Written by Michelle Lynne Goodfellow
When I first started aikido two years ago, Sensei Jaimie told me that I could use the principles of aikido in the rest of my life off the mat, whenever I faced difficult circumstances. It’s taken me a long time to figure out how to do that, but a few weeks ago I had a huge aha! moment.
I was sitting watching an evening class, and a new student who had only been to a couple of classes approached me and asked me if aikido helped teach how to be calm.
Without missing a beat I looked him in the eye and said, “Yes!”
The trouble was, I didn’t quite know how to explain it to him so that he would understand, because English wasn’t his first language. In a flash, it came to me.
I pointed to my bald head, and told him I’d had cancer, and many other problems.
Then I pointed to the mat. Sensei Therese was teaching second control – nikajo – at that moment, and I pointed out the students who were applying the second control to the wrists of their attackers. (A video describing the entire technique is below.)
I took the young man’s hand in mine just like the people on the mat, and explained that when we first learn second control, we usually grip our training partner’s hand very tightly, thinking that it takes a lot of muscle to make them kneel. I made a grimace, and screwed up my face as if I were trying to do something very difficult, and gripped his hand as if my life depended on it.
Then I explained that the technique actually works better if our hands are relaxed. When we tense up, the attacker can feel it through our touch, and they tense up too, making it harder to move them. If our own hands are relaxed when we touch them, they don’t realize there’s a threat, and then when we can feel that their shoulder is locked, we can apply the pin with little effort, and control them.
I changed my grip on his hand.
“Gentle,” I said, and moved his hand. I repeated the illustration one more time. Screwed my face and body up, and held his hand in a death grip. Then loosened up, “gentle,” and moved him.
And that’s when I had my aha! moment. It was the answer that I’d been looking for for months.
Relax your “grip” when you’re under attack – from someone else, or a situation, or even your own thoughts. Relax, and act from the relaxed place.
Sounds so simple.
Our aikido training teaches us, through repetition, to respond a certain way to being attacked. And we repeat it over and over again until it becomes reflex, so that if we’re ever in a situation where we really need to defend ourselves, we act automatically.
When life is throwing all sorts of crap at you, ease up your mental grip. Go to your centre. Then act from that calmer place. Practice it even when life isn’t throwing crap at you, and it will become automatic.
A version of this article was first published on Fit is a Feminist Issue on May 24, 2016. Michelle Lynne Goodfellow is a writer and visual artist who works by day in nonprofit management. She started studying aikido in March 2014. You can find more of her work at michellelynnegoodfellow.com.