He showed me what I looked like, mimicking me in an exaggerated and humorous fashion. He illustrated how I was approaching him a little from the side and that he could perceive some fear. Then he demonstrated what it looks like to directly approach and grab without fear or anticipation.
"Try again," he said. "However, this time, relax as you directly approach and grab me - it's just us!" So I did and there was more connection and flow as he threw me and I rolled away. He said, "That was better." However, he pointed out that I had my free hand up in defense and he further instructed to keep my other arm down.
"We are not practicing being defensive. Let go of all fear."
I asked him, "If I do not have my other hand up, don't I leave myself very open?"
Goldberg Sensei answered, "Yes, that is what we are practicing: being open. We are not practicing combat. We are not practicing approaching others with a defensive, fearful posture. We practice moving towards our partner with a direct intention such as grabbing them, and then practice moving appropriately in response and with connection to our partner as our partner responds and as we respond to our partner."
I replied "So, we are practicing responding versus reacting." He said "Yes, exactly."
I had attended a class with him a month ago and I had a lingering question. In that class, we practiced Aikido movements with different energies. We first practiced being like water with qualities such as flowing, settling, and wave-like. Then we practiced with qualities of fire such as unpredictability, spontaneously, and with passion. Finally, we practiced our techniques as if we were "smoke" with qualities of transparency, easy movement, and light. He explained this helps up be authentic.
At the end of the class, he asked if there were any questionsI and I quickly took him up on the opportunity, "When I last came to your last class a month ago, you offered a suggestion about how we can be more authentic by practicing qualities of the elements. How does this help us be more authentic?"
He explained that when we take on an intention and then "be" that, then we are acting authentically. For example, if we decide that it is appropriate to be compassionate in a particular situation, then let us allow ourselves to be fully compassionate. Others will know if we are truly compassionate or not but more importantly, we will know! We can set various intentions such as being relaxed, spontaneous, transparent, passion, flowing, and then act on them, thus being authentic. This is what Aikido is.
He further explained that Aikido is not principally about techniques. "The techniques, such as 'Shihonage' or 'Iriminage', did not even originate from Aikido and they existed well before O Sensei's time. Aikido is the practice of harmonizing energetically with others," Goldberg Sensei explained. "The Aikido technique is like the car but what is much more important is who is in the car." In other words, I thought, let's not confuse the "map" with the "territory," as contemporary philosopher, Ken Wilbur teaches. Another student commented, "So it is like the Zen saying of not mistaking the menu for the meal." Even though techniques are useful, what is more important is the energy. Said another way, it is more important "how" we practice a technique than "what" the technique is.
A little while ago, I had the privilege of attending an Aikido class in San Diego with David Goldberg Sensei. I received wonderful gifts from this class and felt inspired to put into words some of the lessons; for example, how Aikido can help us to be more real and authentic.
During the class Goldberg Sensei asked me to grab him on the sleeve so he could demonstrate an Aikido movement in front of a few of the students. Knowing that he was going to twist my arm and throw me, I must admit that I felt a little apprehensive as I started approached him. Before I reached him, he exclaimed: "Tension in your body distorts reality."
He offered the additional suggestion that when working with an UKE (person receiving an Aikido technique), be careful about how you treat your partner. Treat him or her with respect, care and whatever is most appropriate, even as they attack you. You will likely switch roles and you will be their partner and get similar treatment. This goes for all the UKE in your life as well as all the UKE that exist only in your head (i.e., self attacks via thoughts).
Let's let go of tension and be closer to reality. Let's be authentic by setting admirable intentions and acting upon them. Let's see the reality that the person executing an Aikido technique and the person receiving the technique are truly connected, so let's act with full connection. Finally, let's not confuse the technique for what Aikido really is.
Len offers frequent Zen meditations at his home in Castle Rock, Colorado. Visit his website to learn more information: www.zenwithlen.com .