Aikido: When The Body Moves the Mind

It is an established aim of Aikido that the mind and body should be united so that a person can fully be his best self in whatever he does. The concept is that of cause and effect: The mind desires something and the physical body expresses that desire through action. Imagine a human being having two sides, the mental and the physical. The mental side is the part that thinks and directs, and the physical side is the one that acts and follows the direction.


Photo Credit: Christopher Peddecord. www.dancinphotos.net

Photo Credit: Christopher Peddecord. http://www.dancinphotos.net

The Mind Moves the Body

Usually, when we try doing something for the first time, we can’t really do it well, can we? Remember how you first learned to ride a bike? Or the first time you tried to drive? Remember how it was for you the first time you tried to do any sport? Or, for the martial artists out there, the first time you tried to punch, kick, block? For the Aikidoka, remember the first time you tried to do the rolls? How about the first technique you got to do? Or the first time you held a bokken and did a shomenuchi with it? In all these examples, how was it for you?

For most of us, our first time has been a disappointing failure.

It is arrogant to believe anything can be done well the first time. Although we may think we understand the movement, (in fact, we have replayed the sequence in our minds over and over again!) when we get to the actual doing, our bodies do not seem to listen to us. We move awkwardly and clumsily as opposed to the grace and deft we have pictured ourselves to be capable of doing. The first time is frustrating, indeed.

And so we train. We train to unify what our mind has set out to do and what we are actually doing. The mind is moving the body. The mind is the arbiter of control, and the body is the faculty of action. Whatever constructs we have built within our minds will be reflected in our actions on and off the mats. In teaching Aikido skills, more important than the steps of different techniques is the reconfiguration of how we think.

As O’Sensei said: “I want considerate people to listen to the voice of Aikido. It is not for correcting others; it is for correcting your own mind”.

In order for training to be fruitful, one has to rid himself of mental distractions that limit the movement of the body. It is here where the application and practice of the budo concept of Fudoshin becomes important. Once the mind is corrected, the body will be able to move in harmony with its intentions. Following this basic concept, Aikido therefore begins with correctly training the mind so as to correctly train the body. Otherwise, training becomes a futile routine.


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Ikkyo. Seishiro Endo Shihan, 8th Dan.

Musubi: Moving as One

In the course of the physical interaction between tori and uke, Aikido techniques are done most efficiently when the tori and uke move as one. At the moment of the initial contact, there is a joining or unifying inherent in Aikido movement that is accomplished.  The point of contact becomes the point of communication, becoming the link that connects tori and uke together. It is here that Musubi is established.

Musubi is to tie together.

There is no other in Aikido, and at the initiation of the movement, the goal of training is to transform duality into oneness. Musubi training is training in uniting opposing forces through connection and circular movements. Musubi is not trained by pushing and pulling. Instead, it can be trained by skillfully attracting and drawing in the energy of the uke’s attack, uniting with the uke through a point (or points) of contact, maintaining this unity, and through circular and spherical movement, moving together as one.

It is important to always be aware of this point of communication and to not lose it: the centers of tori and uke are joined together through the interplay of energies at the point of contact. It is with the joined centers that duality is extinguished and the two bodies become one. When both tori and uke are truly unified, there can never be a separation of intention as well as their physical action. In unity, Aikido then becomes effortless.


When The Body Moves the Mind

In doing any particular Aikido movement, tori and uke should always move as one unit. During a technique, there is an ongoing interplay of energies running between the tori and uke from their centers through the point of contact. In order to maintain musubi and continue moving together as one, tori should move in such a way that that there is no resistance, until the technique is completed.

changeResistance is an indicator of duality.

Resistance signals a disruption in the movement. Forcing the technique through resistance is not Aikido. There should be no clashing in Aikido. Resistance is therefore a sign of separation, and a call to reestablish unity -an opportunity for henkawaza.

