Tuesday, April 17, 2012

It Matters

The way you think really affects your ability to do things.

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Apple Pie Aikido

I made the apple pie in this picture. When it was finished I had to laugh. It looks so good with that perfect, flaky, whole wheat pastry crust. Unfortunately, I used apple slices that had been too long in the freezer. The pie was inedible!

Sensei uses this metaphor to describe technique. He'll throw someone with big, flamboyant movements, with his arms and fingers extended and a mean look on his face. Then he does the same thing, only this time he tells uke to resist. Impossible! The technique looks great until uke resists, and then we see that it's ineffective. Just like the apple pie, beautiful, but not what it seems.

Then Sensei will do the technique again, only without the showmanship: more relaxed, with correct internal feeling. Amazingly powerful. No one can resist. And he can throw hard or soft, throwing large, flexible and fast people, or small, inexperienced beginners, all with the same effect. I've watched this in person, I've watched on videotape, I've even slowed the tape down to look frame by frame. It's impossible to see the true source of power because it's internal. You can only see the effect on uke. Just like the pie, you can't tell by looking at it whether it will taste good or not.

Kokikai aikido is a self-defense method, not a sport. We don't get points for having our arm extended just so, or for proper foot placement. The way a technique looks is important in that a beautiful technique may demonstrate that nage has more control and is more calm. But beauty is no good all by itself. A delicious apple pie is even better to eat if it's beautiful to look at. But if you had to choose between yummy and ugly, or gorgeous and tasteless, which would you choose?

It seems obvious, but it's very hard to remember when we practice. It is so easy to focus on how something looks. Which way to turn the hand, which foot steps first. Of course these things are important in a functional way. Just like the fact that the pie crust has to be made properly to hold the apples. But they mean nothing without the correct feeling. Absolutely nothing. Inedible apple pie = ineffective technique = a waste of time.

You would think that after many years of baking, I would know this. I knew those apples had freezer burn before I made the pie. But I wanted to believe that cooking would make them taste better. Please don't make the same mistake in your aikido practice.

Monday, April 2, 2012

Positive Mind

When he teaches aikido, Sensei talks about positive mind. Positive mind is one of the four basic principles of Kokikai Aikido. We usually think about positive mind in two ways.

The first is feeling confident, believing in yourself, and letting go of any thoughts about "I can't" or "I'm weak" or "I'm not good enough" or "This isn't going to work out well for me." That's the idea Sensei is most likely to talk about when he teaches. When he says "remove impurities," he's talking about something like this, rather than something your Sunday School teacher might have said!

The second way of thinking of positive mind isn't really different, but we tend to think of it as different, because we don't usually pay attention to how the mind and the body are connected. This has to do with the way your state of mind affects your body. You can see directly how this is true. Stand up in your best, natural stance (if you are a Kokikai student you will know what this means, if not, just stand naturally). Now think about what a crummy day you have had. Let negative thoughts about yourself and your life and your world flood your mind. Now check yourself out in the mirror. Next, fill your mind with self-confidence, equanimity, joy, optimism. Look again in the mirror. Do you notice any subtle differences? (If you didn't notice anything you may be too conscious of the experiment.)

So, next time you catch yourself in a really nasty mood, notice your posture. Then do the same the next time you're in a great mood. Want to try something really funky? Try changing your posture and see if it helps change your mood.

We can see the difference in the mirror but there are all kinds of changes going on in the body that we don't see, that are affected by our mental state. Blood flow to muscles, organs and brain; subtle changes in position of muscles; levels of tension; and nerve stimulation are all affected by our mental state. There's lots of people doing research in this area. I barely touched the tip of it in researching an earlier post. Even better than looking for scientific research is to research yourself, and your own body. In your Kokikai practice and your daily life, pay attention to what happens to your body when you change your mental state. Are you more able to react effectively when you are calm and positive? I can tell you from my own "research" that the answer is, "Yes!"