Inspiration can strike at any moment. Especially as a teacher who has the privilege of working with a range of people who embody their own unique qualities, I find that my students can occasionally remind me of aikido lessons learned throughout my own journey.
This moment of clarity happened during a Tuesday night class while I worked with a student on his flow drill. I played the part of the continuous attacker who was teaching through the grab.
This particular student had been training with Shin-Gane on and off for a year. During the last five months, he is especially dedicated to the dojo, never missing a single Tuesday night class.
Unfortunately, his hard work was no match for the thoughts in his head: He became so focused on perfecting his movements that his body inadvertently became stiff and off-balanced. He was unable to make a meaningful connection with his attacker so that he could wield his body in the most effective way.
The Expression of Connection
While working with my dear friend, Sensei Garza, he offered me a teaching method he called the Expression of Connection.
Sensei Garza explained that when two individuals engage in combat, – or even a flow drill – the two opponents create a contract between themselves. In the case of aikido, this connection is made through the grab of the attacker. While the attacker establishes the physical contract, it is the defender’s job to maintain this connection and redirect the bonded energy to shift in the defender’s favor. It is only when this contract is broken that a negative outcome will result for either the attacker or the defender.
As a student and sensei of aikido, I love this explanation so much that I have used it many times in my class.
Connection Beyond Aikido
When speaking in terms of aikido, it’s easy to think of connections as a physical state of being. But in the world beyond Shin-Gane’s dojo, connecting takes on a more intangible meaning.
Communication – the exchange of thoughts, feelings and desires through the art of conversation – is quite possibly the most important form of connection one human shares with another. Even if the conversation is a quick exchange of words, a connection is made nonetheless.
I have learned that when I engage in conversation with another person, regardless of their rank or status, I keep my eyes focused on their eyes. This is the most direct way you can express to that person that they have your full and undivided attention. It is also important to not raise your voice to express your opinion, nor is it wise to talk too fast, too slowly or too quietly.
A person who uses such tactics during communication will perform as follows in aikido:
Communication Cues and Their Relation to Aikido
- Eye contact establishes the ultimate connection. It shows respect, focus and determination. These individuals have the best chance for success in aikido.
- Those who speak loud or elevate their voices throughout a conversation will try to overpower their opponents with excessive use of muscle.
- Soft-spoken individuals are usually underpowered and too weak to make a lasting connection in aikido.
- Those who speak too quickly will have mistimed movements. They will always be out in front of the attack, telegraphing their movements to their opponent.
- Those who speak too slowly will have delayed reactions to an attack, making them easy targets.
- Individuals who always guess what the other is about to say are most likely to wrongly anticipate an attacker’s movements. As a result, this aikidoka may react incorrectly to a situation, resulting in a negative outcome.
Connecting on a Street Corner
As a teacher of aikido, I often find myself watching people in public spaces, determining others’ ability to make a meaningful connection – understanding what kind of aikidoka complete strangers would make.
Even today, I love to walk down the sidewalk and stare into an oncoming walker’s eyes. If a connection is made, I wait to see who looks away first. So far, I am never the one responsible for breaking the connection. Are you?