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In the Chinese classic work, Tao Te Ching said to be written by Lao Tzu around the 6th century BC, there is somewhat a poem which can say a lot about the virtues of flexibility.
Men are born soft and supple;
Dead, they are stiff and hard.
Plants are born tender and pliant;
Dead, they are brittle and stiff.
Thus whoever is stiff and inflexible is a disciple of death.
Whoever is soft and yielding is a disciple of life.
The hard and stiff will always be broken.
The soft and supple will prevail.
In one of my previous articles, I have touched the topic on flexibility and how it factored much in aikido especially on the aspects of executing the techniques. In this article, I have more to discuss on flexibility, and at this point, I have come to realise that aikido is indeed a lesson in flexibility.
How can you develop your flexibility? Having browsed an aikido forum website, some practitioners suggested that one take up yoga and even Pilates and stretching before training. How do these things translate into aikido? Certain yoga practices and stretching techniques helped them stretch their shoulders even more, which comes beneficial in the correct positioning of the hand grasping techniques especially the nikyo and sankyo. And these also help in their execution of lock techniques.
Digging more into the physical sense of flexibility, Osensei Ueshiba Morihei had indeed shown his flexibility when he developed aikido: Who else would teach to martial arts students about blending in with the force or energy of our attacker instead of fighting or opposing it? Is not that way too radical? No. O-Sensei was just being flexible in his definition on martial arts as martial arts was on its way to become a sport for completion or fighting rather than being a way of life.
The poem above would best described Osensei as being an open and flexible master of martial arts. This he showed when he emphasised harmonisation over contention when facing aggression or conflict whether physical or verbal. Refusing to skirt around the standard option of martial arts (‘win or lose’) and not wanting his students to get harmed, he told the early students not to simple fight back by being as aggressive as our attackers. Instead, we exploit the attacker’s energy to neutralise their aggression. It is not to attack, but to divert the attack.
People with the conventional definition of martial arts would end up getting hurt in the process because they refuse to be open and be flexible in their understanding of martial arts, especially on self-defence. One should learn from Osensei: You need to let go of your habitual and reactive tendencies to defend thy self. Instead, you should be open to feel undefended. For those who are not aware about aikido, this may sound non-sense especially if they do not understand the meaning behind the paradox.
Aikido owes its existence to Osensei’s flexibility. This is not only evident in the practice of Sydney aikido. He even worked to allowed the techniques be flexible for certain practitioners and for certain events. This is why there is no such thing as ‘styles’ but only ‘techniques’. Furthermore, did not he allow his students to develop their own variations of the techniques? This we will look up to in future articles.
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