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Category Archives: Aikido

Life Patterns and Flexibility

Life Patterns and FlexibilityEvery day we are faced with challenges of routine, whether it is creating a routine, maintaining a routine, or changing a routine. More often than not, these happen without intervention, and the results present themselves whether you designed them or not.

The Morning Routine

The day breaks either at whatever time your body clock is set, or the time of your alarm clock. The latter is not ideal because it is an unnatural rising and you’re off into a forced routine. The trouble with this is that you will undoubtedly feel stiff, and your day starts with a ‘forced’ movement, and muscles can stiffen accordingly.

I was on this path for a long, long time, and never considered myself a ‘morning person’ – and always battled with normal, every-day flexibility when starting my day.

The solution: I decided to buy a “Lumie” alarm clock. This was designed to wake you up without noise, without sudden rising, and mimics ‘real light’ to gradually wake you up. The result? By naturally waking up, your body automatically adjusts over 20-30 minutes without you having to do anything at all; the result being you reduce and even remove the standard stiffness you can feel in the morning. Check the light out here:
Lumie Bodyclock ACTIVE 250 Wake-Up Light Alarm Clock with Extra Audio Options

Once you’re up, you must, must, have a quick morning stretching routine, to get the muscles moving, blood flowing, and generally loosen up. If you don’t do this on a daily basis, or even miss a few days, you perpetuate a stiffness that will lock up your joints, muscles, and hamper any of your sporting and martial arts. My morning routine consists of me pressing myself against the skirting board (!) to push my legs wider and gain myself that bit of leverage. It doesn’t take long before I’m pressed fully against the wall and have full flexibility once more.

All Sit Down?

We’ve all seen the evolutionary picture of ending up crouched over a computer desk, typing away with a hunched back. This is, unfortunately, extremely common and very true. The truth of the matter is, we are more certainly not designed to sit in a chair. Chairs are destructive to our mobility, flexibility, and our overall posture. If you are sitting in a chair, set yourself a simple timer for 15 minutes every day to ensure you get up out of your chair, move about, loosen up, and stop those joints from stiffening up. If you ca, get a standing desk – they will increase your productivity, improve your muscle tone, even burn more calories, but most important they will stop your spine from becoming compressed and causing disc and sciatic injuries.

If you are already in the unfortunate position of having back pain, please check out these videos for relieving sciatic nerve pain.

Beware the Slow Tense

Regardless whether you are in a chair, standing, leaning, kneeling etc. Be very conscious of your body and its positions. Again perhaps use a timer such as a “ring timer” (see below) to force you to check every 5-10 minutes until you make it a habit. What you’re checking for is any constant tension in the shoulders, arms, elbows, buttocks and particularly lower back. Modern day work demands hours and hours of constant work and tension, which too often results in over-tightness of particular areas, which in turn leads to over-compromised positions, disrupting your natural posture. These are very difficult to break unless you pay particular attention to it.

Check out a round-timer to force yourself to check every few minutes for it:
Boxing training round interval timer. Perfect for Boxing MMA Interval Tabata Training Kettlebells by Athlete Technologies

Stretching Before Sleep

Just as you should stretch when you wake up, it is equally important that you stretch yourself out before going to sleep. This will ensure that any tensions you have picked up throughout the day will not stiffen further overnight, and cause the typical and all-too-familiar trapped nerve sensations and full-body stiffness syndrome of the morning.


These routines are not exercise, they are not training, they should be part of every day of your life, and are indeed mandatory in many Japanese companies, where they have the best employee health and fitness ratios in the world.

You need to concentrate on them and do them mindfully, otherwise naturally bad patterns will creep into your life and compromise your body, flexibility and fitness.

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Thinking about Budo

Budo is about life and death. Techniques should be as efficient as possible with almost no openings. If there is even one small opening someone will eventually exploit it. Even after using a technique to successfully defeat 100 enemies you could be killed by the 101st.

