Sunday, February 14, 2016

Catching "Correct Feeling"

In Kokikai Aikido practice, we're continually trying to catch what Maruyama Sensei calls correct feeling. This feeling combines stillness and readiness; awareness of everything around us and intense focus; strength and deep relaxation.

That paradoxical nature of correct feeling is one of the things that fascinates me most about aikido. I try to catch that feeling when I play music, especially when I improvise. I've spoken to people who engage in other practices, from writing poetry to playing basketball, who completely get this idea.

In one technique we practice, kokyudosa, catching correct feeling is essential. In kokyudosa, two students sit facing each other on their knees. Each extends their arms. Uke (attacker) holds nage's (defender's) wrists. Nage uses correct feeling to push uke backward. Kokyudosa, done correctly, is mind bending. A very small person can toss a big body builder. But if you don't have correct feeling, your uke is like a 4 ton truck: impossible to move.

To help students achieve correct feeling, aikido instructors use all kinds of Zen-like metaphors. Somehow these mind pictures can help jolt us - even if only momentarily - out of everyday thinking and the mind/body habits that we've acquired over a lifetime .

I did a little survey, and here are a few of the great metaphors that people gave me. They fall into a few general categories. Maybe they'll be useful to you! Let me know!

Technique Ideas
Relax your arms and use your center (one point) to push out.
Let your arms relax like you're sitting in a chair, but don't let them collapse.
You're holding a beach ball in front of you;
Open your eyes!
Practice by pushing a wall. When the wall is gone, your partner will seem like nothing.
Push from the back of your body, not the front.

The Wave
Imagine two people catching a wave.
It's impossible to push through a strong wave. Catch the wave and ride it to shore.
You don't lift your arms.They are being pushed up by the water.

Reach to Get Something You Really Want
You're holding a big box. Hand the box to someone sitting behind uke, as if uke were not there.
You are carrying an armload of heavy pipe. Put them all in uke's lap.
Uke is a gnat blocking your path to the wall behind him/her.
There is a hundred dollar bill (cup of hot chocolate/glass of lemonade/ buttefly/child in danger) behind your partner. Get. It.

Think/Don't Think
Don't think Schwarzenegger - think Buddha.
Imagine that you're a train, one point is the engine, and your arms are the cow catcher
Think, "I don't care. I can push him over."
Imagine ki (or water) flowing down your thighs and around and out through your toes (so your knees stay on the mat)
Let uke support the weight of your arms and move from one point as if they weren't even there.
Imagine that a rod of steel is going through your back and 3 feet into the earth.
Focus on uke's state. (Don't get too caught up on your own internal or external state).
Imagine that you already took uke's balance, even before you start.
Imagine you are are sitting on a cloud.
You have "noodle" arms.

Thanks to Alon, Barbara, Brian, Bryan, Cathy, Cecelia, Carol, Colin, David, Deb, Heather, Jan, Kirk, Nahks, Nancy, Samantha and Ray for your input!

Thursday, February 11, 2016

Mastery Doesn't Bring Happiness

I once saw a dancer stand on a chair, and reach down and touch the floor with her legs straight. I really, really wanted to be able to do that.

After years of yoga, I now can do that - as long as it's a low chair. It's nice to be able to do. It's good to know I'm flexible. But it hasn't made me any happier.

I try to remind myself that becoming better at something is not going to lead automatically to being happier. After all, every time I get better, I'll just want to try something even harder. (Or - depressingly - as I get older, I'll be striving to do the things I could do just a few years ago.)

I'm not sure where happiness comes from. I know it's a lot harder for some people than others. But I try to remember to find it where I can: in human contact, friendship and love, in the sights and sounds of the world around me, and in appreciating the good things about myself.  Such as, I guess, the fact that I can do a forward bend.