The eyes meet, metsuke
Capture the spine
Move the center
I tend to write mostly about things mental. It is what I know best. I also know that I tend to lead with my head. In other words, if I cannot get my head around it, I have trouble getting my body to do it. So understanding may not be important to some people, but it is to me. If I want to find my way around, I often consult a map. The map is in our mind. The mind is in the head. The head houses the brain that is the top of the central nervous system. The central nervous system's main route of delivery is the spine. Capture the spine. Connecting the dots is also important to me.
Human beings have an interesting posture. We stand up straight, vertically, erect. No other species seems to do this. If we did evolve parallel to or from apes/monkeys, that had to be a tough transformation. We keep our balance over our two feet. Imagine a chair with only two legs. It falls over. Now a tricycle stands up by itself, but a bicycle doesn't. It falls over. So do we. We are in an almost constant state of unbalance.
The center of our balancing act is the spine. The spine is the axis of the gyroscopic centrifugal and centripetal force that allows the body to continually adjust and re-adjust for balance. It coils and uncoils in circular/spherical motions. I usually talk about wherever the head goes the body follows. This time I am suggesting that wherever the spine goes the body follows.
What do I mean when I say, capture the spine? Like so many things in Aikido, it is easier to explain after you experience/feel it. So try a few experiments. The common denominator of these experiment experiences will be the lesson learned.
The first experiment is simple and solo. Stand tall. Feel the forces of gravity coming straight down the crown of your head, into and through your spine, and directly into the ground. Let your skeletal alignment be your support. Keep your feet anchored. Keep your spine straight, don't bend over. Now, lean forward until you feel your balance being taken. Then lean backwards. Then side to side. It doesn't take much movement in any direction before balance is lost.
Next, get a partner. Ask uke to grab your wrist in usual gakku-hanmi or ai-hanmi at about waist height with hands directly in front of the center.. Leave the uke standing upright. Ask uke to resist. Attempt to move the arm. Difficult.
Now slightly move inward toward uke's center from the hip. Allow the kinetic linking to connect through the skeletal structure and alignment until you feel the lower spine. This moves the spine slight off center, leaning the body slightly backwards. With this active connection, move the arm again. Easy.
Next, take the original position, but this time, move your hips backwards slightly until your bodyweight extends uke's arm forward. Again, make the kinetic linkage by stretching the connecting joints and tissues. As you withdraw feel/connect to the spine and move it slightly off the center balance point. Now move the arm. Easy again.
Stay relaxed and feel the subtle connection and movement. Aim both your focused mental intent and your hips, almost unperceived, through the spinal alignment towards a kuzushi balance point. Keep it subtle and simply suggest that they are falling by capturing and directing the spine. They will begin to lose balance because their center, at the base of their spine, is moving and falling. A variation is to initiate a slight movement inward that connects and captures the spine, sequentially followed sequentially by the suggestion outward in a subtle wave motion. Forward then back, back then forward, left then right, or right then left. All movement originates in the hips/center, the responding whiplash effect appears like magic.
This is the subtle beginning of capturing the spine. Instead of moving from the point of physical contact (the wrist), move so you can feel the connecting (through the structural alignment and linkage) of your center and theirs. With the hand, elbows, and hips aligned, the slightest movement of your spine (coiling and uncoiling) will effect uke's spine. The hand may be where you connect, but the effect comes from the lower spine.
By focusing your technique's execution towards capturing the spine, you capture and effect the central nervous system. While they focus on their hand, their spine fails them and falls away, taking their stability physically and mentally.
When you enter, capture the spine taking balance. When you blend, capture the spine taking balance. When you throw, capture the spine taking balance.
Thanks for listening, for the opportunity to be of service, and for sharing the journey. Now get back to training. KWATZ!
Lynn Seiser (b. 1950 Pontiac, Michigan), Ph.D. has been a perpetual student of martial arts, CQC/H2H, FMA/JKD, and other fighting systems for 40 years. He currently holds the rank of Sandan (3rd degree Black Belt) in Tenshinkai Aikido under Sensei Dang Thong Phong at the Westminster Aikikai Dojo in Southern California. He is the co-author, with Phong Sensei, of Aikido Basics (2003), Advanced Aikido (2006), and Aikido Weapons Techniques (2006) for Tuttle Publishing. His martial art articles have appeared in Black Belt Magazine, Aikido Today Magazine, and Martial Arts and Combat Sports Magazine. He is the founder of Aiki-Solutions and IdentityTherapy and is an internationally respected psychotherapist in the clinical treatment of offenders and victims of violence, trauma, abuse, and addiction. He currently lives in Marietta, GA and trains at Roswell Budokan.