Monday, December 13, 2010

"Are You Even Listening?!" usually a sign that communication is not going so well.  To communicate effectively you must keep your attention on the other party until the communication is over.

This is another one of those common sense things we should all know, but like a wonderful tool just lying out in the open for all to see, until it was pointed out by something I learned over the weekend with Ikeda Sensei, I hadn't noticed the power of its truth.

As I stated here, musubi is an Aikido concept that involves making a connection with your attacker.   In communication skills, it can represent making a personal connection like assimilating another's goals or ideas as your own to reach an amicable resolution.

In Aikido, we do this by connecting with our attacker.  Essentially we give back just enough force to combine our center of gravity with theirs so that we function as a single mass.  Ikeda Sensei referred to this as a "tightness."  It's not pushing with force and even calling it resistance is inappropriate, it stops just shy of that amount of energy.  Rather than absolute yielding or resistance, it's more of a "hi, there.. I am here, but don't mind me" feeling. He was able to demonstrate this by taking someone's balance with only a rubber band connecting the two of them. Too much energy and he would have broken the rubber band. Once this connection is made, our mass functions as one and we're able to move the mass of "ourself" like a tugboat pushing around a barge.

In my previous post, and in my practice itself, I hadn't realized how absolutely necessary it is to maintain that original connection throughout the entire technique.  Even to lose the initial connection and establish a second isn't correct.  The initial connection must be maintained all the way through.

I learned that the term musubi refers a knot tied in rope.  Two different things tied together; bonded to become one inseparable unit.  If you're mountain climbing, you can't untie the knot that's holding your weight and retie it.  You have to keep that knot tied the whole time or you'll fall.  The same is true with musubi and Aikido technique.

So when we're dealing with people in everyday life, we must maintain our attention while communicating.  You may be able to break and return in casual conversation, but the more serious it gets the more important it is to be constant.  Obviously, someone attacking you is serious, so attention must be absolute.  In Aikido we do this not only with our minds but, now I've learned, that it applies to our bodies as well.

That's all fine and dandy if everything continues in more or less the same direction, but also as I've stated before, one of the ways we move our opponents around is by changing direction to cause them to overcompensate.  So how do we maintain pressure when doing this?

Circles and waves.  Essentially they're the same thing, look at the relationship between what sine and cosine really represent and then how their function is graphed on a Cartesian plane.  The path of effort never reverses at a sharp point, but flows gradually into the reverse.  This is how we maintain pressure and it was a powerful eyeopener to feel it click physically rather than just floating around in my head as an intellectual idea.

As beginners the frequency (in a technical way) of the waves and, in the same way, the radius of our circles are large because we're clumsy.  Toys for toddlers are over sized in the same way because they lack the finer motor skills to manipulate fine objects.  Internalized practitioners like Ikeda Sensei have reduced these to such small distances, that they're no longer observable outside the system.  All it takes is the slightest wave of his center of gravity because he's trained his body to transfer that energy with an unbelievable efficiency.*

Likewise in more objective communication, we must lead each other around smoothly without great leaps in subject. This is what I've been trying to do here. I've been oscillating between the topics of personal and physical communication this whole time.  What decides the frequency of the waves or the radius of the circle of me coming back to one or the other is how close our shared understanding of the subject matter is.  As I progress I'm trying to make it closer and closer, bringing the two ideas together until the difference, while still there, is imperceptible.

*It really boils down to relaxing the body.  The body is the medium the wave travels through.  If we are too tense, the wave dissipates quickly so we must generate a wave with higher amplitude and a greater period to accomplish the same effect.  Most of us are more like molasses but Ikeda Sensei's body moves like water so he needs very little energy and physical movement.  It's an amazing sensation to experience firsthand but it really does look fake when you see it.  This is what esoteric texts refer to as using ki or ch'i that is so heavily criticized as imaginary by skeptics.  For this reason Ikeda Sensei avoids these terms because of the preconceived notions others have about them.

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