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The treatment begins
when the will of the patient
surrenders to the will of the Tide

Rollin Becker D.O.

How do you feel right now, at this moment? Maybe we could answer the question with “I feel OK”, “I feel good”, or “I feel not so good”. However, our perception is more extensive than good, bad or in between. Still, our awareness of what we feel is very often extremely limited. Why is this? And how can we work on developing this awareness about our feelings to include a bit more information?

I am taking a course in something called Craniosacral Biodynamics. It is a part of Oteopathy. The subject is something I consider very closely related to my study in aikido. In the latest weekend we made an enquiry on two very simple, but very interesting questions. One of them was this one: “Tell me of one of the ways you are rejecting your experience at this moment”. That enquiry started a small avalanche in my mind about a lot of things which has happened over years, in the dojo, as well as outside the dojo.

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Artwork from Doom by Mechanubis

The study of aikido the past decade or so has been very closely related to developing my perception. I wish to have access to all the information from my partner which exist in the connection between us. Both from the physical one, in the grab or physical touch, and from the connection which goes beyond touch. Sometimes we know, but we don’t know exactly how we know these things. I believe that this study is a study of our own feelings. Because we can’t really sense anything outside of ourselves. What we sense in our partner will give manifestations inside of us. If we are blind to these effects, we will miss the information altogether.

Why is this perception so important for us we might ask? For me it started with an idea. An idea which some of my oldest teachers could perform at their peak performance, under perfect conditions. It was enough to lead me into this road, and I started walking this path, but I was never certain of this path. There were always doubts in my mind, and room for ambiguity and insecurity. Still I walked on, knowing that there was nothing more reasonable to search for at the time, until I met an older teacher, who could do this, every single time I touched him (that would be Seigo Okamoto sensei). He confirmed that the journey I had already started was not just a fantasy. It is real. It just requires practice. He had the ability to turn the arm when the partner is grabbing strong without giving any sensation at all of twisting, turning, pushing or pulling. I believe this requires an immense level of perception.

When Okamoto sensei was throwing me I had no sensation of his wrist moving, at all! I just felt a burning sensation in my mind and the world turned around while I seemed to be stationary. Where the acceleration came from was, and still is, a mystery to me. What I experienced, is what I call grab conservation. Which can be considered a concept, just as the conservation of momentum and energy in physics. It is very simple, really. The weight distribution in the grab should be exactly as it is from the initial state, throughout the throw. Very simple as a concept, however, it is extremely hard to initiate any movements at all, in this situation. Anything I try to do, anything at all, even mentally, will affect the state of the grab, and the partner will feel it as an intrusive intention from me.

Artwork from Doom by Elgama

The experience of being thrown in this way, gave me a concrete and specific road to follow. To search for technology for keeping this conservation of the grab, or the contact, in any situation. I had already started the journey, but the goals were solidified quite a bit when I felt it happening to my body, and my mind when experiencing being thrown by Okamoto sensei.

Also increased perception gives us a new level of awareness of our own posture, way of moving, and connection to our partners. So even if the main goal is to go beyond the physical practice, it greatly increases our physical performance when we are practising. One example could be that we are able to make slow and precise steps while being led around vigorously by tori, instead of wildly kicking around and jumping and falling all over. Or when being attacked by a energetic and aggressive uke we could still remain calm and move slowly even though the attack is quick. We can sense our own feelings more clearly, and I believe that though this we can also sense a little bit of our partners feelings during our time together.

I think of perception as a pitch black room crowded with interesting objects, and a tiny flashlight. We can aim the flashlight in different directions, after some practise. However at first we are able to hold it in one direction only. Depending on the direction we are pointing it, we will see different things. Ten different people would probably describe ten different things inside this same dark room, because their flashlight beam is directed in different directions, someone would see a sofa, someone a table, and somebody else a chair etc. We only see what is lit up at the current time.

What is the darkness? Well, it is the absence of light. In this image it would be the absence of our perception. We might be so focused on what we see that we will not even think of the possibility to turn the light to other areas and explore the rest of the room. Or we might even not have the courage nor the wisdom required to know how to switch on the flashlight at all?

It is scary to shift the direction of our flashlight. Sometimes it is something there, inside our mind, which we are ashamed of. Nobody wants to admit that they are scared. Maybe there are some fearless people out there, but I am not one of them. I am scared of lots of things, and I am ashamed of a lot of things. And there is a lot of things I wish were not there, so by not looking I might for a period of time pretend it is not there.

Artwork from Doom by Elgama

Feelings can be blocked inside our mind by a multitude of different things. One of these are shame. We are not supposed to feel these feelings; They are not supposed to be real; We are not supposed to fall now; Maybe some of our teachers have scolded us because we fell in the wrong moment? We should not fall for nothing, of course, but we did fall for something. Probably the fear for making a mistake and making a fool of ourselves in that situation could be one possibility of what happened?

The teacher might have an idea with this pedagogic, by teaching a more basic principle, but the shame connected by the scolding and accusation of fabricating things which are not there will leave behind shadows in our mind. Guilt and shame, fear and anxiety. If we are studying perception this mistrust to our own ability to feel is extremely destructive.

It will be extremely difficult to build confidence from this state. And I believe confidence is extremely important in this study. If we don’t believe 100 % in what we are doing we can just as well move our focus to explore different landscapes, because without confidence this study is a waste of our time.

The fear of making a fool of oneself is a huge factor which could stand in our way. Bullying by teachers for falling too easily could in my mind be very devastating in our development. We do not, after all decide at all what to feel. We just feel whatever we are feeling, and decide how to act upon it. The reason the student fell might in fact be the very sign of insecurity in these exact things, which again might have been caused by the teacher for scolding the student for falling, or moving, at the wrong time, or in a incorrect way. It creates a blindness. A blindness of fear.

