Dojo: Senshin Center
Location: Dojo Address: 193 Turnpike Rd. Santa Barbara, CA.
Join Date: Feb 2002
Re: Where's the hara?
Thanks for reply. Very nice points. Thanks for sharing.
Here's what you got me thinking...
First, please let me outright say that this is by no means the only way that one can think of center. It is just a tool -- one of many I imagine. One may find it useful, one may not. Moreover, I think the utility of one's concept of center will always have a lot to do with what wants center to be, etc. So, for me, there's a lot of room for variation on this type of stuff. I am just trying to take advantage of some of that room. I do not think I would want to ever make more of it than that.
That said… I guess it is like this for me…
All of this stems from the direct experience of witnessing aikidoka who appear to be quite skilled while performing kihon waza and/or institutionally approved types of jiyu waza or randori, completely fall apart under what in comparison has to be called truer spontaneous conditions. Basic things go right out the window -- things as basic as the capacity to clear the line of the attack, or enter into shikaku (especially when it is at the back of the attacker); even things as elementary as tenkan-ashi seem to be beyond the practitioner's access. Undoubtedly then, something as essential and as sophisticated as "center" is also most often absent. Under such conditions, the problem does not seem to be one of "Where is my center?" as much as it is "How do I gain or maintain access to center?" The former question is going to have us looking for places on the body. The latter question is going to have us concerned with those things that prevent us from maintaining and/or gaining access to center. Thus, more than physical location is going to become significant. Naturally, then, we are going to have to simultaneously look for mental, emotional, and spiritual components since these things very often make us lose or have no access to our center.
In my opinion, this is a problem for both the instructor attempting to lead others to true spontaneity with the art, and this is a problem for any student of the art attempting such an accomplishment. I would not say that this problem is universal or even that we should make it universal -- not everyone will or will want to train toward such aims. However, for those that do, the absence of center within spontaneous training environments and the reasons why it becomes absent are significant issues. With these concerns comes dissatisfaction with the usual discourse (e.g. "Put your mind in your center." "Use your center." Etc.). This is because under such training conditions, putting your mind somewhere is not the problem, is not something you are not doing. The problem is that you are putting your mind too many places, that too many things are fettering it. To put your mind in any place, it is quickly realized under such training conditions, is to lose center. We lose center when we put our mind in any place because our mind (and thus our body) becomes captured by the place where we allow our mind to rest. This is basic Takuan stuff but I feel it is still applicable and thus definitely remains insightful. Moreover, within intense spontaneous training conditions, the mind being captured by various places, things, feelings, etc., is readily visible. That is to say, this is a real problem. So maybe there is indeed something to Takuan's caveat when he says, "You should not place your mind within yourself. Bracing the mind in the body is something done only at the inception of training, when one is a beginner."
If we look at the example of desire (i.e. too close) and aversion (i.e. too far away), and note how these things may very well be related to the egocentric or the anti-center of having to address our own fears and insecurities and thus being reduced to acting or reacting in a habitual manner, we can see that it is our mind (emotionally, psychologically, spiritually, etc.) that is being captured by our fears or our insecurities. The thing with spontaneous training environments, in contrast to Kihon Waza training environments, is that they have a way of reducing us very quickly to our most habitual selves. When that happens we lose "center" because we are allowing our mind to "rest" in our emotions or in our subjective and habitual experience of reality (i.e. "I'm afraid, must smother" or "I'm afraid, must retreat or keep at bay"). When our mind (and thus our body) rests in the anti-center, for whatever reason, we lose touch with our uke, with the engagement, and even with ourselves. But what does it mean to be in touch with ourselves, with the engagement, and with uke? What does that mean in terms of center? Answering this, I feel, will bring us to this notion of interdependency and why we might gain more by understanding center as more akin to emptiness than to an anatomical position on or in the body.
When we ourselves are centered, it is assumed that we are centered in relation to our own body AND in relation to what action we are performing or attempting. This is what makes our sense of center practical (i.e. able to be employed under spontaneous conditions). When we understand "center" in this way, we understand that a center-to-center connection with another person warrants that any sense of center must include a notion of being multi-relational and/or harmonious with multiple centers. That is to say, if I am moving in a "centered" fashion in regards to my own body mechanics but my own body mechanics is not in harmony with what my opponent is doing, then my sense of center will quickly falter and become extinct or false the second I engage my attacker. This is a way that we can understand being too close or being too far -- too stuck in desire or too stuck in aversion: our center is out of synch with uke's and the center of the engagement.
However, in relating the center of our being to the center of someone else, because we are addressing the issue of possessing a practical sense of center, we are also relating these centers to the center of a tactical architecture. In the same way as before, when I am not connecting to the center of the tactical architecture, or when I am not using the properly "centered" architecture for how I am opting to relate my center to the center of uke, my center again falters and becomes extinct or false. For example, when I am too close, my center becomes too stressed and my posture may break; when I am too far, I may have to overextend in order to reach my attacker, etc. In the same way, this architectural center relates to the center of the engagement, since the center of the engagement determines the "rightness" of the tactical architecture. Continuing onward, the center of the engagement is itself determined by the center of the universe and/or what we might want to consider the natural laws of the universe. Thus, as an extension of the same reasoning, if I lose one center, I lose them all. If I have only one center, I have none. I must have them all in order to have any of them.
When I do not have my center, when I am not moving in a bio-mechanically efficient manner, I am weak and inefficient and my attacker easily dominates me. When I am moving in a bio-mechanically correct manner but doing so irrelevant to what my attacker is doing, my movement becomes awkward and inefficient and my attacker easily dominates me. When I have my center, and I am relating that center to the center of my attacker, but I am not relating these things to the center of tactical architecture I am opting to employ, my technique becomes forced and inefficient and my attacker easily dominates me. When I have my center, and I am relating it to the center of my attacker and to the center of the tactical architecture I am opting to use, but I am not relating it to the center of the total engagement, my awareness becomes staccato or too narrow and my movement become inefficient and my attacker easily dominates me. When I have my center, and I am relating it to the center of my attacker and to the center of the tactical architecture I am using, and when all of these things are being properly related to the center of the total engagement, but I am out of synch with the center of the Universe, Nature's laws regarding movement, energy, the transference of energy, and even Chance work against me and my movement becomes inefficient and my attacker easily dominates me. In short, I can fall from center nearly anywhere, and when I do, I fall from every center. Moreover, if it the case that my emotional experiences can pull me off center and toward the anti-center of egocentricism, then it is obvious that I will have to drop a great many things like insecurity, fear, anxiousness, etc., in order to remain centered.
In the end, I am suggesting, it is the dropping off of things that will probably lend itself more to having a practical sense of center within spontaneous environments than anything else. If the problem is the abiding mind or the fettered mind, giving such a mind one more thing to locate and/or to think about might be doing the very opposite of what we wish. Alternatively, having fewer things to be fettered with, or more accurately, having more capacity to be unattached to such places, things, emotions, etc., might be the answer. It may be that by losing more we may gain everything.
Just an idea,