081) Maintaining Awareness in Aikido: May 2011
The weapons focus last month certainly helped people to understand the importance of remaining alert. I would like to follow this up by asking people to now explore the arena of awareness. This means remaining aware of yourself, your surroundings, your attacker and your connection to the attacker from the approach to attack, through the execution of the technique, to the continued awareness after the execution of the technique. It is important to see how we focus our attention, how and when we allow it to lapse at times and how this impacts upon the ability to successfully execute a technique.
Awareness of an approaching attack is a good starting point. We need to assess if we are aware of our own reactions to the impending attack. We need to assess the attacker and the nature of the attack. We need to accomplish both of these tasks while still maintaining some degree of awareness of our surroundings. In the midst of all of this, we need to attend to the awareness of the developing connection between ourselves and the attacker. Some common pitfalls include becoming “frozen” inside of ones own experience. This can occur from a strong fear and/or angry response and can also occur as a result of an adrenalin dump. This set of problems typically results in problems with correctly connecting with the attacker so as to “be informed” as to how to respond with a technique in a connected manner. This can emerge as a tunnel-vision on the initial attack, lack of ki extension when contact is made, too much body tension, poor timing and collisions.
A proper connection with the attacker is important in allowing ourselves to move in a manner that can enable a technique to be successfully executed. Tunnel-vision upon the attack (as opposed to full awareness of the attacker) and moving in a manner that breaks the connection with the attacker frequently result in difficulties-to-failure in executing the technique. Intent guides movement. Our intent is also a non-verbal communication that the attacker can “read”. If our intent is connected to the “connected us” (the uke and the nage), we are “hiding” essential information that enables us to move in a manner that the attacker will find hard to “read”. If our intent is focused on the mechanics of executing the technique at the point of attack, execution problems frequently result. This typically occurs because the uke and nage are reading and reacting to information on the same “time frame” as the other person. This is something that we should want to avoid at all costs. We want to be on a different “time frame”, one in which the attacker is still trying to figure out the information after we have already moved. It is not easy to move with an integrated, whole-body when we execute techniques. Too much tension or not enough extension of energy in parts of our bodies typically breaks the connection between the uke and nage. This connection is critical in enabling the technique to be successful. This is a common occurrence as we are learning techniques. It is important to develop awareness in ourselves to recognize when we break this connection and why.
The connection with the attacker should continue after the technique is executed. People frequently focus elsewhere after they are done executing a technique. We typically replicate what we do in practice outside of practice. Losing awareness of an attacker is a very, very bad idea. Depending upon the situation, the execution of a technique can range from the starting point of remaining safe, to the end point of remaining safe. Throwing the attacker far away from you is typically an opportunity to face the attacker again, this time more aware and more determined to get the job done. Sometimes you might be in a situation where you have to be damn sure that the attacker cannot get up again. This might mean that the “finish” of the technique is genuinely “not nice.” This might mean that you are having to set an example for the attacker’s cohorts as to what is awaiting the next person. Sometimes, the execution of a technique is sufficient to end the conflict. If you are genuinely aware of your situation, you should understand what needs to be done.
This month will be an opportunity for us to check in with where we are in our ability to execute clean techniques. All of us need to take honest assessments of our short-comings in order for us to accurately assess ourselves so that we can continue to improve in our art.
Marc Abrams Sensei