“Aikido and the Taming of the Reptilian Brain” by Stanley Pranin

“Our reptilian brains kick in triggering the use of force, and mucking up our techniques in the process!”

There is something that has long mystified me about practitioners of aikido. It is a phenomenon that I have witnessed across all styles of the art. Few aikidoka transcend this fundament limitation. What am I talking about? The default use of physical strength when applying a technique.

During my career in aikido, I can’t count the number of times I have heard an instructor admonish students to “relax” when executing techniques. Most students translate this as “use less power”. So they don’t use as much strength in their quixotic effort to make a technique work. Occasionally, a student will really try to relax by totally draining out the power from his body. This results in a “limp” state which, of course, does nothing to improve the student’s ability to succeed in the execution of a technique.

What’s going on here? As a layman, I have a simple theory about this. It has to do with the “flight or fight” instinct that we all are born with. Some would regard this adrenalin-charged state as a manifestation of our ancient reptilian brains. Scientists tell us that we share this anatomical structure and its functions with our more primitive ancestors. It is a type of instinctual behavior encoded in our DNA that seems impossible to overcome.

So how does this play out on the aikido mat? Let’s say you are grabbed by a strong person. It doesn’t matter whether you are practicing a basic or ki no nagare technique. Your attempt to move your partner meets with physical resistence. What do you do? Almost everyone will try to muscle their way through the technique. They may be successful depending on their technical level, degree of strength, and the amount of cooperation of one’s uke. This notwithstanding, their use of physical force is obvious to both parties.

Usually what happens is that the two training partners arrive at some unspoken agreement to only resist up to a certain point, and then let nage finish the technique. It is a sort of a quid pro quo pact that is common almost everywhere aikido is practiced. However, this produces a major problem for practitioners.

Because of these silent “gentlemen’s agreements”, aikidoka never acquire the ability to successfully execute a technique without using at least some degree of physical strength. Their progress is severely limited due to this impediment. Do we really have only two choices: the use of some degree of physical force, or adopting a rag doll-like state which accomplishes nothing in a physical sense?

I think there is a third physical state that is achievable. I haven’t come up with a good name to describe it yet, but let’s call it an “energetic relaxation”, for want of a better term. It is a mental/physical attitude where the body is unified energetically and capable of exerting tremendous power whose source is virtually undetectable.

This elusive state of relaxation to which I refer harnesses energy from the attack, and adds to it the considerable energy of nage’s unified structure to produce powerful, yet controllable results. This is perhaps a verbose way of describing the awase or blend of aikido. The awase cannot be maintained if physical force is introduced during the technique. A break of the energy bond between the two partners occurs.

I have been working on developing this type of energetic relaxing or unified body now for the last few years in my personal training with good results. Here and there, I have seen others working on similar approaches, but they are few and far between. Wherever I go to observe, train or teach, I find the same thing. The style does not seem to matter. Our reptilian brains kick in triggering the use of force, and mucking up our techniques in the process! Only our tacit agreement to allow our partners to complete a technique enables us to train in an outwardly amicable setting.

Have you ever experienced what I’m talking about? How do we transcend the awakening of this primitive part of our nature when executing a technique? Do you agree that there exists another physical/mental state that perhaps the Founder and a few other masters have discovered that allows them to operate on a different level? Could this be the elusive goal that we spend a lifetime striving to reach through our training? What say you?

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Categories: Recommended Reading,Stanley Pranin

26s Comments

  1. In the Ki Society (which I am not part of) they teach relaxing against a strong attack rather than returning with strength. I find this concept difficult to understand, but it encourages flexibility to prevail over a rigid strong attack. That being said, I find the best way is to “go around” the line of attack. For example, from a strong wrist grip, revolve around attacking arm rather than trying to push back. This redirects the force and unbalances the attacker. To acknowledge the Ki Society approach again, this works best if relaxed and flexible, rather than using strength and being rigid. As to reptilian brain, a strong grip does not allow flight or fight (using strength). The brain needs to be trained in another course of action.

