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Old 06-20-2011, 10:59 AM   #1
Sky
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Learning to Relax

Hello all!

I am new to these forums, and to Aikido. I've had one trial class, and I am excited about continuing. I plan to speak to the Shihan before the next class about this, but I thought perhaps I could help myself some before hand.

I have done a little research, and came up with some very general things. I was hoping someone here could offer something a little more concrete.

Okay, so my problem is that I can not seem to relax while attempting to perform the techniques. I can feel all of my energy bound up in my chest, and a couple of times the uke has commented that it feels like I am "muscling through it", which I have to agree I feel like I am doing.

So, how do you go about relaxing your upper body when getting bound up? I have the urge to grab and overpower the uke, as I have done in previous martial arts/fighting systems. I want to truly experience Aikido and learn to center myself, and although I have only attended one class I can already sense this will be my first major hurdle.

Any advice is much appreciated!
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Old 06-20-2011, 11:36 AM   #2
Dave de Vos
 
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Re: Learning to Relax

Quote:
Sterling Gustin wrote: View Post
Hello all!

I am new to these forums, and to Aikido. I've had one trial class, and I am excited about continuing. I plan to speak to the Shihan before the next class about this, but I thought perhaps I could help myself some before hand.

I have done a little research, and came up with some very general things. I was hoping someone here could offer something a little more concrete.

Okay, so my problem is that I can not seem to relax while attempting to perform the techniques. I can feel all of my energy bound up in my chest, and a couple of times the uke has commented that it feels like I am "muscling through it", which I have to agree I feel like I am doing.

So, how do you go about relaxing your upper body when getting bound up? I have the urge to grab and overpower the uke, as I have done in previous martial arts/fighting systems. I want to truly experience Aikido and learn to center myself, and although I have only attended one class I can already sense this will be my first major hurdle.

Any advice is much appreciated!
I was told the same, over and over, in aikido as well as karate. I just tried to do it, every time. Over time the frequency of sensei and students telling me to relax has dropped. So either I am more relaxed now, or they have lost all hope in getting me to relax and stopped trying.
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Old 06-20-2011, 11:56 AM   #3
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Re: Learning to Relax

Quote:
Sterling Gustin wrote: View Post
Okay, so my problem is that I can not seem to relax while attempting to perform the techniques.
Heh. Statements like this always crack me up, when they come from someone who's just taken their first class. It's a bit like someone who's just taken their very first cooking lesson saying, "I just can't seem to make a souffle right".

There isn't really a mechanical way to relax unless you already have a large degree of voluntary muscle control and body awareness, which very few people have. The way to get to where you can be relaxed in your techniques is for them to become familiar, and you simply won't have that after one class. Let it go, and it will come -- eventually.

When uke tells you not to muscle it, you won't be able to "relax" on command -- but what you can do is slow down, take a deep breath, and be aware of your tendency to try harder (faster, more forcefully) when something doesn't work at first try. That statement from uke can also be a code word that you're hurting uke, or coming close to doing so. Again, that's time to slow down and resist the urge to try and drive through. Don't focus on doing anything -- focus on feeling what's going on. That will lead you in the right direction.
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Old 06-20-2011, 12:03 PM   #4
Sky
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Re: Learning to Relax

Quote:
Mary Malmros wrote: View Post
Heh. Statements like this always crack me up, when they come from someone who's just taken their first class. It's a bit like someone who's just taken their very first cooking lesson saying, "I just can't seem to make a souffle right".

There isn't really a mechanical way to relax unless you already have a large degree of voluntary muscle control and body awareness, which very few people have. The way to get to where you can be relaxed in your techniques is for them to become familiar, and you simply won't have that after one class. Let it go, and it will come -- eventually.

When uke tells you not to muscle it, you won't be able to "relax" on command -- but what you can do is slow down, take a deep breath, and be aware of your tendency to try harder (faster, more forcefully) when something doesn't work at first try. That statement from uke can also be a code word that you're hurting uke, or coming close to doing so. Again, that's time to slow down and resist the urge to try and drive through. Don't focus on doing anything -- focus on feeling what's going on. That will lead you in the right direction.
Okay so there is nothing major I could really be doing right now to prevent this. I will focus on slowing down, breathing deeply, and trying to "feel" it.

