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Keep Weight Underside

…observations from the mat – july 2013…

There’s no secret to balance. You just have to feel the waves.

~ Frank Herbert

it begins by approaching in a relaxed state, with no tension at Hara of in the vicinity of Hara, such as the hips or lower back.

it then evolves by taking up ki slack, taking up, blending with Uke’s ki, and putting it to Hara, which, if relaxed, is like a pond into which a ki waterfall empties itself.

it then becomes a flow of ki, an extension of ki to begin the movement. with ki focused, and coordinated, let ki be the start of the motion. lead the motion and follow the motion, but do not push the movement (or pull it). it starts with the other. if the other does not start the motion, then focus on ki yet again.

When you’re rigid it’s because inside there’s uncertainty. When you’re confident about something you stay relaxed.

~Ken McLeod

do not push or pull to start the movement. once and only once the movement begins, only then can some action like weight underside become valuable. but never with the tension, only with weight underside or natural movement. like leading or following with more weight – but just enough weight.

the sequence is like so…

…two hands on the wrist
…relax completely
…pick up ki and blend into a relaxed Hara and Hara space
…extend ki from Hara into direction of movement
…sense and feel the movement begin from the Uke
…with movement initiated, weight underside accelerates – not muscle tension
…let weight fall and ki extend down to the ground
…the movement is done

“I do not know the way to defeat others, but the way to defeat myself.”

~Yagyū Munenori

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The highest motive is to be like water . Water is necessary to all living things, it asks nothing in return , Rather is flows humbly to the lowest level. Nothing is weaker then water , yet against those things which are strong and hard , nothing can surpass it , nor stand in its way. May we all learn the way of water.

-anonymous

Early on in my study of aikido, I had the opportunity to study with an aikikai school in Montreal. I found the two years a good experience but was left disappointed in that I did not feel like I was connecting with the subject matter per se. I’m not sure if it was the school or me. At the time, I was convinced it was the school. But reflecting on those moments, I’m sure it was more the lack of fit between my own journey and the school’s approach to teaching.

And so I spent the following years researching and reading – turning my practice into a study of philosophy rather than one of pins and rolls. It was in that period that I read Steven’s the philosophy of aikido.

In those pages I’ve found the most inspirational and insightful quote to impact my life: masakatsu agatsu, katsu ayami … True victory is self victory.

Stevens states that this was the answer O Sensei quoted every time he was asked the purpose of aikido. At first, I found the answer a bit simplistic, but as I’ve studied over the years, and read other texts, references and books of wisdom, I’ve found myself coming back to this quote, and finding it more profound and deep.

Today, it is felt in my body, and not understood in the intellectual sense. It resonates with the moments when I am fully present and when I am fully aware. As I take my practice forward, I find myself focusing more and more on these few words, and continue to better appreciate what O Sensei implied in his response.

A perfect example of simple, but not easy.

To close today, another wise person also expressed what I believe was the same essence when he stated:

… a person knows that whatever is wrong in the world is in himself, and if he only learns to deal with his own shadow, then he has done something real for the world. he has succeeded in removing an infinitesimal part of the unsolved gigantic problems of our day …

~ C.J. Jung

Aikido-: The word “aikido” is made up of three Japanese characters: AI; harmony, KI ; universal energy, DO ; the Way. So the proper definition for Aikido is “The way of harmony with universal energy.”

I recently finished reading the article Manage your Energy, not your Time, by Tony Schwartz and found myself drawing many parallels with my aikido practice, most notably with respect to how the four energy forms outlined by Schwartz overlapped and might in fact coincide with the four principles of aikido.

The four energy forms outlines by Schwartz included:

mental
physical
emotional
spiritual

In summary, Schwartz argues that the various energy forms are constantly in flux and our challenge is to seek a level of balance and harmony between them. Schwartz contends that if you manage your energy, your productivity and output significantly increases. He also contends that in this context, you don’t manage your time, since time is finite and limited. Your energy is for all intents and purposes, much more abundant, renewable and can be accessed once we know how to balance it.

In assessing Schwartz’s work, a question came to me: could the four forms of energy be in fact one energy taking four different forms? Could the energy that Schwartz was advocating we manage better be in fact one energy, the life energy, manifesting in four different ways? If so, there might be a way to represent Schwartz’s four forms of energy against the Aikido principles that provide the way to harmony of mind, body and spirit.