  2. I am only a shodan with 12 years of training in Iwama style, but “relax” was the most common word I heard in my dojo for the first 7 years, if not more, of my training. I had no idea of what was meant. The practical aspect was easily demonstrated during this time by the yudansha, as they were readily able to stop my techniques and the application of “strength” never provided a solution. They were also easily able to demonstrate how they could perform the techniques, no matter what I did, in a manner where no tension in their body was visible or sensible, by becoming “softer” rather than “stronger”. Knowing what wouldn’t work (“stength”) did not, unfortunately, help me understand what would work, and no one was able to provide, in words, a description of what was going on that did the trick, either. Happily, what couldn’t be cognitively understood could be physically perceived, eventually, through sufficient time on the mat, dimly at first but better over the years, though the refinement of this ability remains a lifetime job for me. As a physician with some knowledge of the neuromuscular system I have my own notions of what is happening, but am afraid I am no better able to put it into words that will mean something to the majority of people than anyone else. I am of the opinion that the discovery and experience of other aikido concepts (such as, among others, the “center” and “moving from the center” and “mindfulness”), are essential to achieving an ability to reach this state of “tensionless” movement. Given the additional difficulty of conveying these other highly abstract concepts to students, and the even greater difficulties of first perceiving them and then ingraining them into one’s mind and body, I am never surprised that the cultivation of this skill is extremely hard for the majority of people and remains a great stumbling block for many.

    Pedagogically, I was made to understand that beginning students had as much (generally more; I know I did for years) as they could handle just learning the visible body movements, and that blocking their techniques when they relied upon strength served no useful purpose. I believe O’Sensei even inveighed against it. Thus, uke’s job in my dojo was to go to the mat in such as manner as was both safe for uke and encouraged nage to move his/her body in the desired manner, helping to teach the beginner the visible movements of a technique. When the basic body movements began to become ingrained then it became possible to attempt to introduce the student to the invisible-to-the-eye aspects of aikido, when blocking techniques, assuming this was combined with an illustration of the solution, could serve a useful purpose.

  3. Wow Stan! You bit off a big one here! Shall I start from the mystic perspective? “This is like Tao. Tao dwells in low places..” .http://taotechingdaily.com/8-like-water/ Or shall I get down to practical strategy? “Hit ’em where they ain’t.” Douglas MacArthur http://militaryhistorypodcast.blogspot.com/2007/08/macarthur-american-caesar-2.html It being 2014 the centenary of WWI it’s worth mentioning that the final-final was a corps strength Allied offensive in the Balkans which the Germans and Austrians just didn’t have the resources to counter.

    So much for far flung abstraction. Musashi said that if you know strategy at the personal level you know it at the scale of armies and campaigns. Let’s see if it works the other way around.

    We all know where we’re strong. We always tend to work toward our strengths in physical things. We all walk pretty much the same way because that’s how our bodies are built. Similarly, if we need arm strength we generally work in alignment with the front of the body. The more the task is offset from a perpendicular alignment from the hips and shoulders, the less power is available. Pushing and pulling are exceptions, of course which work best in parallel with the hip/shoulder structure. Think tug of war or, to an extent, pushing a car. Few people give any consideration to where they aren’t balanced and strong. Why should they? In fact, it is natural to defend against being put into a position where you have less or no strength. We’ve all met rigid ukes as well as rigid nages.

    What’s interesting, subtle and difficult to teach is that there are paths of weakness which lead away from postures of strength. The closer to those paths you can work, the less effort it takes. I could imagine doing a 3D presentation of the overlapping strengths of the body. Done right, the interface between the strengths of different muscle groups will portray those paths. Logically if the muscle groups are separate, shaped and attached differently, the zones in which their power can be exerted would project accordingly. Computer graphics are amazing these days. Put it in motion. I can see this as being a graduate level project in either physiology or art.

    Would you prefer I go back to mysticism? OK. If you can take advantage of engaging even a little of your strength with a lot of uke’s weakness, the sensation and results are going to be so unfamiliar that you might attribute them to something supernatural.

    Or, if you can do it consistently call it an aikido demonstration. Sorry. No degree in this course, though you might get a dan certificate.

