What we are striving to achieve in aikido is actually so complicated that we can’t really fully comprehend all the actions of the body needed to do it. We are aiming for a way to move together with our partner, as one. No pushing, no pulling, no twisting action of any kind should be sensed by any of the partners (one might ask oneself what kind of movements are left?). In order for the contact to become completely “transparent”, to communicate with the partner like if he/she is part of your own body, or like we are part of his/her body, I believe we need to activate parts that are normally guided by the autonomous system. These parts move autonomously (as the name implies) and our mind has a very limited way of controlling it.
In addition we need to use our body in such a complex way involving such an amount of impressions and small adjustments that we just can’t even fully control the parts which are normally controlled by our mind. Thus I believe that we need images to be able to proceed on our road. At first these images are our complete focus when we are doing the movement. We are trying to forget everything else and just focus only on the image we decided to use. Later, when we know the feeling we can gradually focus on other things than the image, and become more free again. However, for a period of time I believe that it is useful to completely go into the study of an image, forgetting everything else and just trying to get that part right.
I will try to describe some of my images, or thought experiments, here. It might not even be relevant for other people. Only a very few of all the images which has been described for me works when I try them out. They make sense when I think about them, but I can’t get the feeling they are supposed to give. Examples of these are the famous image of the water hose when I tried to learn the unbendable arm, and the less famous in most circles image of rotating all the fingers in the opposite direction of a desired rotation (if you wish to rotate your arm to clockwise, you imagine rotating each finger counterclockwise). Maybe these images does not work because of the problems I have which I discussed in an earlier post (Loser), but I think everybody’s mind works a little bit differently so we don’t all need to use the same images. As long as we have a few that works for us we are golden.
The floating liquids/ opening the gates
This is the feeling I have when I get treatment at the osteopath. I believe what he is doing is very closely related to what we are doing. He is not trying to move me around, but he is connecting and fixing things in my body by shifting “things” around. This feeling of shifting these liquids, or these images of liquids, around has become a very powerful tool for me to study. When everything else is stuck, this is the only thing that really works. If my partner grabs very strongly and even the most subtle trick is revealed and blocked (this is usually what happens if the partner is scared and are protecting himself/herself) I usually start by stopping everything I do and close my eyes.
First I put my complete focus on every joint between my centre and my partner’s point of contact. If my partner is stiff, I will naturally become stiff myself. With every joint I check that I can move it slightly around and try to imagine opening a gate so that the liquids can pass through it. When I reach the partner’s point of contact I try to do the same with his/her joints, as far as I am able to. When I feel that the path is clear I try to remember the feeling from my osteopath. For me the feeling starts inside my skull. My eyes float around, and I can feel liquids shifting around in my head. I try to let them float through the gates and into my partner.
If I can get this image, I can move. Sometimes we are so blocked that I can’t get that feeling, or my partner does not allow me the time it takes for me to construct this image. People who let go and start talking are pretty much the only training partners I can’t work with. I do not have any images to solve that problem.
The unmovable second partner
This image I got from a good friend of mine who is very stable and quite hard to move, in a positive kind of way. The energy goes easily in, but it goes to the ground. Any attempts to force it will cause me to push on something stable. I used this image and magnified it. I imagined how it would be to be held by a huge tree. Thick branches around my arm and a tremendous stem going deep into the ground. The imaginary partner is totally holding me physically still, but leaving my energy free to move.
During tai no tenkan I now often use this image to stop me from moving the parts which normally start to move if I am stuck with my real partner. I imagine the unmovable (imaginary) partner holding on to my second arm. I put my focus on that arm and forget about the arm my real partner is holding. Then I use the image of opening my joints described before and try to do the corresponding movement on my free arm, which I am imagining that is being held and therefore cannot move. The real partner will start to move without feeling any force in the grab.
The Micheline commercial
I usually have a problem between my shoulder blades, especially behind the right one. It is a “dead zone”. It is soft, but too soft. It lacks “life” or “bounce” or “structure”, or whatever I should choose to call it. It is like a dark area where it is very hard for me to have any awareness. It is part of my body and it is there, but it is not active.
To solve this Jorma (my sensei) told me to imagine that I am the guy in the Micheline tire commercial. I imagine inflating everything like if my body was a trie (which would make me look like the Micheline logo). Usually this helps me fill energy into the area which lacks energy. It works because the image of the Micheline guy is tire, and in a tire the pressure is the same all around. There are no places where the pressure is less. I imagine inflating myself and usually this helps me to move when my partner holds me strongly. However, the most important part is of course that I get life into the dead zone and heal myself during the keiko. Wether I can throw my partner or not is really insignificant.
Extending the fingers
This is one of the first images I were taught when I started aikido. However, my real discovery came a few years ago when travelling with Jorma to Kristianstad. I remember doing “tai no tenkan” with some good friends there who have such big hands that they were squeezing my entire underarm when grabbing. They contracted my muscles located in the underarm which controls the fingers so that the fingers became bent and tense. If I did like I had always done before and forcefully extended my fingers it would make me even more stuck than I already was.
Instead I went into the feeling of the grab. With respect to that feeing I would work on gently extending my fingers, focusing on them one at the time. By working on my own fingers I was connecting to the corresponding part of my partner through the muscles in my underarm, clearing the way to make the movement. Each of my fingers would correspond to my partner’s fingers. If I were able to extend my fingers without violating the feeling from the grab, I would always be able to move.
I found that the same goes for partners with normally sized hands. Everything just becomes more subtle. I have heard that in Chinese medicine each part of the hand, and each finger, corresponds to a different part of the body. I do not know anything about this so I will only mention it, but I believe that through the fingers I am connecting different parts of my body to the corresponding parts of the partner’s body.
This one is more difficult to describe clearly. Both because it is private, and because I do not understand it. Sometimes, to work on releasing a block in my shoulder, I go back to the most happy moments of my life. Not the constructed happy moments from the keiko, which are awesome in themselves, but the natural happiness, the real happiness which can’t be constructed or controlled.
When the world outside the bubble disappears completely and you forget about even hunger and thirst because it does not matter. Nothing else matters. Not the world. Not me. Only her.
If I manage to get even a small part of the feeling from being in that happy bubble the block will immediately cease to exist. However, it is a very difficult feeling to bring back from the memory. It is like building a bridge out of wood which has passed out of this world long ago.
My partner can feel that the block dissolves as well, even if he/she have no idea how or why, so I know that it is not only in my head. It is real.
Enjoy your keiko! Aikido make people happy!