I know not to expect any miracles or anything, but I just don't want to get started on the wrong foot, so to speak. Thank you for the responses, and the advice.
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Old 06-20-2011, 12:16 PM   #5
dps
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Re: Learning to Relax

Quote:
Sterling Gustin wrote: View Post
I will focus on slowing down, breathing deeply, and trying to "feel" it.
The way you breathe helps you to relax.

When you inhale don't expand the chest but expand the belly.

Inhale through the nose and exhale through the mouth.

Make your exhale twice as long as you inhale ( inhale count one two, exhale count one two three four).

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=H5H_Qrcmxdg

When uke attacks inhale, when you do the technique exhale throughout the whole technique.

Good Luck
dps
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Old 06-20-2011, 12:16 PM   #6
Shadowfax
 
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Re: Learning to Relax

lol Ive been struggling with this for two years. Let me know if you find a good answer.

What I found does help is to take adee in breath right before the contact and breath out just as I begin to move through the technique. Deep breathing does trigger muscle relaxation to an extent. Also try singing. It is impossible to be tense while singing. Not sure exactly why but I bet it's linked to breathing.A little trick I use when I am teaching a nervous rider who has the same problem. I make them sing nursery rhymes.
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Old 06-20-2011, 12:59 PM   #7
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Re: Learning to Relax

Welcome to Aikido. And welcome to one of the frequently encounterd challenges people experience in the practice of it. As someone who is also something of a newbie I would suggest, but experts are free to correct me, that if you get to class 10-15minutes early, stretch, do some breathing exercises, and do a bit of solo tenkan practice with attention to your breathing as David has described above: you may find that you're better prepared to pair up during class. You might also consider doing a few minutes of seated meditation immediately before the class begins. Some aikidoka find this helpful but you will decide. Enjoy yourself!

Last edited by abraxis : 06-20-2011 at 01:10 PM.
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Old 06-20-2011, 01:06 PM   #8
Sky
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Re: Learning to Relax

Well, thanks for all of the responses.

Glad to know it is a common problem, and that it will improve in time.
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Old 06-20-2011, 01:54 PM   #9
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Re: Learning to Relax

Quote:
Sterling Gustin wrote: View Post
Okay so there is nothing major I could really be doing right now to prevent this. I will focus on slowing down, breathing deeply, and trying to "feel" it.
Yeah -- if you want to get touchy-feely about it, the whole practice is a good exercise in developing a better awareness of how you react when your Plan A gets derailed. The more you practice being aware in that moment, the more you become capable of seeing alternatives when Plan A goes down the toilet. It's a good skill in any martial art, it's really foundational in aikido, and it's pretty damn useful in life, too. So, if it helps, try to change it (at least in your own mind) from "this is frustrating, I can't do it" to "there's a clue dangling in front of me, let me open my senses and see if I can perceive what it's trying to tell me".
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Old 06-20-2011, 06:29 PM   #10
BKK
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Re: Learning to Relax

Quote:
Sterling Gustin wrote: View Post
I know not to expect any miracles or anything, but I just don't want to get started on the wrong foot, so to speak. Thank you for the responses, and the advice.
I think you are pretty much getting started on the same foot as most people...

In one of your other posts you mentioned speaking to the shihan about this... If you are fortunate enough to have a shihan level instructor, you don't need to worry, he or she has seen it all before. You won't be springing any surprises on them.

Brian
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Old 06-20-2011, 06:51 PM   #11
BKK
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Re: Learning to Relax

Quote:
David Skaggs wrote: View Post
The way you breathe helps you to relax.

When you inhale don't expand the chest but expand the belly.

Inhale through the nose and exhale through the mouth.
I agree with this part.

Quote:
David Skaggs wrote: View Post
Make your exhale twice as long as you inhale ( inhale count one two, exhale count one two three four).

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=H5H_Qrcmxdg

When uke attacks inhale, when you do the technique exhale throughout the whole technique.

Good Luck
dps
I don't agree with this part.

Breathing can help you relax, but relaxing should not be dependent on exhaling. You should be able to relax and move during any part of the breath cycle. Artificially trying to complete a technique during one exhale could end up with the opposite result, that is, making you more tense.

With that said, it does help to do certain things during the exhale. A kiai, for example works best exhaling. But you should be relaxed before, during, and after, regardless of where you are in the breath cycle.

It's fine to have a fixed ratio of time for the inhale and exhale if you are meditating or walking at a fixed speed and incline, or something like that, but otherwise it can and should vary to meet the demands of what you are doing.

