In this issue… The S.O.S. (Subject of the Season), The Shameless Plug, Kudos (and Thanks)
Feeling is the Gateway to Improvement
by Dave Goldberg
No matter what background you have in Aikido the underlying principle that points to a true expression of the art is non-resistance, and that implies receptive values. That doesn’t mean we don’t take action, but simply that we’re not in opposition to the ground we stand on, the space we’re in, and the energy we get both internally and externally. That is something that is experienced. Beyond the principle Aikido is obviously an art form that is expressed through the body, which gets information from our senses. Of course the mind will often try to screw around with the truth of the senses, and act out as an obstacle between reality and perception. Eventually, we have to deal with that fact if we want to evolve in a transformative way (a future newsletter topic perhaps). Whether you are or aren’t dealing with that, there is still only one way for the body to get the necessary information it needs to improve it’s actions, responses, and ability to operate effectively without resistance. The body must feel, develop it’s sensitivity to feel, and be permitted to do so. Feeling is a physical form of receptivity that’s always relevant to a centered expression of any action quality (allowing, assertiveness, etc.). Furthermore, awareness of what you feel is the only real and effective instrument for gauging actual improvement.
My early experiences in Aikido seemed to focus on doing techniques to a partner from static positions (that’s my interpretation of course). I do not recall being encouraged to feel what was happening as an uke or a nage, nor being set up to discover natural action and response based on what I actually felt. When I see myself in old videos, I see form that is like a copy of a copy of an original. That was fine for a while, and I did show improvement of the copy over time. At some point, though, the ceiling got awfully close to the top of my head and it seemed there was nowhere to go anymore. But there is, and there always was. We all have the capacity, through feeling, to create authentic interpretations of an original (common techniques for instance), and of course to create totally original expressions of non-resistance in action (Aikido, right?). How does a nikkyo improve from one that makes your partner’s wrist hurt to one that includes their whole body down to the ground? You will not get from the former to the latter without feeling your way there and discerning the difference in your sensitivities. How does an engagement with an unknown attack improve from one with an off-the-shelf reaction to one with a more natural responsepossibly with no label from some exam list. Once again, you will not get from the former to the latter without a sensitivity to feeling, discerning the differences, and taking action based on what you feel actually happening. An absence of feeling reveals itself most clearly when an Aikidoistmaybe even a highly experienced oneis practicing jiyuwaza (freestyle). If feeling was never emphasized in practice (often because a high degree of sensitivity wasn’t seen to be necessary in order to execute particular techniques from particular conditions), then how should that person be expected to perform when everything is in flux. It’s not hard to see that an unnatural, clumsy, or forceful outcome is likely. But what if we were trained to feel what is happening in the context of our Aikido practice right from the beginning, right now, and hold awareness there? Would it take anything away from our technical-elemental practice? Clearly, the answer is, “No.” In fact, it could only enhance our recognition of being centered, grounded, aligned, and appropriately in relation to our partner, which is as relevant to “technical” training as it is to freestyle. They are practices on the same path, and need to support the greater goal of becoming an expression of the art in principle and form. Nikkyo hasn’t gone anywhere. The form is still there, and now it’s available to express new dimensionspossibly even a new level of power.
Recently we were working on a sensitivity exercise at the dojo and a student asked me how to feel. That’s right. I asked what he meant just to be sure I heard correctly. He asked me again. “How do I feel?” First I told him, “Warm and sweaty.” After he got the joke, I broke the bad news that I had no good answer to that question and it’s just something you do. I then asked him to hold his hand in the air and close his eyes. Then I asked him where his hand wasabove his shoulders or below them. He answered correctly that it was below his shoulders. I asked him how he knew, and that was end of that conversation. Feeling is experiential. You can’t intellectualize your way out of it or into it, and you certainly can’t afford to ignore it if you expect to continuously improve over the long haul. Every-body has the capacity to feel (except for those with nerve-related disabilities) and act upon those sensitivities. My sense, though, is that there’s a certain amount of unwillingness out there to spend time overtly focusing on that in Aikido practice for fear of being “airy-fairy” or discovering something contrary to a held belief about power. Almost all of us have insecurities like that, and martial artists are no different. I accepted long ago that as much as I encourage feeling in Aikido there will always be a certain amount of resistance to it. So, the old cliché that you can lead a horse to water but you can’t make it drink is certainly true, but I like to think that I can remind it to. Set yourself up to develop your feeling-awareness in your Aikido practice. Here’s a few ways. Take some time (outside of class if necessary) to work through free movement from simple grabs that uke extends into nage with slow, constant, easily accessible motion. Why from simple grabs rather that strikes? Because from a simple grab moving slowly into the body, you must feel in order to blend well and spontaneously. There’s nothing wrong with strikes. I work with them all the time, and the same stuff applies. For foundational work, though, they just don’t tangibly challenge your sensitivities in the same way. I also do some solo practices before almost every class I teach. I start with what I refer to as “inventory.” In short, I do this by scanning my awareness down my body, feeling each spot as fully as I could, relaxing places that need to be relaxed, and finally aligning everything with the ground. After that I feel the sensation of my whole body for just a few seconds, and that’s usually enough to hook me in for a while and better connect me with my actions and what my partner is doing. I also use the connection of my feet to the ground as a kind of cue to hold awareness of what I’m feeling so that I never get too far from it. Since feeling is so innate to us all, you can find your own “inventory” and your own cues to keep you tapped in and moving forward. See you on the mat.
The Shameless Plug
The Aikido of San Diego website now has direct links to order bokken, jo, training uniforms, and Aikido books. You’ll find it at:
The long-awaited seminar with Patrick Cassidy Sensei is happening February 27 to March 1, 2009. If you’ve never done any training with him then you’re in for a treat. If you have trained with him then I’m quite sure you’ll be back. He only comes from Switzerland once every two years, so please take advantage of the opportunity. Information and registration is at: http://www.aikidosd.com/cass_seminar.htm
You can go to http://www.aikidomontreux.com to learn more about Cassidy Sensei.
Did you know that Aikido of San Diego offers a Low-Impact class that is part of our regular schedule, and also available as a stand-alone membership option? Get more information at: http://www.aikidosd.com/membership.htm
Our “Action Hour” class for 5-6 year old boys and girls starts again on November 14. The kids love it! Information and registration is at:
Kudos (and Thanks)
The Aikido retreat in September was among the best ones we ever had. Thanks to the Unity Center for making their wonderful ranch facility available to us, and of course to Teja Bell Sensei for hooking up with me and offering really outstanding and insightful instruction. Hope to see even more of you at next year’s retreat.
Kudos to all those who received promotions since our last newsletter:
Ryan Moscoe (2 Kyu), Lloyd McClellan (2 Kyu), Laura Fleisch (3 Kyu), Jay Chang (4 Kyu), Sean Linch (4 Kyu), Cathe Young (5 Kyu), Steve Hinkle (6 Kyu), David Kasanoff (6 Kyu), Peri Liaskovitis (6 Kyu), Joanne Holdeman (Orange belt-kids' class), Elliot Satinover (Yellow belt-kids' class), Ingrid Brinton (Yellow belt-kids' class), Annabelle Allen (Yellow belt-kids' class), Olina Philippoussis (Orange Belt-kids' class)
Copyright © 2008 Dave Goldberg
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