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SeiserL 06-15-2009 03:43 PM

Lead with the Head
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Breathe in, know where you are going.
Breathe out, already be there.
Lead with the head.

As a teacher and a student, I talk too much. Which isn't bad considering how I have never played well with others or been a joiner. I know I am just supposed to keep silently training until I just magically get it. And that's exactly what it would be, magic. I am just not that smart to figure it out myself.

As a boxer I was taught to not lead with my head. Okay, the actual expression was "Quit blocking with your face!" Wished I had listened more and been a faster learner. Often I have to learn the hard way and from my own painful experiences.

When we look at postural alignment, we all know that the head should be over the shoulders, over the hips, over the knees, over the feet. There is a plum-line that goes down our body from top and bottom. When everything is aligned, the structure of the skeletal system supports the body. The energy of gravity is transmitted straight through the body into the feet and earth. Yet, when we look at people from the side, we often see that people lead with their head. Their neck begins to tilt dangling the head forward without support form underneath. Many people think this is why we have so much neck pain and so many headaches. We disconnect our structural alignment by leading/leaning with the head.

I had a great discussion the other day with some of my Budo-buddies. It's amazing the intelligence and insight available. Actually, it was more of a debate, because we had very different positions. The question was what we lead from: our behavior, our emotions, or our thoughts? Of course a sociologist might suggest that we lead from the external stimulus and experience (memes) we unconsciously learn from our society and families. Eastern thinking may suggest we lead from our past karma. Many people would suggest that it's the interaction of all of these, that we respond to one factor which than initiates a continuous cause-and-effect sequence (or perhaps it's simultaneous) into all the others.

I tend to lead with my head, as I have said. I have found that if my internal mental map stays the same, so does my behavior and emotions. This leads to the same type of social interactions I have always had and the same continuous accumulation of negative karma. I don't change my behaviors and emotions for very long if I have not made some back internal shift in perception or frame of reference. I also heard that to change society, first we have to change ourselves (usually meaning the internal mental construct we learned as ego and labeled the self). I also heard that wisdom erases karma. It is a "if you always do what you have always done, you will always get what you always got" type of thing. If what we are thinking/feeling/doing isn't working, perhaps we need to change it.

I enjoy listening to people talk about how long they have been in Aikido. Most refer to this as experience. Yet, I have also heard that experience is what you get when you didn't get what you wanted, but that's a different column. Many people only have many years of repetition of the same thing over and over again. Their training gets stale and stalls at the same learning and performance plateau, because instead of the mind staying open and fluid, it has become immovable and empty.

Energy is directed by focus, intent, or the mind. Therefore, we must know where we are going if we are ever going to get there, or any place. It is mental discipline, to stay focused on what you want. It is this positive attitude that allows the body to relax and move through resistance. The mind is attached to the goal. With consistent and persistent training, realistic repetitive rehearsal, the body follows the direction of the mind. You know where you are going and how to get there. Often in Aikido, I know where I am going; entering and blending with my training partner. It is a strategy thing. I may not know exactly what tactical technique I am going to do, but I know I am initiating, intercepting, entering, and blending to take the center and balance. I know where I am going; in on a circular/spiral path through my training partner's center towards a kazushi balance point. Like so many things in life, if we relax and calm the mind, we do already know the truth and the right thing to do.

Now relax, exhale and do it. By acting as if it is already done, we become proactive and responsive, not defensive and reactionary. This takes as much mental and psychological discipline as physical practice. It is beyond being stuck in the past. It is beyond being stuck in the present. It is being that split second ahead of time in the future. The outcome is a foregone conclusion. We have often heard about this, but seldom have we defined it as the seeing through a situation, the extension of ki (mind and body unification), towards a goal that we already see and believe is realized. I can feel when my training partner does not trust their technique. They are tentative, which makes me the same. I can also feel when my training partner already connects and moves me before we ever make physical contact. It is not magical. It is practical mental and physical discipline towards a specific goal using a specific strategy, with whatever tactical technique makes itself available.

Try it next time you practice.

Breathe in, know where you are going.
Breathe out, already be there.
Lead with the head.

Thanks 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.

jason jordan 06-16-2009 08:31 AM

Re: Lead with the Head
Very nice sensei, Thank you!

SeiserL 06-16-2009 06:42 PM

Re: Lead with the Head
Thank you for taking the time to read it and your kind words.

Susan Dalton 06-17-2009 06:35 AM

Re: Lead with the Head
I led with my head for years. I loved to be up in my head, had no idea how to be anywhere else. But I never connected my constant neck pain (my daggone neck hurt until I was nikyu or ikkyu) to that problem. How interesting!

SeiserL 06-17-2009 03:51 PM

Re: Lead with the Head

Susan Dalton wrote: (Post 232843)
I led with my head for years. I loved to be up in my head, had no idea how to be anywhere else. But I never connected my constant neck pain (my daggone neck hurt until I was nikyu or ikkyu) to that problem. How interesting!


Like training (form, variation, no form), there is a time to be in the head to be mindful or the body, a time to see the conceptual and strategic process, and a time to just do it.

Lee would say that at first a punch is just a punch (you wing it). Then the punch becomes a science (you break it down and pay attention). In the end, a punch is just a punch (but this time its very different).

We also talk about the 4 levels of competence. The first is unconscious incompetence: it doesn't work, but you don't know it. Second is conscious incompetence: it doesn't work and you know it doesn't work. Third is conscious competence: it works when you pay attention. Fourth, it just works and you become aware of something else that needs you attention.

Thanks for taking the time to read and respond.

Rei, Domo.

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