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Sleight of Hand, Sleight of Mind
Sleight of Hand, Sleight of Mind
by Lynn Seiser
Sleight of Hand, Sleight of Mind

Breath in, sleight of hand
Breath out, sleight of mind
A slight change in one creates a sleight of change in the other

I was asked when in the execution of a technique that I took balance. I smiled and said, before they touch me.

In the study of body language, the hands are the tools by which we reach out to the world and grasp a hold of it. How we hold them communicates our intention. If someone comes towards you with their hands clenched in a fist, we usually think their intention is to attack, and we either defend or launch our own intercepting attack. If someone is backing away from us with their hands held fingers up and palms facing forward towards us, we usually think that their intention is defensive, and we respond by back off or launching into a chase mentality and close to finish the fight. If someone comfortably stands in a neutral stance with their hand held out as if to offer a hand to shake, we usually think that their intention is friendly, and we often reciprocate with our own hand to shake. If someone just stands with their arms and hands relaxed, we usually don't know what to think because they have communicated no intention positive or negative, there is no "go" signal, and we often just stand there wondering what to do and doing nothing. These are examples of how a slight movement of hand can lead to a sleight of change in the mind.

When someone reached out (or strikes out) at us, there is an anticipated point of contact. There is an anticipated distance that is bridged before the hands touch the body, a concept of both time and space. The mind actually anticipates this and uses it be maintain balance. As long as it meets the intended support or resistance, stability, equilibrium, and balance is maintain in both body and mind. But, what would happen is it wasn't there? What would happen if when someone reaches out to us we initiated and intercepted the hand slightly before the anticipated point and time of contact? What would happen if just before contact was made, we actually moved our hand further away? Again, a slight movement of the hands can create a sleight of change in the mind.

While we often practice and train the techniques of Aikido initially as a static art, standing the in a prearranged agreement, later we need to become more fluid. We move before physical connection or contact is made. Some more advanced practitioners may suggest that as soon as the eyes make contact there is a psychological connection (some may describe it in kinesthetic or energetic terms) that allows us to lead the mind. A smile or a nod or the head can communicate at a distance just as the hands did in the previous example. If we accept that energy follows the focus and intention of the mind, it is easy to see that a well disciplined mind can actually influence others through subtle body language.

In the prewar days of Aiki-Budo, it is told that the martial applications of Aikido (rich in its roots from Daito-ryu Aiki-jujutsu) were still present. This presence was both physical and mental. Strikes are referred to as atemi. Atemi is used for a variety of applications. The first of course is striking or attacking the body. This can be the approaching strike of an offensive attack or a defensive counterstrike. Originally, actual contact and damage was encouraged. When you look into someone's eyes and look at their hands you can sense their intention by simply reading their body language. Most of the time people are very obvious. Other times they are more subtle. The sooner one detects these sleights of hand and mind; the sooner one can react and respond appropriately. Responding subtly to subtle clues in timing and distancing, posture and positioning makes Aikido look like magic or a fake.

Now when we practice Aikido we often forget about the martial application and enter into an artificial choreographed pre-arrangement. For initial training this is a wise decision which allows us to practice safely while slowly and voluntarily re-conditioning our body's and mind's neuro-pathways. One of my favorite pictures is of a hand grab in which the Aikido practitioner rotates the arms so the palms are up and the fingers pointed out. You can see the relaxation, the weight on the underside, the extension, and the connection to the center. What isn't shown is how that slight rotation of the arms in one person changed the structure and alignment of the other person. When there is connectedness, a slight change in one creates a sleight of change in the other.

This concept of sleight/slight of mind and body works outside the Dojo as well as it does in training on the mat. Relax the mind and the body relaxes. Relax the body and the mind relaxes. Practice acceptance and appreciation and it may be reciprocated. What you want to receive give, and give it first. A slight change of mind and body in one creates a sleight of change in all those connected.

Breath in, sleight of hand
Breath out, sleight of mind
A slight change in one creates a sleight of change in the other

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.
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Old 07-22-2010, 09:41 PM   #2
crbateman's Avatar
Location: Orlando, FL
Join Date: Apr 2004
Posts: 1,502
Re: Sleight of Hand, Sleight of Mind

Good article, Lynn-san... I know tai-chi practitioners who have the same problems staying mindful of the martial aspects of their art. A certain amount of mental focus is doubtless necessary to do so, be it tai-chi or aikido.

Thanks, as always, for sharing your thoughts.
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Old 07-23-2010, 06:44 AM   #3
SeiserL's Avatar
Location: Florida Gulf coast
Join Date: Jun 2000
Posts: 3,902
Re: Sleight of Hand, Sleight of Mind

Clark Bateman wrote: View Post
I know tai-chi practitioners who have the same problems staying mindful of the martial aspects of their art. A certain amount of mental focus is doubtless necessary to do so, be it tai-chi or aikido.
Yes agreed.
We bill it as a martial art but seldom train like it is.
The body follows the head and Ki follows focus (always aim through the center to a balance point).
Like so many things, a slight change in intent makes a big change in behavior.
Thanks for reading, responding, and the kind words.
Rei, Domo.

Lynn Seiser PhD
Yondan Aikido & FMA/JKD
We do not rise to the level of our expectations, but fall to the level of our training. Train well. KWATZ!
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