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Like in Water
Like in Water
by Stefan Stenudd
Like in Water

I've been saying it quite frequently to my students, these past few months: Do it like in water. That encompasses a lot. Do it slower, feel what happens all through it, move in streamline, create waves...

The water metaphor is used a lot in judo. One should make the throws like water passes around a rock. Maybe aikido should be more like air, at length, but water is a step in the right direction. As Heraclitus suggested: Panta rhei, everything floats.

The Tao Te Ching blesses the qualities of water repeatedly: "Supreme good is like water. Water greatly benefits all things, without conflict." That must be an aikido ideal.

The yielding behavior of water is exactly what Lao Tzu praised about it. Water caresses what it meets, and it flows downwards, going as low as it can get. That's the very essence of humility.

But we know that it can be strong as well. With its persistence it erodes the stone, and its waves can rise so high that they crush everything in their way. So, it has its very own martial art.

Still, that's not the perspective I prefer regarding water in aikido. I don't tell my students to be like water, but like in water. I want them to move as if they were doing it in a lake, with water all the way up over their heads (without holding their breath, though). Then aikido can only be done with great consideration of the properties of the surrounding fluid.

Moving erratically and with sharp angles is next to impossible in water. The movements have to be streamlined, like fish do -- in curves and spiral patterns. Otherwise the water gets so resistant, you can hardly move at all. It's quite the same when you do an aikido technique on your partner, or you will meet with resistance and obstacles.

Nor is sudden acceleration or deceleration possible. That can actually hurt you, making the water as hard as the stone it knows how to erode. It demands that you take your time and find the tempo it agrees with. When you try to speed up, it will hold you back. When you try to slow down, it will push you on.

With a partner in aikido, this decides the speed and timing by which a technique can be performed. If done too quickly, you find yourself revolting meaninglessly against the law of inertia, and both of you risk getting harmed. If trying to slow down or stop somewhere in the flow of the technique, you oppose the same law reversed.

The rhythm has to be right, as do the movements. I guess one could say that it all has to be swirling.

Another aspect of water is how the whole body of it is affected by any movement inside. Leonardo da Vinci studied the movement of water, as seen in waves and whirls. A wonderful complexity, which is to be found not only on its surface, but all through its body. Everything is connected, everything is affected.

So, the aikido techniques should be performed with a similar extension beyond the reach of the two persons involved in the technique, and with attention to how it affects the movements and relations all over the tatami. Not unlike how every couple in ballroom dancing fluently adapts to all the other couples. Terry Dobson told us: It's a lot like dancing. In water.

I dare say that if you're standing in water, the only way to move comfortably in it is by dancing.

Just like in dancing, the rules don't only apply to the one who leads. For aikido like in water, both tori and uke need to consider its properties. Uke, too, is unable to ignore the need for streamline movements, proper speed and rhythm. The law of inertia applies to both.

This is precisely what's often forgotten in the standard argument against the efficiency of aikido techniques: "If you do that I just do this." No you don't, because that's not possible in water. The law of inertia doesn't allow it.

The conditions we are exposed to in water can be utilized by tori, when performing aikido techniques. Uke can be led into a kind of captivity, where the law of inertia creates the prison walls and bars. Uke's options are increasingly diminished as the technique proceeds.

Moving smoothly in water is not only a question of slowing down, though. Fish show us that it's possible to move quite fast, when excelling at adapting to it. In at least one case, submarine speed exceeds what's possible in air: sound. It travels several times faster in water.

That would in the martial arts be kiai. Or sen sen no sen, the rhythm of forestalling the forestalling. We can reach out and affect uke, long before the moment of contact -- and earlier than uke is able to expect. That's actually dancing, too. Well, music, the art of sound: syncopation. A beat right before the beat.

If you do your aikido like in water, you can act before the one doing it like in air, although your movement can't be as fast. But that's easier said than done. Kiai is the simplest application of it.

One of the most practical applications of doing aikido like in water is taisabaki, the evasive movement. In water, it's very difficult to strike at an object. The water pressed aside in front of the fist tends to press aside also the target of the strike.