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Image from Doom

Pointing out mistakes is of course what most teachers considers their role in the world of aikido. It is done with good intentions to help the students. However, I deeply believe in the idea of Dr. Andrew Taylor Still, the founder of Osteopathy, that the objective of a physician is to find health, because anybody can find disease. I think it could be very much the same in the concept of aikido teaching methodology?

And if the student is moving in an insecure way when being the partner of the teacher it reflects upon the way the teacher is leading, and the insecurity of the teacher himself/herself. In my mind there should ideally be no room for doubt and insecurity. And of course we have to have some pedagogic steps for learning, but it is always the easy way out of a tricky situation to just blame the other. And if we are the teacher we would always get away with it. However, I believe it could in some cases leave a trauma in the student.

I know from my first two years in aikido that my feelings were blocked by logic thinking. I were a student of physics. Without even thinking I would sweep away almost everything which could lead me forward as a trick of the mind, a fantasy, and imagination. “This should not be possible so it did not happen! I did not feel that! No, I didn’t!” It took me about two years until this effect receded and I could finally perceive the very clear sensations which even a beginner like me could perceive at the time. Before that I was blinded by my logic, and I rejected most of my sensations which otherwise could have brought me experience.

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Image from Doom

The kata itself can also stand in our way of perceiving the more subtle things. There are too many objectives to have any awareness left for perception. We are only speaking, and never listening, not even to ourselves. Form practice is necessary, of course. Still, I felt it was worth mentioning here anyway, because when the form is the focus, there is less of our capacity reserved for observation of what is happening.

Our perception is not altogether guided by our own will. We are led to see certain things, and we can’t see what is outside our field of vision. Some things are perceived as irrelevant by our subconscious mind and we can’t evaluate for ourselves if it is interesting or not, because it is invisible for our conscious mind. Other things are things we consider inappropriate to feel, or incorrect, or embarrassing, etc. It is the same in real life, of course. We feel what we feel, and then decide how to act. Still, it is a development to actually consciously have an awareness of which feelings and sensations are there. Because it is coming from somewhere. It is never coming from nowhere. There is a reason we feel the way we feel. We could probably learn a lot about ourselves if we were to study this more deeply.

There are so many things which can blind us from what lies before us. I do not have time to mentioning them all now, but there is a huge one I would like to write a little bit more about. Our subtle competition with our peers. I believe that nothing, I mean nothing, can kill curiosity the way competition will.

Image from Doom

Humans have a natural tendency to compare ourselves to our peers. The more similar our situations are the more tempting it is for us to compare achievements, in all kinds of dimensions, in all kinds of groups, to people in a similar situation to our own. What do we wish to achieve by this?

It always draws us in to a prison cell where our ego is our jailor, and our own limitations are our cement walls, and it does not really matter how our comparison goes. No matter if we are perceiving ourselves as better or less good than “our opponent, we still end up losing every single time because it solidifies our mindset into this way of thinking, and we can never escape without taking a huge step back.

We want to better than everybody else. We want to best. The one and only. Maybe not in all points of view, but in the one that matters to us. However, who is the “I” and who is the “them” in our comparison?

We are comparing ourselves to those who started at the same times, later, or earlier than ourselves. We are comparing grades, we are comparing who can exhaust energy slower (in a subtle endurance competition during keiko together), we are comparing accomplishments like how well clubs we are running are doing and which seminar offers we receive, who are picked for partners both in keiko, in examinations, and by teachers for demonstrating the stuff they want to show.

Artwork from Doom by Sidharthchaturvedi

When we feel neglected or rejected in any of the situations above we are tumbling around in our mind with meaningless thoughts trying to figure out what is wrong with us. Considering anything we could do to improve our situation. After a few initial adjustments which could be a good advice in some cases we are ending up getting stuck with whatever it is we are really struggling with. And this is the very exact things our super ego is pushing us on. Exactly because it is unchangeable. Even if we spend twenty four hours a day on the tatami, and attend fifty seminars a year, we will still not be who we want to be.

We are the only one we can be. We are the only one who can be the one we are. We are all unique. There is nothing to compare in reality. All our roads are slightly different so what is the point of comparing one to the other?

I believe we do this to have an argument to counter our voice in our mind who are telling us negative things about us as a person. We NEED to compare ourselves to others, to have arguments to beat back the negative voice. It needs to be somebody comparable, or it will not be a valid argument to throw back at the super ego, and we need to be better than them, so that we can push ourselves up, by pushing them down.

The comparison of ourselves to others brings our attention out of the dark room filled with interesting objects altogether, and we are watching a TV-show instead of living our lives. Our perception is sleeping, because we are too busy with our competition. The other things are more subtle, beyond our perception, in most cases. However the focus on comparing ourselves to others are quite obvious. We are not even looking, not even studying, not progressing on our journey, at these times. We are distracted from our path.

Artwork from Doom by Emortal

There are no demons outside. The only demons which exist are inside of ourselves. Our battles are within, but we are maybe too scared to fight these battles. The battles outside ourselves seems so much more safe. They are fought farther from our own hearts.

So I believe the best we can do is to keep on practicing, in an joyful way, without too much pressure about correct and incorrect, and real or false. The road proceeds in front of us forever. All we have to do is take the next step, and then the next one. There is no wrong way. There are no mistakes. So there should be absolutely no reason for shame or guilt to exist in our mind, is there?

At least I found it incredibly relieving to let go of my fear of making a fool of myself and losing face on the tatami. However, whenever we feel comfortable all we have to do is turn the beam of the flashlight a little bit, and we find another demon in our dark room, in our bodymind.

Enjoy your keiko! Aikido makes people happy!