In my previous blog post I spoke about how to perform a basic breath meditation circuit. This time I would like to look at how this type of breath training is relevant to Aikido training.
Developing a relaxed breathing pattern is the only way to connect your mind with your body to allow them to work as one force. This interconnectedness is what gives Aikido its true power.
My teacher used to speak about how a martial artist had to overcome the “four sicknesses” in order to truly master their craft and prevail in combat. Fear, Doubt, Hesitation and Surprise: these were the sicknesses that we all had to understand in ourselves and overcome through training on the path to attain mastery.
Fear: Fear of the opponent, fear of being hit, fear of losing, fear of the unknown. Holding fear can lead to other sicknesses such as doubt and hesitation and prevent natural spontaneous reaction.
Doubt: Doubt in one’s technique or ability can give rise to fear and dampen the spirit.
Hesitation: This type of sickness within your training creates a momentary loss of connection between yourself and your opponent. This in turn can lead to doubt and fear.
Surprise: This is a complete loss of connection between yourself and your surroundings, as well as an internal disconnection between the mind and body.
It makes perfect sense if you think about it… having any of these states of mind in a moment of conflict would put anyone at a distinct disadvantage. We work in class to train our bodies through techniques, but these sicknesses are of the mind – not the body. While it is well documented that meditation can help overcome these very symptoms and thought processes in people, I would argue that sitting and meditating at one point in time and then training in Aikido at another will not produce the complete interconnectedness we strive for.
I would recommend that once you have a level of comfort in relaxed breathing, you begin integrating it specifically into your Aikido training. The best place to start this process would be, as it is with all Aikido training, in the Kihon Dosa or basic movements. As an example of what I mean, here is a sample walkthrough exercise you can try with Tai No Henko Ichi:
Step 1: Start with standing in Kamae. Take a moment to revisit the breathing circuit. Mouth closed, breathe in through the nose and follow the breath all the way down to your belly. At the same time bring your awareness down to your feet and visualize energy coming up from your feet, through your legs to meet your breath in the belly. Now as you breathe out, follow the breath up your back and out your nose as before, but also follow the energy down through your legs and out your feet. Scan your legs as you do this, as we did in the previous exercise with the back, neck and shoulders. Observe if there is tightness in your hips, knees or ankles? You should eventually start to feel a heaviness in your feet as you exhale and release the tension in your legs.
Step 2: Begin your Tai No Henko movement. Breathe in as you move forward, bringing your breath and your energy into your center as your feet come closer together. Check again for any points of tension in your body – neck, shoulders, back, hips, knees, etc. Try to relax these areas a little more each time you perform the technique.
Step 3: Begin to breathe out as you extend the body out into the final position. As you settle into the finished position with your arms and legs extended, check again for tension and release these areas as best you can. Notice especially the feet and shoulders. Make sure the feeling is down and heavy as it was at the beginning in Kamae. Hold this position for two full breath circuits and observe what is going on in your body structurally.
Step 4: Breathe in as you begin to return the body back towards Kamae.
Step 5: Breathe out as you settle into Kamae and look for tension points and the replication of the energy sinking into your feet.
This type of training will help you to integrate the benefits of meditation with the physical movements of Aikido. Over time you can work to maintain the benefits of a calm mind and body thought all of your movements and access them in a unified way, which will help you to overcome the four sicknesses.
Sensei Jason Moore
Chief Instructor, Aikido Durham
Aikido Yoshinkai Canada