Last evening was another wonderful class with just the 4 of us. Small classes like this allows us to explore our techniques in depth and weed out those ‘bad’ habits that persists unbeknownst to us. Sometimes we think we are doing alright because in a larger class, the hustle and bustle can bring out some bad posture or positioning that we are not aware of, or we will not be able to correct.
We started with some static Tenkan (Turning) techniques and this is one of the way we can better understand why we move the way we move.
When our partner grabs us, both hands, tight, firmly, it transfers a lot of tension into our wrist, and how we interpret that strength can have an impact on our response. While we are not in a specific fight/flight duality, such tensions does trigger us as we instinctively combat the grasp, ironically increasing our partner’s perception that we are trying to escape the grasp and in response, tighten the grip.
While the technique might look deceivingly simple, it get harder when we clock more hours in Aikido training, partly because we start to become more complacent about the way we were taught to stand and move as beginners, our technique become sloppy when we become comfortable and gets lulled into a sense of comfort, thinking that what works in the past, will work now and will work on anyone and everyone.
Just the 4 of us
This is the beauty training with a bunch of friends in Aikido for a long time, we are all very comfortable with each other and with that level of trust, we can put some discomfort into the technique and allow the nage to relearn how to move again.
I implored Ming Jie, Melvin and ZZ to grip hard when it is their turn to be uke. There is no worry that we are out to make things difficult for the nage. WE ARE. The difference is we are not doing this out of malice, mischief or trying to prove to the other guy we are better, we are putting in the difficulty precisely because we want the other the to be better.
We failed quite a bit, and explored why.
With our years of practice, we need to be able to critique our own posture, and understand our own inefficiencies and make adjustments constantly to enhance our interactions with our partner. With these 3 guys, I don’t have to be a ‘sensei’, instead I’m just a prompter, pointing out certain things that they can do better, or adjust so that they can better cope with the pressure.
I told the guys that their self dialogue must be one that goes like: ‘Yeah, I think my tenkan’s position isn’t right, I’ll need to shift my leg forward slightly.’ instead of saying ‘(insert name here) says that I should be doing this, and that.’ I implored to them that it is no longer about what Harry sensei says, or what Randy says, they will have to internalize the feedback, and own that improvement. What we say is what we observed, externally and beyond that, there is nothing else we can do to help each other improve. So it is not about who said what, it is about how we can take that feedback in and make that change. That is the mark of a proactive person.
Change is not easy
That is why we change! If it is easy as heck, then change would have lost its allure, improvements would have stopped and atrophy will run the world. While it is challenging to change, having people who trust and supports your efforts to change helps make is a little more worthwhile to think about changing.
This is the place on the mat for such metamorphosis, small class allows us to move, then sit back and think how we did. Then change a little to see if that makes a difference. Our partner can help give constructive feedback on how he/she feels being the uke. We can pace the class and slowly incorporate the changes into our body movements.
Space for Introspection
Such is the difficulty of Aikido, as no 2 person grasp the same way nor our response to the same person remains consistent, Aikido challenges the fallacy of sameness, as we need to know that we are not the same person moments ago, we are constantly adjusting our perceptions, values and mood. We ebb and flow dependent on the day, time, place, and interaction, at the same time trying to keep to a semblance of identity of who we are.
Once we have a decently deep level of self thought, we can institute the change. So often we remarked “Aiyah, that guy will never change one lah!” When a person is not able to deeply reflect on their thoughts and actions, it is difficult to see external changes. Again such changes must make sense and means something to us, to be better.
Equal in the eyes of the beholder
I shared that Harry sensei is able to handle most ukes. That is his level of skill, I’ve yet to see an uke he cannot manage. The secret is his unbending core and that keeps him very centered. Anyone who holds his hands is immediately drawn into his center and you loses yours.
The other ‘magic’ he has is he treats all his uke the same, he is fair to all and gives no quarter as to who is a better uke. So with that fair eye he is able to dispense everyone the same way.
The same way doesn’t mean the same. He does adjust his stance and extension to manage every uke differently. Such micro-adjustments is barely perceptible to our observations, but he does it in a way that is unbiased, and unaffected by who the uke is.