Henkawaza is simply defined as changing from one technique to another. It is what you do when you “failed” to complete the initial technique because of resistance, hence doing another technique to address this “problem”. Realistically, henkawaza happens all the time, especially when dealing with very responsive and well-trained ukes.  However as the Aikidoka matures in both skill and knowledge, opportunities for henkawaza happen less and less.

Sensitivity to connection and to resistance of uke is therefore important during the execution of any movement. Otherwise, the tendency to force a technique increases.

These changes in the interplay of energies are usually subtle, and can only be felt through softness and sensitivity. Depending on the feeling, the body then moves the mind to adapt with any and all circumstances that arise in any particular movement. Sensitivity to tactile inputs in training as well as other sensory data is critical to developing good Aikido.


Our bodies have afferent (sensory) and efferent (motor) nerves that provide inputs and outputs to and from the brain respectively. When the mind moves the body, it is when efferent nerve fibers efficiently address the instruction from the mind and manifest these to actual physical movement . In instances when the body moves the mind, by way of afferent nerve fibers through different sensory inputs, the body feeds the mind with real-time information about the physical circumstances of the movement currently being done. The mind can then reconstruct the initial action-decision to adapt with the changes that may have occurred based on the information it has received.

This interplay of motor output and sensory input in the Aikidoka initiates the dynamics of the-mind-moving-the-body-and-the body-moving-the-mind (MB-BM) cycle. In any given technique, this cycle is repeated indefinitely until the movement is completed. It also goes without saying that the Aikidoka is making and acting on one decision after another at a very fast, almost instantaneous rate throughout any particular movement. It is only with continuous training that these skills are honed.

This ability to decide and act almost instantaneously is sometimes coined as intuition, the hallmark of mastery.

(Please also see: “Aikido: Kata is NOT Waza“)

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Bob

know-it-all13And some people think they know it all. I know of a person who thinks he knows it all, at least about Aikido. I will call him Bob. Bob has been practicing Aikido for quite a long time. His Aikido is like a basics DVD. He has very good technical as well as philosophical background in Aikido. He knows the small details of each movement; he even knows the precise moments of when to pause in doing a certain movement to emphasize that he is able to completely control his uke (the pauses are for the photographer’s benefit as well).

Ask Bob about the terms, he is a walking Aikido glossary. Ask Bob about how to navigate through a technique, he will give you very detailed explanations. Ask Bob what you need to work on, and he knows it just by looking at you. Ask Bob something and he will tell you the answer. Ask Bob why and how and he will answer you with a dissertation along with the procedure.

Bob can say that a movement is correct. Bob can say that a movement is wrong or incomplete. Bob says these things and he means them. He knows the very truth of all things Aikido, at least, that’s what he thinks. He is perfect in his eyes.

Bob is now a Sensei. He started his own dojo. He has many students. His photographer is also his student. Do not argue with Bob. You will just be wasting your time. His students look up to him all the time. He is their Aikido hero. In their eyes, he is O’Sensei incarnate. But Bob denies this. Bob says O’Sensei’s Aikido is incomplete, just like Freud’s psychology was. He believes in the evolution of Aikido, and in the evolution of our art, he is among the pioneers, or so he envisions. know-it-all

You see, Bob knows what is right and what is wrong in Aikido. When you talk to him he can pinpoint the mistakes of different teachers from O’Sensei down to the current Shihans of the art. They are missing crucial steps he says. Oh I just smile when listening to Bob! He is always right, and his Aikido is immaculate, at least for him. If you do not follow what he says, you are in the wrong and your Aikido is incomplete.

For Bob, his way is the only way.

I know Bob from a dojo I trained in before. At that time he was still in training. We talked sometimes. When I have questions, I can ask Bob and I am sure I will get an answer. He has touched the core of Aikido itself and has been basking in the very source of the ki of the universe, or so he believes. Bob knows the way to the gods of Budo and he is willing to show you if you follow him. He has a lot of followers. They believe in Bob. And Bob believes in himself.

Do you know Bob? Bob is judgmental, thoroughly critical, and entirely immature.

