Huy’s Nidan Essay
Question: As you have worked to give up using strength, what have you learned about yourself? How can this apply to others, including children?
There was an interesting show on National Geographic the other day on Alpha Animals. It featured two fierce buffalos competing to lead the herd. They were both vigorous and magnificent beasts who stood out from the rest of the herd. They kept on locking horns and crashing heads until one of the buffalos proved itself to be stronger, more perseverant, the rightful leader of the herd; the other turned tail, conceded defeat and returned to be another member of the herd.
There was also another show about Bull Fighting. This time the bull was about as magnificent and huge as the buffalos, and the matador a handsome, small build Spaniard. However, the fight happened in a totally different manner. The bull used the same tactic as the two buffalos in the previous story, trying to crash head on with the matador. The matador, in contrast, did not seem to be scared, he just stood there in his gold-laced suit and his red cape, artfully luring the hissing beast in circles until it was exhausted and finally defeated.
These two stories illustrate an important point that we all experience: using force against force is not an effective way to fight, even the winner ends up being hurt. Approaching the fight with technique and artful moves will lead to a successful submission of the opponent.
As we grow up, we have been trained to use strength in daily tasks, either to produce or to survive. Human tilted the field, smithed the tools, milked the cow and fought the enemy relying on his strength. There is not much difference for us now, as we grow up, we build our strength, and rely on our strength for all the tasks because we think we need it.
With this strength going into Aikido training, we start practicing the art applying our natural strength with kamae, shuffles, kihon dosa, and techniques. It is hard and tiring. However, through practice we will start giving up our strength in the movements, techniques and build the connections between Shite and Uke. This is not an easy process, it requires patience, self-discipline, persistence and, with the guidance of Sensei, we gradually and slowly mold ourselves into the harmony of Aikido. Ultimately, you don’t even need any strength to carry out techniques, it’s just the timing, the core center, and the connection that makes Aikido work.
As I proceed on the budo of practicing Aikido, I’ve found out that leaving strength behind is as difficult as building up the strength. This requires practice. In order to give up strength, I have to build a good connection, to find the core center and move with the core center to execute the technique. This is easier said than done though. Once I start out the technique, my shoulders become tense, my arms instinctively bend to try to pull uke into submission with all the strength of my upper body. My legs refuse to move, as they’ve been trained to stay grounded year in and year out. Practicing Jiyu-waza, I start pulling uke to where my body wants to go, using all the strength of my arm to throw uke in an awkward direction, an unnatural way. However, through practice, once in a while, I let go off my upper body strength, trust in my training, my kihon dosa, move my feet to keep my core center aligned with the body, and acquire a good connection with my partner, everything becomes magic. Uke falls with a thud to the ground without any effort on my part. As I practice Jiyu-waza, sensei keeps on reminding me to keep my center, connect, move my feet, relax my shoulders over and over. Until I can wean out my way of using force and work toward giving up my strength, trust my training, trust the technique, then I can start learning Aikido. But make no mistake, it’s important to note that your strength is still at the core of your body and you still have to train to maintain and improve your strength over time so that you can have a healthy body full of stamina. It’s the way you train yourself and your body to use your strength differently in Aikido that creates the harmony in the Dojo that makes Aikido the Art of harmony.
I found out that this applies to the daily activities as much as in practicing Aikido. It’s of no use that we head into an argument trying to win over the opponent with force. Argument aimlessly with my wife or daughters do not solve the problem. Rather, we have to build a connection, try to understand the issue, understand each other. Express your sympathy, your compassion, discuss constructively, pivoting on the core of the issue until everybody comes to a mutual understanding and finds the common ground. Solving the problem like this brings harmony and peace to our life, similar to when we practice the art of Aikido. We should be able to have confidence in our core value so that we can greet our opponents with open arms and a warm smile that defuses the situation so that we can bring harmony into the discussion.
This applies to us all, adults and kids. The less we act upon our instinct, the more success we can achieve.
In conclusion, I want to quote a paragraph from Gozo Shioda’s book “Aikido Shugyo, Harmony in Confrontation” that reads:
“Couldn’t we say then that Aikido is intensive training in the cultivation of a spirit which allows you to think of even an enemy as a friend? It is to be able to smile radiantly at someone who wants to inflict harm upon you – not a forced smile but a smile that truly comes from your heart. If you could do this, even your adversary would lose his intention to cause you harm. This is an extremely difficult thing but the process of training toward achieving it is Aikido.”