Grabbing the void

A quote attributed to Morihei Ueshiba has always triggered my mind. That one in which he says that in order to practice Aikido, you’ll need the same strength that is needed to hold an apple.

A few days ago I had the chance to meet on the mat a dear friend who has been practicing Aikido for a lifetime. In particular he is fond of “Ki Aikido“.

The technique was suwari waza ryote dori kokyu ho. For those who don’t practice Aikido: a seated exercise in which your partner grabs your wrists and you, using lines of imbalance and connection, bring him to the ground.

A technique practiced for a long time, always. So, you’d think, with some mastery. Yet…

Yet, as my friend grabs me I’m already in that kind of situation in which I feel that there is something different. I feel the grab: it’s solid but at the same time I don’t feel any pressure.

Then I start performing the exercise as I am used to and it seems to me that I have to move an ancient oak with very deep roots.

It was both frustrating and enlightening at the same time. Frustrating because you think you’ve learned something in your dialect, a guest arrives who says the same things you say but in another language and it’s immediately chaos. Enlightening because he highlighted the fundamental ingredient of practice (also of technical practice) which is relaxation.

A relaxation that is not synonymous with shutting down the body, collapsing the extension of the arms like a deflated balloon. Rather, in order to be relaxed, as this friend says, you have got to be alive.

Seishiro Endo Sensei’s words come to my mind more and more: “Aikido is practiced among living people…But there aren’t many living people practicing”.

A strange feeling: everything began to waver and everything began to converge. And, turning off that damned desire to end a technique and simply moving the center towards my partner, the movement was born, effortlessly. And, as a result, the technique was performed.

But when the mind returned to the will of doing something, the muscular and joint tensions became a kind of lymph that made my partner’s roots grow enormously, transforming him into an immovable oak tree. The famous “weight under” of Ki Aikido, which is always an experience that leaves you speechless.

What weight does air have? What feeling does it leave to be grabbed by it? What effect does it produce, with parts reversed, grabbing the void and yet not being able to use one’s strength in any way?

There is something inexorable about such experiences. Yet it is not a negative experience, quite the contrary. Every time you are in contact with a person who is what he says and consequently does what he is… you can only measure the gap between you and whoever is in front of you.

Herein lies the beauty of a discipline: a tool for sharing and growth, which slams limits in your face but which indicates a possible goal and a way to transform frustration into an answer, fatigue into experience, air into roots.

Disclaimer: Photo by Lukas from Pexels

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