  4. Nice article. This form of using strength is found in other styles too but only in the west. I feel as that is what we learn from an early age. All western arts rely on speed and strength. Just look at the Olympics. Yes you must have a lot of skill of course but in nearly all sports it is the one who is fastest and strongest or best endurance that wins. However in the Japanese martial arts it is always the one with best timing, feeling and technique that will win. A question to you is how is it in Japanese dojos? Do they resort to strength too? I have practiced Bujinkan Budo Taijustu and there we talk about also never using strength against strength. That as you say will only lead to the strongest or fastest winning. What is needed is a shift in thinking. From my studies I believe that you must have strength, O sensei was famously strong, but you can only apply your strength when uke is weak. Be it along a line in their structure that is weak or they are in a position that they are weak. I have taken up aikido the last year and read your site avidly and what I see again and again is that and this is true in the bujinkan too that those who are truly great in the respective arts make their ukes fly and when asked all the ukes can say is I felt nothing and I had no power to resist.
    Finding that ability in every technique is what I strive for and what drives me to train every day to refine my technique and skill.

    Thank you for your articles and tenacity in search for truths.


  5. Sensei, I believe it is a realty that another physical/metal state exists. The fact that it is seldom achieved is telling. You have documented the intensity and multilevel training methods of O’Sensei. Is it safe to say the few who have achieved his status pursued similar training methods? What fuels the desire to devote one’s life to such training? Is it living in an environment where survival is a moment to moment reality?

    I haven’ trained in many dojo but have participated in several seminars and for whatever reason realistic attacks are often lacking and realistic meaningful attacks are necessary to develop real skills.

    On the other hand, there always seemed to be a few aikidoka at each training session I attended who appeared willing to “sacrifice their bodies” apparently realizing it takes commitment, effort and pain to develop real skills.

    How many of us who train regularly truly “strive” towards developing real skills? How many instructors seek to create an environment where such skills can be developed?

    Thanks for keeping this topic in front of us.


  6. Finally a hint that Osensei was a shape-shifting Reptilian! That would explain a lot.

    Seriously, though, Stan’s “energetic relaxation” sounds to me pretty similar to Tohei’s “Ki” theories.

    In my limited experience with Tohei he appeared to have power aplenty, without resorting to physical force, and I find it hard to fault his theoretical explanations, reluctant as I am at my level of understanding to declare them ultimate truths.

    He may have oversimplified the subject in order to get it across to the masses and this, coupled with personality and political-sectarian factors, may have resulted in putting many people off “Ki Aikido”, and creating strident “Ki-Deniers” and surprisingly fierce “Anti-Ki” movements.

    But even Tohei himself insisted that the ideas and feelings he was promulgating had to be practised intensely and not simply understood intellectually.

    How many people are willing to do this?

    If they did so they might discover the mysterious power that enabled Osensei to baffle most of his, mere human, followers.

  7. On the flip side, the “relax” directive is used when the attacker (uke) is being pinned or thrown at the end of a technique. Beginners often tense up as a method of self-preservation against a pin or a throw. However, this is counterproductive and only creates more pain when resistance is futile. The basic instinct is to counteract the action to prevent pain. This shows a lack of confidence in oneself or trust of their training partner. Both need to be addressed to improve ability to relax.

  8. Another great topic of discussion Stan. I have a number of thoughts on the subject, but probably more useful to share would be one of my street failures – which are always my best teachers:

    I am on the streets of East New York Brooklyn, the homicide capitols of NYC. I spot Darrel S., an enforcer for a local drug gang who has a parole violation warrant. We pull him over to make the arrest. I get one cuff on him then all hell breaks loose. Darrell is going berzerk fighting me and my partner with everything he has got – his freedom is on the line. He is so hyped up he feels nothing – Wrist locks, nothing. Pressure points, nothing. Elbows, nothing. My police radio up side his head – no can do, since half the neighborhood is watching. Even my partner ” Big Ray,” a lumber Jack from up North cannot handle Darrel. After 2-3 minutes of this I am losing steam fast, a very scary moment.

    Out of sheer exhaustion – I just stop fighting and search for something else. i hear that annoying refrain Tohei used to repeat like a broken record in Tokyo “relax completely.” I give up the fight and just drop to my knees. I am amazed that everything connected to me – Darrell – and big Ray struggling with Darrell – all comes crashing down like a ton a bricks with me. I guess Darrell got stunned a bit by the fall because when he hit the ground I was able to get the damn second cuff on him. Thank you, Mr. Tohei !


