Lesson 4 :: Directed Action
If you've spent time with the lessons leading up to this one, you should have acquired two main skills: on one side of the equation, you should be becoming better at flowing with force that's directed at you. I call this "energy surfing." On the other side of the equation, you should be skilled at applying force to your partner in a way that is relentless yet safe and productive.
If all has gone well, you will have gained good experience and understanding of the principle of non-resistance. Non-resistance is common in many martial arts, and there are many methods for exploring it. For anyone new to the concept, it must be emphasized that non-resistance is not the same as simply "not resisting," Rather, it is a special kind of engaging with force that requires neither confrontation nor capitulation. It is "not resisting," but with a purpose.
Lesson 3 will have given you and your partners a view of non-resistance from the inside and the outside. You should now have a good feel for what it is like to have a persistent force directed upon you or into you, and to understand what changes you must make with your own structure to allow that force to freely release. You should also know what it feels like to apply force to something that never pushes back or creates tension.
In the current lesson, activity will proceed as before. Partners will engage one another with an agreement to stay within the bounds of specified roles (although taking turns is expected). One partner agrees to persistently assert their force onto the other by pushing, pulling, or twisting. (Note that striking is simply an accelerated form of pushing, and can be introduced at any time it is mutually agreeable.) The job of this partner is to attempt to increase the pressure within the system, within the bounds of safety, respect, and productive training. The other partner agrees to always move with the force, to create openings that allow the force safe and free passage, and to avoid movements and postures that allow the pressure to build within the system. For this partner, corrective measures are always directed toward the self, and the goals is not to control the other but to keep returning to a state of "normalized" posture.
The difference in this lesson is that the partner receiving the force is encouraged to explore opportunities for assertive action. In the beginning, we learned by being almost completely passively compliant with force in order to actively observe its effects. We then proceeded to become more actively receptive of the force such that the force itself tends toward restoration of equilibrium. Now we want to examine a much fuller range of freedom of action that still does not increase the pressure or conflict within the system.
In order to be the target of force, all other elements in the environment have to be excluded as force destinations. Many paths may be taken, and many forms of expression can unfold in the delivery of force, but ultimately the target must be the final destination. This greatly limits the freedom of an attacker.
Conversely, the target has tremendous freedom of movement in any direction that is not a threat or an obstacle. Simply put, there is more freedom in being the target than in being the assailant, provided sufficient situational awareness and tactical responsiveness.
So in this exercise, the recipient will actively move into any open and available space. Arms may be extended in and around the body of the partner, so long as no pressure is applied toward directing the partner. Touching the partner is in fact encouraged, but for the sake of joining with their energy. Such joining will of course necessitate the application of small pressure, but this is qualitatively very different from pressures applied for the sake of manipulation.
If you are the recipient, it is your job to create openings that allow safe passage for the body and any part of the body of your partner. However, unlike in previous lessons, you are now expected to seek openings where you may move your body and your own body parts wherever there is safe passage and freedom of movement.
Consider an analogy: There are two magnets with special properties. The first magnet is attracted to the second, and will overcome obstacles and reduce distance in order to bind itself to the other. The second magnet is neither attracted to nor repulsed by the first. Rather, the second magnet is attracted to anything that is not the first magnet. The resulting dynamic is that the first magnet will always be moving into the second. However the second magnet will always move away from the first magnet, or else will align its course so they are moving together. Combined trajectories might look chaotic, but ultimately should reliably converge in a conjoined pathway of stressless flow or equilibrium.
As the recipient, you must be completely aware of and attuned to the presence of your partner. However, the focus of your attention should be primarily aimed at the field of opportunity that surrounds you and your partner. In other words, you have to learn to look at empty space and see it as that which is most important. You may go anywhere, so long as you avoid collisions.
In the urgency of a combat situation -- even a simulated one -- this can seem very difficult and even counterintuitive. Our senses and reflexes tell us to do whatever is necessary to make it stop, to apply force to overcome the threat. However, in our daily experience, we do this sort of thing all the time and really don't think much about it. When we drive, ride a bicycle, or walk through crowds, we must be aware of all the obstructions and things which cross our paths, but we aim towards empty space. We only go where there is freedom to go, and we seek to avoid letting other things crash into us. The principles of good self-defense are no more complicated than that, but the practice requires much rehearsal, repetition, and diligence.
When it is your turn to play the role of the aggressor, you must do so single-mindedly. It is your job to fixate on increasing the pressure within the system, always within appropriate bounds for training. This means that if you can successfully strike your partner (safely), you should. If you can apply joint locks and throws and pins (safely), you should. However, it also means that if you are playing properly and fairly, you will be going slowly but acting as if you are going fast. If you commit your energy into a target that becomes a vacuum, you should fall into it just as if you were going full speed. This does not mean that you should fake your falls, but if it's reasonable that full speed and full commitment would have resulted in being overbalanced, then you should indeed take the fall, recover, and renew the pursuit of your target.
In summary, we are now learning about directed non-resistance. Directed non-resistance is very different from simple non-resistance. Non-resistance is going with the flow. Directed nonresistance is going with the flow with a rudder and motor. We are no longer passive observers, and though we are still being fully receptive, we now direct our will and our action into an expanding field of freedom and opportunity. We may unite with the attacker, or not. In uniting with the attacker, we move with whatever movement they initiate and direct, but we keep moving ourselves into freedom. So long as we are the target, we direct the movements of the system without having to directly enforce movement on the attacker. There is no need to throw or pin. The experience of directed non-resistance must be encountered from within and from without, as recipient and aggressor, as empty and as solid.
These four short lessons represent a complete system for learning aikido. Time must be spent at each stage, and it's important to not move too quickly into the next until understanding is gained at the present. At the same time, neither should one linger indefinitely at one stage before trying out the next to experiment and see what is to be gained. Also, we should return frequently to practice the basic concepts. We do not ever graduate from even the beginning stages -- we must keep returning to the basic understanding of what it means to be balanced, and how the distribution of pressure informs all our decisions and action.
Each stage leads logically and inevitably to the next. With the current lesson the cycle is complete. Much remains to be examined and discussed, but all lessons in the practicum henceforth will be explication and example.
Still Point Aikido Systems
Austin TX, USA