On moving in circles
Why do I continue training in Aikido? So long after I first started? What brought me back after a 12-year gap? Aikido is about moving in circles at all levels – including in life, and it helps me stay centred, at the centre of the circles.
When I started training in 1980, I would never have thought that I would be training 35 years later in 2015. But circles in my life kept bringing me back to Aikido.
When I took my shodan, I talked about my different teachers. Something that I still think is really important is the different elements that all those teachers bring. Since my shodan I have continued to learn from many teachers. In Wellington from the range of teachers (Matt, Lyn, Conrad, Mark, Lachlan) who brought many parts of the aikido circles into their teaching. In Auckland Danny and Henry are teachers I had previously only experienced occasionally and have now helped me grow with focus on both precision and flow in aikido circles. My three years in Samoa, with a different style, a teacher who put a lot of emphasis on formality and technical precision, and the experience of training with some huge Samoans, complemented other learning. Every Gashku also brings different teachers and new insights and experiences. I would also like to recognise all the people who help us train – including the complete beginners that bring you back to the start of the circle.
Hopefully at this stage of my training I have started integrating all these elements into something that is me.
One thing that has kept me training is very personal – aikido has helped me get through some cycles of quite severe depression at times. Getting on the mat at times of stress can be a huge effort, but the experience of training forces clearing the mind, calming the spirit and delivers an ability to go on. That was particularly important when I returned to aikido after a long break. Thus for me aikido is also about keeping moving – the flow and power of aikido reflecting and being part of everyday life. And it’s fun!
Another thing that has kept me training is the awesome power of aikido – the gradual realisation that small movements can have huge consequences. We often talk about large and small circle theory but lately I have felt a growing understanding of more elements of the circles in aikido. The centre of the circle is also critical in a technique. It is a single point, so entering to exactly the right point is a matter of precision. It is the still point in the middle of the flow. As I was writing this, Danny Sensei started talking about the empty circle – and filling it with aikido. Thanks Danny for any words I may have remembered.
A technique like Kotegaeshi has many illustrations of this, such as the small circle of the wrist turning at the centre of the circle of uke and nage. The technique can encompass a huge circle as uke moves into a high fall across the room or small as you bring them down tightly controlled in front of your centre. But there is a lot more than just large and small circles. The technique needs appropriate entering into the centre of the circle, the one point of connection between uke and nage and a flow of energy that encompasses and fills the circles.
So whether a technique is relatively straightforward, or long and complex, a focus on the centre and the connection to that one point is an important element of its power. As I train and get older, this becomes clearer and clearer – small movements, very precise with minimal effort becoming more powerful. Even where a technique calls for larger movements it is kept simple, with each step precisely placed (so no adjustments or extra steps to get to the right place) that makes it both effective and possible to create an energy flow without a lot of strength and effort.
But sometimes when I think about it, Aikido doesn’t make sense. I am by nature/training a scientist, and still have problems with some effects in aikido. Richard Moon Sensei on his recent visit mentioned Fritjof Capra (the author of the Tao of Physics) and how frustrated he got when he could not explain the exercise we do in which people are so difficult to lift when they are rooted and focussed on the centre of the earth. Despite this, for me Aikido is an opportunity to let go, not think. So it doesn’t matter – I think of that unexplainable element as another empty circle. Aikido has given me the understanding that in life there are unexplained things that you have to let go of and maybe the skills to do that.
Despite all the words in this roban, I would like to close with this thought from O Sensei:
“Aikido exists not in words or in theoretical reasoning but in the echoes of all that exists in the universe of Heaven and Earth.”
Helen Stott, Nidan roban, 12 December 2015