Between 2003 and 2006 I practiced a gentle martial art called [[Aikido]], which is also referred
to as the "Art of Peace", as described by it's founder, the late [[Morihei Ueshiba]].
Ai-ki-do stands for "The Way of Harmonizing Spirit". [[Ki]] is the Japanese term for [[Qi]] or [[Chi]] of China and [[prana]] of India. Ai means harmony and Do stands for "Way"
; (Japanese version of Dao/Tao).
Though Aikido is a descendant of [[Daito Ryu]] Aiki-jitsu (a form of Ju-jitsu), it parted from the violence of Daito Ryu (it's founder Sokaku Takeda was famous for having slain oxen with his bare hands) and delved into the realm of harmonizing Ki, becoming a Bu-do art of self improvement as opposed to a killing tradition.
The practice would usually start with some warm-ups (about 20-25 minutes) that included several Yoga asanas (though they weren't referred to as such) such as Uttanasana, Paschimottasana. The whole class would be conducted sitting in Veerasana (or the tradition Japanese sitting posture, known as Seiza). The practice of the martial art itself would consititute being taught a particular form (move) by the teacher (Sensei) and then pairing up into "thrower and the thrown" (known as japanese as Nage and Uke respectively), switching roles as needed.
The purpose of this practice was to "sense" the energy behind these techniques, develop sensitivity to the Uke's attack/intent and learning to deflect it such that neither the Nage nor the Uke get hurt, but Uke's attack get's deflected (note that these techniques have the potential of being extremely dangerous in real-life applications, since those "Uke" won't usually have the training or skills necessary to avert the attack). But the intention behind the practice is to cultivate a feeling of compassion and adaptability in the practitioner's being (mind, body and Ki).
The biggest hindrance to learning the inner nuances of this art (in retrospect) was the social conditioning we all have gone through — where we believe violence, contracted/stiffened muscles and hardness is the way to deal with stressful and possibly dangerous situations. This is true for a multitude of scenarios — we reflexively react to stressful situations as follows (usually) —
- The breath quickens, becomes shallow and harsh
- The body (usually the back and neck/shoulders) stiffen, as if bracing for some physical on-slaught
- There is a tightening sensation in the pit of our stomach (sometimes referred to as having "butterflies in the stomach")
As a result of this, our ability to think also becomes impaired, since the endocrine system takes over with the "Fight or Flight" instinct. Think about it a while and try to recollect/replay such situations in your life (be it while getting into an accident on the highway or under stressful conditions in your office or home).
Just think how great it would be if we could instead —
- Relax in the face of impending stress
- Not react instinctively but calmly assess the situation and act sensibly
- Not try to "batter heads" like two rams in a fight (with our antagonist — person or non-person), but be like a nimble-footed Matador who gracefully side-steps a raging bull and eventually wears the bull down to submission.
The practice of Arts such as Aikido and Tai Ch'i Ch'uan trains us to relax in the face of impending danger and stress and become adaptive and fluid like water (water usually always harmonizes with everything in it's way, unless specifically harnessed to become a intentionally harmful tool).
NOTE: I quit Aikido practice due to several unfortunate circumstances, one of them being health-related. But in course of Aikido practice, my teacher introduced me to my Tai Chi teacher. That I have continued to practice.
The key to (now, after some serious Tai Chi practice, I think I understand) being able to learn to do this is to first identify the flow of this Life energy (Ki/Chi/Prana) and be able to find it's center/root.
Remember that "Butterfly in the stomach" I referred to earlier? That is the center/root of this energy. About 2-3 fingers' width below the navel (positionally) and inside. It is hard to say whether there is a gross physical counterpart to this center. It is akin to the Chakra (Swadhisthana) of Yoga. There might not be any physical counterpart to it, but it exists and if you quieten yourself substantially enough you can sense it.
The key to being able to withstand the craziest of stressful situtations we might encounter in our lives is to be able to first feel this flow of energy and then find it's root. Once the root is discovered, it is a matter of practice to maintain it's equanimity. It is not easy, but it can be done.
I think we can avert major personal (or public) disasters by keeping our intent on the center under duress. The focus on the center automatically directs our life-energy back to the center and prevents our Fight-or-Flight apparatii from taking over (at least prevents it from taking over completely).
So, moral of the story — give the idea of practicing such an art a serious consideration.
More posts by this author:
- Beginner’s Mind
- Healing Energy
- Tai Chi — A Path to Samadhi
- Indian Martial Arts — Will they survive?