063) Active Listening: Week of December 5, 2009

We finished a class last week with having students make a circle and the student in the middle was attacked with the attack that we practiced.  This student had to execute any technique (either ones we did in class, or anything else for that matter).  The next night, one of the students talked about how hard it was to think of what technique to do.  I reiterated to  him one of my maxims that I use in class ” The uke chooses the technique.”

We can feel good about ourselves for having learned a large repertoire of techniques and feel really sure about our ability to execute a certain number of techniques only to find that they do not work because we seek to execute a technique on the uke, regardless of the nature of the attack.  I can not emphasize strongly enough that in my own opinion, Aikido techniques work as a direct result of our ability to be in harmony with the attacker.  This requires us to be active listeners to our ukes.  If we have preselected a technique, we are only listening to the idea in our own heads.  It is most unfortunate for us when the uke has other ideas.     Connecting with the energy of the attacker, with the direction of the incoming force, with the intensity of the attacking appendage, etc…  allows us to move in a manner that makes the technique self-evident.  If we are fearful, angry, tense, anxious, …. it becomes very difficult for us to listen through this proverbial “white noise” in order to “hear” clearly what the attacker is telling us to do.

Towards the end of last week, I had students close their eyes in the middle of the circle and simply move with the nature of an attack (grabs).  Students were forced to have to listen at a tactile level.  It became obvious to them that how to move becomes evident when the attack is beginning.  Students are them amazed how much harder it is to do exactly the same thing, but this time with their eyes open.  Active listening can be “deafened” by our responses to the visual stimuli that we receive during an attack.  The student then sees that active listening requires that the visual sensory input has to be balanced by other, equally vital sensory inputs.   Balancing all of this sensory data, while remaining centered is not an easy task.  Even the word “balancing” conveys that this entire process is related to “shisei.”

It is funny that when we begin to explore more “advanced” areas (such as execution of techniques in more dynamic environments) we always end up going back to the “basics.”  If we do not create a good foundation, the higher level aspects such as active listening seem to allude us.  This is a fitting topic, since we are approaching the end of 2009.

Marc Abrams Sensei

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