Tuesday, December 22, 2009

In Control - Practical Verbal Self-Defense

A press release came out today regarding my class with the Costa Mesa Parks and Recreation Department. Check it out at http://www.send2press.com/newswire/2009-12-1221-004.shtml

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Suzuki Sensei

In a previous post I included a quotation from Shinichi Suzuki Sensei. On May 26, 2009 Suzuki Sensei passed away at the age of 92. Please follow the link below for an article from the Maui News on this man's incredible life.


Thursday, April 9, 2009

Reality Check - Maintain Proper Distance and See the Whole Picture

“Proper distance equals proper reaction time.” – Sensei David Dye

In Aikido there is a Japanese term that is often used regarding distance called ma ai. The definition of this term is varied. In attempting to research it on the web for this blog I came up with several different meanings;

• Proper Distance
• Optimal Distance
• Combat Distance
• Joining Distance

Of these, “Joining Distance” stood out as one that I had not seen before. The word ai as it is used in Aikido means to blend or harmonize. But the posting that I saw went on to describe various uses of the word including its use in the word for plywood. In this case literally meaning “joined wood”. Here is what Morihei Ueshiba wrote about the subject:

“As ai (harmony) is common with ai (love), I decided to name my unique budo ‘aikido,’ although the word aiki is an old one. The word which was used by the warriors in the past is fundamentally different from that of mine. Aiki is not a technique to fight with or defeat the enemy. It is the way to reconcile the world and make human beings one family.”

In this quote, he talks about joining human beings together as one family, a much greater concept than the usual interpretation of joining with an attacker. In order to do this we must see the attacker as he truly is, not as an attacker but as a member of the human race with feelings and aspirations that are probably not too dissimilar from our own. In the potential conflict that we are both experiencing they become our partner rather than our attacker. In order to better understand our interactions in conflict, from this point forward we will use the term partner rather than attacker.

In Aikido, ma ai is the distance that the partner is far enough away from us so that sudden, quick and hidden movements are nullified. Conversely, we must be close enough so that if an attack occurs we can close the distance between our partner and ourselves and initiate the appropriate response. In previous blog posts we discussed the importance of controlling, but not eliminating, our emotions. By creating some emotional distance from the heat of the moment we may be able to discover what our partner’s intention or motivation is. However, we must be connected and in tune with our emotions so that we can empathize with our partner.

Here is an example of how improper and proper emotional distancing might affect a potential conflict:

A husband and wife are arguing over a trivial matter. Neither party wants to continue the argument but to no avail. No matter what is tried by either person the argument becomes more and more heated. Finally, the wife has had enough and says with complete disgust, “You are completely out of control. I don’t know why you are so angry. That sneer on your face is so demeaning. You must really hate me.”

The husband finally realizing the problem manages his best half-smile and says, “Is that what this is about, the look on my face? Honey, I just came back from the dentist. They shot one side of my face with Novocain. I can’t feel that side of my face let alone control it.” Suddenly, the tension bursts out of the situation like air in a balloon and both sides are soon congenial again.

Both the husband and the wife got caught up in the heat of the moment. At the time of the argument, nothing was more important than making the point and the continual escalation is an indication of increased tunnel vision on both sides. Neither party took a step back from their emotions to find out what was really going on and see the picture as a whole. Instead, each continued to drive the point home with increasing intensity resulting in greater emotional damage. It wasn’t until the husband realized from the wife’s statement what the real root of the problem was (his face) that a paradigm shift could occur and they could both see the reality and folly of the situation.

An actor, when analyzing a scene, will often examine the scene the character was in prior to the current one. They will determine the emotions that the character was feeling and how those would be carried forward into the current situation. If the script doesn’t provide an actor with the antecedent scene, the actor will make something up.

As individuals, we all know what the previous scene was like for us, but we often carry the emotions forward into the next scene without first examining them and determining if we truly wish to feel that way at that moment. By distancing ourselves slightly from our emotions and moving through our lives consciously we can enter any situation with more confidence.