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True Self Defense

The skills and technology of True Self Defense are simply an extension of those developed for survival over hundreds of thousands of years. So True Self Defense is the defense of the physical body when under some threat.

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A consistent challenge in training seems to be maintaining a balance between soft and firm. While it is pointless to block people from doing a technique {particularly beginners} it is necessary to have a certain level of intensity in training.

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O-Sensei and the Purpose of Aikido

I spent this past weekend at Raso Hultgren Sensei’s dojo in Missoula, MT training with my teacher, Mitsugi Saotome Sensei. As expected, the seminar was wonderful but I found Sensei’s exposition particularly moving this time.

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The Limiting Factor in a Student's Training

Aikido has gone from a martial art taught privately to an extremely small group of students in Japan before WWII to a publicly taught art after the war and eventually in which active measures were taken to spread the art globally in a single generation. This effort was fantastically successful. Perhaps a million people world-wide practice Aikido today.

What made this rapid growth possible was the development of a tier of teachers, not Shihan, not even mid-level but really entry-level instructors who opened dojos and clubs all over the world. Most of us in my generation were running dojos at San Dan. It was not unusual for Non-Yudansha to find themselves running clubs or programs.

[Tweet “The rapid growth of Aikido possible was the development of a tier of teachers, not Shihan, not mid-level but entry-level instructors”]

In the last forty years students of the students of the uchi deshi have begun to open schools. These are people who never trained directly under a Shihan level instructor for any significant amount of time. So now, in many communities there are multiple choices of styles and teachers. In Seattle, admittedly an extreme case, there are over twenty dojos in the immediate metro area.

I think that there needs to be a discussion of what the responsibilities of a teacher are in regards to his or her students. I think that the overriding mission that most teachers who have opened dojos have adhered to was that there was something fundamentally good about “more” people doing Aikido. That somehow they were missionaries going forth to convert the heathen and bring them into the fold.

SEE ALSO: Relevance of Aikido Techniques in Today’s World

It didn’t really matter whether they were qualified to run a school… Maybe they were the only ones in the area from a particular organization or under a particular teacher. Since organizations exist to perpetuate themselves, of course such people were permitted, even encouraged to open their own schools. It was seen as better to have a school doing things “our way” albeit at a mediocre quality, than to have the student attend a dojo with a much more senior and skilled instructor from another lineage. So not only was growing Aikido a goal in itself but so was spreading the gospel according to ones own teacher or style.

I wish to question the idea that there is something inherently good about practicing Aikido at whatever level is available as opposed to doing another practice at a high level. Most Aikido teachers are content with their roles guiding the practice of their students as long as they feel they are better than their students and have something positive to offer. I would ask people if this is really true? If a student. by choosing to train with you, is passing up the opportunity to train with another teacher, of the same art or even a different art, aren’t you actually short-changing that student?

I would suggest that, as an absolute minimum, a teacher should be offering training that will allow his or her students to be as good (even better?) than that teacher is. If each person running a dojo or overseeing the training in some community center program or other were to honestly ask this question, what would the answer be?

[Tweet “Teacher should be offering training that will allow students to be as good (even better?) than that teacher is.”]

I have come to the belief that in the majority of cases, the honest answer would be that no one in said dojo shows any sign of meeting or exceeding the skill level of the teacher. I think that in most cases, the teacher has become the limiting factor in the development of their student’s Aikido.

I hear teachers talk about “falling standards” all the time. Tests are generally conceded not to be what they were 20 years ago, weapons work is not what it was, etc. While there is general agreement that this seems to be true, I think there is very little self-examination on the part of the teaching community as to how they have created this situation.

When growth for its own sake becomes the overriding goal, when creating a harmonious and well bonded dojo community becomes more important than the transmission of the art, then there is a problem.

I have been around long enough to have seen a generation or two go forth from their respective dojos and start their own places. Many of these people have established highly successful schools, lots of students, great spirit, beautiful facilities… But when you look at the student population of these dojos you see no one who is going to be as good as their teacher. You see people who have the potential. You see people putting in the time and effort. But you don’t see the resulting progress.