    I’ve been studying Aikido for only 3 years (NOT NEARLY LONG ENOUGH)!! I’m studying Seidokan and occasionally Aikikai (our Sensei was trained in both styles and hosts 3 seminars per year with Aikikai dojos, which is great to get both perspectives on the art and application of the principles). That being said, I have noticed that Seidokan places a little more emphasis on Ki (probably because it’s an off-shoot of Ki Society) than Aikikai, and so it seems tougher in Seidokan to muscle my way through a technique. BUT, more often than not, Aikido of any style will not work if you can’t control the lizard brain!

  10. What a fascinating & multi-layered topic.

    Early in my study of Aikido it seems I was so focused on understanding the basic concepts and movements, I was incapable of giving attention to relaxing. As I recall I just wanted to perform something close to the technique while hoping I might cause Uke to fall to the mat without Uke’s help.

    As I’ve begun to internalize techniques, I find the speed of the attack determines whether I am able to remain relaxed and achieve correct technique. Attack too fast and the Reptilian seems to take over, relaxation goes out the window, and I’m left hoping for a positive outcome while muscling through the technique.

    In rare moments of near total relaxation, it seems I forget to think about what I’m doing and techniques feel other worldly! How are we to achieve this state as a matter of course?

    Perhaps Tohei Sensei’s insistence that “intense practice is required” is the key?

    It seems the principle challenge is the number of things the mind must process while performing a new technique. Therefore, we must intensely practice to ingrain within muscle memory the multiple concepts necessary to achieve “energetic relaxation.”

    After all, the mind is capable of holding only one thought at a time. Must we know techniques like we know our own name to achieve “energetic relaxation?”

    I only hope to achieve “energetic relaxation” in regular practice.

    Thank you for causing me to think about relaxation from a different perspective.

  11. Excellent article and responses. This small strength/big power concept is what everyone must really be aiming towards, at least once we are old enough to appreciate wisdom more than force. I’d call it ‘relaxed dynamics’. The need to learn form happily until confident with it is vital. Finding physical and mental freedom that comes from being sure of your shape and confident in your body is a precursor to higher, anti-instinct ‘combat’. We can’t recreate moments of danger and risk in a dojo, but we can challenge ourselves inwardly to recognise strife and forcefulness.. Perhaps this is where the founder was trying to point us all, in the end.

  12. Thank you for this great study. For me, a small woman (5 feet) with
    little strength, bigger, stronger ukes are commonplace. Strength has never worked for me
    as ridiculous as it sounds I have tried. It is a physiological reflex that just occurs
    no matter who we are. Something we all try to unlearn. What has helped is to use my body as a unit,
    loosen and lower all upper muscles (with breath) and have the lower half of my body
    completely active, energized and moving grounded. The upper half emits integrity and form but
    not rigid, as you say “energized relaxation”. Along with this form precise body alignment and body
    placement (Tai Sabaki) has given me the greatest success. When I feel resistance I know my
    body placement is wrong and probably I have not taken my uke’s balance. Once in the right place the body relaxes because it has no feeling of resistance to physiologically respond to. Nothing is there.

    I believe, generally, men have a harder time with relaxing because using strength can work and
    the feedback of success this way is reinforced often. For smaller, weaker students the desire to
    Resort to strength has been extinguished for quite some time. Just my perspective.

  13. What about a relaxed mind in an unhesitating, strong willed body?
    In other words : how to educate ourselves to overcome our reptilian cortex?

  14. I am a practitioner of the Shin Shin toitsu aikido, better known as “ki-aikido”. What made Tohei somehow different from others was his previous studies of what is sometimes called Japanese yoga (the original name is shin shin toitsu do, thus the name of this aikido style. The Shin Shin toitsu do is based in a form of yoga and it was developed by Nakamura Tempu, who went to India in search for a treatment for his illnesses. There are plenty of books in English talking about this matter, some of them written by Tohei sensei himself, directly in English, authorized by the very O – sensei in an attempt to spread the aikido knowledge to the western world.

