Dignity and Respect

I’ve always thought of myself as the kind of person who treats everyone with dignity and respect.

In the short 21 months that I’ve been training in aikido, it has become glaringly clear that there is someone new whom I am learning to treat with dignity and respect: myself.

Through our aikido practice, I am beginning to feel a subtle yet powerful shift in the way I perceive others and the way I perceive myself.

One of the big lessons is to maintain my own center. For me, this flies in the face of my habitual patterns associated with being “a nice guy” in order to earn approval from others.

As always, our aikido practice on the mat serves as a wonderful mirror for my life.

Katate kosa tori kote gaeshi tobi komi: If I don’t maintain my own center as nage, I may find myself bending over uke as I try to complete the technique. I may end up initially taking uke’s balance, only to hand it right back to her, surrendering my effectiveness.

Copyright 2012 J-O Waldner.

As I truly begin to learn to maintain my own center, I find that I worry less about trying to please others and I focus more on speaking and living my truth. The more I treat myself with dignity and respect, the more I treat those around me with true dignity and respect. My old habits of manipulation and passive-aggressive behavior drops away as I learn to openly ask for what I want, knowing I may not get it.

The more fully I accept myself, the more authentically I show up on the mat and in the world. Joy replaces self-judgment. Giving myself over to the lifelong process of training replaces the idea of reaching some sort of “finish line” represented by a hakama or a black belt.

Turning around my own center, I maintain my balance. And I discover that I no longer need to agree with someone in order to treat them with dignity and respect.

Exploring the Principles: Keep One Point


Every art, trade, science, and study has its jargon. Aikido is no different. Jargon can be a barrier to learning, but it develops for a reason. The jargon points to specific ideas that laypeople may not comprehend without study and devotion. One idea in aikido that tripped me up was “one point.”

The principle of “keeping one point” is a translation of Tohei Sensei. Someone had to teach me what my one point was before I could keep it. It is a spot in your lower abdomen, a couple inches below your belly button. It is roughly in the same place as your center of mass.

That describes where one point is. What it is might seem odd to the Western mind. It did to me. The tanden or hara in Japanese or dantien in Chinese is the physical center and power center. It is where ki or chi flows from. It is the hubcap that all points of the body move in relation to.

Keeping it implies you can lose it. Losing one point is quite easy–let your posture slump forward. Carry tension in your shoulders. Let your mind wander. Do just about anything and that internal connection will ebb.

Keeping one point is hard to learn, harder to integrate into everyday life. Have good posture, a present mind, and let your mind be linked to your one point. I think O-Sensei’s words in The Art of Peace are clear teaching.

A good stance and posture reflect a proper state of mind. 


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.

After four years of practice, that link is growing more consistent and it is following me into daily life. I got past the jargon, past looking in the glossary, past fiddling around trying to find my one point. There is an anecdote of a student asking O-Sensei if he was better at keeping his one point than anyone else. O Sensei said “No, I just come back faster.”

Don’t worry about losing one point, losing posture, moving with tension. Just come back to one point. That is the real practice. Come back to one point.


Image “finding balance” is copyright (c) by woodleywonderworks and made available under an Attribution 2.0 Generic license

Exploring the Principles: Weight Underside

I thought weight underside would be one of the easier principles to discuss, but it is both obvious and counter-intuitive.

I have begun to think of my body as two separate weights that meet at my center point. One is the weight from my center to the soles of my feet. The other is from my center to the highest point I can reach. The bottom weight, from hips to floor, is like a bucket of water hanging from my one point. The upper weight, from my center up to the top of my head, is a gyroscope balanced on my pelvis with my spine as the gyroscope’s center.

From the waist down, my weight should always be on the soles of my feet. Obvious. But can I shift weight back and forth without twisting my knees or losing connection to the ground? In boat-rowing exercise we have all seen (and all been) the beginner that throws his center forward, his back foot comes up, and he steps forward. Can I throw my weight forward without my back foot coming up? Counter-intuitive after 30 years of walking and running.

Have you ever swung a bucket half full of water? As the bucket comes forward and twists up, the water almost stays parallel to the lip of the bucket (although it shifts slightly, not quite parallel to the top of the bucket and not quite parallel to the ground). With a bit of pendulum swing, the water stays pretty calm in the bucket and doesn’t slosh. When you swing the bucket forward, the water shifts forward and up, tugging at your arm. If you don’t sink some weight back and down, the bucket will pull you forward or jerk to a stop and slosh. If you pull back and down against the handle, the bucket and water swing up rather than pull forward. Then the water starts dropping straight down until the handle and your arm make it pendulum back. At the back swing the water goes back and up, your body weight shifts forward and down and your arm  tugs forward and down.