I have seen tests performed by students at a given level that simply weren’t in the ball park compared to what their teachers had done at that very same level. (Boy does that make me feel old when I have seen both teacher and student test for that same rank.) What would cause a teacher to accept far less from his or her student than they had achieved at that same point in their training? I simply do not understand? It’s one thing to not know… it’s quite another to know and not pass it on.

How many people running dojos have been trotting off to seminars with their teachers for decades and having no clue what these teachers were doing? Year after year… no real change in understanding. At what point do you ask yourself what it is that you are teaching? If you know it isn’t what your teacher is doing, is what you are teaching worth while or not? Is there some inherent merit to passing in what is really not very high quality?

Aikido Class For Kids

The bottom line is that it all starts and ends with the community of teachers.

I constantly run into teachers who admit that their weapons skills are not what they’d like. Yet, these very same teachers are responsible for preparing their students to do weapons work on their tests. If they are not confidant in their skills, how can they possibly prepare others to be anything but inadequate? So the question is, why haven’t they made acquisition of these skills a number one priority so that they can do their jobs properly? Have they invited skilled teachers to come to their dojos specifically to work on these skills? Have they sought out teachers who have the skills and traveled to their dojos? Usually, the answer is no. They bemoan the fact that there isn’t more weapons training at the various seminars and camps held by the organization but do absolutely nothing to take responsibility for their own progress.

The economy has caused many smaller dojos a huge problem. In our area several have already closed their doors and moved into community centers. A number of others are marginal and their teachers actually have out-of-pocket to keep the doors open.

So the obvious question is, does that dojo NEED to stay open. Given how much time and energy it takes to run a school and minister to the needs of ones student population, combined with the ever-present financial and time pressure which interferes with doing as much personal training as one would like (or professes to wish to do), wouldn’t it simply be better to close the school and start training at another dojo with a skilled instructor? Isn’t it really better for that teacher and the art itself to have that teacher go back to being a serious student full-time than being a mediocre instructor of even more mediocre students?

I am often accused of taking an elitist position on these issues. But really… does anyone actually think that the Founder was envisioning a global community of martial arts mediocrity when he said that Aikido could change the world?

The bottom line is that it all starts and ends with the community of teachers. They are responsible to attain the highest levels possible in their art. There are responsible for passing on that knowledge. A student with the will and the ability should be able to attain excellence at any dojo. If not, that dojo probably doesn’t need to be there.

[Tweet “The bottom line is that it all starts and ends with the community of teachers.”]

I have been to dojos where talented people were being short-changed. Fifteen minutes away there was another dojo and a different teacher turning out top-notch students. This particular dojo had no reason to exist and was actually, in my opinion, a detriment to the art. Taking people’s time and money, and then not delivering is borderline fraudulent as far as I am concerned. Yet, there was no consciousness on the part of the instructor at this dojo of anything amiss.

I think the whole Aikido teaching community needs to take a hard look at itself. We need to ask ourselves if what we are passing on really represents something positive for the art and for the student. We need to be aware that every time we convince s student to train with us, he or she is choosing not to train with someone else. Do we really think we offer a quality experience that is as good or better than what that student would get elsewhere? Are we striving for quality or quantity? Are people who simply shouldn’t be training? Or do we think we should change the training to make it “accessible” to everyone? And what happens to the training of the people who could have been excellent if the training is made “accessible” to people who will never be excellent?

I once asked one of my teachers, after seeing a very poor yudansha test, who sets the standard for testing? He replied that it is the job of the instructors to set the standard. In other words, it is my job. No one is going to tell me. If I settle for less in my own training I am short-changing myself and my students. If I allow them to be less than they are capable of, even if it means that I lose the students who don’t have the commitment to go the distance, then I am short-changing my students.

