"A good stance and posture reflect a proper state of mind"
"True victory is victory over oneself."
Morihei Ueshiba, founder of Aikido
"Be like water making its way through cracks. Do not be assertive, but adjust to the object, and you shall find a way around or through it. If nothing within you stays rigid, outward things will disclose themselves. Empty your mind, be formless. Shapeless, like water. If you put water into a cup, it becomes the cup. You put water into a bottle and it becomes the bottle. You put it in a teapot, it becomes the teapot. Now, water can flow or it can crash. Be water, my friend.”
― Bruce Lee
"It's okay to lose to opponent. Must not lose to fear"
--Mr. Miyagi (Fictional)
Like many people, I fell in love with the martial arts through movies. Starting out with 'Star Wars' and swashbuckling movies, moving onto 'Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon' and Hong Kong Cinema ('Once Upon a Time in China'; 'IP Man'); the beautiful swirls of movement, at once violent and fluid, turbulent but centered, fascinated me. Being a nerd sometimes picked on by jocks, it made me want to have that strength. I became a martial arts dabbler--I took a fencing class, some T'ai Chi, Shidokan Karate, stage combat classes through my theatre conservatory. One of my mentors at BU, the late playwright/actor/educator Jon Lipsky, was a black belt in Aikido and created an informal class to teach it to some of his students. Though all the classes that had come before had been good for picking up technique and challenging my toughness, this was to be my first taste of the martial arts mindset: Aikido, as taught by Jon, was not just a self-defense technique, but a way to process and improve your daily life, and was as much a mental discipline and philosophy as it was a physical system. Through Jon, I learned that you could conquer an opponent through non-aggression and standing in yourself much more easily than by taking an aggressive approach. It changed my entire concept of what strength is.
Fast forward several years to Chicago and my second year of A.T. teacher training. I decided I wanted to re-explore my connection to the martial arts, and lived conveniently close to the Midwest Aikido center, one of the largest and well reputed dojos in the country. Partially to have a hobby to see me through the interminable Chicago winter, I enrolled. While learning there (and nursing bruises after sessions) , I had a remarkable opportunity to notice shared values and similarities between this art and the Alexander Technique. Below are a few simple intersections:
1. Posture is Everything
One of the first things you learn in an Aikido class is the importance of your posture. It affects your fluidity of movement and your ability to stand in yourself while meeting the energy of another's attack. If your posture is poor in one way or another, you are off-balance and will be easily swayed when attacked. If you have good posture, you can take the attacker's energy and direct it around your center in a circular motion without having to contribute oppositional energy to the interaction(this can be done whether you move in space with footwork or not). This posture is not just physical but has to do with how you direct your Ki(energy). One of the benefits of learning the Alexander Technique is an improvement in poise, and I found using A.T. Directions(energetic postural thoughts) to channel my Ki to be very effective. Also in common is the concept that the head/neck/spine relationship is central to good movement--nowhere in the Aikido movement vocabulary is this relationship compromised. Howevewr the attacker's Use is compromised as a result of the techniques used on them--this is part of what gives you the power to throw or control them!
2. The Importance of Non-Doing and Adaptability
Central to Aikido is the concept that you are not meeting the aggressor's attack with like energy(doing) but with yielding and re-direction(non-doing). In Aikido philosophy, to oppose the energy results in self harm--even if you are physically unscathed from the interaction, the aggressive damage to the other leaves a mark on you. Also, because you are not committing your energy but instead are responding to an attack, its makes you more adaptable than your opponent, which allows you ultimately to win. Part of this is the ability to not respond habitually to an attack but instead choose the means to counter the attack based on what your opponent presents in the moment--all of this is very much in line with the Alexandrian concept of Inhibition. 'Like water', as Bruce Lee would say it, you learn to flow and adapt to any scenario.
3. The Way to Improve is through Self Mastery(Fear is the Enemy)
The purpose of Aikido is not necessarily to be able to win a bar fight (although Senseis have a curious way of using that as an example in demonstration scenarios). Rather, it is a way of learning to respond to any scenario with better command and ability, on or off the mat. More than anything else, its learning how to not give in to fear during an attack but instead respond by staying expanded and anchored in calm and how to use someone else's aggressive energy against itself. This counteraction of fear also shows up in the art of taking Ukemi (practicing the attacker role and learning how to roll with throws and locks without being injured). This gives you a feeling of confidence and capability in your life. The idea of learning how to respond to a challenging stimulus by expanding rather than contracting and ignoring the habitual pull of fear is central to the way I teach the Alexander Technique. Most habit is tied to and caused by fear. By breaking or challenging your habit, you challenge and can dispel that fear in your life. This is one of these disciplines greatest common gifts.
Below this entry I have included a link to a YouTube clip of the 2013 Japanese team demonstrating at the World Combat Games. I hope you watch and enjoy.
Arigato gozaimasu. Until next time.
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Thoughts on what is going on in the work and the world right now. Many posts to come.