Tag Archives: Shite

No Thinking on the Mat, Please

LAST MONDAY NIGHT IN AIKIDO CLASS I WAS THINKING . . .

(Those of you familiar with Aikido already know this isn’t going to end well.)

Random stuff popped in and out of my mind as we loosened up on the mat; important stuff like how hot it was in the gym, where to get ice cream after class, whether my hurt shoulder was going to hold up. Then out of nowhere came an actual worthwhile thought – that I needed to stop thinking.

I once heard the story in class about the student who wanted to train with a great master and was invited to tea. When they were seated, the master poured tea into the student’s cup, and continued to pour even when the tea reached the rim and spilled over. The student asked him to stop because his cup was full. “Yes, I know,” the master said. “Please come back when your cup is empty.” [1]  In other words, a mind already occupied with other thoughts is not prepared to receive Aikido.

So I cleared my mind and did my best to focus on what was happening at each moment. All went well through our practice of basic movements and breakfalls, and the buki techniques (when a sword strike is headed your way, one tends to pay attention). Then Sensei called me up as Uke to demonstrate a throwing technique.

Definitely not the time to be pondering Moose Tracks vs. Cappuccino Crunch.

Definitely not the time to be pondering Moose Tracks vs. Cappuccino Crunch.

I enjoy being the demo Uke but I’m always a bit apprehensive about it. I don’t know which technique I’m helping demonstrate until Sensei announces it. Then I do my best to follow his lead and hope I don’t screw up too badly. I’m told everyone makes mistakes doing this, but as far as I know I’m the only one who’s been dragged entirely off the mat – twice – before figuring out I was supposed to slide flat. But this time, Sensei announced a 4th Kyu reverse hand throw, and I relaxed a bit. I knew this one. [2]

I remember when triple cones were 59 cents at Baskin-Robbins.

Remember when triple cones were 59 cents at Baskin-Robbins?

I grabbed his wrist and he led me around in a pivot, then raised my arm and ducked under. So far, so good. I then prepared for his next move – which was at least a triple mistake. First and foremost, Uke should never “anticipate” Shite’s move, but stay focused on the moment and follow his lead. Failing that, I also prepared for the wrong move, and turned my attention away from him slightly. So I didn’t see his approaching fist (the next move being an uppercut punch) and thus didn’t block it. I was able to continue the demo and finish class (and I’m fine now), but let’s just say it was a bit challenging to chew my dinner that night.

So even after I’d reminded myself to empty my mind, I started thinking again – and paid the price. The irony is that I go to evening Aikido classes to do just that – to clear away a long, fatiguing day at work and just train, which refreshes my body and mind. But to do that well takes practice, just like any physical technique. This not thinking isn’t easy!

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[1] This story is also found in Advanced Aikido by Phong Thong Dang.

[2]  Sensei has also often said you’re headed for trouble when you think, “Oh, I know this one…”

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Staying in Balance

With such terrific spring weather here in southeast Michigan this week, I’ve gotten outside to run or ride every evening after work. It’s felt like forever since I’ve been able to just toss on the gear and go, without worrying about being warm enough or bringing a headlamp.

While I was out on the bike this week, a brief lecture by my Monday Aikido class instructor kept popping into my head. He’d spoken about the need to balance our study of Aikido so that we practice both leading a technique (Shite) and receiving, or following, the technique (Uke). “With our Western attitude,” he’d said, “we can focus too much on being Shite. We like feeling that we’re in control.”

But if the two people performing an Aikido technique both try to be Shite at the same time, the technique cannot succeed. One person must agree to be Uke, and follow Shite’s lead properly, for the technique to be executed safely and harmoniously. “It would probably be useful for us to study Uke even more,” he concluded, “to bring our training into better balance.”

Believe it or not, it's just as much fun to be thrown this way as it is to perform the throw.

Believe it or not, it’s as much fun to be thrown this way as it is to perform the throw.

Carrying the idea into everyday life, he pointed out there are many events in our lives that we cannot control. “We can fight that and try to be Shite,” my instructor had said, “or we can be Uke, and let ourselves be led down the road. Perhaps it will take us somewhere interesting.”

The next evening, after a long day at work, I got on the bike and headed out to nowhere in particular. I’d felt mostly like Uke during the day, working on the priorities of the moment, and I was ready to be in control for a change. I turned onto a couple of roads I’d never taken before, and checked out the progress being made on the Border-to-Border Trail in Dexter. It felt wonderful to cruise along at my own speed, make on-the-spot decisions about which route to take, and choose when I was ready to head home. I was finally being Shite, I remember thinking.

Or was I?

After that moment of satisfaction, I suddenly realized the bigger picture. Yes, I had chosen which roads to ride on – but I had followed those roads instead of plowing through someone’s yard. I was choosing my speed, yet I was fitting with the condition of the roads, the mechanics of the bike, and the strength in my legs that evening. I’d decided when to head home, but I’d wanted to return before dark, and I had no control over the sun. In short, there was a lot of Uke mixed in with that little bit of Shite.

And that wasn’t a bad thing at all.

Dexter DQ

At least I get to decide whether to get ice cream. Shite, right? Except for that line I have to wait in…