Brian
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Old 06-20-2011, 07:11 PM   #12
danielajames
 
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Re: Learning to Relax

Actually it is almost impossible to relax when learning a new skill. The cognitive brain needs to shut down as many variables as possible so it can focus on the very few things it is able to control. Stiffening up the joints is one way this happens.

Too much instruction or trying to learn too many things at once just exacerbate the problem.

'Just relax' may well be an instruction to try and do less mentally and accept that execution will be less than perfect.

By way of example here is a clip of Borat learning cricket

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=txfHVG3ioAs

some sage wisdom there for instructors and students I think

best,
dan

Daniel James, Brisbane Aikido Republic: AikiPhysics, Aikido Brisbane news,
ph 0413 001 844, 1593 Logan Rd, Mt.Gravatt, Brisbane, AUSTRALIA
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Old 06-20-2011, 08:25 PM   #13
Abasan
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Re: Learning to Relax

Relax your mind first.

Draw strength from stillness. Learn to act without acting. And never underestimate a samurai cat.
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Old 06-20-2011, 09:31 PM   #14
Mario Tobias
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Re: Learning to Relax

Quote:
Sterling Gustin wrote: View Post
So, how do you go about relaxing your upper body when getting bound up? Any advice is much appreciated!
Hi,

Let me try to offer my 2 cents worth.

First of all I struggled with the concept of "relaxing" for 20 years and have only started to understand it bit by bit after 2 decades practice. I am still struggling by the way, but not as much. A lot of people before were commenting on my techniques those past years that I was "using too much strength", "that I need to relax", that I "shouldn't be forcing the technique".

But what do they all mean? What is their definition of relaxing, using too much strength and forcing techniques in the first place? I was so confused and frustrated. I was doing the forms of the techniques right, or so I thought, but they still would comment negatively regarding the relaxation bit. I needed to have a clear definition in order to address those concerns. If the problem is not clear, how can you find the solution? Basically I had no clue how to solve this initially and got so depressed.

As I've said, I only understood this concept recently through constant practice AND practice with different dojos/senseis. To me, using too much strength, not relaxing or forcing techniques is synonymous to either
1) you are using too much shoulder power or
2) preemptive or late movement of any other body part that is uncoordinated with the hara leading to a weak/forced technique.

WRT 1) above, when you are attacked let's say katatetori or ushiro ryote by a very strong, resisting person you may have encountered trying to release your arm from the grip using brute force. If you are not "relaxed", it means you are using too much shoulder. And you will feel it. After a few tries with a resisting partner, you're shoulder will get very sore. You will also feel this during randori (multiple attacker), if you are using shoulder too much you will not last 1-2 minutes in the mat. You are relaxed if you do not feel any tension in your shoulder, elbow wrist and palm.

WRT 2) the hara needs to lead the way first and the other parts follow. This applies even to the simplest task of walking or doing your basic aikido footwork...hara always moves first. You might have heard the saying, always move from the center. It's somewhat difficult to explain but any part of the body that is either too fast or too slow which is uncoordinated with the hara generally will lead to a weak technique.

There are different solutions how to overcome the problems above(eg using wrist twists, more leg power, moving from center, keeping elbows in check, centering, bending knees etc etc) but you will only find these over time through constant practice. These techniques can be learned but not all people can teach them very well. Some even teach mystical mumbo jumbo which will confuse you more. You will need to search for these solutions.

The best I can offer you right now is that a large part of the solution to your relaxation problem is understanding the real purpose of the lowly suwariwaza kokyu-ho.

Hope this helps. Good luck in your search.
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Old 06-21-2011, 03:48 AM   #15
Jauch
 
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Re: Learning to Relax

Quote:
Brian Kelley wrote: View Post
I don't agree with this part.

Breathing can help you relax, but relaxing should not be dependent on exhaling. You should be able to relax and move during any part of the breath cycle. Artificially trying to complete a technique during one exhale could end up with the opposite result, that is, making you more tense.

With that said, it does help to do certain things during the exhale. A kiai, for example works best exhaling. But you should be relaxed before, during, and after, regardless of where you are in the breath cycle.

It's fine to have a fixed ratio of time for the inhale and exhale if you are meditating or walking at a fixed speed and incline, or something like that, but otherwise it can and should vary to meet the demands of what you are doing.

Brian
I think the point is to learn to feel how it is to be relaxed.

Once you feel the difference between being tense and relaxed, becomes much more easy to put yourself in a relaxed state.

