Friday, September 24, 2010

Musubi and Timing: Proactive and Reactive

Last night we had an Aikido kyu review, which is basically a test/demonstration of techniques we've learned either since the last review or since our last promotion.  They're usually a lot of fun.  Everybody gets all nervous and does their best to overcome it.  Every once in a while some people will have a bad time and we'll take turns recounting our own bad experiences and try cheering them up and put things back in perspective.

To relieve the stress and celebrate the event we always either go out to eat or my sensei hosts a party.  Last night we went out to eat.

Although we do talk about other things, as the night wore down the topic turned more towards the philosophical aspect of our practice and it's life applications.  Just like texts written by Zen teachers, Aikido teachings can get a little abstract.  My post on marubashi and ikkyo being a good example.  Unless you approach it with the right mindset or have been pointed towards the deeper meaning, it's easy to miss.  We do get that Aikido is more than just it's physical aspects pounded into our heads rather often, but last night it seemed like some eyes were opened to see its full depth.

Most of what we discussed was similar to my post above since I found myself doing most of the talking.  It felt good to see it sink in but the last discussion was cut short as our waitress told us it was closing time.  I didn't really see the truth of the matter until I was on my way home so I'll put it out there now and hope I'm able to pick it up some other time.

It started with a comment about a physical aspect that some find troubling.  Like many of O-Sensei's students, many of my fellow students brought a lot of experience in other arts with them when they came to Aikido.  While the rest of us have to learn how to give appropriate attacks so that our partners can perform the techniques correctly, they already know how to.  They have issues with the way appropriate energy is being presented as throwing your balance if your target moves.

What I wasn't able to express was that I find this to be an exaggeration because more people are erring on the other side of not giving enough energy with the attack, so our teacher would rather we overdo it and reel it back in as we gain experience than undershoot it and have the attack be ineffective.

What I did express was that I thought it was because we're supposed to draw out the attack with a concept called musubi which has to do with making a connection with our partner that connects us with their center of gravity to influence their movement.  In a way, it's like hacking into their body and suggesting a new direction for their movement in a subtle way that provides nothing for them to resist.  It sounds esoteric, but it's really just body mechanics.

While this is true sometimes, we do occasionally take our opponents balance in the direction they're moving as they reach full extension, sometimes as in the case we were discussing, the opposite is true.

When someone attacks with a swinging motion, either from over head or from the side, there are only two points to make contact.  The first is when they wind up, at this point you charge in, irimi, like I mentioned before and push their balance before they change direction and swing towards you.  If you don't get the timing right, they are too strong and momentum is already built.

The second is after they swing and have missed, which they have because you got out of the way.  They will of course recoil for a second attack and this is the moment you enter to make contact.  With their recoil going back, you contribute the energy of your irimi to throw them back in the direction of recoil.  This was the preferred timing of whom brought it up.

At both of these points the strength of the attack, and its ability to harm you are at their least.  Aikido is full of this technique of over-correcting balance.  Your opponent wants to move forward, so you draw them forward until they change their mind and want to go back, so you let them and push them back until they've changed their mind to go forward again.  With each change of direction, the momentum builds until they can't maintain their balance.

But how does this tie into daily life?  The first, meeting the attack before its energy comes towards is you, is being proactive. The other, getting out of the way and waiting for it to pass before acting, is reaction.  In the full force of the attack, without sufficient strength, nothing effective can be done.

So in life, if we're able to see an unfortunate situation coming, we have two options.  Either charge in and meet it before it builds enough strength to manifest, or get out of the way to avoid its damage and acting to prevent it from happening again.  Sure you can just continue to get out of the way, but eventually a mistake may be made so it must be stopped.

The concept of musubi comes into play here especially when dealing with individuals.  I commented with the following in response to a post of Nathan's on Dangerous Harvests on his proposed list of ways to handle the downward spiral of confrontational discussion on blogs:

They bring to mind a list I'd like to share that I learned through Aikido, although it didn't originate there.

"How to harmonize with that which oppresses you.
1. Correct your position
2. Connect with the other person
3. Employ the spirit of yielding"

While it may sound formal and stilted, it's actually very practical.

To correct your position, you (as you stated) try to see where they're coming from. Give them the benefit of the doubt long enough to try on their shoes.

In doing this you'll be able to connect with the other person. Even if they don't return the favor at least you'll be on the same page.

To employ the spirit of yielding, admit to yourself at least that they're right at least from their experience. If they're not, banging on the door louder will only scare them into piling more furniture behind it.

Doing this, the worst you could come away with is a bruised ego and a lesson learned if you're wrong.
This is the daily life application of musubi, you connect with someone else to, hopefully, diffuse a situation before it gets out of control.  The reactive side of this is in making apologies.

After having gotten out of the way, by allowing others their opinions, we make amends by identifying with where they were coming from, remembering that they are humans also with egos to struggle with.

In the end, there are very few real truths in the world so everyone is going to disagree from time to time.  The best thing we can do when someone does is check our egos and apologize, at the very least state your sorrow at their holding that opinion and agree to disagree.  But provide a resolution to prevent it from continuing.

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