Exploring the Principles: Relax Completely Part 2

I’ve been thinking more about the principle of relaxing completely.  It is inextricable from the other key principles, but it is one of the easiest to notice when I violate it. Oops, my shoulder popped up. Wow, I feel my bicep flexing. Dang, my hips are stiff and I can’t turn at all.

But what I’ve observed the past few weeks is the tension before uke even moves. “Get out of the way!” “This is going to hurt if you don’t block it!” “He’s stronger than you!”  That little voice re-framed my understanding of the principle and my exploration.
Relax the Mind Completely.
That’s the real pickle in training. So what are the characteristics of a relaxed mind? First, here are lists of my observations of slack and tense mind in myself.
SLACK MIND – disengage
– Nage: I can’t do this
– Nage: This is too hard
– Nage: He won’t really hit me
– Nage: I don’t need to know this yet
– Nage/Uke: Pull back, get away.
– Nage/Uke: Whatever, I don’t like this technique
– Nage/Uke: What’s that shiny thing over there?
TENSE MIND – resist
– Nage: I can’t do this
– Nage: This is too hard
– Nage: I’ll mess you up, puny weakling
– Nage: This is going to hurt
– Uke: I’m so grounded he can’t throw me.
My experience is that having mind in the wrong attitude makes me myopic on the attack or expected outcome. It locks me into one moment and puts too much consequence (or not enough) on the outcome. But we are training the mind as well as the body. We practice aikido so that our bodies and minds react well in conflict. I remind myself that during practice I am not getting jumped by thugs. I’m training to prepare for that sort of thing, but it isn’t happening from the men and women wearing gis. The list of relaxed mind’s attributes below are my current understanding after three years of practice.
RELAXED MIND – receptive
– I can do this.
– This isn’t too hard to learn.
– Here I am.
– Let’s see where this goes, together.
– I understand better now and am still learning.
There’s another quality that is hard to describe. When I’m centered and ready and unafraid, sometimes it is like there is no attack. Or the attack is inconsequential. If aikido is the way of harmonizing energy, when mind is relaxed, attack and response are all one blended note. It is a thing of beauty that I didn’t cause, but participated in.
For me relaxation depends largely on confidence. If I’m not confident that I can respond well to a punch to the gut, I’ll tense up. Then I won’t respond well. But instructors and senior students help by giving attacks at my level. And I help myself by telling myself, “Sure it’s new, but I can do this.” Pretend I’m confident and someday I might be. But if my attitude is “I can’t do this” I might as well be hitting myself.
I think the first uke is always the mind. On the days I can take the negative thoughts and set them aside and have an attitude of “Here I am, I can do this,” those are the days I learn. When I’m at work and something goes wrong and someone starts accusing, if I can take the attitude “Here I am. Let’s see where this goes, together,” then my ego disengages and we can focus on the end result we need to reach.
Those little harmonies, on and off the mat, are worth the hard training. I’m getting better at taking a breath and relaxing the mind. Better, and still improving.

About NateB

Nate has been training in aikido since 2013 and is currently ranked 2nd kyu.