    I have more details about this topic if you folks would like to know more. Also, look for videos of Kashiwaya-sensei, 8th Dan of ki-aikido, currently living in Seattle, on YouTube.

  15. My humble contribution. During my aikido training, I recall some techniques in which the analogy of rope was used. In some of my other physical training pursuits, I train with a heavy 15 metre rope using a series of exercises. It occurred to me, that the methods used to train with the rope require the very thing we are talking about in aikido; to relax and use your hips and core, which is deceptive as it looks as though your arms are raising to send a great big wave of energy down the rope, but the power begins at the hips. The type of energy you can generate is not a rigid exertion of strength but a smoothly generated power through the coordination of your whole body. No magic required.

  16. Stan, I think that your Zone Theory feeds into this and is congruent with my earlier comment. I didn’t mention the book “Anatomy Trains”. It’s not cheap and probably the most applicable part is the diagram of musculature, which implies the intermuscular connections. Funny thing about those. A careful dissection will reveal all sorts of stuff spiraling out of “center”. I think I mentioned something Bob Frager said long ago, “Everybody knows about the yin-yang symbol. The line between the two is the path of aikido techniques and is called ‘the easy'”.

  17. As was mentioned in the article people often interpret “relax” as “go limp”. There has to be some other term available or some means of explaining it better. If not, we shouldn’t be surprised that people go back and forth between muscling a technique and going limp. What we have now are instructors who cannot verbalize what the student should be aiming for so it’s no wonder that so few people understand it.

  18. “Feel where they are and be where they are not” is an often heard saying in my dojo.

    Part of the problem I think is the innate feeling that we are actually doing something to the other person, rather than just moving ourselves in space and time. This causes nage to attack the point of contact rather than move around this point. Koretoshi Maruyama Sensei would say “just move your bones”. No one can hold your bones, they are inside your skin and muscles. In a way he is saying that the structure of the body can move, very powerfully actually, through the connective tissue within the structure. One of the benefits of this type of thinking is that it takes the movement that happens within the body away from the point of contact and within ourselves. On a higher level I suppose it is changing the function of the mind. The mind becomes trapped also at the point of contact, yet no one can hold the mind of another person. It takes time to come to the realisation that even though one part of the body can be held with great power, this is only a small portion of the body that is actually held, the remainder of the body can still move, and usually easily…

    It’s not as simple as just moving though, as moving in a way that makes the centre of the body retreat from the Uke can call them into a different attack. The movement must be executed in such a away as the Uke and nage remain engaged in the altercation. This is called connection, and leads me to another often used saying “engage the Uke, don’t avoid the Uke”.

    This brings me to another reason that force/strength is an issue, and that is the initial movement causes Uke to track nage, instead of leading Uke to a place where they collapse of their own volition, the initial movement avoids the attacker, attempting to move around an attack only draws the centreline with you, the result is the balance and full force of Uke still remain, and nage enters into the movement having to use strength that would have been unnecessary if the initial movement had been correct.

    The next one is the centre of gravity. Your centre of gravity, the ground connection of the sole of the foot, and its relationship to your centre of gravity, and how this centre of gravity influences the balance of Uke with correct movement, through relaxation. No action can be executed outside your centre of gravity without the use of physical strength. Most people that use strength execute technique at the incorrect distance, this creates the need for us to balance the technique off our Uke, so we hold on for dear life because we are using them as the third leg of the tripod to balance ourselves in movement, rather than finding this balance within ourselves.

    A lot to think about really, but a great topic Stan, as I refuse to let anyone execute technique with strength within my dojo, one I feel deeply passionate about, thank you.

  19. I agree with the general trend in this discussion that Tohei sensei attacked this problem in an effective manner. His 4 principles for unification of mind and body (maintain one point, keep weight underside, relax completely, and extend ki) are a unified idea, in my opinion. If a person is doing one of those things correctly, the others will inevitably be in place as well. Maybe this is a key to approaching “energetic relaxation.” Of course, proper breath control figures into this equation as well.