This is how weight underside feels. I used to slide my weight straight back and forth as if my center was on a track. Boat rowing warm-up was jerky. My feet didn’t stay evenly weighted.

Now I focus on my feet and center. If I stand naturally and let my center sink an inch or two, like I’m holding a heavy weight, I feel my weight evenly across the soles of my feet. When I move my weight forward, it swings forward like an invisible bucket of water swinging forward. When my center stops over my front leg, I rotate my hips back and down so my back foot is still rooted. Then I slide my center backward until my weight is over my back foot and I rotate my hips slightly forward and down so my front foot feels just as connected to the mat as when my weight was on it.

Feeling the soles of my feet was an important step in understanding how to move my weight. The hip motion came from Tai Chi. In Tai Chi, the knee stays in line with the toes and twisting comes from the hips. The same advice about the knee applies in all sports. The knee is a hinge, not a ball and socket. Bend the knee naturally and let the ankle, hip, and spine generate the body’s turning. (Related to Tai Chi, I suggest studying the illustrations on this blog. https://brisbanechentaichi.weebly.com/skill-knowledge.html I’m a visual learner and these images inform a lot of this post).

When I realized how much tension I carried in my hips and began to relax, my weight naturally settled. My butt and upper thighs relaxed. I felt my knees and ankles more. Relaxing useless tension made me more centered. Now my hips rotate and pitch and yaw better, more like a bucket.

Above my center, I find my spine the best indicator of where my weight is. If my posture is straight, I’m not aware of strain on my spine. If I drop my chin toward my belt, I feel my spine stretch and complain. If I lift my arms straight out with tension in my shoulders, forearms or hands, I feel the weight of my spine. If I pull one elbow into my side, I feel my spine give way.

We have been exploring the idea that there is an equal and opposite for every action in our technique. If I raise my arms forward and up, something is going backward and down. Heaven and Earth throw is the most obvious example of one hand goes up and one hand goes down. But sometimes what is moving isn’t visible. Both hands go up and forward and…what?…goes down?

Think again of the boat rowing exercise. As I throw my hands forward, I do not flex and jerk them forward. If I do, my head jerks forward too. If I jerk them back, I’m likely to lean back too. Or in shomen uchi exercise, how do I throw both arms up to block without needing to lean or step forward? What is going down at the same time? I don’t know…Something, even if it is just a mental something. Bio-mechanically, I think it is another thing we have been exploring: bringing the shoulders back and down. Just like the hips, the shoulders are ball and socket joints. If I lift my hand forward and up, the back of my shoulder may jut forward with my arm and my spine follows along (weapons practice will point out this flaw with sore muscles). Or I can settle my shoulder blade back and down like my arm is a balanced lever. Like a gyroscope some weight is moving forward and some is move backward all the time, but it all falls on the spine.

So my body is now a gyroscope balanced on a bucket handle. (I dare you to find that sentence in aikido lore. Or anywhere. Ever.)

When I put the two halves back together, they can move independently above or below my center. My legs and weight can slide and step around the mat in balance. If my lower body is not in balance, I can usually feel it get bogged down by my spine tilting. I can move my hands and arms up or down or twist independent of my legs. I can do boat-rowing warm up with legs and torso independent. Just upper body, just lower body, or both moving in unison.

But solo movement is the basics. What happens when an attack pulls or weights my wrist? This is where things are really fuzzy. I do feel my tendency to lean my spine away and pull. Cringe. Flee. Sometimes I over compensate for that and lean in to counter-attack. Then uke can pull me over.

What follows now is rough-sketch ideas. If you press horizontally against the top of a gyroscope, it presses back because it wants to stand up straight. A gyroscope is most stable at the base.  If you poke the top of a gyroscope, it bobbles a lot more than if you poke the bottom. So I connect uke‘s pull or push to my center–the bottom of my gyroscope– so my spine doesn’t wobble. If it does wobble (like, I don’t know, every time) I can feel the wobble and let the bowl of my hips and lower body shift to catch it. In tenkan warm-up, I feel the weight of uke‘s attack, move that weight to my spine (or my spine to it until we are in balance) and then I can turn freely.

I often laugh in aikido when I really try to attack someone and find myself flat on my back, none the worse for wear. When it feels like the thrower barely touched me, didn’t fight me, and yet the world spun around until I’m staring at the ceiling, when that happens it feels like the thrower manipulated gravity. I try to hit a partner on the head and then my spine moves slightly forward, then to the side and down until my hips are stuck and then my spine rolls back and I fall. Kokynage. Or I try to grab a shoulder and my arm begins to twist as if I grabbed a spinning gyroscope and, after a spin, my fingers are behind my shoulder and my spine tilts backward past my hips and I fall. Shihonage. 

