Sensitivity should be an important skill to develop in Aikido. I am not talking about the new-age sensitivity where everything should be dandy; all is good and equal and harmony thwarts all violence. That kind of sensitivity sounds good, but does not add to a necessary awareness of reality, which is an important skill to have when confronted with a conflict. The sensitivity that I am talking about is an acute awareness of yourself in your world. The following story is a true one and one that clearly illustrates that kind of sensitivity that I am talking about.
Yagyu Munenori, headmaster of the Yagyu Shinkage school of swordsmanship was viewing the cherry blossoms in the garden of his villa in the Azabu section of Edo. His page was standing behind him holding his sword in an upright position. Munenori suddenly turned around looking for something. He then retraced his path back to his drawing room. He sat down with his back toward the posts of the tokonoma and began to engage in intense contemplation. After some time, a page asked him what was wrong. Munenori recounted his experience of looking peacefully at the cherry blossoms when suddenly he felt a sense of danger. He looked around and could find no enemy and he became very concerned that he was hallucinating. He considered this an inexcusable lapse for a samurai to have had such a misperception. One of his pages suddenly prostrated himself on the ground in front of Munenori and pleaded for forgiveness. He told Munenori that when he was observing him watching he cherry blossoms, it occured to him that he would be able to strike his master with a sword without him being able to respond in time. This brought a smile to Munenori’s face, for even in his middle sixties, his sensitivity was still very acute.
Situational awareness is a critical part of accurately assessing and responding to events and interactions in our lives. Maintaining a calm center is a crucial component. A simple approach is to teach one’s self to exhale when startled and/or facing an approaching attack. Increasing the intensity of attacks and using multiple attackers are some other ways of helping to maintain a calm focus during this critical time. This is not an easy task to achieve and takes diligent and consistent practice be able to remain calm if someone tried to really to assault you.
We only have a limited about of psychological energy at our disposal at any one point in time. If we use a lot of this energy toward dealing with our thoughts and feelings, then we have that much less to use in attending toward the outside world. It is important for us to place a calm intent all around us, rather than a narrow, singular focus. Beginners frequently develop tunnel vision toward the perceived contact point of an attack. We can focus our training toward preventing this dangerous tendency. The attacker perceives this tunnel vision and uses it to direct an attack away from the focused attention. We can have our ukes try and exploit this opening if we create it. When you are taking in everything, the attacker does not feel the presence of openings.
Connecting with the uke happens at an energetic and physical level. There are plenty of people who choose not to believe in a connection at an energetic level. Those same people would also have a hard time trying to deny that communication is made up of verbal and non-verbal components. People walk into a place and get a “vibe” about the environment. If people choose to not utilize the nonverbal component of interacting with another person, then they are choosing to not utilize a handy tool. We can work on increasing our level of sensitivity. Systema has an impressive array of training methods to accomplish this. I employ a number of approaches in teaching to help increase students’ sensitivity at a energetic level.
Connecting at a physical level can also impact the degree of sensitivity that we can use in connecting and understanding what someone is trying to do to you. Fred Little Sensei had a wonderful way of describing a way of making physical contact akin to handling an infant. A “light” touch does stimulate more sensory and tactile nerves than a “death grip.” Sustaining contact with a person in a sensitive and connected manner deprives the attacker the feedback typically used to effectively continue attacking.
We will spend this month exploring how sensitivity can increase the effectiveness of our Aikido. This applies to our training as both uke and nage. We will work hard at increasing our level of sensitivity and explore the impact on our ability to perform techniques and take ukemi.
Marc Abrams Sensei
(Original blog post may be found here