Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Why can't my Aikido be like my driving?

Originally posted on www.atemicast.com, but removed due to space

Mushin Kanji
    When I was starting out in my martial arts world, I was introduced to concept of Mushin.  The best definition I’ve come up with for mushin is “Mindless, consciousness.”  In martial terms, you cut out the thinking and interpreting part of the process.  Your body has learned, through repetitive exercise to react to certain circumstances without your brain being part of the reaction.  This was always presented to me as a goal of martial arts, to willingly enter the state of mushin. 

    Most of us have experienced this to some extent.  I’ll give you an example from my experiences.  I love driving long trips.  They are therapeutic for me.  In high school, I had to drive about 25 miles to school, at 6:00 am so there were almost no cars on the road.  Most of the time, I hadn’t had any caffeine yet, so I was on some kind of autopilot.  I would essentially "wake up" at my friend’s house to pick him up for school.  For a long time, this scared me.  Obviously I hadn’t been asleep, but I had absolutely no recollection of anything that had occurred along the drive. I didn’t get into an accident, so I must have done everything right, I just had done it without thinking.  I think many people have some experience with a situation similar to this.

Noticed how relaxed he is...
    This is what I want my martial arts to be.  Thinking takes time.  It may be only miliseconds, but any fraction I can gain while someone is trying to punch me in the face is welcome.  The normal pattern of an incoming attack is Perceive, Interpret, Plan, React.  The samurai came to the conclusion that by extensive repetitive training, two of the steps can be reduced and/or eliminated.  The pattern would then be perceive, react.  Many other warrior traditions came up with this idea, but called it different things. What ends up happening when this situation in encountered is a nigh unbeatable opponent.  They seem to react before you attack.  They counter attack before you understand you’re attack has been stopped.  For the defender the experience is unusual.  I’ve only had this happen once.  During one sparring session, I counter attacked everything my opponent attacked with.  My mind wasn’t there.  I wasn’t thinking of anything.  Everything just seemed to happen. 

That is the goal.  The question then becomes how to get to the goal.  The answer is repetition.  I’ll go back to my personal example of driving.  Think about learning to drive.  Really think about it.  You had to be told what to do, you forgot steps (Adjust your mirror, check you blind spot, slowly apply the gas).  While learning, you started out being able to drive straight with minor turns, but if anything unusual happened, say someone walked out in front of you, you couldn’t react.  Most people would freeze, overreact, or react badly.  You were too new to the idea of driving.  As you got more comfortable with driving you stopped thinking about the steps.  You no longer thought “in order to go faster, I must depress the gas pedal, which is the pedal on the right.”  You simply accomplished this by your body doing what it needs to automatically.  How was this accomplished?  Large amounts of time behind the wheel, what’s called experiential knowledge.  Think about how much time you spend driving, and then compare this to how much time you spend on the mat?  Notice the discrepancy?  So if you want to be the unbeatable opponent, get out there on the mat and practice those reactions until you no longer have to think about them, they just happen.

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