by Tip Harris Sensei
Relax!! I very frequently tell this to my class, to individual students, or to my partner if I’m practicing. If I notice a student moving in a tense, stiff manner, I’ll often grab their arms and give them a good shaking to encourage them to “loosen up” and relax.
Our body has a natural tendency to tense up when confronted by an attack or a sudden situation. We freeze or move stiffly, resist too much, push back or try to use our own force to counter a force that is thrusting against us.
There is no doubt in my mind that the absolute, hardest, single, thing that a student of Aikido needs to learn, is to retrain their body to relax, or to react in a calm, relaxed manner. Maybe O-Sensei was referring to this when he said, “Aikido is simple, not easy!” Relaxing or responding in a calm, relaxed manner is not easy, and requires a conscious mental effort, which over time (usually years and years) will allow students to refine their body, or how their body responds. While I believe that I have achieved a modicum of understanding of this from my 30 years or so of training, I still occasionally find myself feeling the tension in my shoulders and arms. My center has moved up into my shoulders and I have to mentally shake myself and tell my body, “Relax!”
The hard part of relaxing is learning to accept the negative energy of an attack in a relaxed manner as we move out of the way of the attack, so we can confidently join or blend with the attacker’s energy and redirect it. With a lot of training, we can accept an attack, blending with the attacker’s energy, feeling where the energy is coming from, and harmonizing or joining our movements with those of the attacker, so as to gain control of the situation.
I have found that developing this type of calm or relaxed manner in the face of an attack, also spills over to my everyday life. I’m much more calm and relaxed in dealing with people and situations that I encounter in life.
So, the next time you are getting frustrated or struggling with a technique, remember what IKEDA SHIHAN from Boulder AIKIKAI frequently says: “Remember, Aikido works… but, your Aikido might not!” Perhaps, rather than doubting the principle of Aikido, if we instead relax and try again, we stand a better chance of being effective at executing a technique well… and enjoying our training more.