motion. Curiously, I'm not the one who's aware of my rootedness, it's my partner who feels it when we are moving together. I've noticed this myself, especially when I uked for Maruyama sensei; and now when I am uke for several of my longtime students. My students tend to acquire this feeling around the 15 - 20 year mark. Suddenly as ukes they will become very heavy; when they take the role of nage I'll feel their connection with the larger reality as I attack. During Ki exercises I'll be able to push and pull them with much greater force than before.
When I get thrown by someone who is rooted in motion their connection with the universe is palpable. I feel it in my bones as though I'm falling into a very solid hole that is at once empty and heavy as all get out. And I don't just give myself over to the throw, all light and airy. Since I'm a lot older now than when I began this journey I have to take care of myself in order to be able to fall and stay healthy. Consequently all my attacks come in a committed but controlled manner with much centeredness and weight underside. My balance, if not taken by nage, will tend to reinforce my feeling of heaviness and I'll be very difficult to throw.
Excitement is in the air! The word is spreading… the old Aikido is dying, from the ashes of which will emerge a new Aikido, rising like the Phoenix reborn, wreathed in the power of aiki. Aikidoka from far and wide will flock to the new art, for once tasted, the power of the new Aikido will seduce them with the promise to fulfill that which has, these many years, been missing from their training.
Maybe so, maybe so indeed. It's possible that right here, in this small corner of the Aikido universe, a new movement is being born, will take root and spread throughout Aikido like fire thru a field of dry wheat. In a mere generation we could see Aikido overhauled and remade; new, improved, made relevant in a modern world where the quaint concepts of the old Aikido have withered in their usefulness and application.
It will be interesting to watch the unfolding of this future's history. Will the movement succeed? Will practitioners of the new art take Aikido from an art of reconciliation to one of confrontation? Will they use their new found power as a tool of understanding or dogma? Will this change be revolutionary or evolutionary?
Time will, as time does, tell. Till then I'll just keep showing up and training.
Throwing is falling in reverse,
the other side
that conforms to the will and intent
of the us that is unity and no longer we
of what once was.
Falling is the other side of the throw,
no less for its having the stigma of losing
in the eyes of those who know not
of the connection shared
by the us that is unity and no longer we
of what once was.
Aikido is the unity,
and no longer we
of what once was.
Aikido as a Way is a journey of many possible paths. It is rich in possibilities beyond my imagining. I can, I realize, explore only a small portion of its extent in my short lifetime. With so little time to travel the Way I have no time to wonder at or argue about the rightness or wrongness of anyone else's chosen path. I let them be.
From time to time over the years people have joined me and we have traveled together for a while. I have learned from them all, in ways obvious or unlooked for but always appreciated. Hopefully they have taken some of what I have had to give, little though that may have been, and benefitted thereby as I have benefitted from them.
My Aikido is unique to me and my sharing of it is merely a portion of my story being revealed at the moment of its doing. Those with me at any given time get a glimpse, keep or discard it, and go on in the telling of their own tales.
I have my partner stand in natural stance. Standing in front of him and placing my right hand on his left shoulder I begin to push. I want him to absorb my push and transfer the energy into the ground thru his feet. As he gains confidence and is able to identify with the correct feeling more readily I can increase the amount of force I apply to his shoulder until I am pushing quite hard. At first I am careful to push towards his spine and slightly downward. Later I can vary the direction of the push while he responds dynamically to the changing force vectors.
I have described this exercise before, or variants of it anyway. The exercise is intended to point out the difference between absorption /resistance and to help my partner strengthen his center via increased loading. Nothing new here.
I can, however, change things up slightly and turn this exercise around so that I am the one being "tested" as follows. All is as before except that when I place my hand on my partners shoulder I do so very lightly with my elbow bent quite a bit. I'd like my upper arm and forearm to form an acute angle. Now when I push I do so not using my arm and hand, instead I use my center, pushing directly at his center, applying as little force as possible. At first my partner feels nothing; I wait and continue my "mental" push. My intention is to occupy his space (not literally, think metaphor). If I do this correctly, at some point his structure will break and he will move off his mark.