Lesson 3 :: Interaction
So far it may seem like we're not doing much in the way of traditional aikido. We're not throwing, pinning, or doing anything at all with other people, for that matter. Nevertheless, we are laying the essential groundwork for doing these things sensibly and rationally.
By definition, aikido is about interacting with our environment, finding ways for things to fit agreeably together. Solo practice is not enough. At the same time, we begin with the study of interactions within ourselves, as these form the basis for all other exchanges. As we progress, and as our studies become more outward and expansive, it's essential that we keep in mind that we always experience the world within our own bodies, and that is the place where meaningful action occurs. We are our first environment.
In this spirit, Lesson 3 is essentially a repeat of Lesson 2, but with the assistance of a partner. Here we will continue our exploration of the Arm Zones, but the perturbations and deviations from our normal posture or stance will be initiated by another.
As before, stand in the normalized posture with equal distribution of pressure on the bottom of your feet, arms relaxed and hanging in your Pocket Zones. Keep your eyes softly focused and directed toward the horizon line. Be mentally alert but relaxed. Take in your surroundings with all your senses.
Have your partner gently grasp your wrist, and slowly manipulate your arm. Do your best to keep your arm limp, and let all motion come from your partner. Try not to resist, try not to be helpful. Be completely passive but acutely observant.
We are still interested in noticing how much freedom of movement we have before we start to run into ourselves. When any muscle group becomes sufficiently stretched as to engage other parts of the body, or when one element crowds or cramps or collides with another, or when the pressure on the bottom of the feet changes, we should notice. Say "now" to your partner whenever one of these thresholds is reached.
When it's your turn to be the one that assists with the exploration by introducing simple perturbations, you should be learning as well. When first starting out, limit the movements to slow and simple pushes and pulls. Do not introduce any twisting or fancy joint locks at this time, although bending the elbow naturally is fine. Pull the arm away from the body until your partner says "now." Push the arm into their body. See if you can learn to anticipate when they're about to reach a threshold.
If you feel resistance increasing but your partner has not shown any awareness of such, point this out and explore it together. When a limit is reached, back off and move through the empty space of the Arm Zones toward another threshold. Notice the ways in which their zones are similar to yours, but pay special attention to the ways in which theirs are different.
Now let's do exactly the same thing, but a little more actively. Here is where we begin to take steps to equilibrate the differences in pressure, though it will still be quite measured.
Rather than saying "now" when a limit has been reached, the receiving partner will make some adjustment to their own body to correct the imbalance. The arms should remain limp -- no action is to be done with the arms. Consequently, there should be no change in pressure at the point of contact between partners.
Most often, this will involve moving the feet. If the arm has been pulled, move the body accordingly until slack has been restored. If the arm is pushed into the body, step sensibly in such a way as to create an open space for the movement to travel through.
The person pushing or pulling should not try to drag their partner all around the room, but alternate randomly with the pushes and pulls (compression and tension) to allow practice to stay roughly in place.
At this stage, things should proceed very slowly. We are not yet in the realm of combat, and partners should be giving useful feedback whenever necessary.
This is a method of exploration and discovery. The fundamental issue is the buildup of pressure within the system, either in some location within the recipient's body, or at the point of contact between the two players. The observation of a buildup of pressure should by itself indicate the right direction of movement in order to release or neutralize the pressure. This is the primary goal of this lesson.
When the arms are perturbed, they will be moved away from the Pocket Zones. When pressure is released, the arms tend to return toward the Pocket Zones. This is not a goal and no effort should be made to make this happen, but it is one sign that things are working properly.
Make sure both arms are getting a turn. Experiment with different types of grabs: same side grabs, cross-hand, two hands on one, two hands on two. Move freely between these as seems natural.
If the other parts of this exercise have gone well and are thoroughly understood, it's time to get more lively and introduce more complications.
Slowly increase the speed of the interaction. Always keep things safe for everyone concerned, and make sure that productive learning is guaranteed, Within these limits, gradually build up the tempo. (Speed, or Rate of Change, has its own Zone that we are now studying.)
Now return to the slowest possible useful pace, but introduce twisting of the arms. If you know how to safely apply joint locks, you can bring these into play little by little.
At some point, an impasse will be reached where it is not obvious how to move and release the pressure. Such times should be noted, and perhaps recreated for productive examination. Here is where the partners should collaborate on solving these puzzles. If no answer is forthcoming, keep it in mind and return to in a later practice, and do not get fixated on such sticking points. Experience them, let them inform your practice, and move on. There is a resolution for almost every situation, but some are less obvious than others. With proper training, good partners in the right environment, the problems themselves will point the way to the solution, but only after we have honed our perceptions sufficiently through regular immersion in this method.
Some particularly vexing problems might take weeks of careful study before the way is revealed. Under no circumstances should we expect to remain in the dark for years.
Finally, gradually increase complexity and speed together, so long as practice remains safe and productive.
In review, two people come together to further explore the Zones of Balance and Zones of Pressure. This is done with a primary focus on the Arm Zones, although pressure can occur anywhere within the system.
One person is responsible for introducing perturbations in the system, in this case, through the arms. Pressure is safely increased in the form of compression, tension, torque, or some combination of these.
The other person is the recipient of such perturbations. This individual should take no action against the other, but rather allow whatever movements will come. In observing the places where pressure builds up within their own body, action is taken to relieve the pressure and to restore a condition closer to the normalized posture.
This is repeated continuously until an impasse is reached, or until the players agree to switch roles. If an impasse is found, players may use it as a focus for more intensive exploration, but not so much that the larger method is compromised.
It's worth noting here that the person who is persistently attempting to increase pressure may find themselves quite often out of their own Zones, particularly when their partner is performing well. The recovery and adjustments made in order to continue the increase of pressure is an essential part of the general lesson.
All of aikido can be derived from just this fundamental understanding. However, this will be greatly augmented in the next lesson, where we will permit a bit more freedom of action.
Still Point Aikido Systems
Austin TX, USA