(Please also see: “Shoshin: The Beginner’s Mind“)

“Freedom is the Absolute Prerequisite to Peace” by André Cognard, 8th Dan Hanshi

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Andre Cognard Shihan, 8th Dan Hanshi; Tenchinage.

(See this article in original French)

An individual’s freedom is the absolute prerequisite to peace .

Everyone’s duty is to be free. Freedom is the prerequisite to identity and to it’s uniqueness. By acting freely, a subject participates in the expansion of the universe by it’s complexification. Identity is the universe’s utmost division and an individual’s task is to make it live. But individual’s freedom is hindered by invisible bonds of loyalty. These obligations arise from our need to belong to diverse entities, comprised in undifferentiated group consciousnesses.

This is the price of incarnate life.

To receive a body, you adopt two family histories and through them, the history of ancestral consciousness and its cultural and clanic subdivisions, as well as the history of human consciousness as a whole. Upon incarnation each individual is burdened with this collective history.

It is the conflict between our duty to be free and our obligations of loyalty towards the groups, that creates an internal conflict, a true identity schism. To be objectified, the conflict is projected between the subject and others. Objectified in the relationship, it can be changed. The evolution and harmonization of the internal conflict will occur if the re-enactment of the relational experience leads to peace. Change is therefore made ​​possible through our actions. This is the meaning of the way and of practice: our karma consists of our actions.

To understand our need to be free and our need for relationships, we must understand that conscience is only what it contains and all it contains. Internal conflict is a pillar of conscience itself. It is structural. This implies that change cannot occur in conscience itself. The conscience can only change by integrating novelty and novelty comes from otherness. One changes only in the other.

andre_cognardThis means that peace is only possible when the subject has freed himself from his obligations of loyalty to ancestral consciousnesses to whom he owes language, culture, and myth. And also to the collective human consciousness to whom he owes symbols and, through them, the ability to integrate novelty and therefore change.

There is a only one way to free oneself and that is to accomplish our spiritual duty which is always composed of two antagonistic elements:

  •  Liberating the human group out of the self, by embracing our own freedom and respecting that of others.
  •  Liberating the expanding universe within the self by removing all obstacles to our own freedom.

The two are inseparable because they both determine universal harmony which in turn determines peace. Peace is the sign of spiritual accomplishment. Aikido must lean towards this concept that I have named “effective harmony.”


This article was submitted exclusively to Aikido no Sekai by Andre Cognard Shihan. All rights reserved. You can also submit Aikido or Peace related articles to Aikido no Sekai via email: aikidonosekai@gmail.com.

Andre Cognard HanshiAndré Cognard Saiko Shihan, 8th Dan Hanshi

In 1973, He met Hirokazu Kobayashi Shihan in Paris and since then, devoted his life to Aikido. In 1982 he founded the Academie Autonomous Aikido (now Autonomous Academie d’Aikido Kobayashi Hirokazu), now represented in France by more than 100 dojos.

In February 1998, upon the recommendation of  Hirokazu Kobayashi Shihan, along with five of his students, he founded the Kokusai Aikido Kenshukai Kobayashi Ryu Ha. Hirokazu Kobayashi Soshu awarded Andre Cognard the degree of hachidan (8th dan), along with the title of Saiko Shihan of Aikido Kokusai Kenshukai (or the first of Shihan). Currently, he holds the title of Hanshi conferred by Dai Nippon Butokukai. Published in French, he is author to many books about Aikido and the martial arts.

 

(Please also see: “8 Tips to Making Peace a Habit“)

Aikido: Philosophy and Movement

Aikido founder, Morihei Ueshiba O'Sensei

Aikido founder, Morihei Ueshiba O’Sensei

How do you train? In Aikido the training pattern usually follows the same sequence: The teacher demonstrates a technique, and we try to do this technique in pairs, training the steps over and over again until the teacher signals for us to stop, and then he proceeds to demonstrate the next technique. This cycle is continued until the kokyudosa at the end of the class. Then we go home and that’s that.