The major problem concerning "relax" that almost beginners have is exactly to feel this different. I have this problem and almost everybody that I see start too. On the beginning we do not know WHAT is to be relaxed.

The most common answer to my sensei when he said to one relax was: "But I'm relaxed!".
We're not, of course, but we don't know. And even when we know, we weren't able to understand how to put ourselves relaxed.

Sky,

The tip I can do is, at home, practice this:

0 - breath like they told you, very calmly
1 - then, put yourself in kamae
2 - feel\imagine that you are bounded to the ground
3 - feel\imagine that all of your weight is, initially, on your shoulders
4 - now feel\imagine that you weight is running from your shoulders to your hara (it's your center, a point little below your navel (while doing this, get your shoulders "loose" little by little) and then for your feet and finally passing to the ground
5 - feel\imagine that as the weight is going down, your upper side is getting more and more flexible, while your base is getting stronger, more and more bounded to the ground.

While doing this exercise, visualize something that make you calm. A beach, a waterfall, the sea, a forest, birds, a smile, etc. Anything that gives you joy and peace.

Practice this every day at home and soon you will be able to feel the difference between being tense and relaxed and more you practice more you will feel easy to put yourself in a relaxed way.

First, It's necessary to know how is to be really relaxed (paying attention to your body). But our mind set, our "mental state" is the key to achieve that

See you!
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Old 06-21-2011, 03:52 AM   #16
Tim Ruijs
 
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Re: Learning to Relax

Hi
Do not worry. Everybody has had these problems. Relaxation starts in the mind. Trying to hard to get it right the first induces stress, makes you apply physical force. Learn to let go. All too often you are stuck and cannot seem to move: try and think what parts of your body can still move and go from there. It will take some time, but once your mind adapts things get easier.

I realise this is very abstract and hardly hands on advise, but Aikido is pretty though in this respect when you start. Try to learn the global movements first, and try not to get too distracted by details. This is very hard as your fellow students eagerly will point out these details...

In a real fight:
* If you make a bad decision, you die.
* If you don't decide anything, you die.
Aikido teaches you how to decide.
www.aikido-makato.nl
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Old 06-21-2011, 06:56 AM   #17
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Re: Learning to Relax

Quote:
Sterling Gustin wrote: View Post
Hello all!

I am new to these forums, and to Aikido. I've had one trial class, and I am excited about continuing. I plan to speak to the Shihan before the next class about this, but I thought perhaps I could help myself some before hand.

I have done a little research, and came up with some very general things. I was hoping someone here could offer something a little more concrete.

Okay, so my problem is that I can not seem to relax while attempting to perform the techniques. I can feel all of my energy bound up in my chest, and a couple of times the uke has commented that it feels like I am "muscling through it", which I have to agree I feel like I am doing.

So, how do you go about relaxing your upper body when getting bound up? I have the urge to grab and overpower the uke, as I have done in previous martial arts/fighting systems. I want to truly experience Aikido and learn to center myself, and although I have only attended one class I can already sense this will be my first major hurdle.

Any advice is much appreciated!
Hello Sky,

There's plenty of good advice to be found in the above posts and, obviously, many aikidoka have addressed this need in themselves and others in the course of their practice of aikido. As a behavior therapist who regularly offered instruction in achieving a relaxation response I advised that as a first step one needs to know what it feels like to achieve a relaxation response in a minimally-stressful, "controlled", situation by oneself or, with a 1:1 coach but also in a quiet, distraction-free setting. In aikido, once an aikidoka has learned what a relaxation response feels like (often they are already familiar with this state from meditation or mindfulness practice), they proceed to practicing it under progressively more stressful conditions in a systematic and graded fashion. However, unless they have the attention of well-trained instructors, they often may enter onto the mat with minimal preparation and will need to formulate the questions and discover the answers for themselves.

The fact that you are just starting in aikido and have already formulated the question strongly indicates you should be making progress, albeit slowly, starting quite soon. With lots of training and practice you will eventually develop an ability to achieve and maintain the relaxation response you are seeking under an increasing variety of stressful and uncontrolled settings and in various changing scenarios with several partners simultaneously. Keep on The Path and Enjoy the Journey.

