Friday, May 6, 2016

Making Subtle Changes In Direction

I'm a novice violin player. It's pretty difficult for a beginner to get any decent kind of sound out of a violin, so any time I make a step forward, it's usually accompanied by a gratifyingly audible change in my playing.

Lately I've been amazed at how thinking differently about the direction of the bow has made a really dramatic improvement in my sound.

Last summer I took a week's worth of workshops from Andrea Larson at Ashokan Northern Week. One thing she had us practice was, on an upbow, imagining shooting the bow over our shoulders. Normally I think of "drawing" the bow as a sort of rubbing action that involves more downward pressure on the strings. When I use the "shooting" idea, the direction of my effort is more across than down. The incredible thing is that to make this change in my sound, I barely have to do anything - I just have to remember to think about it.

We have a lot of similar ideas in aikido. One example is used in a technique called ryo kata tori tenchi nage or "heaven and earth throw." The attacker grabs both wrists, and the defender's response involves directing one arm down (toward the earth - chi) and the other hand up (toward heaven - ten).

We often tell students to think of the heaven hand as coming up and over, like you are pouring a cup of tea over the attacker's shoulder. When students grasp this idea, they're almost always able to feel the subtle change in the way this affects their attacker's body, taking their balance and making them much easier to throw.

I love this stuff - life is cool.