Aikido from the Inside Out


The Principles:


A simple practice

The point of first resistance

Move by shifting weight

A secret

Can one learn this?

Many points of contact

Notice resistance

Quality of touch

Connection may be the single most important principle of aikido practice. It's what makes aikido "work" without effort. It's the aspect of practice that eliminates the opposition.

Here's the idea in theory: If you and your partner are struggling, you experience resistance and opposition. However, if there is only one of you (the other one leaves, for example), the struggle and opposition cease. Connection is the way to change two into one without making someone leave.

Connection, in the realm of aikido, requires that you touch your partner's center. The "center" is considered to be an area below the navel in the body and is the seat of balance. We'll just talk about center in the physical realm, but as you practice, you'll see that center pertains to other arenas as well.

A simple practice

Here's a simple way to practice finding the center of the body and observing how it's affected:

Imagine that you have a very agreeable partner who will do whatever you suggest. Better yet, find a real partner to try this with. Your partner stands in the typical relaxed aikido triangular hanmi, or stance. He offers his right hand to you, as in a handshake--thumb up. However, his arm is relaxed and bent a fair amount at the elbow.

You are going to grab his hand and arm and try to affect his body. First just grab his wrist and move your arm left and right in front of you. The result will, of course, vary with each person, but generally, you'll be able to move your partner's arm easily. However, the movement will stop at the elbow, or possible at the shoulder. In other words, by moving your partner's arm left and right you affect him as far as his elbow or shoulder. The basic stance or balance of your partner won't change.

Now grab your partner's right wrist with your right hand and start turning it clockwise (to your right). This means that you are twisting around the long axis of your partner's arm. His hand will start with the palm facing to your right. As you rotate, his palm will face down, and then face to your left.

You might be able to rotate his palm toward the ceiling, but by now you've taken up most of the slack in his arm, so you're starting to encounter some resistance.

Find the point of first resistance

This point when you encounter resistance after taking the slack out of your partner's arm (or any part of their body) is of special importance and we'll come back to it.

Right now, continue to slowly turn your ever-patient partner's arm clockwise. Your partner is not actively resisting this practice, by the way. Next, with your left hand, grab his right arm above the wrist (and above your right hand). Even though the arm has tightened up somewhat, you can continue slowly and steadily to turn the arm. As you do, you'll notice you're affecting the right shoulder. It will start to move out and down toward the front of the body. The upper torso itself will start to bend forward slightly. You're getting close. Continue turning the arm just a little more, so that the torso bends forward clearly.

At this point you probably haven't touched your partner's center yet, but you've affected enough of him to make it considerably easier to move him. Without changing your grab or the position of your partner's arm, take a small step backwards, away from your partner. Only step back far enough to take the slack out of your own arms as you continue to grasp your partner. You want to end up with one foot behind the other, your weight evenly centered between them, with your legs a comfortable distance apart, and your knees slightly bent. It's okay to take a moment to settle into this position.

Move by simply shifting your weight

Slowly and steadily, shift your weight to your back leg. This will result in a pull through your partner's arm and out in the direction of his fingers. Remember to make this a smooth pull, not a tug. Most likely, your partner will lose his balance and fall forward as you pull. As soon as your partner loses his balance, let go. Your partner takes a step to recover his balance.

Through simply taking up the slack in your partner's arm and in your arm, you established a kind of connection. This connection became manifest when you shifted your weight backwards. Because you were connected (and because you had already affected your partner's position by twisting up his arm), your partner's center shifted forward a few inches when you shifted your own center back a few inches. These few inches were just enough to make him completely lose his balance and fall.

The important part is not that your partner fell, but that, for a moment, you were connected. When you moved from your center, your partner moved in a corresponding way. While there may have been some effort on your part, the kind of movement you did was one that really requires very little effort. It was nothing more than shifting your weight between your feet. If you took up all the slack between you and your partner and also affected your partner's stance by your spiraling movement up his arm, the shifting of your own weight should have felt very much as if you were standing by yourself doing the same thing.

A secret

Herein lies a real secret of aikido practice. If you connect with your partner's center, the essential part of any "throw" is this simple shifting of your own weight. It's important to understand that this shifting is not a big deal in most cases. The movement is only a couple of inches. It doesn't need to be a big, exaggerated movement.

When you connect like this, you become one with your partner in a very real, experiential way. When you move, your partner moves, at the same time and in the same direction. You are really one, in terms of movement. Your experience of movement is basically the same as if you were moving entirely by yourself. In other words, once you connect to your partner's center, it doesn't take any more effort to move yourself and your partner than it does to move yourself alone. The implications of this are powerful. It takes no more effort to throw your partner than it does to simply move yourself through space or shift your weight. Any more effort than that means that you are not connected or are using far more force than is necessary.

Can one actually learn this? 

In this practice, you used a very simple exercise with a very cooperative partner. Now how do you learn to find connection in a normal training class? This experience must obviously be learned by practice, not by reading about it. But you can make it your own by repeatedly finding your way back to the sensation of connection. Here are some tips that will help.

Find as many points of contact as possible 

It's easier to establish a connection with your partner's center, at least in the beginning, when there are more points of physical connection. The more places you are actually touching your partner, the better. For example, just before a "throw," you may be simultaneously touching your partner's neck, arm, shoulder, and hip.

Notice the point of first resistance

There's a signpost you can look for that will help you to find your way back to this experience of connection each time you engage with your partner. Look for the moment when you run into resistance. Resistance can be caused by several factors. It may signify basic conflict--that is, forces moving in direct opposition. However, if you've followed the principles of aikido by blending, this resistance means something else. It means that you have touched your partner's outer "shell." This shell is the first physical point of contact with your partner.

The practice of finding your partner's center is the practice of moving your awareness through his shell and into his body and, at the same time, actually affecting the areas touched by your awareness.

In the practice of twisting your partner's arm, you start the movement at the wrist. By sensing the resistance as you twist the arm, you feel the movement go up to the elbow and then the shoulder. By continuing to twist and to pull slightly, you direct the movement through the shoulder and into the upper torso. You can further follow this awareness and control it through the body until it comes exactly to your partner's center. The closer you come to that center, the less effort you'll need to move him.

Pay attention to the quality of the touch

It's really a quality of touch that you're trying to learn. In general, your hands must be soft and yielding. Keep your hands very relaxed and heavy. In irimi nage, for example, the hand that reaches behind the neck should be soft and flat. Contact your partner's body with the broad surface of your hand, not with the tips of your fingers.

You should feel like it sort of "gloms" onto your partner, like putty. However, you want to have the lightest possible touch. Let gravity exert most of the force. Any more force than the force of gravity is probably too much.

You never want to grab or clutch. This cuts off your ki and makes it impossible to feel where your partner is going. You will also wear yourself out by clutching at your partner. A light, soft, relaxed touch is all that is necessary. Don't confuse a light touch with no connection. Even though the touch is light, you want to feel like you are touching "through" your partner, into his depths. Ah, another one of the seeming contradictions in the study of aikido!

You will have to practice over and over to find this quality of touch. In most cases, learning to come back to this touch will require unlearning other habits, rather than actually learning something new.

Even though the touch is light, you want to feel like you are touching "through" your partner, into his depths.

This light, connected touch allows you to feel what your partner is doing without having to rely on your eyes. You'll want to learn to feel your partner's movements and intent by touch alone. The touch that allows your connection to your partner's center is the same touch that lets you feel your partner's intent.







©1993-1998 Howard Bornstein