Sometimes after this sequence there may be some other training exercises like tanninzugake or jiyuwaza training that can be done. But this is the usual pattern isn’t it? Warm-up, Aiki Taiso, pair work (with or without weapons), the optional jiyuwaza/tanninzugake, and kokyudosa at the end. All Aikido dojos, regardless of “style”, follow this training pattern, don’t they?

Lately I have been reflecting on the direction Aikido is taking, considering the current training regimen we are adapting.

Aikido is a balance of philosophy and martial movement.

Movement not based on philosophy or philosophy not applicable to movement is not Aikido. All Aikido movement follow a structure based on principles, and all principles follow a structure derived from movement. Both movement and philosophy can stand alone, but for these to be Aikido, I have come to realize that one should not be without the other. O’Sensei said that Aikido is 50% Bu (practice of martial movement) and 50%  Bun (philosophy, deep learning). Our bu enlightens our bun, and our bun enlightens our bu.

I like to think of it this way:
100% Philosophy and Principles in 100% Movement  makes 100% Aikido.

I know O’Sensei is more of the mathematician. I propose this equation to emphasize the importance of both. The philosophy of Aikido is a stand-alone, and the martial movements/techniques of Aikido is a stand-alone as well. But apart from each other, it is never Aikido, nor is it partially Aikido. I have come to think that there should be a deliberate 100% philosophical rationale behind our movements and that the philosophy should also be 100% applicable to movement or techniques for it to be Aikido. This way, there is unity in mind and body, in our will and in what we do.

It is like the 2 sides of the coin. If you look at just one of either side, you can say it is a quarter (for example), but for that discoid piece of metal to be a quarter and have any real value, the faces of the two sides should have been pressed onto the coin. It is never really a quarter if only one side has a face while the other is left blank.

zen in motionOne without the other is not Aikido, or at least doesn’t really have any real value. Our actions and our intentions should manifest each other. Do we integrate the philosophy in our movements? Or the movements in our philosophy? Rather, can we integrate these given our training methods?

This is something we should think about and apply. Aikido is not just a martial art but a philosophy in itself expressed in martial movement. It is Zen in motion and the motion in Zen. It is Mu in motion and the motion in Mu. It is the universe in motion and the motion of the universe.

Aikido is the expression of peace through movement, a coming together in love.

 

(Please also see: “Mushin: The Mind without Mind“)

Rollercoaster Sensei

MonksI have a friend who is scared to take Ukemi from a certain instructor. The kind of scared that makes one whisper a prayer of protection, calling forth divine intervention every time he is the uke of this sensei during class.

This teacher’s Aikido is powerful, precise, and cunning; he can deftly keep the uke totally unbalanced throughout the technique from start to finish, and he always finishes with a bang (literally)!I have to admit, I too have my “fear” of being his uke. That feeling when you are excited and nervous at the same time. When being his uke, one has to brace himself for a roller coaster ride, complete with the loops and the twists and the view of the earth, the sky, and the physical world all around; all without a seat belt. He is Rollercoaster Sensei.

Steel Dragon 2000 (Nagashima, Mie, Japan); Photo Source: coastergallery.com

Steel Dragon 2000 (Nagashima, Mie, Japan);
Photo Source: coastergallery.com

I, myself, am not a fan of the roller coaster.

I don’t like the feeling of my center taken from under my control. I don’t like heights. I don’t like the velocity, the acceleration, the turning and the twisting. I don’t like the sudden drop the most. But I can see why roller coasters are very popular, with people waiting in line anywhere between a few minutes to hours just to have a go at the 1 minute ride: Roller coasters are thrilling! They simulate the feeling of plummeting to your death, and living through it. They give you a natural high, an adrenaline rush, with your body failing to understand that you are not going to die in the next few seconds.

And, I am a fan of Rollercoaster Sensei.

I enjoy learning from him, and believe you me, he has a lot to teach. His technique is exhilarating. Taking ukemi from him is a lesson all by itself! He can teach without teaching.

