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Home > General > Some Common Problems and Observations
by Carol M. Shifflett <Send E-mail to Author> - 17. May, 1997

"Oh, he's just falling down for her."

An Aikido throw can look so improbably smooth and effortless that it is easy to believe that it is faked. It isn't -- it's physics.

The laws of physics are as strictly enforced at Aikido schools as they are at ski slopes. If you have ever been a beginning skier, you know from painful experience just how devastating those forces can be. Saying that the attacker fell down "for" the Aikidoist is like saying that the beginning skier fell down "for" the mountain.

The advanced skier has learned to use these forces; a small shift in weight or position determines whether the skier crashes into a tree or swooshes effortlessly through a turn and down the slope. An accomplished skier flying across the snow is as improbable to the frustrated beginner as an accomplished Aikidoist flying across the mat -- but neither one is faking.

"It's too much like dancing -- It would never work."

What is dancing? It is controlled motion. Watch Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers, the two moving in harmony, whirling around the floor in perfect control.

What would have happened if Fred had let go of Ginger at a critical moment, she would have gone flying across the room and fallen.

What happens when the Aikidoist lets go of an attacker at a critical moment? The attacker groes flying across the room and falls.

Yes, it is like dancing.

Yes, it works.

I think [aikido] is the most difficult of all the martial arts to learn. Its demands for skill, grace and timing rival those of classical ballet.
-- Physicist Jearl Walker

The genius of Aikido is to transform the most violent attack, by embracing it, into a dance.
-- George Leonard.

"It didn't work."

It is useful to define what you mean by "it worked" or "it didn't work." If someone grabs you and you prefer that he not do that, you have many options. Some techniques (especially those known as kokyunages) depend on the attacker (uke) holding on to the defender (nage); he is in danger of being thrown only so long as he does so. If he lets go, you have no throw. But if your purpose was to pursuade uke to let go and he did, then the technique "worked." You do not have to put him on the ground to achieve that purpose.

On the other hand, if you purpose is to learn a technique, there are other considerations. Some students are afraid of falling. Others may see doing the throw as "winning" and falling as "losing." Consequently many beginners counter every move or let go as soon as they fell themselves in danger of falling -- then confuse the cessation or change of their own attack with failure of nage's technique.

In Aikido there is no losing. We learn to give the appropriate attack and we learn to fall so that we can help others to learn. They will do the same for you. You "win" by being a good teacher.

Winning means winning over the discord in yourself. Those who have a warped mind, a mind of discord, have been defeated from the beginning.
-- Morihei Ueshiba (Founder of Aikido)

"But instead he could..."

Yes. But don't worry about it. The possibilities of attack and defense are unlimited. Beginning Aikido is like beginning arithmetic: we stage a particular attack with a particular energy in order to practice a particular response or its variations. Calculus, with multiple variables, comes later. For now, give the appropriate energy, respond with the appropriate response. This is how we learn.

"What is Ki? Do you really believe it's real?"

Aikidoists think of Ki as the universal energy or spirit present in all things -- often a difficult concept for Westerners. If the idea of extending a beam of energy from your fingers out to the edge of the cosmos violates your sense of reality, then think of it as "attention" or "mind" and use the ideas as a tool, like Einstein riding his hypothetical beam of light; if it were true, what would you see? What would happen?

Did Einstein "really" go riding on a beam of light? Not in the usual sense, but the thought was "real" in that it produced "real" results -- he was able to see using this image and what he saw is now considered very real indeed. If you begin a ki test by imagining yourself nestled at the center of the earth, are you physically attached of billions of tons of water and rock? Not "really" -- but if your thought results in stability and power, what, then, is "real?"

Use the concept of Ki as a working hypothesis. Soon you may develop your own ideas of what it is and how it works for you.

"Have you ever had to use your Aikido?"

In the usual sense of physical attack and physical defense, no. In the larger sense I use it every day. Budo, the "way" or "path" of the Japanese samurai, is usually translated as the "way of the sword." The characters, however, actually mean "the way to cease using the sword."

Aikido emphasizes control of the situation -- and of yourself. Self defense is a side effect of something far more profound. Aikido, the Way of Harmony, is a path well worth following. And it can be followed for a lifetime.

If you pit negative force against negative force, there will always be a collision; even if you win, you still lose. So I always go out of my way to avoid an altercation. Having this attitude is probably the reason why, to this day, I have never had to use karate in an aggressive manner off the mat.
-- Chuck Norris

Carol Shifflett
Virginia Ki Society

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