a lesson from aikido

I’ve been thinking a lot about my aikido practice recently, for several different reasons.  One big reason is that I hope to grade for my sandan (third degree black belt) this coming summer, and that is provides an interesting focus.  Both when I’m studenting and when I’m teaching, I find myself paying closer attention to the small details of how I move and how I execute techniques.   This is not to say that I haven’t been paying attention, but the prospect of an upcoming grading does capture the imagination.

A second reason is that I’m not as young as I used to be, and the passage of time seems to be settling into my joints like sand.  I’ve had shoulder issues for a few years now, but the exercise regime that my physiotherapist gave me helps.  There are occasional other issues, such as mild and self diagnosed plantar fasciitis and at the moment, some lower back soreness that I think comes from sleeping on an old mattress.  For this one, there’s nothing to do methinks but take better care of myself, diet and exercise and being mindful when for instance I’m picking up heavy things – so using the legs rather than the back.

But there’s another reason, which is one that’s been kicking around my head for a long time now.  When I graded for shodan more than 10 years ago now, part of the process was the writing on an essay on aikido in every day life.  I went back and read that essay recently, and like what happens when I go back and read anything I’ve written, I wasn’t happy with it.  But the subject of the essay is one that I’ve kept coming back to.

This is particularly true given my current role, where part of what I am tasked with doing is helping to shape the forward direction of the university.  This shaping, like all such shapings, involves change, both changing myself and persuading others to change.  Higher education in the UK, like many aspects of life in the UK, has entered a period of flux, and so what tools does aikido give us to help manage and survive that flux.

Sometimes we practice starting from a strike and sometimes we practice starting from a grab.  When grabbed, it’s always tempting to try and break out of the grab, but among other things this focuses our attention purely on the grab, and this focus is not helpful.

So what I’m thinking about now, and have been for some time, is working within and moving within the constraint of the grab.  A grab imposes constraints on my movement, but only at the point of the grab.  Grab my wrist and you have my wrist, but I can move the rest of me, if I allow myself to make use of that movement.  This is a liberating realization to have, and it becomes more liberating the more I think about it and the more I work movement within the grab into my practice.

If we allow our imagination to roam a bit, we allow our mental definition of grab to expand, picking up not only someone holding onto my wrist or my shoulder, but also the constraints of the job, the needs of others, all the things I have agreed to do and all the things on my list of THINGS TO DO.  And so now, I’m going to prepare myself for the course this afternoon and do a bit of work on one of the things on that list.

~ by Jim Anderson on 25 February 2017.

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