Best regards,

Rudy

Last edited by abraxis : 06-21-2011 at 07:04 AM.
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Old 06-21-2011, 07:23 AM   #18
dps
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Re: Learning to Relax

Above all else, smile, all the time.

dps
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Old 06-21-2011, 07:29 AM   #19
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Re: Learning to Relax

Quote:
David Skaggs wrote: View Post
Above all else, smile, all the time.

dps
Additionally, be sure to see Lynn Seiser's newest column,
Shugyo: Mindfully Train, here on AikiWeb: http://www.aikiweb.com/forums/showthread.php?t=19942
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Old 06-21-2011, 08:05 AM   #20
Janet Rosen
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Re: Learning to Relax

I would like to point out that the problem is not only common in aikido, it is common ANY time one is learning something completely new!
Many many years ago I asked a friend to watch me at the sewing machine to help me figure out why my body bothered me when sewing. Turns out my shoulders were up around my ears and I was holding my breath a lot...sound familiar?
I've since noticed this in my sewing and painting students, nursing students, and myself when starting something new - only now I have the advantage of recognizing it early ... drop center, mind at one point, breeeeeaaathe! :-)

Janet Rosen
http://www.zanshinart.com
"peace will enter when hate is gone"--percy mayfield
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Old 06-21-2011, 08:17 AM   #21
Sky
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Re: Learning to Relax

Wow!!

Some really amazing advice in here. Thank you all so very much for these responses! I really feel like I have quite a few options to explore.

I think there is something big with the "mind must come first" thought of it. I have a class tonight, and I will try to use visualization and breathing to unbind myself when I get too tight. I use these words, because that's how it feels... a tightness in my chest and neck.

I must admit, it is somewhat difficult for me at this time to move from the center. I tend to move from my chest. This, I feel, will take some time... and is honestly one of the reasons why I chose to start practicing Aikido. For now, if I can just learn to relax and FEEL my body, I will have taken what I think is the first step on my personal journey to oneness with the Universe.

I wish I had better words... but THANK YOU!! I never expected to get so many quality responses! Awesome community here.
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Old 06-22-2011, 08:24 AM   #22
Basia Halliop
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Re: Learning to Relax

For me I find that's one of the things taking ukemi is useful for. Maybe not quite as much the initial attack but everything afterwards with pins and throws and particularly when things get more intense or I am practicing with people stronger than me (90% of my dojo, LOL...). I find I can usually feel more clearly how it feels to be alert and relaxed when I am uke, especially once I started taking breakfalls. (Neither limp or passive, nor tense - physically it's a bit like a feeling of reaching forward or outward towards something, compared to a feeling of 'pushing' or struggling against a force?? Or something like that...)

That still takes a lot of time to develop - I'm not saying ukemi is easy either - but to me the skills of how to move safely in ukemi seem to help me when I go back to being nage. (Unless that's just my imagination ).

Last edited by Basia Halliop : 06-22-2011 at 08:27 AM.
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Old 06-22-2011, 11:16 AM   #23
graham christian
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Re: Learning to Relax

Hi Sterling.
Thought I'd add my two penneth. I have a quite direct approach towards relaxing and being relaxed and the number of times I remind students I've lost count of. It's a bit 'harsh' but it's the way I teach.

I am always telling students to 'let go.' I tell them directly that the key to relaxation is the ability to 'let go.'

Therefore if their shoulders are too tight and raised I say they are holding on to them so let go. If your mind is too rigid then you are holding on to some fixed view, let go.

Here's the thing. If you let go of your shoulders orback or whatever you won't fall down and collapse on the floor, you will however feel it relax. The same with any fixed view mentally, you can let go of it, it won't necessarily dissappear so don't fret, but it will free your mind.

All the above of course should be seen as degrees of as you practice and that doesn't mean any of the other advice is wrong.

What it does mean however is that as you do any of the other things they will bit by bit lead to the same end for they are all methods of letting go and relaxing.

Just another perspective.

Regards.G.
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Old 06-22-2011, 11:54 AM   #24
carina reinhardt
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Re: Learning to Relax

Hi Sterling,
Learning to relax in aikido takes some time, it is very difficult.
I agree with Graham with the idea to let go and that is what we did in a nice exercise yesterday for what you need to be relaxed and have much confidence in your collegues. We did a circle and one in the middle like a top(in spanish it is a trompo or peonza), the one acting as top has the eyes closed and doesn't move the legs, he just falls to one and this one pushes him to the next one and so on. And if you really fall down it doesn't matter, there is always the mat
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Old 06-23-2011, 02:33 AM   #25
philipsmith
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Re: Learning to Relax

The answer is in fact relatively simple but also very frustrating.

Just train and eventually you will relax.

There you are the "secret" of Aikido
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