Cool! I rarely find it helpful when people tell me to relax, or when I tell other people to do so, so I like this. From what I can see, I think almost no one actually wants to be tense (or to 'use a lot of strength', the other big one) and is deliberately trying to be tense in those moments when people end up telling us to relax - they (we
) mostly just tend to lack (or momentarily lose) the body awareness to sense our own tension in that moment, let alone to really feel in our own body what we DO need to do with our bodies, and to be able to consciously reproduce it.
So saying 'relax' or 'stop muscling it' doesn't actually help the person any, it just adds to the frustration.
My teacher Don O'Bell Sensei used the word "release" rather than "relax." I have further refined that idea because "relax" tends to produce what I would call withdrawn energy
, ki flowing back toward source in the hara. Most people tense up when attacked because their intention produces a flow I call shield energy
because it is meant to withstand or resist attack.
For aikido to take place there must be a flow of ki connecting the partners. In the book Aikido
by Kisshomaru Uyeshiba under the guidance of the founder, in the "Basic Knowledge" section mentions ki no nagare as the "stream of spirit" that connects both partners.
In the same section under its own heading is Chikara No Dashikata
, (Extension of Power), which describes how energy flows from hara to the partner. "Your power should not be inactive, just as standing water becomes stagnant. Rather, your power must be like a stream, flowing the energy from your body through the tips of your fingers, your toes, even from the glitter of your eyes, and going toward the subject."
In our practice, since we don't practice through technique emulation, this is the determining factor of whether aikido will manifest. Tension (shield energy) makes the manifestation of aiki impossible. What works for us, rather than using the word "relax" or even my teacher's word "release," which essentially meant "release tension without withdrawing ki," we say to send our partner flood energy
, which is a flow of ki that is unconstricted by fear or limbic system response to threat.
All flow of ki into action is regulated through intention. For instance, shield energy
is produced by an intention (voluntary or involuntary) to defend. We arrive at this kind of flow we call flood energy
through the embodiment of beneficent intention. Any intention that the uke (or attacker in off the mat applications) benefit from our interaction will produce this positive, powerful flow that fuses with the attack and moves both partners into the spontaneous creation of aikido that may or may not look like what are typically known as aikido techniques.
What this takes is a transcendence of the lower brain, involuntary defense mechanism. In our practice students often "get stuck." Having no prescribed technique to follow, students must instead learn to immediately recognize the intention to defend, voluntary or otherwise, and then shift to a state of beneficent intention. When this state is reached it is like an electric light switch. Things go from being "stuck" to immediate and often unforeseeable aikido paths, and both partners feel resistance instantly dissolve as that path to the mat unfolds.
Often we will use, like mentioned in prior entries to this thread, the idea of giving someone water. This beneficent intention will create the flood of ki necessary to meet uke's fundamental need to connect and create an aiki resolution. In Aikido
this is described as chikara o dasu (extend power).
On the other hand, this is not as easy as it sounds. Often students will use what is described in Aikido
as chikara o ireru (force power), and this manifests in the distinct feeling that nage is trying to make
uke take the water, or to get them to take it in a way that promotes the fall, even though there is an intellectual experience of benevolence. Practitioners easily feel the force in this kind of intention and realize that the true intention is still defense.
When the "giving of water" is understood to be beneficent to uke, that is a genuine desire that this person benefit from our giving the water, not offering water as way of benefitting the nage, the flow immediately transforms the entire interaction and aikido spontaneously, mysteriously manifests.
In this way students get a visceral experience of how the spiritual aspects of this spiritual art manifest in ways that resolve conflict without force or violence. It also makes masakatsu agatsu
literally the operating principle of our aikido. Without transcendence of the lower brain responses (victory over self) our practitioners will see no attacker on the mat.