In being his uke however, I believe trust is the most important thing. Trust that Rollercoaster Sensei will not injure or kill me. Trust that even with the inertia of the movement within the technique, Rollercoaster Sensei is still in control and can return me to safety. Trust that I have done enough ukemi training, and that somehow I will survive this. When there is complete trust, you are all set. All that’s left to be done is to  give an honest attack, and do some “Mushin Ukemi”; because you know that  in that split-second after striking, you are in for the ride of your life, guaranteed!

Safety firstTo all Rollercoaster Senseis out there: Safety First.

You’re ukes are people. They have a job, a family, and a life outside the mats. Your ukes are trusting you with their lives and their health. Just be careful and be discriminate with your ukes. Please practice safely and practice safety.There is no other reason for injuries on the mats in an otherwise healthy Aikidoka other than those that result from recklessness, both as uke and tori. As I said in a previous post, prudence is always good practice.

Personally, I enjoy training with Rollercoaster Sensei. Maybe you know a Rollercoaster Sensei yourself! His Aikido is splendid. It gives you the same rush as hanging on for dear life.

 

(Please also see: Aikido: Reputation and Integrity)

Aikido: Reputation and Integrity

“ Reputation, reputation, reputation! Oh, I have lost my reputation. I have lost the immortal part of myself, and what remains is bestial. My reputation, Iago, my reputation. “

So said Cassio from Shakespeare’s Othello.

Here is a study of the human spirit. Shakespeare must have made it a lifelong mission to study, observe and effectively capture and illustrate human behaviour. If Shakespeare could have studied Aikido, he might have made a good Aikidoka taking into consideration that Aikido is also the study of the human spirit.

There are people I meet very much like Cassio.

Reputation is the end all and be all of what and everything they do. Appearances are of great import as well as hearsay and what other people will think of them. In the world of advertising, this is very important. Projecting an image to attract possible buyers or clients is a very big part of sales, marketing and advertising.

When I was a child, I was under the impression that a good child, was a silent child. Someone who did not draw undue attention to themselves, who respected their elders and did not make a peep of protestation even if their elders were unreasonable.aah Because a good child was both obedient, and silent. My parents were great, they encouraged us all to speak our minds and to be able to put forth an argument or reason for something. It was the environment outside the home that gave me that impression.

When I started to reason out or voice out my objections, my remarks were met with raised eyebrows and remonstrations from people who were not close to me or my family, people who did not know me well. I was labelled as rebellious and / or disrespectful. Saying “No” to an older person was not a positive reflection on myself or my parents. It took me a while to come around to saying “No” without feeling guilty about refusing something. People do that, you know, make you feel guilty for refusing to do a them a favor. I have learned not to be swayed by wounded looks and sullen silences; manipulations designed to convince the soft-hearted to change their “no’s” into a “yes” , okay, I’ll see what I can do…that sort of thing.

So, I gained the reputation of being that woman’s daughter who spoke her mind regardless of who was listening. Do I want to lose that reputation? No. That is also who I am. Honest to the point of being painful and blunt, sometimes.

However, reputation is not the same as integrity. 

There is a big difference. Reputation may be true or untrue, and has a lot to do with outward appearances, but integrity is truth all the way. My uncle once told my brother that the most important element in being an adult is your integrity. It is the only one you’ve got. You will not sell it, not compromise it because it runs through deep into your soul.

So what is integrity?

Integrity is the quality of being honest, the state of being whole, undivided, being consistent in your actions, behaviour, values and principles. speak truthWhen a person has integrity, he or she honors his promises, and keeps his commitments. That doesn’t mean one is infallible, but a person who has integrity recognizes and accepts responsibilities for his mistakes, and he cares enough to try his best to make them right. Upon integrity lies the basis for being trustworthy, reliable, and dependable. In integrity, one must remain unaffected by praise nor criticism. Someone with integrity cannot be bought by commendations and threats. Because what is important to someone who has integrity is being true to themselves and the values and personal beliefs they hold dear.

Would you sacrifice integrity for reputation?
Or would you sacrifice reputation for integrity?

Is it possible for one to be consistent with the other? Can reputation be congruent to integrity? Maybe if someone started out as a person with integrity in the first place and is known for it.

