If I were to really be a samurai, I would probably be a samurai during the Tokugawa era, when the country was pretty much unified and most samurai were bureaucrats sitting around in the entertainment district trying to write haiku or decide which spot would be best for lunch. Everything I learned about the fighting arts I learned from two weeks of Aikido. (and when I got tricked into learning to fight by a slow moving Chinese guy–see below) I left my gi at the dojo almost 18 years ago. If you see it, it’s mine.
This is the only evidence of my martial arts “prowess.” I stopped going to the Tai Chi studio over five years ago, however I still do a set of exercises called Nei Kung. I also dispense advice based on my superficial knowledge of these arts. 🙂
I may not have a fighting license, but I do have a poetic license which allows me to dispense Aikido life lessons. If you’d like to skip my stories and metaphors here is the “Little Moves, Great Power” cheat sheet:
- “stretching” is activity
- you have to learn how to fall
- a little each day is better than nothing
- slow helps you go fast
- one small mastered move can transform the potential of your power
- you don’t always have to fight head-on– roll with the force of the obstacles
- stay grounded but loose
“Stretching” is activity/learning
When I started Aikido, I thought it was pretty funny that we started the class with little hand stretches. One of them involved putting the thumb of one hand on the back of the palm and torking the wrist a little bit. Then I saw one of the master teachers use that very hand stretch to flip a dude on to his back. Don’t underestimate the power of whatever stretch activity is part of what you are trying to expand in your life. Guitar scales and warm ups have the power to transform your playing. Brainstorming and free-writing could change the way you write. Shadowing, babbling, and playing around can put the sizzle in learning a foreign language.
You have to learn how to fall
In addition to those puny little hand stretches, the Aikido folks also practice how to fall. They practice rolling into the falls to avoid injury and also as a defensive/offensive strategy. What a perfect metaphor for learning. When it “doesn’t work out” how are you going to fall? Ready to spring up again and try a different approach or are you going to leave your uniform at the dojo and never return again? (Like a certain person I know?)
A little each day is powerful
Many years later I stumbled across a Tai Chi center near my old neighborhood in Hell’s Kitchen. Hey, this is Tai Chi, I thought, it’s gotta be easy. C.K. Chu, the sifu, would come around and teach me a new move each day I came and I kept adding to the form. Uhm, ouch.
I stumbled on to the Tai Chi Chuan Center in the late 90’s. A wonderful, quiet place in the heart of Times Square, with dedicated but not pushy teachers and students. Photo from http://www.ckchutaichi.com/chu.shtml.
Slow helps you go fast
Eventually I learned that if you sped up the Tai Chi form it is actually a fighting art. I thought Tai Chi was something I could do while my crystals were getting patchoulied. But then one day sifu showed us how those curvy little moves are actually powerful thrusts and parries. Big surprise. Going slow can be challenging and helpful in many fields. In guitar, using a metronome and practicing difficult moves at a very slow tempo and then graduating to a faster tempo can build accuracy and fluency.
Khatzumoto at AJATT is quick to mention the power of small but also mentions that you shouldn’t wait for magic bullets and magic methods. He suggests in “Three Minutes Of . . .” that you work small and:
- Don’t hold your breath until you figure out some mythical, I dunno, “Aryuvedic”, “correct” way of breathing
- Don’t stop drinking water until you analyze every brand that exists
- Don’t get it right. Get it started. Don’t get it good. Get it going. Don’t get it finished. Touch it. Don’t do it. Do three minutes of it.
Don’t wait for your mojo to get to the dojo.
You don’t always have to fight head-on–roll with the force of obstacles
Part of Aikido and Tai Chi/Push hands is learning how to roll with the force of your opponent and use it as part of your defense. The force of your opponent’s punch with the rightly guided defense move can be used against your opponent. (At least that’s what they told me 🙂 ) It makes me think that as far as learning tools you need to find ways to roll with the resistances to learning and use them. Are you too busy reading trashy Hollywood celebrity news to learn French? Find French celebrity news websites and look at all the trashy pictures. Two birds. No stone. No killing.
Tai Chi works on more levels than I can write or even know about. It is supposed to activate “chi” and help your health. However, I was surprised by how most of the moves were powerful fighting moves. Key to all of this is staying grounded and fluid at the same time. Image from CK Chu Tai Chi.
Stay grounded but loose
The other day I was talking to a fellow dad at the playground. He used to be a boxer and he still trains. We were relaxing and talking while our little ones were playing in the sandbox and he made a point and brushed me on the shoulder. He nearly knocked me off my feet. The great ones in any field are grounded in their field but loose. They “fly like a butterfly but sting like a bee.” Whatever you are learning, analyze and master the basics but stay loose, stay grounded, find the different angles, and enjoy!