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Slow is Smooth, Smooth is Fast
Slow is Smooth, Smooth is Fast
by Lynn Seiser
Slow is Smooth, Smooth is Fast

Breathe in slow
Breathe out smooth

One of the first things I learned in skill acquisition, retention, and application was that slow was smooth and smooth was fast. If I wanted to be fast, I had to slow down and learn to do it smoothly. If I cannot do it accurately slowly/smoothly, I had no hope of doing it accurately fast. When I try to hide poor techniques with speed, I always am reminded that I am not that fast.
Slow: (1) not fast. (2) lengthy, time-consuming, gradual, (3) taking time, (4) hesitant or delayed, (5) not keeping accurate time, behind, (6) sluggish, (7) dull, dense, (8) at low or reduced speed, (9) unintelligent, (10) unhurried, measured, deliberate, leisurely
In the dojo, when I first started, I was curious about why people were moving so slowly. I had always thought that speed was our friend and that the faster I got something and the faster I did it, the better I was at it. I found that to be a common myth. They say that if you cannot do it correctly slow, then you cannot do it correctly fast. Many times, I just expected the momentum/inertia of speed to carry the application through to completion, so I would just whip it out there. I remember Bruce Lee saying (or at least getting credit for it), that at first a punch is just a punch. Then you break it down into structure, the sequence, and the concepts. Later, a punch is just a punch, but this time it's very different. Training/practice is about learning something new each repetition. That means slowing down and paying close attention to every detail (body and mind). Any technique applied slowly and effectively is better than any sloppy flashy performance.

In life, they say that the devil is in the details. So are all the angels. Often we hear that it's the little things that really matter. In counseling, it's about taking the time to slow down and pay attention to what we are doing to create our problems and what we need to do to solve and prevent them. Freud would say that it's about making the unconscious conscious and changing through insight. Others would discover the unconscious cognitive distortions that create the emotional feelings that motivate our behaviors. In relationships it's about slowing down our own internal dialogue/chatter so we can hear what the other person is telling us. Many relationships start in a simple conversation where someone actually listens to us and they often end when we stop hearing each other. If we pay attention mindfully it's amazing what interesting things we can learn about the person we think we already know.
Smooth: (1) even, not rough or bumpy, (2) without lumps or creases, (3) without upheaval or difficulties, (4) even, without jerks or jolts, (5) not harsh, (6) not sharp or sour, (7) not easily upset, (8) insincerely convincing, (9) hairless, (10) without problems, friction, or resistance, (11) easy, efficient, or effortless
In the dojo, at first we learn a technique in a very step by step fashion. It is to be slow to overcome our initial habituate reactions and pattern/train/condition is a new response to an old stimulus. As we slow down and repeatedly practice what we see, we begin to find new sequences and new neuro-pathways (neurons that fire together, wire together by neuro-plasticity). With consistent practice, the individual steps become a smooth sequential flow. I had one Aikido instructor use the metaphor of the ribbon in rhythmic gymnastics, where the ribbon smoothly floats with the flow of the movement. Any interruption of that smooth flow of movement and the ribbons stops and falls. The hands move because the body moves. The other person moves because you are connected and you move. The end of one motion/step (and please complete each step to full extension) becomes the beginning of the next in a sequential cyclical system of movement. We smoothly learn to incorporate and integrate the movement of the other person into our movement. We learn to smoothly enter, blend, and flow with them, not statically resist against them. How smoothly/relaxed we do this often facilitates the effectiveness of our technique.

In life, as a counselor, I often find that couples/families have problems, not because of who they are individually, but because of the role and rules of the systemic process they reenact from society, tradition, culture, and their family of origin. Often if the rules and roles of the individuals are different, then they try to force the other person to match their internal map of how they think things should be. We tend to resist change and exclude anything different from what we already know/believe (even if that is not necessarily true or factual). It is the old, because I have always done it that way type of reasoning (another cognitive distortion) that prevents us from learning new things and being happy, healthy, and successful. Like physical movement in the martial arts, we can interrupt old thinking and slowly replace new thoughts that have the possibility and probability of actually working. With daily discipline, we smoothly sail through our initial observation of external reality, our internal orientation to old rules/roles, to new rules/roles, to decisions to act on them. We cannot change the way we feel if we do not change the way we think and we change the way we think all the time. This time we are just doing it smoothly, mindfully, and with positive intent.
Fast: (1) acting or moving rapidly/quickly/swiftly, (2) done suddenly or briefly, (3) conducive or requiring rapid high speed, (4) tricky, (5) made easy, (6) strong and close, (7) without delay, immediately, or expeditious, (8) abstinence or deprived of food
In the dojo, I used to be impressed by the speed by which people worked. I would watch people rip through a kata only to see them miss in the actually application (some people just forget to actually aim). When I first saw Aikido I was a bit underwhelmed by the lack of speed. It's amazing how things appear from the dissociated spectator position of ignorance. Yet, when the instructor performed the technique on me, I was helpless. If I attacked fast, the instructor's response was hidden within the same speed. If I attacked slowly, the instructor's response was hidden within what I offered. The rule seemed to be we only to be as fast (or as slow) as needed to be effective and efficient. Wasted motion (and energy) was discouraged. After a while, I stopped being impressed by the athleticism of speed and stood in awe to the mindfulness of slow smooth practice that makes one effective and efficient with new unconscious response patterns that actually worked. After all, was the purpose of training to impress others with the flash/illusion or to develop myself into an effective, efficient (martial at times -- when appropriate/necessary) human being?

In life, well, let's admit it; life just goes by too fast. Time is perceptual. When I am doing something I don't want to do and I am not into it, times crawls by slowly. When I am having a good time and am into it, time flies. Remember I mentioned that relationships often started in conversation? Those hours on the telephone and late into the nights where usually filled with genuine interest and love. Later (perhaps because we quit really listening with honest and genuine interest and intent), the time dragged. We would compare our subjective experience/feelings of now and compare it to the past and usually incorrectly/inaccurately blame the other person. Perhaps in the beginning we all put on a show to catch the other person's attention. Perhaps as we feel more secure we do less to be interesting and to find interest (and excitement) in our relationships. Perhaps it's the lack of this present mindfulness that makes us miss the most important subtle parts of being in love. Like a car that travels too fast, we miss all the beautiful scenery. We often have to sit silently to hear the wind, the rain, and the magic/mysteries of our traveling companions. Love does not yell or move fast. To catch love (and keep) it, we must slow down and find the correct speed (enter and blend) to move with it.

In long distance running we would often say that the race does not always go to the fastest, but to those who keep moving.

Breathe in slow
Breathe out smooth

Thanks for listening, for the opportunity to be of service, and for sharing the journey. Now get back to training. KWATZ!
Lynn Seiser (b. 1950 Pontiac, Michigan), Ph.D. has been a perpetual student of martial arts, CQC/H2H, FMA/JKD, and other fighting systems for over 40 years. He currently holds the rank of Yondan (4th degree black belt) from Sensei Dang Thong Phong of the International Tenshinkai Aikido Federation and Sensei Andrew Sato of the Aikido World Alliance. He is the co-author of three books on Aikido (with Phong Sensei) and his martial art articles have appeared in Black Belt Magazine, Aikido Today Magazine, and Martial Arts and Combat Sports Magazine. He is the founder of Aiki-Solutions and IdentityTherapy and is an internationally respected psychotherapist in the clinical treatment of offenders, victims, and families of violence, trauma, abuse, and addiction. He is a professor of clinical and forensic psychology with an expertise in family violence and treatment. He lives with his wife and trains on the Florida Gulf Coast (chasing grandchildren).
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