Saheli*: Musings and Observations
Wednesday, June 30, 2004
 
Aikido: Moving from the Center

In the wider context of this blog that might sound like commentary on a sappy political strategy, but in fact it was the theme of yesteray's class. Peter was at a meeting, so we were taught by Kim Peuser Sensei, the actual Sensei and head of the Dojo. Moving from the center is important in most martial arts, and yoga, and dance. The Center: A few inches below one's belly, in the middle of the body. The Sensei said moving from one's center is more likely to generate a calm reaction than moving from one's shoulders or head. He asked us to feel the tension in our shoulders and neck and by letting them relax, bringing the nervous energy stored in them down into the center, where it would be stronger and more stable.

He exhorted us to feel confident, and even if we didn't actually feel confident, pretend to be confident, like an actor on the stage. He's a very cheerful looking man with a wonderful wide mustache, and I could easily imagine him fighting on an Elizabethan set. "Be King Lear!" was followed by nervous giggles, and I for one first envisioned Laurence Olivier's once mighty monarch lost in fragile senility."The Young King Lear!" the Sensei clarified. Some roared with laughter, and I couldn't stop grinning for a long time. I found this oddly poetically apt. Who the hell knows what the Young King Lear was like? And yet he must have been a great king, a warrior of great confidence and fire, in order to elicit such passionate feelings from his courtiers and kin. Imagine all that backstory with your being, project it into your center, then walk onto the stage: I bet your whole physical attitude will shift and the tragic arc will become so much more lucid. So even if I'm not actually a self-confident and experienced Aikidoka, pretending I am just might help.

It was a difficult thing to pretend, though, with the increasingly complicated moves we were doing. The hardest thing for me was coordinating "sides" with my partner, first Scott and then Scott and another new student whose name, most embarrassingly, escapes me. She was a very good sport though. It seems that in every Aikido partnered interaction there is the uke, the one who receives, and the nage, the one who throws or acts. The nage gets to decide which "side" everything is on, but I wasn't even always aware of who was uke and who was nage. So first we did an excercise where one person steps forward and punches towards their partner's stomach, and their partner dodges the punch and the last minute, stepping around so that instead of being at the receiving end of the puncher's first, in front of them, they are actually standing beside them, facing the same direction, hands stretched out and parallel to the puncher's outreaching hand. So, that seems like the puncher is the nage, and the person turning around is receiving as uke, right? Not so fast. The move gets more complex.

After practicing this dodge, we were told that the dodger, besides merely dodging was supposed to grab the punchers arm (not fist, because a fist is merely a point and easy to miss, but an arm is more substantial and can be grabbed blindly, as the Sensei demonstrated with his eyes closed.) Your hand slides down the puncher's fist as you turn to stand beside them, and you wrap your hand around the fleshy thumb-part of their hand hand as your thumb rests between last and second-to-last knuckle. That part I could grasp. The really tricky part is then turning them around while holding onto their hand, pushing down on their fingers, and using that grip to push them down onto the ground. Did you catch that? The puncher is the one being pushed down onto the ground--the puncher is now the uke. Besides this confusing me even more about which side to start on, I also found it difficult to push my partner down properly. Perhaps more amusingly, when Scott was pushing me down, I was finding it difficult not to simply give in. "Don't fall until I push you!" he explained. I guess my instinctive self-defense move is the "flop over and pretend you're dead" move. When in doubt, I reach for the classics . . .
 


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Saheli Datta started this when she was a journalism student at Columbia in New York. Now she lives in the Bay Area. *Old people call me R. New people, call me Saheli. Thanks! My homepage. Specifically, my links. Email me: Saheli [AT] Gmail [dot] Com

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