In our example, if the husband had realized that he was carrying his dental visit into the altercation with his wife, he might have found a way to explain what was going on with him and thereby allow his wife to understand him better.

However, we don’t usually have the luxury of knowing what happened to our partners prior to any interaction. So, just like any good actor, we make something up. But, we don’t have that luxury in the real world.

Our wife in the above scene assumed that horrible look on her husband’s face had to be about his true feeling for her. If something out of the ordinary occurs, the best thing to do is calmly explore the events that lead up to the meeting. This is why we usually ask our partners how their day went. Partly, it is to be supportive and partly it is a matter of survival to determine how the rest of the day might go and if ducking for cover might be prudent.

In a potentially violent confrontation the martial artist will find ma ai. They will widen the field of focus so as to see the whole picture, not just one part. This gives them the best opportunity to quickly assess their partner’s intentions. Often, when they do this, they see their partner’s attack before it is even initiated.

If any of the readers think that the previous story about the husband and wife is totally made up and couldn’t possibly happen. It did, to my wife and me.

Coming up in the next post: Respect your partner.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Reality Check – Get Calm and Centered - Find Center and Balance

"The best and safest thing is to keep a balance in your life, acknowledge the great powers around us and in us. If you can do that, and live that way, you are really a wise man." – Euripides

We are incredibly strong. However, when we compare ourselves to the creatures of the natural world, we often find ourselves wanting. We are not as strong as the lion or the elephant. We cannot swim like the fishes. We cannot run like the cheetah or the horse.

But, this is what happens when we compare and do not realize that our bodies do many of this these things very well and that there are not many animals that can do as many things as we can. When we add in the power of our brains to co-ordinate with our bodies we can on occasion do things that were never dreamt of in the animal kingdom. Specifically, I am thinking of gymnastics, skiing, skating and dance to name just a few. A fireman can rush into a burning building, pick up an injured victim, throw the victim over his/her shoulder and then run out of the building saving the victim’s life. Not many other animals can do this.

Our bodies are especially strong when our posture is good and we concentrate our weight to our physical center. Our physical center is a point midway between the front and back of our body and approximately two inches below the navel. One way to find your center is to stand with your feet about shoulder width apart. Interlace your fingers with your palms facing each other and touch the tips of your thumbs together. Imagine that at the point where your thumbs meet, a rod is piercing your body from front to back. Halfway along the rod inside your body resides your center.

Here is an exercise that will help you find your center and the incredible stability it offers from Thomas Crum’s The Magic of Conflict:

· Have a partner stand easily and naturally, with his feet approximately shoulder width apart.
· Stand beside him, facing in the same direction, so that he feels you are there to support him, not compete with him.
· Reach over and place the fingertips of one hand very lightly just above the center of your partner’s chest.
· Very slowly and smoothly increase the pressure on that point, as if you were going to push him directly back. Do so smoothly with no jerky or sudden motion. Have your partner stand naturally and not try to physically resist this pressure.
· Your partner will soon begin to wobble. Notice how little pressure it took for this to occur.
· Keeping your fingertips in the same position on his chest, ask your partner to concentrate on his center – the physical center of his body – which in a standing position, is located roughly a couple of inches below the navel. Having him touch that area with his finger will help him to focus his mind on the location.
· Slowly increase the pressure again, gently so as not to distract his thoughts away from his center. It may be helpful to tell him to take any feeling of pressure on the chest down to his center, to actually feel it “from his center.”
· As you slowly increase the pressure on his chest you will find that there is remarkably more stability, gained simply by your partner’s becoming more aware of his natural center.

What Tom has described above is the one-point (synonymous for center) exercise that was created by Koichi Tohei for the Ki Society. Once you have completed this exercise try it again, but this time have your partner think about the top of his head, the tip of his nose or a point on his back. You can even help him by lightly touching the place you want him to think about. Then, re-test him as you did above. You will find that your partner is significantly less stable when he thinks about anything other than his center. Before this exercise is completed please re-test your partner by having him think about his center so that he finishes with a positive experience.

