Practicing Aikido in the Present Moment

I didn’t know it would feel like this.

It’s been two years now that I’ve been practicing aikido, and while there have been ups and downs, generally speaking it has been a relatively low-stress situation.

Now my 3rd kyu test is days away, and I feel as if I’ve stepped into a pressure cooker and there’s no way out except to go straight through. I feel like I’m in the womb, the labor pains are ramping up, and no matter what I do, the pressure is rising.

I notice a variety of conflicting internal responses to this upcoming initiation. On one hand, the desire to dive more deeply into practice; to run through all techniques and weapons katas five times a day. On the other hand, the desire to run upstairs, crawl under my bed and hide.

It seems as though I work to refine one technique only to discover that my execution of another technique has new flaws. Like trying to shore up one side of the sand castle while the waves just keep right on eroding what I thought I’d achieved. And the harder I try with my intellect to grab on to information and hold it firmly in my grasp, the more my smoothness falls apart.

This morning I remembered something that Mark Sensei talks about all the time: returning to the present moment again and again, such that every moment is meditation. As I practiced my weapons katas in the park, I focused on surrendering my intellectual need to remain “in control” of every movement and returning to the flow of the present moment.

And it dawned on me: What if I were to live in the moment during my 3rd kyu weapons demonstration? If the present moment is the only place where ease and joy reside, why not go THERE?

A neighbor walking his dogs walked up and paid me a compliment for my intense focus and dedication over the past weeks. Someone in a car shouted something at me as they drove by. Neither took my center. My practice took on an entirely new flavor. I was dancing. It was joyful and fun.

I didn’t know it would feel like this.


(featured image credit: pocket mindfulness.

Unity vs. Coordination

Aikidoka talk about unifying body and mind. It is a target we train for, but I still balk at the phrase. I couldn’t articulate why until I was recently re-reading The Aikido of Shin-Budo Kai. The phrase “coordinating body and mind” stuck out to me.

Unity, to my mind is an ideal or abstract state of oneness.  I realize that a high degree of mental and physical unity is what we pursue. But there is a process to get there, progress from my current state to better and better states.

Coordination, however, is separate things working together. As a beginner, I can wrap my head around coordinating body and mind. To borrow an analogy from Ikeda Sensei, a baby has to learn the coordination to walk. Then he has to wobble along from support to support in fits and starts until his little legs are strong and coordinated enough to walk freely. Then he has to learn how to go up slopes, down stairs, over rough gravel, across an icy sidewalk. Coordination is learned and practiced.

I can hit a baseball. But I lack the coordinated swing to hit a home run out of a major league park. I can be coached, I can physically and mentally train, I can practice, and one day smack a ball out of the park. But not without focused practice.

We train both mind and body separately and together. One without the other is useless. To strike only physically is madness. To strike only mentally is absurd. So each time I practice a motion, my mind participates. Whenever I have a mental intent, my body must move in order to fulfill it. No Jedi powers here.

I’m learning how to coordinate my body and my intent. The more they coordinate, the less either dominates or slackens. Everything begins to cohere into a single system.

I only understand unity as an embodied ideal sporadically, when uke attacks, I move, and things just happen. That only occurs on techniques I have practiced a thousand times. It almost never happens the first time I practice a new attack, technique or principle. Unity transcends mere coordination. But unity is coordinated. I can’t force unity to happen, but I can train my body and mind to be coordinated, laying a foundation.

Image credits: “Molnija 3601 watch movement macro.” Guy Sei.  CC BY-SA 2.