O’Sensei carried on a legacy that he received in his studies of Daito-Ryu, that became not only a hallmark of his budo, but a central component of the title of this budo- Aiki. The application of Aiki is unmistakeable in the effect that it has upon the uke. For the uniformed, it can look phony to those observing it’s impact. To the receiver of Aiki, the impact is befuddling, to say the least. At it’s core, Aiki arose out of a profoundly deep understanding of how the mind-body operates in both receiving and delivering force. Aiki neutralizes incoming forces. Aiki overwhelms the receiver with a type of force that cannot be “read and understood” fast enough, so that one can effectively change and adapt. I will take a cursory look at the unique aspects of how the human mind-body work and then fails with the application of Aiki upon it. First, let me note that it is simply impossible to detach the concepts of mind and body. They cannot really be looked at as separate without gross distortions of how the human being functions. When I refer body, please note that I am actually referring to the mind-body. When I refer to mind, please note that I am actually referring to mind-body as well.
The mind-body and dynamic equilibrium
: Maintaining dynamic equilibrium is the number one priority of humans. We are continuously subject to gravitational force, which we address in a pre-conscious manner. We do not have to think about how we stand, sit, or lie down. Our body continuously monitors environmental (inside and outside of the body) factors and makes pre-conscious adjustments to keep our bodies stable while continually adapting to gravitational force. Your body only has a limited amount of energy available at any one time. Your body will take what ever energy is necessary to maintain dynamic equilibrium, regardless of your situation. A simple test to demonstrate this is to have someone stand straight and put one arm out. Have that person resist a push down on the arm. Monitor the available strength to resist the push. Now, put the person is a compromised posture (eg- tilt the head at a 45 degree angle) and then push down on the arm. The next thing to realize is that your body can adapt in real-time to one vector force well. It starts to fail with two simultaneous vector forces (or within 1/2 second of each force), and quickly goes down hill from there. To test this, have the person stand with the arm out again. Push the arm down (gently!), while introducing another vector force (anywhere on the body) and then add another.
One of the hallmarks of Aiki, is the use of spiraling energy. We balance dual, opposing spirals going transverse through our body. If a person’s body begins to fail with the application of two vector forces, it is simply incapable of being able to accurately adapt to and respond to multiple 360 degree forces. When another body comes into contact with the body of someone using Aiki, it immediately fails to adapt in real-time to the forces being imparted upon it. That person’s body takes a huge amount of energy to try and sustain dynamic equilibrium, leaving the person with little energy to be able handle incoming forces. What looks like a little tap, can feel like being hit with a sledge hammer, because of your body’s inability to handle the incoming forces.
Complementary muscle groups:
Our body is arranged in a manner in which one muscle group controls the extension of some body part, while the complementary muscle group controls the contraction of the same body part. We are designed to maintain dynamic equilibrium through the resulting balance between these two complementary muscle groups. We can “read” in real time and react in real time to the controlled contraction, or extension of a body part through these complementary muscle groups, both in ourselves ann when in contact with somebody else. Our minds anticipate this type of physical movement and we can react physically in a real-time manner to force from someone else before we are even conscious of our physical adaptation.
Our bodies maintain integration not through these complementary muscle groups, but through our myofascial system. One of the unique aspects of a person who can manifest Aiki, is that the person has control of body movement through the utilization of the myofascial system. As one thing moves, everything moves. Controlling the movement through select muscle groups separates the part of the body that is being moved from the integrated body. When a person makes contact with the person manifesting Aiki, that person’s body cannot “read” and respond to the nature of the movements, because that person’s mind was anticipating the firing from the muscle groups at the point of contact. An easy way to experience this difference is the have a person stand with one arm out with the palm facing upwards. Hold the forearm down and tell the person to do an arm curl. Then, have the person start off the same and you hold the forearm down again. This time, tell the person to not think, but to simple scratch the center of the forehead with the middle finger. The person who can manifest Aiki through movement, cannot be accurately understood by the person receiving the movement. If you cannot respond in a real-time manner to incoming force, you are in deep trouble…..
We, like all other animal species, are hard-wired to receive and send out non-verbal communications. That form of communication involves body energy. Humans can physically read the conscious intend, manifest through physical contact, of another person. Conscious though has an energy component to it. We can test this to. Have a person stand with the arm out again. Direct your conscious thought to pushing down that arm down, and feel what happens. Now, have that person stand with the arm out again. This time, you should imagine that you are the center of a serene ball. Imagine that the hand that will make contact with the person standing is connected from the center of the ball to it’s surface. Imagine that this ball is being pushed from behind you so that your arm rolls down as well. Notice what happens as well.
A person who can manifest Aiki moves from the proverbial, serene center of a ball. This person does not direct intent to any one point of contact, but the intent is all-encompassing. As one thing moves, everything moves. The person making contact with a person who can manifest Aiki, cannot energetically read what is going to happen. Without being able to read conscious intent, you are not able to accurately predict how a person is going to move, react, or respond to movement.
: When you are the recipient of the movement of someone who can manifest Aiki, it is a totally mysterious experience to you. You cannot accurately react to what the person is doing. You cannot accurately react to incoming force so as to ground it out, redirect it, or dissipate it. You cannot seem to control how your body is reacting. Things end up badly for you and yet you do not have the experience of a person doing something violent to you. Many times you are are left chuckling, while trying to figure out what the heck just happened. The person who can manifest Aiki in movement operates in a manner that causes the other person’s body to simply fail to respond appropriately. The ways in which we are designed to read and respond to forces are overwhelmed by information that we cannot interpret in a meaningful and timely manner.
This month we will examine basic, fundamental movements in Aikido that manifest Aiki. We will work slowly to examine what we are doing and how we are doing it, so as to better hard-wire into our bodies this unique manner of moving. It is not how we normally move, so we need to place a tremendous amount of attention to training our bodies to move in this unique and profound way in the execution of our techniques.
Marc Abrams Sensei
(Original blog post may be found here