I was training last night, and was again struck by how impatient I've become with beginners and especially advanced students who insist on using their arms all the time.
Even when going slowly, being soft, or "using ki," the use of the arms as tori is frequently just plain wrong.
We are so often told to relax, and that more relaxation is better. But we are specifically enjoined to not let our arms be limp. This has us forever aiming at some indefinable zone of maximum relaxation but not exactly, not really, not totally relaxed.
This is wrong.
If someone is holding your arms and you need to change your body position, let your arms go limp. If you have any force or tension or "ki" in your arms at all, beyond their inherent structural mass, you will run into your own arms when you try to move long before you run into your partner.
How can we know? If your movement causes any increase in pressure that you feel in your own body, you're running into yourself. If you feel an increase in pressure at the point where your partner is holding you, yes, you're running into them at that point -- but check the rest of your body and notice that there is also an increase of pressure in your shoulder. Or your hips. That's you running into you.
Let your arms go limp. Really. Nowadays I watch classes and I see students and instructors alike struggling to master this or that technique, and talking about the subtleties required to make the technique work, and before you know it, there is an explosion of the number of micro-techniques involved to make the technique work. Complexity ensues.
Let your arms go limp and your partner will take care of the alignment of forces. You don't have to be the one to do it all. When your arms are limp you can move your body freely into any available empty space, so long as you are not moving your body away and creating tension as the arms are pulled with you.
I believe it was Chuck Clark who said that arms are connectors, not affecters. This is profound wisdom. Learn this.
Of course, your arms should not be absolutely limp absolutely all the time. I'm not suggesting you'd be better off with diplegia. You want to be free to move your arms under your own volition. But the key word here is freedom. When your arms are secured by your partner, your freedom is restricted. The attacker wants to limit your freedom of movement, possibly to connect with and manipulate the rest of your structure. With limp arms that connection is favorably diminished.
But wait -- don't we want to maintain our connection with our partners? Isn't that key to what aikido is really about?
The answer is yes, of course. But our connections are not just structural, they are also energetic, and mental. Obstructions and blockages may feel like connections simply because there really is something to feel. In a flow zone, there is less to feel. We find instead what Larry Novick has termed "kinesthetic invisibility." So lose the obstructions and gain a deeper kind of connection.
By doing this I can almost always find my way through any particular form or kata or what most people call "technique." However, by doing this I also find more quickly when a given "technique" is sub-optimal and when a better pattern can naturally emerge. Staying strictly "within form" is fascinating and at times rewarding once the puzzle is solved, but I find myself increasingly less interested in staying "within form." Learning to move a truly recalcitrant uke can sometimes feel miraculous, but why defend yourself from someone who isn't attacking? If they're stubbornly refusing to move, it should be clear by now that you're the one attacking them. I'm not saying this is always wrong, but it is usually a path that leads to running into yourself. Repeatedly.
So I've come a long way and I run into myself much less often on the mat than I used to. Off the mat, I'm still infinitely creative about setting up cognitive and emotional structures that feel substantive, but are actually separating me from my goals, my relationships, from reality, and from myself.
And that's the thing. A collision is not a connection.
I run into myself.
I run into myself a lot. It's time this changed, and I need partners and a mat and guides to learn the way. I know the world is my dojo, but still I need some formal way to explore the Way.
Until then, I can let the problem suggest the solution, as do all good ukes. If I'm running into myself, maybe I should stop running. I'm always yelling at my students to slow down. Maybe eventually I can learn to slow my own thinking and feeling so the collisions become softer and softer bumps.
If I'm running into myself maybe I can learn to get really deeply into myself without hiding inside myself. Maybe.
I need to learn how to make parts of my brain go limp. Not absolutely limp absolutely always, but with increasing softness that does not feel like a complete dissolution of being.
We are all of us always substantive and spacious. By only focusing on the substantive, we become ossified and closed. By only focusing on the spaciousness, we become vacuous and insubstantial. We need to be a kind of living architecture, with solid foundations and supports and coverings and enclosures, all of which foster spaciousness and avenues of flow. We need to work hard and think hard and take on the hard problems of our lives. But we also need to work soft and think soft, to take in the soft beauty and caring of the world.
We need to disentangle ourselves and de-clutter our homes and our schedules and our hearts and minds. We need more authentic encounters with ourselves and less harmful grinding.
We need to meet ourselves gently and enthusiastically, and to stop running into ourselves haphazardly.
The resistance we experience in our world is always mirrored, often amplified within ourselves. Releasing the resistance within yourself does not always fix the world. But it does fix yourself and opens a path to freedom without capitulation.
Give up the arms race. Disarm yourself, and be a disarming individual.
Still Point Aikido Systems
Austin TX, USA