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I believe that aiki makes people happy, but why? What is happening to us which brings such feelings of joy and pleasure?

I have often pondered upon what separates aikido from other martial arts. At a higher level I believe most of the styles end up containing these ingredients, but it was in aikido I found the partners and teachers allowing me to explore these aspects. The forms are really not the reason I am shaking in abstinence after a few hours without aikido. I am pretty much equally interested in the forms of other martial arts. However, the quality of the touch is for me intensely intriguing.

From the very fundamental exercises of elevating or lowering our arms while being held by the partner we are discovering some deep truths about ourselves and our partners. There is really no such things as shortcuts and tricks to make stuff work. Wait, of course there are, but there are counter tricks to them all, and they get us nowhere near a real solution for the problem at hand.


Blue umbrella tai no tenkan with Jacqueline at a beach in Stavanger in May 2016, photo by Jacqueline von Arb.

I often have to hide my study inside “ordinary keiko“. You know, most of the time we are too busy throwing each other in the practice, and there is little time to study. Still, I find that it is possible to search for a way to enter the mechanically impossible areas during the practice of almost any kata. Not all of my partners think it is cool to stand and search for way to make the first part of tai no tenkan for as much time as is needed.

For me the way we touch each other in aikido are very similar to the way an experienced massage therapist touches. They can put their hands on your legs and you feel suddenly a tension in your neck resolving. This quality is what I am looking for. This is what I will need to clear the way for making a movement which mechanically (outside the body mechanics) is not possible.

Like I have mentioned before I have my own little research in this period studying the pins of aikido. The restrictions are very, very similar to the restrictions in the exercise of lifting the arm while being held down by the partner. The path of the exercise is to go to the end of the form and the partner’s body is there to set the restrictions of which movements can be done. Just as it is impossible to lift the arms in a “dead way” it is impossible to bring the arms to the end of the pinning motion in a “dead way” without hurting or feeling stops in the body of the partner. In the pin we have leverage to go through any way, but I believe the study is there anyway, to find a way which does not create conflict between myself and my partner. We have to learn how to move in an “living way”.

As we reach a stop in the movement I try to find a way to continue inside myself. My partner answers what he thinks of this suggestion (speaking with his/her bodily reaction), and we can continue. Or maybe we need to search for a different solution. Very often, as we do this, very gently, the partner’s arm, shoulders and body start to speak to me. There are small spasms, small vibrations, small reactions to my actions. I believe that these are the physical representations for traumas, and they can be very deep, so it is important to be very gentle, and absolutely not confront the partner with the fact that there is a trauma. My ego of course wants me to tell. “I saw it! I had the ability to notice! I really did!” This is probably something which is embarrasing for the partner, so we need to shut up and continue the practice.


From Janne’s seminar in Prague in April 2016, photo by Aikido Praha Vinohrady.

Speaking only with the body I feel what they say, and first and foremost try to say with my body that it is OK; that it is nothing to feel embarrased about; that we are going to try and solve this now. Through the body I tell my partner: “I am here for you”. So we are doing it together. To be heard in this way is something I think is very deep touching and comforting. I have felt it myself many times, and it feels indescribably good, to be heard in such a deep way.

I believe that every partner has like a fingerprint in their body. The lines are different for every person, so every person touches naturally different parts inside of myself. In the same way, I will touch my partners slightly differently than any other person in the world. It is an encouraging thought to think that I can help my partner in a unique way, not because of something I have learned, but just because I am me, and because I am there for the partner, at that moment.

When there is a stop, the partner’s body usually tries to avoid a certain part of the path. There is fear and anxiety and it will not back down. It goes on the one side of the path or the other side, but not exactly where the kata has determined that we should go. It tenses, it jumps to the sides, it jerks the muscles. I usually stop where this happens and listens to what the partner says to me.

The sensation of this process prolonged over a longer period of time can be an intense feeling joy and happiness. Our focus shifts to the sense of feeling, and the eyes go dull, the hearing is mutied. But we can feel EVERYTHING that is happeneing. It is not at all a sexually loaded feeling, but it gives the same feeling of release. There was tension before and we become relaxed after. We had something we wanted to express which nobody wanted to listen to, and then somebody is totally there with us and listen to what we have to say. We had a very deep contact with our partner, but in this case it does not matter if it is a different gender from our sexual orientation. Our way of touching each other are of a non sexual nature, but it still feels wonderful when we are with a partner in such a way. It is very much like the wellbeing after a very good massage.

An image I am very often using is that my partners body turns into water. I am just holding on to the weight of the arm and following it as it flows down towards the end of the pin. As this little river flows I am trying to create a natural path which is getting closer and closer to the path of the martial kata we are doing. For the partner it feels nice because it induces a flow in an area where there has been stagnation for so long. An area which has been inactive becomes filled with life again.


Tai no tenkan with Andrea in Lillsved July 2015, photo by Katarina Gullberg.

We don’t do so much pins in the clubs I normally practice in. We are mostly throwing each other. So this part is something that comes to my mind only sometimes, whenever we are practicing with a pin at the end. Still I try to do my throws in the same way. However, when the partner is standing and moving the little traumas are much easier to conceal. There is much more dynamic movement, for good and for bad.

Until about five years ago I used to love most of all to practice shomen uchi. The practice of timing and the sharpness of the practice was very inspiring for me. It still is, but now I feel that I need to touch deeper. So my most intense interest is in the grabbing practice. Any form of grabbing. Every grab exposes a different aspect, from a different angle so it is very facinating. I almost feel that if the strong grabbing practice is missing I am only breathing with shallow breaths in my life. This happens when there are only practice where we are not allowing the partner to fully grab us. We do get some contact at some point, but only very superficial. I love to have several points of my body connected to several points of my partner’s body. That situation creates a world of exploration of the inner structure of our bodies. As we are moving together within these restrictions something new will always show up. It never becomes boring. Even with the same partner we will always find something new, something deeper, something more hidden.

I have recently had discussions (and most of all listened to the discussions of others around the table, I am a shy person who don’t speak much in a crowded room) with other aikidoka about what aikido is and what budo is. Maybe what I am studying is neither aikido nor budo. Who am I to say? Still, I need those martial aspects there. Without the martial kata I can’t do my study. Without the martial partner I can’t do my study. However, my goal is not to destroy, but to resolve conflict; to make peace; to heal something painful in my partners; to make them happy, and become happy myself.

Enjoy your keiko! Aikido makes people happy!