Breathe in, internal personal space.
Breathe out, external personal space.
Maai is usually simply translated as distance. It is often thought of as the distance, in feet or inches, needed to make a technique effective. It is the space between people. So, how do we create that space and how do we make it effective?
While many people like to work from the outside in, I like to work from the inside out. I also like to work from the big picture to the little rather than the little picture to the big. It is like doing a jig-saw puzzle. The most important piece is the picture on the cover because it lets you see where the little pieces fit.
Personal space is consciously a kinesthetic feeling, a visceral reaction to physical space and proximity. When someone gets too close, it scares us and we push them away. When they get too far away, it scares us and we pull them back in closer. At least until they get too close again. Most people know their personal space through fear. Even a loved one can get too close. We fear enmeshment, feel suffocated, panic, and reject them. Or, they get too far away, we fear abandonment, feel loss, panic, and smother or suffocate them. This dance can go on forever, but never productively. Anything that is fear based can only be destructive. Anything that is love based can only be constructive. The wisdom in serenity knows the difference.
Personal space is not just physical, it is also psychological. In fact, sequentially, to find the external personal space, one must first find the internal personal space. The more we are filled up with our own personal learned ego identity, the more internal space we need. This is very common in western psychology. We take everything personally and think everything (including external reality) should be the way we internally think they should be. And if for some odd reason, the external reality does not match the internal fantasy, our task is the make the external world be the way we think it should be. And we wonder why we create so much resistance. Wouldn't it be easier, more effective, and more efficient to change our internal personal space so that it doesn't take up so much room? So instead of being all full of ourselves, perhaps it would be wiser to empty more of ourselves. The more ego you have, the more depression and anxiety you have because it is still all about you. The less ego you have, the more you have the capacity to be open to others and the situation.
So first, let us take a deep breath, relax, and be mindful of how full of ourselves we are. Let us bring our awareness to how much space, time, and energy it takes to require so much internal personal space. If we think about it, our most creative and intimate times are when we are full with the activity or the other person. Our most stuck and alienated times are when we think its all about us. Become aware of what you really want in life. How much internal personal space is really required? Make your internal personal space congruent to what you want in your future. Let your internal personal space expand, contract, and disappear.
By changing our internal personal space, we become less fear based. The less fear based we are, the less external personal space we need. The less we reject others. Don't get me wrong, there are predators and bad-guys out there that you will want to keep at a distance. But predators and bad-guys are drawn to internally focused fear based victims. Fear puts them in control. They don't like people who are externally aware and willing to engage. Wisdom, not aggression, becomes our shield.
We often joke about being a society of mostly sheep and a few wolves. Watch a nature show and you will see that the predators will never select the strongest in the herd. They always aim for the isolated, the weak, and the fearful. To them, the meek will not inherit the earth, they simply become easier targets. Seldom do we talk about and honor the sheep dog who thinks little of himself yet protects the sheep by fighting with the wolves. The sheep dog controls the herd by utilizing their fear. The sheep dog controls the wolves, by utilizing their fear. One side will always be afraid in an adversarial situation. Choose them. It's a decision, direction, and discipline to stand watch while no one notices or likes you.
Touch is a very important and powerful issue too. Touch is closely inter-dependent and inter-related to personal space. You can be touched emotionally, psychologically, and cognitively without any physical touch. Just the thought of someone or some situation can bring up strong feelings and reactions, both positive and negative. You can be touched physically, and it will access and remind you of all your past experiences of being touched. How we react/respond to physical touch is determine by our internal and external need for personal space. Most of these boundary issues were taught to us early in life. Once on automatic pilot we seldom question if they are necessary or appropriate for today's situation. Yes, it is possible to change our personal space. It is possible to expand it, contract it, or let it disappear.
How does this apply to Aikido practice?
Please remember that Aikido is often referred to as the art of body and mind harmony, or unification. Yet seldom do we talk about, much less train, the actual mental component. Yet your need for personal space will determine your conform level on entering and blending with others. The old timers say you tell a lot about a person by the way wear their Gi, walk to the mat, and bow in. Many Dojos have a sign that requests people leave their personal problems outside when they enter. It's up to you if you pick them back up on the way out.
Aikido is also often thought of as a spiritual practice. The more we fill our internal personal space with the learned ego identity, the less room there is for spirit. The more we extend our external personal space, the more we exclude and push others away. Spirituality is inclusive.
The first is to understand and accept that the more internal personal space you have or need, the more internally focused and obsessed one is, and the more vulnerable. If you have or need a lot of internal personal space, begin by visualizing just how big it is. Some find that even though it is internal, this internal representation extends far beyond their personal physical boundaries. Now let any preexisting imaginary representation of internal personal space expand, contract, and disappear.
Next is to understand and accept your perception of external personal space. Feel how much distance (Maai) is comfortable and at what point you become fear based reactionary or confidence based responsive. Some people wait to long and react out of their startle response, if they react at all. Others initiate and intercept too soon, believing they sense an intent to attack, and become aggressive and hostile themselves. Let any preexisting imaginary representation of external personal space expand, contract, and disappear.
I often have people do an Irimi-Tenkan blending exercise. The exercise is done in pairs. The footwork in an alternating 180-degree and 90-degree Tenkan pattern. I ask them to become aware of their connectedness through their eye-contact (Metsuke), their shoulders and hips, their center. Most importantly, I ask them to visualize a sense of internal personal space getting smaller and finally disappearing, while they extend and expand their external personal space to include the other person. Try inviting and including them into your circular spiraling personal space. In a short period of time, your movements will synchronize and harmonize. The slightest movement in one naturally creates a corresponding movement in the other.
Now apply this connection of personal space to the application and execution of any Aikido technique. Most people think about doing Aikido techniques as if the point of hand contact becomes the extended external boundary of personal space, excluding their training partner. This creates two opposing circles that only touch on their circumference. Now imagine that your external personal space extends and includes your training partner. Instead of two circles touching, we have one inside the other. Relax and breathe. Extend your external personal space, your external sphere of influence.
Aikido, as a tool, can help one find and lose them self. As your internal personal space contracts and disappears, let your external personal space expand, extend, and include others. Instead of thinking about the "I", let your mind and heart open to include the "we". Practice this awareness with mindfulness in and outside the Dojo in all you do.
Breathe in, internal personal space.
Breathe out, external personal space.
Thanks for listening, for the opportunity to be of service, and for sharing the journey. Now get back to training. KWATZ!