Receiving an aikido throw is often like poking a gyroscope that will not topple or like someone has handed you a swinging bucket of water all the sudden. The expected success of a strike turns into mental and physical confusion.

The training of aikido and keeping my weight, mind, and presence stable, is to be able to receive energy and move without tilting or sloshing myself. When I am centered and weight underside, I can accept energy and not lose my center, lose my spine, or lose my footing.

That is the best of my understanding of weight underside today.  It is very difficult to understand, let alone explain. I hope my explorations give you ideas to try. I know I will have more to say as I keep learning.

(Featured image “nature paisible” courtesy of Yann Coeuru.)

Exploring the Principles: Relax Completely

Martial arts require practicing new ways of moving, thinking, and interacting with others. Aikido relies on several key principles that take time and exploration to understand. The more deeply I explore the art, the more a bottomless well of vocabulary roils beneath, enough to drown in if I take it all on at once.
When I first started aikido someone suggested choosing one of the four key principles and practicing it for a month or two until I had some feel for it. Then move to the next principle. I’ve followed that advice, so in any class I am working on what sensei is teaching and trying to apply an internal principle as well.
Recently I have been practicing what it means to “Relax Completely.”
Art by Nate B. Copyrighted 2017.
When uke grabs, can I relax my wrist, then elbow, then shoulder, then stand with my spine relaxed and straight? Can I do all of that before contact?
What has really transformed daily life is what happens from the one-point down. Are my hips and pelvic muscles relaxed? Can I settle my weight down into the floor without tensing my hips, without twisting my knees out of alignment with my feet?
I noticed a lot of internal tension in my hips and legs. I started focusing on that in practice, cooking in the kitchen, standing to stretch. It started to make it easier to stand up straight.
I’ve always enjoyed running but for the past few years have been hindered by old injuries. I decided to start up again and run only as long as I could keep my lower body relaxed. If my posture started to cave in or my stride hobbled in any way, I would stop. If my old injuries flared up–as they have so many times–I would stop and preserve my joints.
In three months, my old complaints haven’t acted up, I’ve had no injuries, and I’m running twice as far as I ever have and slowly adding to the distance. And it doesn’t hurt. Sure, it takes a lot of effort and sometimes my cardio rises to high and I have to slow down. Sure, sometimes I bite off a bigger climb than my legs can handle and I have to dial it back. But I can tell the difference now between discomfort from asking my body to push and the pain of demanding too much.
Applying aikido principles creates a feedback loop. When I put my focus on listening to the cues from my body (Are you relaxed? Feeling good? Want to keep going?) I find running to be much more joyful. Instead of demanding from my body (Three miles at this pace, I don’t care if you’re sore. I’m Mind and you’ll do what I say, Body!), I relax and listen. I haven’t been injured because the goal is not to achieve, but to participate.
Now on the mat, I work to let go of achievement. I try to listen and participate.

Moving Around My Own Center

Mark Sensei commonly reminds us to move around our own center, regardless of what uke may be doing or not doing.

After spending my entire life reacting to the behaviors of others (a survival strategy that served me well as a child, but no longer serves me as an adult), this wisdom sounds very counter-intuitive. And, like everything else Mark Sensei demonstrates, it works.

When uke grabs my wrist and I turn tenkan, I understand intellectually that the best thing I can do is simply to turn around my own center. And yet, time after time, the habitual responses that have been grooved into my nervous system over decades take over. And I find myself staring intently at uke’s hand grabbing my wrist, struggling as muscles are engaged.

In that moment, Mark Sensei might say that my attention — and therefore my mind — is on the contact point between uke’s grab and my wrist. And he would likely say that’s okay, and encourage me to simply acknowledge what is taking place and move mind back to my own center.

Where else in my life might I benefit from moving from my own center?

“Fire Dancers – 17” by Travis Nep Smith

Instead of worrying what people think of me and trying to change myself to fit into various circumstances, what if I simply lived my truth, with respect for myself and respect for others?

Instead of focusing on the past and giving energy to recreating arguments in my head, or conjuring up memories of who has wronged me and how, what if I simply focused on what brings joy and satisfaction in my own life, regardless of where those other people are today?

Where else in my daily life can I trust enough to listen carefully to inner wisdom and move around my own center?

Tim has been training in aikido since 2016 and is currently ranked 5th kyu.