There are many words that resonate when we talk about aikido, perhaps none more so than connection. So what is it and why is it so important? On a superficial level, there is the obvious physical connection that happens when uke and tori come together through a strike or a grab. It is purely physical and for most new students, this is as far as gets. However, as we progress and our technique improves, we have more time and awareness to look at the quality of that connection and to perhaps consider how this reflects the fundamental aims of aikido. The question we need to ask is ‘Are we just using speed and strength to overwhelm our opponent or are we seeking to create harmony out of chaos and turn an opponent into a partner?’
It could be said that all martial arts are about managing conflict, but perhaps what sets aikido apart is the desire to create a win/win situation. When we understand this, we can begin to appreciate that simply overwhelming our attacker with our strength and power is never going to do this. You can test this idea by asking yourself how you feel when you are ordered to do something by someone prodding you in the chest, compared to how you feel when say your partner asks you to do something whilst caressing your arm. The former tends to create fear or aggression, whilst the latter leads to a desire to please.
With this understanding, we can begin to focus on a lightness of touch and instead of blocking uke’s attack, we strive to blend with it. To achieve this, we have to realise that it can’t happen without a change in our mental approach.
To truly harmonise with uke, we have to stop seeing them as an opponent and start to see them as a partner. This is vital because there is a separation from an opponent that can never be resolved. In other words there can be no real harmony and whilst we might achieve a good degree of physical blending, when we don’t truly care for uke, it is reflected in the quality of the technique and limits our power. The things that move us most are when are we are touched to our very core. This goes beyond the physical, to the very essence of our being. Personally, it is at such times that I get a glimpse of what I think others mean by the spiritual aspect of aikido.
Connection of this kind goes way beyond the physical and enters the realm of relationships. The deepest and most positive relationships start with respect, and grow into love, and as we build them, both sides grow in confidence and trust. When two or more people truly pull in the same direction, mountains can be moved. You might reflect on this in your daily life, but most of us have seen it on the mat, when the great teacher works with their favourite student. The results are often magical. We are able to witness the strong bond between them, built on mutual respect, trust and, dare I say, love. The student commits their body completely to the attack, knowing that they are totally safe in the hands of their teacher. The teacher in their turn respects the gift that has been given and is able to throw with complete power, knowing that uke will truly follow. It’s an inspiring and moving sight. This is the alchemy of aikido where two truly become one and is built from the purest of connections.
The greatest teachers are the ones who give this respect from the get go. Their connection starts way before any physical contact and even before any visible movement. Only then are they are able provide their student with the best learning experience, one that is positive and enjoyable. In doing so, the teacher:
Ensures that their own well-being is preserved.
That they are able to do the same for their uke.
They offer their uke the perfect learning opportunity.
They create trust, respect and love.
All of this is achieved through the quality and depth of their connection and if that isn’t a win/ win situation, I don’t know what is.
In conclusion, in many respects the right connection is everything in aikido and it is probably the thing that we can learn the most from and apply in our everyday lives. Also, in an increasingly disconnected world, it is perhaps the most important thing that aikido has to offer society as a whole.