Sunday, March 1, 2009

Under The Blade

Under The Blade

As I was learning the ukemi for sankyo and nikkyo my Sensei passed on an important and universal insight: “In Aikido we go under the blade.” Typically when we are on the receiving end of joint locks, or most localized pain, we tend to stiffen and instinctually attempt to get away. However, if we try to fight a joint lock it only gets worse. The proper response is to stay soft and go with it, to relax into the hold as much as possible. This helps Tori/Nage to better learn his side of the kata, and keeps Uke from being injured.

The lesson for training is obvious. I have found joint locks easier to tolerate and training to be safer as I relax. This of course applies to other holds, throws, and grappling applications. A crucial component of Internal Martial Arts training is learning to be soft. A common mistake in the early stages of learning is attempting to power through applications, to use strength instead of technique and proper form. The key to Asian Martial Arts is to be smarter rather than simply stronger, to correctly use your partner’s energy against him rather than overpowering him. On the flip side of this Uke should also resist the temptation to resort to strength. In the processes of free sparring and combat the roles of Uke and Tori are dynamic. Intelligent relaxation is crucial for everyone.

I can remember first attempting to body surf in the Atlantic on a fairly rough-water day. As the waves began to break I was no longer swimming and had lost all control to the power of the ocean. Instinctively I stiffened and tried to right myself to ensure a smooth landing. The wave promptly stood me on my head and crashed down on top of me. I ended up with a headache, a nose full of salt water and trunks full of sand. After a few more attempts and few more crashes I learned to relax and let the wave carry me along. The result of course was an enjoyable ride and a smooth landing on the beach.

The practical and metaphorical lessons for life outside the dojo, or off the beach, are also obvious. Life has a way of seemingly spinning out of control. We often feel as if we are blown or carried by greater forces, as if we are at their mercy. We do well to relax into such situations. In fact we do well to relax into all of life, to use the greater forces of life to our advantage. Buddhism teaches that we go with all the situations of life, even the painful ones. We cannot resist any of the changes we are presented with. It is obviously better to experience them for what they are as calmly as possible.

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