That's a good method of applying the evasive principle -- not jumping out of the line of attack, which would be impossible in water, but yield to it so that one doesn't remain in the way of it. Then there's no hurry, because it's the attack that creates the momentum making the evasion infallible. That means tori is not initiating the evasion. Uke is, by the attack. So, how could one not escape in time?

The reason behind what applies to aikido like in water is the increased contact the fluid creates between the two practitioners (and everyone else in the dojo). They are connected, at whatever distance, from standing and moving in the same body of fluid, joined in the same element.

That might be the most important lesson to learn from playing with this metaphor. Make the connection, and the rest is self-evident.

Stefan Stenudd
Stefan Stenudd is a 6 dan Aikikai Shihan aikido instructor, President of the Swedish Budo & Martial Arts Federation, member of the Swedish Aikido Grading Committee, and former Vice Chairman of the International Aikido Federation. He has practiced aikido since 1972. Presently he teaches aikido and iaido at the dojo Enighet in Malmo, Sweden. He is also an author, artist, and historian of ideas. He has published a number of books in Swedish and English, both fiction and non-fiction. Among the latter are books about aikido, the Chinese classic Tao Te Ching, and Miyamoto Musashi's Book of Five Rings. In the history of ideas he studies the thought patterns of creation myths, as well as Aristotle's Poetics. He has his own extensive aikido website: http://www.stenudd.com/aikido
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Old 05-24-2013, 05:35 AM   #2
SeiserL's Avatar
Location: Florida Gulf coast
Join Date: Jun 2000
Posts: 3,902
Re: Like in Water

Yes agreed.

I have always like the metaphor of a fluid wave - moving like water.

I also like the concept of "slow and smooth" - moving in water.

We are all drops in the same inter-connected ocean.

Well said.

Compliments and appreciation.

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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Old 06-21-2013, 11:09 AM   #3
R.A. Robertson
Dojo: Still Point Aikido Center
Location: Austin, TX, USA
Join Date: Jul 2002
Posts: 346
Re: Like in Water

A watery state is fluid -- water the substance can be liquid, solid, or gas.

Can this be relevant also?
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Old 07-14-2013, 04:46 AM   #4
Stefan Stenudd
Stefan Stenudd's Avatar
Dojo: Enighet Malmo Sweden
Location: Malmo
Join Date: May 2005
Posts: 539
Re: Like in Water

Ross Robertson wrote: View Post
A watery state is fluid -- water the substance can be liquid, solid, or gas.

Can this be relevant also?
Interesting point. In my book on aikido principles I talked about the three stages: water, air, vacuum. It's also linked to the three practice methods: go tai, ju tai, ki nagare. I probably should expand, but I can feel a thousand words come rushing, so I halt

Stefan Stenudd
My aikido website: https://www.stenudd.com/aikido/
My YouTube channel: https://www.youtube.com/user/Aikidostenudd
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Old 07-20-2013, 04:37 PM   #5
TheAikidoka's Avatar
Dojo: Tenshinkan Dojo UK - mid sussex martial arts school
Location: Brighton
Join Date: Jul 2009
Posts: 127
Re: Like in Water

Hi have a problem with this, sorry.
But we do not train in water because for 99% of people if they need to use aikido will be doing it on tera firma. So is it not time we devotees, and inheritors of the art, to protect and teach the correct form of aikido. Is this not what Morihei Ueshiba states In the DVD The Founder of Aikido, the mission of Aikidoka is to protect and nurture nature in its correct form.
Kuzushi, correct blending, and Kia, with the added element of kokyu which is indispensable in Kuzushi, Awase and Kia, is what makes Aikido work, and what makes it a viable martial art.

All Aikido techniques start with blending movement, Saito sensei has stated this many times. However I have never seen him do this in water.

In Budo,

Andy B

Last edited by TheAikidoka : 07-20-2013 at 04:47 PM.
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Old 07-21-2013, 01:56 AM   #6
Alex Megann
Dojo: Southampton Aikikai
Location: Southampton
Join Date: Sep 2004
Posts: 401
United Kingdom
Re: Like in Water

Kanetsuka Sensei used to be fond of teaching in the water. Here he is in 1984:

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