So, are we then to walk around daily thinking about our center worried about whether or not we will fall over? At first, yes this is exactly what you will have to do. You will find that often you are not physically centered and that your mind has escaped to some other part of your body or it may not even be present in your body at all. As you practice, you will become better and better at finding your center until it becomes second nature and you will no longer have to think about it.

We have seen our bodies are very strong when we are centered. But how does centering the body affect the mind? We have all known a person in our lives that was particularly scattered in his/her mind and ultimately clumsy physically as well. Luckily for us, the converse is also true. Because of the mind-body connection our minds will also become more stable when we have stabilized our bodies. As we become better at finding our physical center our minds will remain centered as well. Decisions will be easier and faster. We will also see that the outcomes of those decisions will be more loving and caring. It is truly all about balance.

In the next post we will move back to our original list and continue that line of thought with - Maintain Proper Distance and See the Whole Picture.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Reality Check – Get Calm and Centered - Be Relaxed

“Relaxation means releasing all concern and tension and letting the natural order of life flow through one's being” – Donald Curtis

When I was an actor, a bad performance was often described as “wooden”. This characterized stiff movement and a dialog delivery that sounded mechanical. The source of this was usually nerves. When we are nervous we tend to tense our muscles. Sometimes, we only tense a few muscles resulting in a stiff neck, sore shoulders or an aching back. At other times, we will tense every muscle in our body resulting in a near paralysis of our bodies.

As an experiment, stand in the center of a room and tense every muscle in your body. Then, while maintaining this state try to walk or do any simple task. If you could observe yourself objectively you would see someone moving similar to a clumsy robot. This is exactly what happens when we are over-run with emotions.

After performing the above experiment, we see how the body reacts when it is not relaxed. But how does it appear when we are relaxed? There are two types of relaxation:

1. Static Relaxation – characterized by a limp body with very little energy showing in the extremities. This type of relaxation could be likened to a car parked for the night with the motor off. Very little energy is being consumed
2. Dynamic Relaxation – characterized by a soft but firm body with the body in a ready state. Utilizing the automobile metaphor, this type of relaxation is similar to when the car is started, the transmission is in gear and the driver’s foot is on the brake. The car is in a ready state and energy is being used, but at a much slower rate than if the car was moving.

Here are two exercises that can demonstrate the differences between these two states. You will need partner for both of them.

In the first exercise, stand, as you would normally, with your feet no more than shoulder width apart. Relax your arms completely so that they feel limp at your side. Have you partner lightly grasp you at your wrist and and raise you wrist straight up toward your elbow. If this exercise is done correctly your wrist will move up, your elbow will bend and your shoulder will move with very little effort on the part of your helper. This is Static Relaxation.

In the next exercise, begin by standing as you did in the first. Gently start to bounce on the balls of your feet with your heels coming off the ground, but not your whole foot. Allow the energy of the bounce to begin to travel up your body to just below your navel, up your torso to your shoulders and down through your arms. When the energy of the bounce reaches your wrists, let your hands begin to shake as if you were trying to dry them but didn’t have a towel. The movement should be a gentle bounce and not at all violent. Do this for about 30 seconds and then begin to slow the bounce until your entire body has stopped with your hands at your side. Then have your partner test you as before. This time your helper should have more difficulty raising your arm, if they can do it at all. You will find that even though there is increased effort on the part of your partner, you will be expending almost no energy. This is the essence of Dynamic Relaxation.

Coming up in the next post - Find Center and Balance

Friday, January 30, 2009

Reality Check – Get Calm and Centered - Breathe

“I tell you fellas, you got breathe, Breathe, BREATHE!!!” - Shinichi Suzuki

I first met Suzuki Sensei in Scottsdale, Arizona at a Ki Society seminar in 1989. I was just starting out in Aikido and had determined that I wanted to learn all that I could about this fascinating martial art. From the very beginning of his seminar he uttered the quote you see above and truthfully, he lived it everyday. He showed three different forms of breathing, but practiced one of these everyday. The one called Ki Breathing as taught by Koichi Tohei the founder of Ki Aikido.