I absolutely believe that it is the teacher’s job, his responsibility, his imperative, to not be the limiting factor in his own students’ training. I think the whole Aikido teaching community could benefit from a bit of brutally honest self-examination on this issue.

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5 Things I love about Iwama Aikido

For those of you who don’t know me, I started Aikido in 2004. (This year is my ten-year anniversary. eight of them have been spent here in Iwama). But before I did Aikido, I practiced another martial art: Ju-jitsu. I began training when I was a child and continued up until I went to Iwama in 2005. During that time I ran a dojo in Milton Kenyes (UK) for around 3 years, (which is still running now ) I took part in several competitions and also did some training sessions with Judo and Karate people in Northamptonshire. I loved jujitsu very much, it was the only active thing I did as a teenager, as I was not really into sports outside of P.E class in school.

However there were technical aspects of Ju Jitsu that I was not too fond of. When I started to practice Iwama Aikido I found that almost all of these points were completely different in Aikido. Aikido just seemed to fit me perfectly. So in this post I’d like to talk about the things that I really like about Iwama aikido.

1/ Integrated weapons system

One of the things I didn’t like about weapons in Ju Jitsu was that everything changed when you had a ken or a Jo in your hands. Imagine you’re a football player who starts practicing badminton. Will it make you fitter? Possibly. Will it make your better at football? Unlikely. It was just so different. When I picked up a sword it didn’t feel like I was doing Ju Jitsu anymore. It felt more like Iaido. But in Iwama Aikido, it feels the same.

The study of weapons is actually part of Aikido. It is not included for the sake of having a weapons system. Practicing weapons in Aikido feels like you are still practicing Aikido. The movements with weapons are the same as the movements when you have no weapon. You feel that practicing with weapons is actually making your Aikido better. It’s not a tacked-on discipline that feels like you are studying a second martial art

Personally I am not a big fan of cross training in similar martial arts. I know some people enjoy it, and they find the two or three martial arts they practice complement each other. But for me I prefer to do one martial art. I think one-off training sessions with other people can be great. But I think training in say Judo and Aikido would confuse your body and really hamper muscle memory, meaning your techniques can not be as fast or efficient as they might be.

Aikido weapons feel integrated. It all fits together. This is something I never really had doing Ju Jitsu and something I really love about Iwama Aikido.

[Tweet “Aikido weapons feel integrated. It all fits together”]

2/ Intuitive techniques

I have never been comfortable with the idea of blocking a strike as it comes flying towards me. In Ju Jitsu, blocking strikes is a key part of almost all the techniques. However I noticed that in competitions people very rarely block. What you often see is an exchange of strikes, dodging or covering up like a boxer. It’s not often you see the classical blocks. These blocks always seemed a little bit suspect to me. Especially when I was training with people who were much bigger and stronger than me. In Aikido however things are a little bit different.

The receiving and intercepting of strikes in Iwama Aikido seems more intuitive and natural to me. I have never felt as comfortable and confident receiving strikes as I do when I am practicing Aikido. Even when training with much bigger and stronger people.

I would say that Aikido has roughly two kinds of blocking. Evasion type blocks where we move, sliding back or to the sides, to effectively neutralize the attack. Then there are  interception style blocks where we step into the partner as the hand is raised neutralizing it before any power can be put behind it. This way of dealing with strikes feels much safer and much more effective to me.

I think maybe the great martial artist Bruce Lee agreed with me on this point. He developed his system “Jeet Kune Do” based a similar principle. Even the name means “way of intercepting fist”. There is a great video you can watch of Bruce lee talking about “Jeet kune do” where he avoids and simultaneously counter-attacks potential attacks that a boxer might use. Watching this video always reminds me of the old maxim.

[Tweet “The best defence is a good offence”]

For me the type of blocking or receiving employed in Aikido is much more natural than trying to build an unbreakable defence with strong classical blocks.

