Aikido and Openness
The following writing was a speech given by John Pergakes during his shodan exam. In aikido, we do not compare ourselves to one another, it is the importance of our inner development that matters the most. You and I might be very different in height, weight, physical abilities, emotional sensitivities, and even our pace of progress, yet in aikido we recognize each person is unique in our own journey, and the test of shodan is not only a memorization of techniques or the ability to make connections, but also it is a test to see how far we’ve come to break through our own limits and boundaries as we mature into a more compassionate person. The writing below is a wonderful example of John’s internal progress as he embarks on the journey of aikido.
Aikido and Openness (by John Pergakes)
Aikido practice can increase our physical, mental, and spiritual openness leading to positive changes in our life. Physical openness is practiced every time we step on the mat. This is can be seen while performing techniques. When we practice aikido there are defined roles for each person. In Aikido techniques, there is a scripted way in which 2 people interact with each other. Some people even compare it to dancing. In dancing there is one person that leads and the other follows. In order for both people to accomplish a common goal, both partners need to be open to play their role. Each partner has their part and helps the other partner learn.
Physical openness can be seen during Aikido techniques. Uke starts the technique with an attack. Sh’te must be open to receiving the attack. If sh’te is not open to accept the attack, the energy does not flow from the point of contact to their center and into the ground. However, if sh’te is relaxed and open, the attacking energy can flow through the body and into the ground like an electrical circuit. As the attack unfolds, sh’te must blend with the attack and use this energy provided by uke in a positive way. The attack is redirected and then a reversal happens. Uke must be open to receive the technique sh’te is now performing. If uke is not open and disconnected it will not give sh’te the correct energy needed.
Physical openness can also be observed when we stand in kamai. If properly done, the hand is open with fingers spaced apart. This allows the ki to flow out of the body and beyond. A closed fist does not allow this. The training of keeping open physically over a period of time builds and conditions the body on a visceral level. This carries over into the way a person walks and acts toward other people.
When we practice Aikido, we have the opportunity to practice mental openness. Before class starts is a good time for this. When we line up there is usually a few minutes before we bow in. This is a good time to close ones eyes and try to erase the day’s events from your mind. This is time to forget about the problems of the day. Problems at work, school or home can be dealt with a later time. Training time in the dojo is short and needs to should be focused. Having an empty and open mind is the right way to start class. If the mind is not open then the lessons will not sink in.
As Gaku Homma writes in the book Aikido for Life, “One cannot practice Aikido without a certain amount of openness to new people as well as new ideas.”
In Aikido we practice with different partners. In physical terms our partner could be taller or shorter. Some partners are not as flexible while others have shoulders like rubber bands. In this sense we need to be aware and have an open mind to this. We should experience how it changes the technique in subtle and not so subtle ways. This practice conditions our mental openness to learn and experience. This also leads us to accept things “as is” and then learn to deal with it in a positive manner. In life we cannot control other people. We can however control our response. By being open we can pause for a second, take a breath and then deal with the situation in a positive manner.
If we continually train our body and mind to be open it will become as natural as breathing. The continuous practice of physical and mental openness will come together in our spirit.