“What Do You Mean When You Say ‘Relax’,” by Marc Abrams

“If a person has been studying Aikido for any length of time, it is likely that this person has heard the phrase ‘just relax…’ The answer seems so simple, yet remains so elusive. Discovering the meaning of this phrase is a process of becoming increasingly aware of and in control of one’s own body. This burgeoning awareness leads to subtle, yet substantial improvements in ones’ ability to execute techniques.”

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  1. One of the things I found interesting from Skill Acquisition specialists was that the body only has so much cognitive processing power available and when learning something new there are too many degrees of freedom in the body for it to take care of. The end result is the mind has to reduce the degrees of freedom by locking up joints and joint segments and allow the mind to focus on a particular aspect of the skill/ technique. Once the skill is acquired progressive relaxation of the body becomes possible.
    This is also a reason why over correcting an athlete (aikidoka) can lead to mental overload and frustration. Its also possibly why its so damn hard to step into another style of aikido and do their footwork etc…

  2. Daniel:

    Your point is the proverbial two sides to the blade. One of the big problems with trying to “think” your way through learning, is that it interferes with a more efficient learning process. In a fight, if you have to think about what to do, it is too late! In training, if you can teach the person to move properly (natural movement- wrote a blog about that as well!) and simply have them replicate the movement through a range of attacks of increasing intensity, you can help the person learn the movements more efficiently. Thinking about what happened AFTER the movement series can be a more effective and efficient learning method.

    The interesting thing about practicing other styles of Aikido, is that if you have the basic tenets down, the variations of the techniques are picked up relatively quickly.

  3. …don’t know if it’s psychological or what. guys especially (myself included) don’t seem to intuitively “get” the idea that something can be accomplished WITHOUT a whole lot of, usually upper body, muscular involvement. it can take years to understand that aikido works through the opponent’s paths of weakness. applying strength just provides opportunities for conventional resistance.

  4. Brett Jackson says:

    I like the self-massage exercise where you beat yourself (key muscle groups) firmly but gently as if you were a drum. After that I feel my body move to a deeper level of relaxation where ki can flow better and I can feel that ki flow when moving. We usually do that in warm-ups. Can do that first thing in the morning and then try to maintain that feeling for the rest of the day or repeat it later to re-energize.

  5. Brett:

    Interesting comment! When you are relaxed, you have should posture and Ki is flowing through you, you will sound like a drum if somebody strikes you on your torso and you will barely feel a thing. I use my hand and a shinai in my classes. It also brings me back to me first karate experience at 12 years of age. My teacher would have us sit seiza properly and meditate with our eyes closed before class. He would then go around hitting us in the back with a shinai. Boy did that hurt the first time! When all systems were functioning, felt like a gentle thump.

  6. hi Marc,
    2 sides of the blade yes I couldn’t agree more. One of the things I like most about the Tohei sensei lineage (I follow K. Maruyama sensei) is the progression from sitting practice through stationary up to full movement aikido. It a nice way of introducing complexity gradually. The balance between implicit learning and explicit process is a tricky one that every instructor and student have to explore. My favourite example is this parody of learning cricket by Borat (a pseudonym) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=txfHVG3ioAs


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