At Ryurei Aikido, the four principles developed by Koichi Tohei are extended to include a fifth principle in “detach from all”.  Again, the principles are:

keep one point
keep weight underside
relax completely
extend ki
detach from all

Through some reflections of my various moments on the mat when the ki was or was not flowing, and harmony was blocked by some issue with energy (ki), I’ve come up with the following proposed relationship between the Aikido principles and the four energy forms. I’ve observed that primary and secondary relationships may exist as well – in essence, each energy form is primarily associated with each Aikido principle, and an alternate energy is also associated, although on a secondary level.

As an example, keeping weight underside (Aikido principle #2) is primarily impacted by the balance of our physical energy. Poor physical energy may result in difficulties in manifesting keeping weight underside. Similarly, weakened spiritual energy may also interfere with achieving effective keeping weight underside.

Although I’ve observed in my own practice the blocking of energy leading to difficulties in manifesting certain principles, I’ve been much more intrigued by the opposite implication: that achieving one of the four principles (and hence all of them, since if you achieve one, you achieve them all) leads to a balance of the four energies. In other words, achieve harmony of mind, body and spirit through full manifestation of the four + one principles, and one can achieve harmony and balance of the four energies outlined by Schwartz. Interestingly, achieving the fifth principle – detach from all – may bring all four energies together at once – possible given that detachment from all in effect liberates us from all external factors, allowing internal energies of mind, body, spirit and heart (mental, physical, spiritual and emotional) to naturally fall into equilibrium.

Observe how your energies are harmonized during practice and note how each may or may not be impacted by your choice of principle, or vice versa, how the four + one Aikido principles bring one or more of the energies into a balanced state. I propose that you consider Aikido as the way of harmony not only with the energy of the universe, but the various forms that universal energy might take in our daily live. In that context, a further dimension of the impact of Aikido can be explored.

I recently read “this is aikido” by Koichi Tohei, and was struck by one portion where he wrote about the relevance of the four principles to one’s state of mind and the behaviors anchored by each of the principles. Although simple to list, I find a resonance between the principles and the challenges I sometimes face on the mat, or off it. For example, when not feeling positive, extending Ki appears to bring a positive mindset quickly to the fore. Keeping weight underside is hugely helpful when there are tough decisions to make at the office or at home. Relaxing completely makes me open and receptive to ideas or thoughts that may not at first glance align with my values and principles. And keeping one point appears to keep one’s mind focused and in the moment.

In summary, from this is aikido by Koichi Tohei :

keep one point

unity of mind

immovable mind

extend ki

positive mind

power of will

keep weight underside

calmness

judgement

relax completely

tolerance

composure

Be like a ball floating down a roaring river. Thrown about, sometimes taken by the undertow, maybe floating aimlessly, the ball never ceases but to float and respond to the moment, in a state of dynamic balance.

Some years ago, I read Aikido and the Dynamic Sphere, and of the many ideas and lessons I took from the text, the one that stuck most with me was the idea of flowing like a ball along the earth. By imagining the hara as the center of the ball, I’ve come to see myself somedays on the mat as having a stable, relaxed core, surrounded by a dynamic shell of kI that can adapt to the moment and the motion of my center. By thinking, or even better, feeling, that my hara is always supported by some shell of Ki, I’ve recovered myself more than once in moments where balance or attention have waned.

More recently, I’ve taken the practice of envisioning myself as a ball floating down a roaring river. Unlike the hard earth, feeling like I’m floating is, for me, more like the feeling I frequently get when on the mat. There is a buoyancy that comes when the feeling if the one point is balanced upon the ground immediately below. As I’m pushed or pulled by Uke, I remain afloat, maybe sinking a bit, maybe bobbing, but always in a state of dynamic balance.

As a dynamic sphere floating on the torrents of the moment, I don’t worry about the big waves, the impending waterfall or the roaring rivers ahead. The feeling of being in dynamic balance is enough. At that point, technique emerges from the point of calmness and stillness, seeking to maintain and support this state of balance.

So next time you step onto the mat, or into the world, enjoy the feeling of the dynamic sphere and float.