Aikido is Timing

19 10 2012

I wrote a couple of weird posts recently about my attempts to make use of ki when practicing Aikido. In fact I’ve made a lot of vague attempts at ki manipulation over the years, but it’s never helped me on the mat. Only in preparing for my Nidan* test (happening tonight!) have I begun to understand why.

I can’t remember now exactly when or how this concept crystallized. Somewhere in the instruction I’ve received, the notion of timing shifted from an abstract concept to something very specific. That is, as nage I must meet uke at the optimal time, when uke is compromised; and in the optimal shape, with my body aligned and balanced.

Timing and body position accomplish everything I’ve always attributed to mysterious ki. If I meet uke before there is any strength behind his attack, it doesn’t matter which of us is stronger. If I am in a position of leverage, it doesn’t matter which of us has the longer reach. If I can seize the initiative in the encounter, I can take uke’s balance.

This is a major shift in my thinking, and I’m still trying to internalize it. This is energy. This is ki. I don’t counter strength with invisible force beams, I counter it with strategy–by being in the right place at the right time. The right place being out of the line of danger, at the fulcrum of the encounter, with my body in the appropriate shape. The right time being before uke’s attack has built up momentum. Still, the right place and the right time are not enough without the right intention. In other words, there has to be commitment behind my movements, honesty in my utemi, a lucid assessment of danger, compassion for my attacker, trust in my training partner, ownership of my own space; a clear, motivating energy behind everything.

This is something concrete that I can practice. I still believe there is value in visualizing the flow of energy in various ways, but ki does not have to be mystical and mysterious. Ki manifests at the junction of a particular physical action and mental focus that I can construct and reconstruct. Energy flows through every technique and every blend, not because someone is doing magic, but because that’s the nature of techniques and blends.

Basically I just need to do all the things my teachers have always been telling me to do. Enter, move my center, relax, extend energy, keep one point, weight underside. Catch the timing. I don’t know why it took me this long to make sense of timing, but I’m hopeful that it will improve my Aikido and empower me elsewhere in life. Lots of people’s success is attributed to being in the right place at the right time, as if by accident. By adding right intention, perhaps we can generate opportunities rather than just wait for them.

*Nidan: second degree black belt
nage: the one doing the technique
uke: the one attacking and being thrown
utemi: a counterstrike made by nage in the midst of a technique

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