Discovering Aikido: Principles for Practical Learning  ©





The appearance of an 'enemy' should be thought of as an opportunity to test the sincerity of one’s mental and physical training.  O Sensei


The mind is a very complicated thing to comprehend. It controls us while we try to think about it. How can we gain a measure of conscious control over the mind?


(a) Co-ordination

In Aikido, we practice everything equally on the left and right sides. While this can be very confusing in the beginning, it leads to improved co-ordination of mind and body alike as a literal translation of the word 'Aikido' implies, and allows one to see more clearly what others are doing; it makes one more dextrous, and balances out unevenness in the mind and body. Some schools emphasise one side only and in terms of the reality of self-defence it can be a practical method, but the inquisitive student should require more than that.



(b) Focus

Concentration is the most mysterious of powers. Who could measure it? Can its existence be proven? Who could produce it outside of the body? In a sense, it does not exist yet no one would deny it can be of tremendous power. Some people have it all, others have none. What is important is that it can be developed, and it must be, otherwise one will never be able to learn Aikido. Concentration is necessary to learn any new skill and once one has developed it, it remains available for use elsewhere, in education or in business. Determination is as mysterious as concentration and is necessary for success in overcoming obstacles. Too much may blind one to the reality of one's misdirection and too little will go far in achieving nothing. Concentration and determination are apparent in the frowning gaze and alert tension of the body and result in one being in focus for the moment.


Visible concentration and focus.


(c) Zanshin

Zanshin, which translates as 'remaining mind' or is sometimes called 'concentrated concentration', is commonly referred to as that state of mind kept when finishing a technique. For example, in table tennis a good player plans their shot a moment ahead in time and imagines it striking home; one can also often glimpse them focusing on the ball for a moment even though it was 'in' and has already gone past their opponent - just making sure, and focusing on that moment. A broader interpretation of zanshin can be likened to driving a car, for which one needs constant awareness. In Aikido one needs to develop these three kinds of before, during, and after zanshin.


  Maintaining focus after the technique is finished.


Usually, awareness is aroused at the beginning of class with the initial bow. Here, concentration increases. During practice, tori's awareness will increase when bowing to uke. It will increase further as uke prepares to attack. At this moment, one's concentration becomes determination. And after much practice, one's awareness should be apparent all the time, sometimes broadly, sometimes focused. Awareness can also be divided according to the yin / yang principle. A yang type of awareness might be overt whereas a yin type might remain somewhat hidden, yet present. In martial terms, awareness is a changing mix of alert concentration and alert determination, which in composite, signify that one is wide-awake.

(d) Calm mind

The natural adrenaline based instinct of fight or flight is a response that might result in more trouble than one bargained for. First, one has to overcome it. Only then can it be utilised it to advantage. The calm mind is a controlled mind. Anger in the mind will interfere detrimentally with the workings of the body both in terms of health and of technique. A calm mind allows one to have a broader view into which things fall into their natural perspective. A calm mind can sum up a rapidly deteriorating situation in a short space of time. That same calm mind is likely to offer a clearer solution. And if a decision is made to act, the adrenaline may still be there, if it is needed.

(e) The inner-eye

The inner-eye, or mind's eye, is that through which you see your self. For example, it is particularly useful when learning new techniques. In the beginning one may get confused with all the movement being demonstrated, not knowing where to place one's gaze. Should I watch the hands? Should I watch the feet? Worse, one may fall into the trap of just watching the spectacle of the demonstration after which one will not have the slightest clue of where to start. With the mind's eye one places the self in the teacher's shoes, and, even though one is sitting and watching, one imagines going through the same technique as the teacher in real time. Another use of the mind's eye is to visualise something before it happens, and therefore respond 'in time' accordingly. Good soccer players often visualise the ball 'going in' the moment just before they kick. In Aikido then, using the mind's eye one learns to anticipate uke's attack and thus can move slightly before uke arrives and take the lead.

With beginners, if uke attacks before tori is ready, then tori will be taken by surprise and will not react until the mind clears and good measure is taken of the situation. This is no good. To solve this, before offering the hand to be grabbed, tori should quickly imagine what needs to be done. If uke rushes forwards too soon, tell them, 'No!' Going through it once, in the mind, leads to a better result. Once ready, tori offers the hand, uke grasps, and the technique is performed like clockwork. Perhaps not the spontaneous aiki of one's dreams, but a beginning. The more one practices, the shorter the thinking time becomes. A practical route to 'no-thought' for those who do not want to waste a lifetime hoping that one day, ‘It'll just happen.’


(f) Gaze

Some say watch the eyes for intention. Depending upon intensity, looking into the eyes can instil aggressiveness, firmness, confidence, or calmness. Looking away might convey nonchalance, doubt, insecurity, or fear. The true spirit can be hidden and all can be used to advantage. Others say watch the body or shoulders for clues of movement; the hips or shoulders move a certain way before a punch. Or it maybe that watching the body really means - avoid the eyes. The school of thought that avoids the eyes advises; watch the point between they eyes; watch the chest; watch a point beyond the attacker, and so on.

Table tennis is a very fast game and common advice is to watch the ball. But while one needs to know where the ball is, there is no need to look at it. With experience one instinctively knows where to find the ball. When playing, one has to see everything. The ultimate shot in table tennis is when one gauges the opponent's intention so well that one can lead them about at will and then with a slow nonchalant flick, send the ball to one corner just as they rush in lured anticipation to the other. In table tennis doubles, real skill lies in being able to make them collide into each other. One cannot do this by watching the ball. Another analogy is driving a car. If one only looks at, and follows, the car in front, roadsigns will be missed and a crash may result. One has to look at nothing in particular, yet see everything. Aikido is the same. When training, even in the midst of technique, take the time to gaze around, see who is where, listen, hear, take note of what else is going on in the dojo, see safe space - no one is there, no one is coming, throw uke down. Uke needs to be aware too. Accidents in the dojo happen because people are not aware of what is going on around them. Training in a crowded dojo can be good practice; in time, knowing where to throw and where one is being thrown will become automatic.


(g) Visualisation

Already mentioned above, the good tori can visualise what is going to happen and what he is going to do a moment before it happens. It is also important to add an element of change/flexibility however, as, things do not always go according to plan. So, whatever technique you are doing, keep an alert open mind and feel for what uke is doing. Most uke's just follow you after you take control. A gently resisting alive uke can be your best friend however as it trains you to respond to his movement rather than just process a technique because the teacher told you to do it. The aim is aiki, not the waza.



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