First of all, please don’t think that my blog has changed into a Harry Potter fan club. It’s just that Harry exemplified exactly what I’ll be talking about in this post, especially the facial expression, so bare with me:) I think it’s so interesting how you can take one basic, little principle of Aikido and, looking at it close enough, see how even the smallest thing relates so intensely to life off the mat. It doesn’t even have to big a big, core principle like “being centered” or “staying relaxed”. Core principles such as these obviously relate to everyday life in many ways, and can help us immensely on a daily basis. I’m talking here about the small things we discover years into our training, or the little details we may be working on to prepare for our next test.
Something I’ve been working on lately in my training is trying not to reach so much. This applies to both sides of Aikido, the attacker (uke) side and the technique application (nage) side as well. Being too far out on my toes and really reaching for the grab or the strike left me very vulnerable to injury or a sloppy atemi (strike), so making sure I had my weight centered between my toes and heels as much as possible, the whole way through the attack and the fall, has helped my ukemi drastically. Same goes with applying the technique, especially when doing a big throw like a kokyu nage or something along those lines, where the end result is projecting uke way out there, I’ve found my weight always being on my toes with my arms reaching waaaay out and almost throwing myself in that same direction. It looks kinda cool, and I really feel like I’m hucking uke, but I am incredibly vulnerable to a reversal if uke is centered. Same thing when there’s a strike or grab coming in, and we’re doing Ikkyo or Kotegaishi where the first move is to “grab” the wrist, it’s sooooo tempting to want to focus entirely on the target to be “grabbed” (quotations because we eventually learn that it’s more like a cutting motion to the wrist, not exactly a grab) and really reach out for it.
The fact that most ukes are incredibly accomodating and don’t change their attack half way through, makes it all the more tempting to do this. Because we train mostly with a prescribed attack and technique, after a while we think this might actually work out like this if it were to actually happen. The thing is that if someone was actually coming in to grab you or strike and they clearly saw you commit that much to grabbing the wrist, they might just do something else you’re not ready for. As soon as you commit to doing that action, in this case grabbing the wrist, you have also attacked, and have lost your center, rendering yourself just as open as they are. I’ve found that keeping my mental presence centered at all times (yeah, I know, easier said than done), Aikido is so much more effortless and safer for both parties when I let the attack come in and support uke through the technique until they land safely and we do it again. Don’t get me wrong, we don’t want to just stand there staring at the attacker and move last second. At a certain point of our training, we can move quickly while maintaining this stillness within our balance and psyche and kind of lead the attacker where it’s easiest to support them through the technique, if we’re skilled (or lucky) enough to have this luxury. But that’s why we train, I suppose.
So this has lead me to believe that “reaching” is bad. To boil it down, reaching is something that feels powerful to the dumb ego, but in reality is nothing more than a sloppy, greedy, attack. Well, this totally applies to life off the mat! How often do we reach for stuff, daily? We reach to get that thing we want, or we reach while “standing up for ourselves”, or we reach for trying to keep that someone from leaving, or we reach for trying to prove ourselves, or we reach for trying to fit in or be a certain way so people might like us better…. It happens all the time, and 100% of the time, I believe that reaching is bad. If we just still our minds during the inertia of whatever is going on and deal with what’s coming at us in a calm yet assertive way, things tend to work out much better. Something that can be so easily downplayed while on the mat is actually very important on a daily basis on and off the mat. That’s another thing that’s so cool about this art.. We can take something small that we may have heard from someone helping us in class, or even something we notice ourselves, which, at the time, seemed minimal, and we can see how this applies elsewhere. It could be “Don’t look at the ground while turning” or “Bring your back foot up under your hips after throwing”….anything! These things all have an off-the-mat equivalent that is very interesting to correlate.