"The key to good technique is to keep your hands, feet and hips straight and centered. If you are centered, you can move freely. The physical center is your belly; if your mind is set there as well, you are assured of victory in any endeavor."
- Morihei Ueshiba
Aikido teaches us to move, feel and, to some extent, think from our center or what the Japanese call our "hara." It is the place that we are strongest. It is the origin of our power. Our core is where we are eternally abundant. Physiologically, our core is our viscera our gut and it is where our real strength comes from. Many think big muscles are where strength comes from. However, big muscles don't work if the lungs and heart aren't strong enough to pump blood to those big muscles.
Fear produces a neurological response in the body call "fight or flight." This is also known as a sympathetic response. During a fight or flight response blood is shunted away from the internal organs - the hara – and, instead, goes to the muscles of the arms and legs for fighting. Therefore, the body actually loses core body strength. But ironically, a fight or flight response produces only a very short-term bout of strength. In the long run, flight or fight responses exhausts the body faster and actually weakens one’s core strength considerably.
In Aikido, we train to create the very opposite of a fight or flight response. Our goal is to create a relaxation response – or a parasympathetic response. The power of all Aikido techniques derives from one’s ability to relax (expansion), not to tense up (contraction). Physiologically, relaxation responses produce the exact opposite of a fight or flight response. In a relaxation response, blood shunts away from the muscles of the arms and legs and brings it back to our hara. This is exactly what happens when one takes a nap or eats food. A state of warmth, comfort and relaxation is produced. Warmth is an attribute of expansion, while cold is an attribute of contraction. Contrary to what most people think, the key to strength in Aikido is a product of relaxation responses like those produced while meditating. That is also why, for many people, Aikido is a moving meditation. Aikido, when practiced dynamically, produces the same physiologic responses and mental, emotional and spiritual benefits as meditation and meditation-like practices such as yoga and tai chi.
This expansive, relaxation response may seem counter-intuitive to many. However it is essential that the Aikido student embrace his or her surroundings and circumstances (a form of expansion) in order to practice effectively. Through training, one can learn to look at attacks, such as shomenuchi or even a tsuki, not merely as an attack against us but rather an opportunity to create a new expansive experience. If we perceive an attack as an opportunity to create and to reconnect, we can relax and become one with our environment which would include the incoming attack. From this expansive, relaxed state we can create a physical connection with our Aikido partner/attacker, which ultimately holds the potential to alter their intent of aggression. It provides for the opportunity for oneness… even friendship.
On the other hand, if we perceive our Aikido partner/attacker as something separate from us, we tend to contract. When we dissociate from our environment in both a psychological and physiological way, our muscles grow tighter and we either over-breathe or under-breathe. This causes constricted blood vessels in the brain. This, of course, changes blood and other fluid pressures in the body and ultimately does not allow for oxygen or glucose to be adequately fed to the brain. In short, we don’t think straight lose control of ourselves and, of course, our technique suffers.
Aikido is always challenging to describe in writing because the experience of Aikido transcends the written word. Aikido is meant to be experienced firsthand, not read about. The practice of Aikido represents an opportunity for transcendence on physical, mental and even spiritual levels of existence. Come discover how Aikido can serve as a catalyst for tremendous growth and expansion in your life. We invite you to come try a class at our Aikido school in Castle Rock, Colorado for free.