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Think Big, Do Small;
Think All, Do Nothing

Ancient aiki proverb
(Jorma Lyly)

There is a natural balance in the Universe. Every action has a corresponding counter action. Every push or pull has a corresponding counterpart. There is no way of getting around this. Sometimes, for example due to the finite speed of light, or gravitons, the balance might be shifted for a period of time, but the balance always returns as time passes.


Ushiro waza with Marius in Sjøholt, December 2016. Photo by Sigurd Hatlen.

I believe this is also true for our intention. Our intention is an expression of our ego. We want something, and we express it in different ways. If we express our intention to our partner in the keiko, our partner might help us, and go along with whatever we are doing, because that is the way we have agreed on practising. However, by nature, if we experience sensation of force on ourselves, we naturally respond by creating a counterpart to the push, pull or rotation which we are detecting. It is the natural way we keep our posture and balance.

An example could be the way we walk. Under our soles we have different contact points with the ground. Each of our ten toes, the inner and outer front of the foot, the blade of our foot and the heel. These 18 points are constantly measuring the pressure from the ground and respond immediately if they are detecting irregularities.


Ushiro waza with Marius in Sjøholt, December 2016. Photo by Sigurd Hatlen.

In our practise we are agreeing on falling. We are exploring by experiencing the loss of our balance to the point that we are actually doing our falls in a complete balance. Not the normal one of course, but even when we are upside down in the air, there is no loss of control, perfectly balanced in our movement. However, the normal way humans move, are by walking, and we do not normally like to fall. So our system protects us by responding to any outside manipulation with an equal, but opposite force.

I actually will go as far as to say that when this interaction is person to person this rule goes also for our intention. Any intention in one, will be balanced out by a equal, but opposite directed counter intention in the other. Like I said, we usually agree on helping each other, but this is a natural reaction, so if we are caught by surprise, we will do it without thinking, to restore our balance.


Ushiro waza with Marius in Sjøholt, December 2016. Photo by Sigurd Hatlen.

So how can we ever be able to make a movement with our partner? Our intention is what we normally use to make actions. We wish to do something, we want something, and this is our ego speaking. And that is where the problem lies, I think. The moment we make a movement the partner will stop us. The partner’s ego does not like the interference of anybody else’s ego. It feels suppressing to us. Our will is dominated by somebody else’s intentions. This is why we naturally react to cancel the manipulations made by others. This is even sometimes visible when watching the practise from the outside. There is the counter intention, but the partner follows to complete the form the participants have agreed on.

Of course, we can always use technical skills to be able to force the partner anyway. This is maybe sufficient for a situation in itself, not considering the big picture, and what comes after. However, this is no solution for the problem at hand. Our partner is holding and we are expected to move. It is a simplified exercise to learn about things outside the dojo. The goal is not to force our partner to move. The grab by our friend is not the problem, it is the exercise. The world outside is the problem. Not self defence, but the bigger picture. The wars, the violence, the hostility, the hate, the separation of US and THEM. Our partner is holding on to our arm to study the problem.


Ushiro waza with Marius in Sjøholt, December 2016. Photo by Sigurd Hatlen.

I want a deeper solution. So I have been thinking about how to move our partner without pushing our ego tainted intention on to our partner. I have a theory, which seems to give results, in some cases at least. I believe that just as our body is casting a shadow, when we are standing in the Sun, so do our intention. If I move my arms my shadow will also move exactly like my real arms. However, the shadow is free from my ego. We can’t use the shadow of our body to throw our partner, of course. However, I believe that our intention’s shadow can touch the shadow of our partner’s intention. Our shadow is free from our ego, and so is our partner’s shadow.

Of course this is all in our mind. There is no magic. There is only practise. Lots of it. The more we practise, the easier it is to separate our intention from it’s shadow. Imagining making a big movement, but limiting ourselves, actually struggling against our own will, making a very small movement. Then taking the next step, just imagining doing it all, and not moving at all (that is in fact the hardest part). The partner will start to move and make apparently make the movement for us. This feeling is very special when it gets right. At first it feels stupid. Can it be for real? So we do it again, and again and again. Different partners, and they do not know what will happen. Big seminars with lots of jiyu waza are the best laboratory in the world for this.


Ushiro waza with Marius in Sjøholt, December 2016. Photo by Sigurd Hatlen.

Very often I have found that when I am stuck I move other parts, which should not move. My head or my hips usually compensate for what is stationary because the partner is holding me. This is the physical appearance of my intention, my ego. I want to move, but my partner is there. Every intention I express on my partner, he/she will counter. Not because he/she wants to sabotage my keiko, but because it is natural. However, if I keep my head and hips completely still, imagine that the shadow of my intention, which is just as untouchable as the shadow of my body, is touching the partner instead of my intention itself, very often my partner will move.

Sometimes during tai no tenkan I imagine a grid of curved lines shaping the form I know by experience. My intention is constructing the grid where my arm should flow down. Then I rest my arm in my partner’s grab and imagine sliding down the pathway I have constructed. The shadow is the grid. My intention never touches the partner.


Ushiro waza with Marius in Sjøholt, December 2016. Photo by Sigurd Hatlen.

I also imagine watching myself and my partner from above. We are two puppets in a play. I am not identifying myself with either. My intention is with the observer in the sky. The shadow of my intention is what is touching the partner. As there is no intention detectable for the partner, there is no creation of a counter intention. I am not using my intention on my partner, and my partner is not using his intention on me. We are just peacefully coexisting. The movement comes from the natural movements flowing in our body all the time. It feels like nothing, when it works.

I imagine doing all, but struggle with myself to do absolutely nothing.


The mind, the intention, the ego.

Enjoy your keiko! Aikido makes people happy!