People can spend years training and still not progress beyond a certain point. They cannot seem to develop real “aiki” power and begin to assume that their limitations are those of the art itself. A good starting point begins with a honest look at how we train. We are seeking to train our bodies to respond to force in a manner different than how most people respond. Our bodies work through a complementary muscle system in which one set of muscles controls extension, while the other set of muscles controls the contraction of a certain body group (eg. limb). This dynamic equilibrium that is maintained is based upon a model of complementary tension. For example, in order to hold your arm up when someone is pushing down on it, we typically push up into the force, thereby maintaining a dynamic equilibrium of tension. The “aiki” model that we are trying to build within ourselves requires that we essentially “hard-wire” another way of dealing with tension/force.
The “re-programming” of our bodies is a very difficult task. We first have to develop an awareness of how our bodies are responding to force and tension. With this awareness, we can establish “body paths” which allow the force to pass through us, uncontested by intentional, responsive, muscle contractions. When this state occurs, we are able to move and redirect the incoming force, aka”waza”. When we are learning waza, we should practice at a speed (attack and technique) that allows are bodies to operate in a relatively successful manner. If we have a good sense of awareness of what is happening inside our bodies, we will know when we are moving beyond what we are capable of adequately handling. Many people respond to problems in executing techniques by moving faster and exerting more reciprocal force. This pattern only serves to reinforce our establish body patterns of dealing with force, making it actually harder to change what we are doing, rather than making it easier.
We should endeavor to always seek to move forward in our training. That means moving from static grabs, to dynamic grabs, to strikes, to dynamic approaches…. As soon as we hit the proverbial wall of failure, step back in the speed of the practice so that you can gain self-awareness as to where and why failure is occurring and then practice at a pace where the body is successful in the “aiki” execution of a technique. This is a long process, which involves discovering areas of body failure where we discover AFTER we fix a problem. The interesting aspect of this type of training is that you gain a remarkable awareness of what is going inside of you and the uke.
I would like students to focus in on the pace of their practice this week. See if you cannot use the speed of practice as an intentional learning tool.
Marc Abrams Sensei
(Original blog post may be found here