Following on from the link to the book I like below I thought I would spend some time thinking about what aikido principles are important to me.
After sitting on the panel for the black belt grading last week one thing struck me as vitally important in aikido. In order to perform aikido techniques effectively (in a aiki way – may be I’ll come to that another time) you need to be relaxed and open to what is happening. Too often people become tense when under the pressure of attack and this blocks their ability to deal with the situation. A corollary of this is that people become fixated with “doing” a technique or worse on doing a particular technique that they have decided upon beforehand.
These two things are closely related. If you try and force a technique or are not open to changing what you are doing as the situation changes you will become tense. When you are tense you are less likely to be open to change or to deal with change.
Note that relaxation does not mean that you have to go all floppy. Contrary to some opinion it is not possible to do aikido without some use of muscle strength (the key being the optimum use of strength in a way that maximizes its effectiveness). Relaxation in aikido first starts in the mind (being open and aware) and then progresses through to the body (not wasting energy flexing muscles that are not needed).
In my experience the best way to achieve this level of relaxation is to concentrate on breathing. It is not enough to do this only in class but to try and integrate an awareness of your breath into you everyday life. In particular, though, when practicing techniques in class you should first stop and think about your breathing and how it matches the situation (your level of tiredness, the ferocity of the attack, the kind of technique you are doing) and then also check at the end to see if you maintained that awareness throughout.
Try it for a few weeks and see what happens.