Breath is so important to us. We can live several weeks without food, a few days without water, but only about five minutes without air. However, it is one vital body function that we often take for granted. Ki in Japanese means energy and it is from the air that we derive our energy. We breathe air for the same reason that our cars do: we need it for combustion to burn our fuel. If we are not getting enough oxygen our bodies don’t move well and our minds can’t think.

When I say to someone that I have been doing my breathing (meaning my Ki Breathing) they will usually respond, “I’m glad you’re still breathing.” and then snicker to themselves. The reason that I tell them about the habit is because I am proud of the times when I do Ki Breathing religiously. It is simply the hardest thing I have ever attempted to do in my life. To sit in a darkened room for 20-30 minutes and slowly breathe in and out.

Briefly, here are the steps for Ki Breathing

1. Sit slightly forward on a chair with your feet flat on the floor. Your back should be straight and your hands placed lightly on your knees.

2. Open your mouth by gently dropping your lower jaw and place the tip your tongue against your lower teeth.

3. Slowly begin to exhale the air in your lungs through your mouth while making a soft “Ha” sound. Push the air from the bottom of your lungs first with your diaphragm. One image you can use is to imagine that you are a tube of toothpaste being squeezed from your feet all the way up to your mouth. Continue until all the air in your lungs has been pushed out. Once the air has been pushed from your lungs lean forward slightly by bending at the hips. Pause briefly at the end of this cycle.

4. Gently close your mouth and begin to inhale slowly through your nose. Fill your lungs from the bottom up so that when the air gets to the top of your lungs you cannot take any more in. Using the toothpaste tube analogy feel the air first filling you at your feet. Once you have filled your lungs move at the hips and sit up straight in the chair. Pause briefly at the end of this cycle.

5. Continue steps 2-4 until you have come to the end of your breathing session. Each inhalation or exhalation can take from 10 – 50 seconds depending on your lung capacity. It is important to do what you can without judgment because your cycles will get longer with practice. It just takes time.

Once you have learned to control your breath in this way you will find that it is easier to control your breathing in stressful situations. We will elaborate more on this in later posts about the connection with they way we are breathing and the emotions we have.

Coming up in the next post – Be Relaxed.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Reality Check – Get Calm and Centered.

Please allow me to apologize in advance for the long wait between posts. This group of posts took a while to get just right. Now to the post.

The fact of the matter is our bodies and minds only work properly when we are calm, relaxed and centered. The martial artist, and actor, know this and study constantly to train body and mind to remain relaxed and calm in even the most extreme circumstances. What usually stops us from achieving this is our emotions.

Our emotions are a wonderful thing. They can tell us that something is wrong before we can consciously determine what that might be. They are the bellwether that gives us an uneasy feeling when we walk into a room that has just had a conflict in it. Even if the participants are no longer in conflict or even in the room.

But, they are just feelings and they should not run our lives and often we let them do just that. We must have control over our emotions so that we will be better able to determine what they are really telling us.

If we look at a calm pond on a clear day with no wind and toss a pebble into the water, we will be able to see each ripple that our stone has created. Take the same pond and toss the stone in on a stormy day with the wind whipping up the waves and it will be almost impossible to see the ripples we made with the stone even though they will still be there. In fact, we will be hard pressed to see even the initial splash our stone makes.

In order for us to understand what our emotions are telling us we must become like that still, calm pond. When we are calm, we can feel the faintest nuances of our feelings telling us about everything that is going on around us. We can then pick and choose what is important and what is not because we have all the information needed. When we are frenzied, we can barely understand what we are feeling through a cacophony of mixed emotions let alone tell what is going on around us.

Therefore, we must calm our emotions so that we, not they, are in charge. This is easy enough to say in a world that continuously tries to whip us into a frenzy over even the least little thing. So then, how do we achieve that calm state even when the world around us is anything but calm? It is easy with three simple things:

• Breathe and Be Still
• Be Relaxed
• Find Center and Balance

We will examine each of these in turn in the next few posts and then return to examining “How the Martial Artist Sees What is Really There - Maintain proper distance”. Coming up in the next post, Breathe.