Start at "Empty"
Contributed by Chris Colón
It's been said that before you can fill your cup, you must empty it first.
That, in certain respects, was a central theme of Hiroshi Ikeda Shihan during
his visit to Columbus Aikikai from October 3-5, 2003.
Ikeda Sensei focused on a series of closely related themes in his classes,
the spirit of which I have tried to encapsulate below. Sensei emphasized how
much Aikido involves doing several things at once, and so talking about the
individual pieces a practitioner of Aikido must do in discrete elements isn't
easy. Nevertheless, here is my attempt to do them justice, presented under
the overarching theme of Avoiding Struggles with your partner.
To avoid struggling, there are five things you need to do:
- Practice good timing. When you are on time, techniques are easy.
When you're late, they're hard.
- Find the easy place. Every individual has a place to move that makes
the movement easy to do. This is hard to teach since everyone has to learn
where to move where it works for their bodies. It requires patient study.
- Relax. Relaxing improves speed, mobility, efficiency, and sensitivity.
It also draws your partner into the technique.
- Keep an open mind. Relaxing the mind also helps to relax the body.
When the your mind is empty of preconceptions, you are much more likely to see
what is happening and understand what response is needed.
- Be a beginner then be an expert. Understand that everyone should
approach each new movement as a beginner, and then experiment and have fun with
it -- even fail with it to learn what does and doesn't work. Mastery will come
with time and effort. Eventually, you must do all of these interrelated things
at once. However, Sensei talked about each of these five related subjects in detail.
Practice good timing
- Martial Arts are about fighting. Timing is about moving beginning
exercises from being exercises into fighting.
- The difference between getting your partner and your partner
getting you is timing.
- Don't wait for your partner to get you. Go out and get your partner at
the point of contact, and find the easy place to break his or her balance.
Find the easy place
- Finding the easy place to do a technique is one of the hardest things to
teach in Aikido. Everyone's body is different, so you have to find where
doing a technique is easy for your body. That means we have to take the
initiative to seek those places out.
- Finding the easy place at the point of contact is what breaks our partner's
balance and dictates how the movement will go. The grab or strike dictates
where your partner is going. If you do not find the easy place during the
grab or strike, you will not break your partner's balance.
- In the easy place, small changes in your posture keep your partner tightly
wrapped in the moving place and prevent escape.
- For beginners, the easy place to move is where they are told to move, in
large movements. Over time, however, more advanced students should try to
make smaller, efficient, relaxed movements to get to the easy place.
- As stated earlier, relaxing improves speed, mobility, efficiency, and
sensitivity. In short, relaxing helps us to establish and use the
connection with our partners and become one body. Only through relaxing
can your lead your partner.
- We relax when comfortable. That means practicing enough to be comfortable
with our movements, until our bodies are smart enough to know what they are
doing. Smart brains are fine, but smart brains with smart bodies are
- Rigid movements cause your partner to fight. Relaxing lets your partner
feel that he is in control. If he is uncomfortable or feels that he is not
in control, he may release his contact with you before you have made your
- When you are relaxed, then you move yourself, and your connection brings
your partner with you. This isn't about moving your partner; it's about
- Your power doesn't come from straining; it comes from your turning and
Keep an open mind
- Relaxing your mind helps relax your body. If you mind is preoccupied with
its own ideas, it will interfere with your movement. For example, believing
that you need to grab your partner once you've taken his balance only
ties up your hand, which is fixated on the spot it grabbed. That hand is
no longer helping.
- Again, if your mind is empty of preconceptions, you are much more likely
to see what is happening and understand what you need to do to respond to
an attack. In this way, you approach your partner with a beginner's mind
but your response (which should be deliberate) contains your experience
and advanced understanding.
Be a beginner then be an expert.
- Going gently at first is great practice for beginners because it teaches
the form and trains in good posture. Once form and posture are coming
along, students should train next on staying relaxed while their partners
fight with them.
- Beginning movements are all about establishing a connection and making the
operation easier for the student. Later, the student should take the initiative
to make the operation more realistic while still maintaining relaxation, flow,
- Beginners start with focusing out near their limbs in large, dynamic
movements. That's fine for beginners and for learning new techniques, but
more advanced students should find their movements becoming quieter and
more focused from their centers.
- Each new technique you learn requires you to be a beginner, no matter how
good the rest of your Aikido is. Don't worry about it! A new technique is
like a new musical instrument, and assuming that you can play the cello
because you are a concert pianist is absurd. Start anew, learn the new
movements, make mistakes, enjoy yourself, work hard, and the technique
will come along.
- Over time, initiate your response actively when you understand what your
partner is doing. Don't wait to be grabbed -- start right away to meet
him at a time and place of your choosing.
The students of Columbus Aikikai would like to thank Ikeda Shihan and all the
guests who attended the seminar for a wonderful time and a terrific learning
experience. Thanks especially go to those who came in from out-of-state for
their visit, from Pennsylvania, Indiana, and even as far away as North Carolina.
We appreciate everyone¹s time and support for making this event a success.