I know, I know, I’m quoting an old Nike slogan as the title of this particular entry. But, in this case, I’m not interested in rehashing some old shoe commercials; the title is a paraphrasing of something Sensei said in the first part of what I hope to be many articles on the kokikai.org web site.
In this article, Sensei recounts part of his training as he was growing up. Apparently, there was a ritual to head out in the freezing cold and walk in the river, which was even colder. Regarding this exercise, which Sensei said he did to strengthen his body and spirit, Sensei wrote:
When walking in the river, if you think “cold,” it feels much colder. If you think “hot”… it is still very cold! So, eventually, I found out the best way to walk in the river. Don’t think “cold.” Don’t think “hot.” Just walk.
This simple paragraph, in my opinion, says much about the Kokikai perspective when it comes to aikido practice. Often, when working on a technique, we try to improve ourselves by visualizing ourselves in a certain way. Perhaps we imagine ourselves stronger, that the power of the universe flows through us. Or perhaps we think our opponent as weaker, and not as tall or as strong as they are. Both are efforts to unify the mind and the body, but they are, in reality, good ideas that are misapplied. The evidence of this is apparent: we imagine ourselves stronger, only to be stunned when our uke still resists our technique. We imagine our uke to be weaker, only to be disheartened when we cannot move them as we expected.
If we take Sensei’s comment to heart, however, we can be infinitely more successfully by simply changing our perspective to a more correct format. Imagining yourself stronger does not make you so; imaginging your opponent weaker does not sap their strength. In fact, both visualizations may even hinder your efforts; you are more focused on what you want to perceive rather than what you actually perceive. The answer, then, is visualize the throw, the movement itself. When standing in front of an opponent, we should look at completely the technique required–nothing more, nothing less.
I have experienced firsthand how this change of perspective can be helpful. Often, when I am working with some of my senior students, we get into discussions on how far we can push a technique before it breaks down. The situations are, in reality, ludricrous–we end up with attacks that no one would dare do in reality, with responses that are often far more than necessary. But it is an interesting exercise in how well we understand a given technique. In these discussions (okay, okay, sometimes they’re nearly plain-old wrestling matches), it’s likely I’m going to have a hard time with at least one of my students. When I try to imagine myself as stronger, or more relaxed, I never improve. I just get more stuck. When I focus solely on the throw, I almost always succeed.
It’s very easy–especially in aikido–to get too caught up in the visualizations, the ideas. What Sensei is saying doesn’t counter these exercises; he is just providing a more direct application of them. The next time you are on the mat, don’t worry about your opponent. In fact, don’t worry at all. Just do it.
What happens next?