Dojo: Senshin Center
Location: Dojo Address: 193 Turnpike Rd. Santa Barbara, CA.
Join Date: Feb 2002
Re: Deepening Our Training
Hi Michael and All,
Michael, from your two options, your second one is probably the closest to what I am trying to talk about (i.e. "…in the sense of the beginner starting Aikido where every technique feels forced and artificial until you finally start to learn to move from your center and find the proper position"). It is just that I would like to understand this subjective feeling of "forced" or "artificial" from more than just the experience of seeking technical maturity. I am also referring to this feeling from the experience of seeking spiritual maturity. If you will allow me that extension of this idea, I would like to expand a bit more on what I am thinking by using the process of technical maturity as an analogy.
When we first come to training, much of our person is very "out of synch" with the tactic of Aiki. This is because much of our person is more in tune with other ways of being. These other ways of being are more supported by Modernity (among other things), and thus these ways of being are what we have practiced mostly throughout our lives. That is to say, by the time we attempt to commence our Aiki study and practice, we often have accumulated decades of practice (i.e. reinforcement and repetition) of anti-Aiki ways of being.
These anti-Aiki ways of being often have us technically attempting to push against a push and to pull against a pull. They may also have us retreating against push and submitting against a pull. It all depends upon our demeanor and thus the personal collection of experiences that make up our individual history. In either case, whether we provide the necessary energy to form a clash (as in the first type of reaction) or whether we provide the necessary lack of energy to define a push or a pull (as in the second reaction), we in our anti-Aiki way of being give genesis to the attack against us. We are unable to reconcile the energy, such that neither push nor pull can form itself, etc. Because of this, because of being "attacked," etc., technically, in the first case, we often rely on those muscle groups incorrect to Aiki applications. That is to say, for example, we often incorrectly utilize the topside muscles of our torso (e.g. biceps, shoulders, chest). These muscles are the muscles of repulsion, of clashing, of energy working against energy. They are the muscles of fear, and anxiety. They are the capturing of our mind and breath in the upper part of our body. Alternately, we may opt just to lose or to forfeit our center. This is still a kind of fear or anxiety response, only it is seeking to address the attack through submissiveness.
In either case, we will not perform the Aikido technique correctly when our way of being is still more skilled and practiced at these anti-Aiki ways of being. What will feel natural to us, depending upon our demeanor, is to push and pull with the topside muscles of our torso, or to forfeit our center to the attacker. What will feel unnatural to us, and thus forced, is to seek to not fuel the attack and/or contribute to its manifestation. It will seem completely against our being and thus our sense of reality, for example, to turn when pushed and to enter when pulled (as is often required when Aiki is to be applied). Additionally, we will often not remain calm enough, because we cannot drop our practiced sense of being attacked enough, and thus we will be unable to utilize other muscle groups different from the fear or anxiety-based muscle groups of the topside torso.
To progress technically then, we must at first seek to engage in a practice that comes to us unnaturally -- against our then current natural way of being. Often, this is not as big a deal as it seems to be here. Often, the difference between what is natural and unnatural to ourselves is very small and thus we can equally often fit our natural anti-Aiki applications into the space of the unnatural Aiki-explanations. This is because the intensity of training is often not that high. As such, it is very possible to fit a square peg in a round hole. However, should training progress to higher degrees of force, and/or should it seek to leave the predictable and relatively comfortable confines of Kihon Waza training, the value of Aiki ways of being become much more relative as our anti-Aiki ways of being become much more out of place.
The same can be said for Zen practice -- which has been brought up. A little Zen practice, a little zazen, and the practice is actually quite nice. It feels very light, even relaxing, refreshing, etc. It feels very much like our anti-Aiki ways of being would subjectively understand "natural," "let it be," or "just go with the flow," or "just be in the now," etc. However, up the intensity a bit, do a sesshin (for example), and our anti-Aiki ways of being are pressed into having us experience something so unnatural that it borders on torturous. As such, we wax and wane between the two anxiety responses. We will seek to fight our way through the sits or we will seek to forfeit our center and submit ourselves to the abuse we are experiencing. Because the sits continue, we are pressed into seeing the futility of our only two options. As such, a new way of being opens up to us. However, it will not open up to us until the old ways of being drop off. This "dropping off" of course must happen naturally -- since that is the only way for things to drop off. However, before it goes, the subjective feeling of it loosening is most uncomfortable. Because we often define what is natural to us by how comfortable it is (i.e. by how much it agrees with us), the beginning of this natural process can seem most unnatural.
With the usual caveat of "make sure you are in a safe place," the ancient spiritual masters of every tradition have always encouraged their disciples to first seek out the uncomfortable experience -- to use this "unnaturalness" as a kind of guidepost - to make it the start of their reflections and investigations -- to not see it a priori as a sign that one is heading down the wrong direction. This is the point I have attempted to explain above.
Pauliina, I think you are spot on target. Thanks for that post.