“When an opponent comes forward, move in and greet him; if he wants to pull back, send him on his way.” - Morihei Ueshiba
Imagine if you have a weight to bear. Say perhaps a sack of potatoes. If you hold the sack away from your body with extended arms, you will have to use your shoulder and arm muscles to resist the force of gravity and you will become tired quickly.
Now imagine you had those same potatoes in a backpack, the weight is close to your spine, and the straps of your backpack hold it firmly to your body. The weight of the load goes through your bones and much less effort is required in order to carry this load.
One of my earliest exposures to this wisdom was seeing pictures of women in Africa carrying heavy loads over long distances. I remember thinking initially how strong they must be. Over time I came to realize that they were using their natural body mechanics in a more efficient way than what I was used to seeing.
But how does this relate to our training? One is in the amount of effort required to generate power, and what that means for how much power we’re able to generate, and how long we are able to sustain that level of output. But for now, we can say that it feels different from uke’s perspective, to have someone move through them, versus having them exert force onto them. If you have a training partner who is willing to slow down your training practice enough to allow you to explore various options, you can work with each other to explore this difference and feel it for yourself.
But for now, to further explore how structure relates to the principle of effortlessness, and our ability to generate force, and sustain the ability to train over longer periods of time before fatiguing. Force is calculated as the weight of an object, multiplied by its speed. So, for example, with a punch. If your fist weighs a pound, and you’re able to accelerate it to a certain speed, then your punch will have the force of 1*speed… Now imagine if at the moment of impact, your punch was at the forefront of your unbendable arm, and that simultaneously, your centre was falling forward with your punch. The structure of your spine, and of your unbendable arm, would allow the weight / force of your whole body to be transmitted through your bones and into your fist. The amount of force that you’d be able to generate would be equal to your whole body weight * your speed. And while the speed that you can move your body might be less than the speed that you can accelerate your fist, the much heavier body will contribute to more force overall than what your fist would be able to generate on it’s own, even accelerated with the power of your muscles.
This ability to generate more overall force, even with less muscle, is one of the ways that aiki-technology can help a smaller person work successfully with larger attackers. If we add the fundamental truth that gravity is always pulling our body towards the earth at a particular rate(speed) and we always have a certain body mass(weight), you can see how a certain amount of force(the speed of our falling in gravity * our body weight) is always available to us, with little or no muscular effort.
Structure is what provides us with the ability to express that potential energy into our techniques. A simple way to experience this is to extend your arm forward in the same way that we do with unbendable arm, then ask a training partner to take ahold of our forearm with morote-dori. If we extend through our unbendable arm as if reaching for a glass of water, bend our knees to drop our centre, and extend through our legs (I’ll leave the seeming paradox of simultaneously bending our knees, while also extending through our legs for you to explore with just this acknowledgement, and the guidance that extending
through our legs (or other limbs) doesn’t necessarily have to mean that they are completely straight.)
In this position, all the force our training partner puts into our arm, will be transmitted through the bones of our arms, through our spine, through our legs and into the earth. Here our training partner can personally experience Newton's third law, the more that they push on you, the more they will feel force in their own body, even though we’re not doing anything to them.
If, in this exercise, you feel yourself tipping over backwards, drop your weight more. If instead you feel your arm being pushed down to your hips, or collapsing, then start again, and focus more on reaching out through extension.
This exercise allows us an opportunity to directly experience the feeling of structure in our bodies. If we don’t yet trust extension, or if we’re not extended fully enough, we might still have tension in our muscles. This tension allows us to move some of the force through our soft tissues, but this can be dangerous as the forces that we can be dealing with during dynamic training can easily be enough to sprain or tear muscles and tendons, and this is one of the common ways that we can be injured in our training. If we feel tension in ourselves, it can be a reminder to relax and reach out through our structure. Over time, as we begin to trust our structure to transmit energy, we will become more and more relaxed. This relaxation allows us the freedom move freely with our training partner in order to ensure that their energy is always being lead through our structure and into the earth.
From this position, where we’re transmitting their energy into the earth, we can then let our center fall forward and down, towards the earth and we can see how, still without any additional muscular effort, we can fall through a training partner with less structure than ourselves. (Reaching forward and up through the little finger, so that we can cut behind and through them, helps with this, more than falling directly into them in a linear way)
This approach to moving through our training partner can be used when we throw our pin them as well. Any time that we catch ourselves using muscular force, step back and ask yourself if there’s a way to fall through extension, so that we can generate more force with less effort, through our structure.
By exerting less effort in each movement, we’ll be able to train longer before fatiguing. Which can contribute to our safety as well since, when we get tired, we often compromise our technique in ways that can result in injury.
Proper structure aids transmission of energy and this seeps into every aiki technique making it fundamentally better.
PS: While you're here, have a look at the previous blog post on June's seminar. click on this link for that. Keep checking the blog for our next post on the seminar and adventures in Zurich :)