Picture two brick walls. One wall has no concrete or mortar filling in it, just a coat of plaster. Outside, it looks just as solid and just as strong as the other one which is also plastered over, but is filled with concrete and reinforced with cable. They both look the same, but one will break and give way when someone heavy enough strikes it.

In technique, it is possible to just look good because uke makes you look good. But wouldn’t you rather be good because your technique was based on the principles that make it work? Because you worked hard on it, because you tried to make it right, do it right, repeated it until you got it right? Wouldn’t you rather base your technique on the strength of its principles and its integrity?

Regarding reputation, I will go with Iago on this one:

“Reputation is an idle and most false imposition, oft got without merit and lost without deserving.”

(Please also see: “O’Sensei is Human“)

On Training: Aikido is for Everybody

Tanimoto Sensei Taching in Italy, 2014 Ukes: Alan Pellegrini, Arturo Bassato Photo Credit: Aikido Aishinkan Italy

Tanimoto Sensei teaching in Italy, Ukes: Alan Pellegrini, Arturo Bassato (2014)
Photo Credit: Aikido Aishinkan Italy

 “Everyone has a spirit that can be refined, a body that can be trained in some manner, a suitable path to follow. ~O’Sensei”

Everyone is unique. There are no two people alike. Some people are short, some people are tall, some are skinny, while others are big, some people are muscular, some people are flexible, some people are young, others are old… the list can go on and on.

In Aikido, we cherish each other’s differences and individual uniqueness. If you have ever gone inside an Aikido Dojo, I am almost certain you would see all kinds of people practicing on the mats. People of all ages, people with different builds, men and women, all join in training, and enjoying themselves while learning this art. This is a norm in daily practice, and everyone is welcomed, everyone is taught, and everyone is valued.


 Keiko

In training, we work in pairs to learn. Someone tall and big can be paired with someone short and skinny. Someone old can be paired with a very athletic youth. We train with all kinds of people and this is encouraged in Aikido.  In doing different techniques and exercises with different people, we train how to use our bodies just as they are, in the best way we can.

We train with what we already have and we work to discover more of ourselves.

The young can train like young people, the old can train like old people. Tall people train like tall people. Short people can train like short people. Aikido is using exactly what we have to our advantage. In Aikido, it is even more common to see old people throw young people better and more powerfully! You and I have the potential to be proficient in the art, regardless of our physical qualities. This, of course, depends greatly on the skill of an Aikido teacher to adjust his teaching to the individual needs of his students.


Overcoming Ego

If we are training correctly, we can never be frustrated with one another. This is because Aikido training is in itself, the process of overcoming ourselves. If an Aikidoka truly seeks to train earnestly, he should get rid of bias. As an example, it is counter-productive to presuppose that a tall or big person can do iriminage  better while shihonage comes easy for those who are shorter or smaller. This kind of thinking is unfair, premature, and is a perfect example of sour-graping– an alibi to keep us from trying harder:

Have you been in the shoes of the person you are referring to? Maybe that person spent countless years training those skills, tirelessly adding little tweaks here and there to maximize the efficiency and ease of his movements?

Lotus

Training to improve our attitude is as important as training to improve our skills.

The other’s training is not your problem, it is your Sensei’s. Training should be done without comparing and competing with others. Instead, the Aikidoka should seek to constantly improve himself when training with different people.


The Best Me I Can Be

Training in Aikido according to the words of the founder is to continuously “tighten the slack, toughen the body and polish the spirit“. It is turning perceived “weaknesses” into strengths.

As with everything in life, we should be wary of being complacent in the course of our training. Complacency devitalizes drive, enfeebles passion and is the bane of creativity.  The basic requirement in training is to never give up. To be complacent is to stop improving. There is always a better way.

Aikido is meant for everybody; and the goal of training is for us to become the best version of ourselves, on and off the mats.

 

(Please also see: “Aikido Beginner’s Guide: 11 Misconceptions About Training in Martial Arts“)