“It is easy to kill someone with the slash of a sword. It is hard to be impossible for others to cut down” Yagyu Munenori

3/ The training style

Even though Iwama Aikido is considered to be a “hard style” by many people, Aikido keiko is much easier on the body than Ju Jitsu. In Iwama during every training session we continuously practice techniques for one hour. There is not stopping, no chatting, just continuous repetition. Which is exactly what you need in a martial art or sport. You need to develop muscle memory, so techniques can be applied quickly and effectively.  And the best way to develop this muscle memory is repetition.

Of course the pace you practice at is yours to decide. But the practice is continuous. In Ju Jitsu I never experienced continuous practice without feeling very, very, sore the next day. So you would practice for a short time then find reasons to stop.

It was the same when I was a teacher too. People would do techniques a few times but then they would begin to chat about it, take a rest or a water break. It wasn’t because people were lazy or weak. It is because of the techniques that Ju Jitsu uses. Being throwing over your partner’s shoulder and down onto the mat repeatedly is not easy.  Being picked at least four feet off the ground and then dumped on your side takes its toll. It is very hard to train like this continuously for an hour. Especially after a long day at work. So we rarely practiced for an hour continuously.

Iwama Aikido’s training style is physically demanding because a partner will grab you firmly and with power. They will also not just let you push them over. However because the techniques throw your partner softly with control, ukemi is very, very, easy. This means that everyone is able to continuously train for an hour but still feel very tired at the end of practice.

4/ Aikido is relatively young

Why is this great? The main benefit is that there are still people alive who knew, saw or listened to the founder of Aikido speak. Through these people we can still feel close to the source of Aikido. Iwama Aikido has not been changed by years of modernization or by the interpretations of generations of teachers.

Some people may argue that Hitohira Sensei has changed Iwama aikido from how his father used to do it. However I have met and talked with many people who tell me that actually Hitohira sensei is merely refining what his father taught. While staying true to the key points that his father and O’sensei taught. This idea of being close to the source is something that I really love about training in Iwama Aikido.

[Tweet “This idea of being close to the source is something that I really love about training in Iwama.”]

5/ Aikido’s goal

The thing that appeals to me the most about Aikido is its goal of creating good people, not fighters. This doesn’t mean that Aikido creates people that try to talk their way out of trouble or who are cowardly or weak. Rather it means that Aikido makes people who are strong but do not look to resolve problems through strength. Aikido has an incredible depth to it that I never got out of studying Ju Jitsu.

[Tweet “Aikido’s goal of creating good people, not fighters.”]

I think because Aikido is so new there are some people still alive who really understand the deep meaning behind the technical aspects of aikido. I feel that this is something that has been completely lost in Ju Jitsu.

I love how Aikido has no competition, so that the “train to win” mentality is not nurtured. You can see it in schools now, tests are becoming more important, so teachers focus on teaching kids how to pass the test. Martial arts are the same. When you have competition people focus on how to most easily win the competition. I’m happy to study Iwama Aikido as it has not lost its core. We still try to practice it as Budo.

Today I found what I think is a really great quote. I will remember this when I feel too tired to go to practice. It will help me keep in mind what aikido’s goal is.

[Tweet “Only a warrior chooses pacifism, others are condemned to it.”]

For me this sums up what Aikido training is all about. Sensei tells us that Aikido is Budo, a way of life. We train hard to be strong. Not for the sake of being strong, but so we can choose to be peaceful, happy and live without conflict.

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Uke is Not a Victim

Ukemi – Uke is the person who receives the technique, generally the attacker. Usually involves rolling away or being pinned to the floor.

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Aikido is for Everybody

“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.

Aikido Training Session

Aikido Training Session


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.

[Tweet “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?

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.

Tanimoto Aikido Sensei

Tanimoto Sensei, 7th Dan Aikikai, teaching in Italy.

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.

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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.

When you body move

When your body moves

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.



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.

[Tweet “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.

[Tweet “The goal of Aikido training is to transform duality into oneness”]

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.

[Tweet “Resistance 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.

afferent (sensory) and efferent (motor)

afferent (sensory) and efferent (motor)

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.

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