Calm Mind, Calm Body

I wish discuss here one of the hardest elements to acquire in aikido training. In our web site I set out the seven basic elements of Aikido. The first and most important of the seven elements is to learn how to relax. It is essential that one acquire the ability to relax during Aikido training. Only when our body is relaxed are we able to project our core power, drawn from a solidly based center and transmitted along a strong center- line. If our body is not relaxed we prevent the free flow of power. Once we are able to project core power we can then use it in a “soft” or “hard” manner to subdue your opponent.

Unfortunately, there can be some confusion, when one is told to “relax” as he performs the basic exercises or techniques in aikido. How is one to relax during these movements? Muscle power has to be utilized. One cannot raise a finger, an arm or move one’s foot during the initiation of an Aikido movement without utilizing muscle strength. In any aikido movement then one moves from a position of muscle relaxation to one of muscle tension. Therefore by definition it is virtually impossible to be totally relaxed in an aikido movement.

The best that we can do is to keep our physical body in a state of calmness. The more we train to achieve this state of calmness, the more relaxed our body will become even during extreme physical activity. How do we achieve a physical calmness? We do this by focussing on attaining a calm mind, which then results in a calm physical being. We first must try to attain a state of mental calmness. Once we have calmed our mind as much as possible it then becomes easier to focus on achieving a calm body. A calm mind and calm body are inseparable.

How do we attain a calm mind? Meditation can help. We can sit on our knees (seiza) and attempt to block from our mind all external influences (including the pain of sitting in a naturally uncomfortable manner) and all internal mental activity. But forms of meditation require much practice and even more practice to translate a mental state of calmness into physical calmness during aikido movements.

However, in Aikido training there are many opportunities to practice achieving a calm mind and then a calm body. First there is the practice of going into and staying in the basic stance or kamae position. We can also practice achieving a calm mind as we practice the basic exercises or kihon dosa. Finally, we can practice calm mind when we practice actual aikido techniques. To attain and keep a state of mental and physical calmness becomes more difficult as we progress from kamae through to active aikido techniques. But with practice one will attain a calm mind and body as he progresses from kamae to kihon dosa to technique.

But how do we attain a calm mind? The basic stance position or kamae is amongst other things, an expression of one’s attitude toward the practice of aikido. It reflects how serious he is toward his studies and how proficient he has become in his study of aikido (particularly the ability to achieve a calm mind and a calm body). The student will enter kamae many times during his training. He can never practice this basic stance enough. As he faces his opponent he will enter the kamae position. In addition to positioning his body correctly in kamae (I will not describe here the proper position of kamae but leave it to his sensei) he must let his mind relax. He does this through focus and concentration. He does not focus on or look at any one particular thing especially the eyes of his opponent. When he focuses properly he sees everything especially the smallest movements made by his opponent. He then relaxes his mind and attempts to achieve a state of mental calmness. If his mind is calm, his body will follow and also become calm.

F. B. Allen Sensei
March 14, 2013