Managing the mind

Our Sensei Robert Nadeau Shihan talks a lot about how the mind and the body are different systems. We tend to spend a lot of time focusing on the push and pull of the mind rather than the body’s instinct because that is what society teaches us and places value on through school, university and work. Aikido is an opportunity for us to stop relying too much on the mind and functioning solely from that system. The intention of this Roban is to explore how the mind can interfere with the training process (as well as other areas of life) and investigate how this can be managed to allow us to be more present and connected.

It’s worth noting that the mind is not a bad system and when you are first learning a technique it’s very much done using the mind. However, once you have understood a technique, then the mind has done its job and its time to move into a different system.

The first step in managing the mind is noticing when you are using the mind rather than your body. One of the first things I noticed in my Aikido training (and in other areas of my life) was that the techniques where I was trying really hard to do the technique properly and to make uke fall were the techniques which would go really badly (usually when the Sensei was watching). The result is not only poor and ineffective technique but feelings of frustration, anger and embarrassment. By comparison the techniques where I was “doing” the technique rather than thinking about it (and the sensei wasn’t watching) sent uke flying.

One of the barriers to managing the mind for me and other Aikidoka I have talked to is worry and fear. We tend to be terrified of making mistakes when we train and of looking (and more importantly, feeling) stupid. However, the dojo is the perfect place to make mistakes, no matter how badly you mess up, you will always get another go. O’Sensei said:

“Failure is the key to success; each failure teaches us something.”

We also tend to worry about how we are doing in relation to other students and view them as “competition” rather than training partners.

So how do we stop functioning from the mind? A lot of Aikidoka I have spoken to talk about physical tricks to get out of their heads and into their bodies. Examples included noticing how your feet connected to the earth, thinking about your centre and focusing on your breathing, for me, I try to focus on my posture, breathing, opening my chest and dropping my shoulders. talks a lot about “opening and allowing” and “settling” to try to stop us relying on our minds.

When we are functioning from the body we tend to be more focused and present and better connected to uke. The mind has a tendency to draw us away as it tries to process every detail of a situation, rather than being open and allowing the system to process and the technique to flow.

For me and other Aikidoka I have talked to in preparing for this Roban and grading, managing the mind is an ongoing process. Some days it’s easy to stay present and connected and the techniques flow, other days my mind is constantly picking up the faults in my technique, reminding me of what I have to do at work tomorrow or simply thinking about what I am having for dinner after training. It is simply a matter of always being aware of where my attention is and knowing what processes work for me in terms of bringing myself back to the present. While it’s not always possible to be at the top of your game we can turn a bad day into a slightly better day, both on and off the mat.

Richard Reid

Roban for nidan, December 2017