    The perspectives of other martial arts is useful in this context also – many arts argue that relaxation is imperative to efficient motion and, in particular, speed, be it punching, kicking, throwing, etc. It’s interesting to contrast the rather angry, constipated facial expressions of many MMA folks, in contrast to the calm, relaxed facades of the most impressive Gracies, for example.

  20. Hi Pranin Sensei,

    Sorry for the lengthy response, but you asked… 🙂

    For the past eleven and a half years I have been developing a training methodology that is based on understanding the physical and spiritual nature of attack. In my dojo no techniques are ever demonstrated, practice is always “jiyuwaza” from random attacks even with beginners, and there is no throwing. The only time uke will go to the mat is if the attack is maintained all the way through what we call the “aiki resolution” and only if nage comes from an embodied state of beneficent intention.

    The system, which I call Aiki-Lab, teaches no “techniques,” as they are called by most aikidoka, but only the elemental movements (turning centrum and extension), so that the elements can be combined into spontaneous paths based on variations in the attack. The Aiki-Lab system is designed to create aikido spontaneously from the unification of partners and the unified field produced by attack energy combined with the energy of love in various forms – compassion, acceptance, appreciation, trust, courage, forgiveness, et cetera.

    It begins with developing a consciousness of often unconscious defense mechanisms in conflict situations. In a broad sense these are fight/freeze/flee, but I compare them to the battle field intentions behind the use of various strategies of “spear,” “shield,” and “withdrawal” (or “retreat”). We start with an examination of the way these energies are represented in the body of participants whether they are in the role of uke or nage. Exercises illuminate these physically manifested intentions so that each participant has a basis to recognize when these intentions add to or detract from the ability of aiki to spontaneously appear, whichever role they play in the practice.

    Once the somatic feeling of these often automatic conflict intentions is known, participants become aware each time one of these brain-induced reactions interferes with aikido manifesting. Nages become conscious of how their own limbic system responses interfere with higher consciousness states, and both participants become conscious of how attacks, when presented in ineffective ways, also prevent the aiki resolution, but how in the context of budo also make the need for aikido irrelevant (no attack means no reason for aikido to manifest).

    As you pointed out, the learning of complex combinations of the elemental movements of aikido we call “techniques” requires collusive ukemi. In Aiki-Lab training we employ authentic attack energy without the intensity of an actual attack that might cause injury or death in case of accident. Authentic attack energy is an imposed energetic connection to the center core of the target. It can be very minimal but still very effective in producing the limbic system response that must be transcended for aiki to manifest.

    Once the nature of the attack is understood, both uke and nage can determine whether the attack is truly an attack, that is, connected in such a way that the energy, if increased, would be damaging to or able to control the center of the partner. This is essential in producing aikido that has any chance of going to the mat in my practice. (by the way, this does not make it impossible to “do anything” when someone merely “gloms on”, but it shows that to be different in context from a real attack that could damage or control).

    With “spear energy” lighting up the amygdalla of the nage, nage must now transcend the limbic system responses that manifest out of the grab or strike and to come from a embodied state of higher consciousness I refer to as “beneficent intention.” Rather than coming from a place of limpness (evidence of the defense response of withdrawal), nage embodies a state that manifests in the body as resilient and expansive, which I describe as a flood (as compared to spear, shield and withdrawal). When this state is achieved, and ONLY when this state is achieved, aikido, seemingly miraculously, manifests in paths that can sometimes in retrospection be described as some named technique, but without prescribing which path the aikido will take.

    This makes the operating principle of this training model literally masakatsu agatsu because one must have be “victorious” over one’s lower brain impulses to transcend them to the state of consciousness from which one realizes what Osensei was literally been referring to when he said “aiki is love.”

    The wonderful thing about this system is that beginners can experience takemusu aiki very early on in their training. Of course, it may take years for this experience to happen consistently and with a minimal interim between the initiation of the attack and the transcendence to the necessary state, but students don’t have to go through the mire of learning rigid techniques that don’t take variants of the attack into consideration for a decade or more to luck into aiki once in awhile. As importantly, students don’t have to focus on technique proficiency in their training, they instead focus on the spiritual reasons for the practice and find that the “techniques” arise out of the unification they experience with their partner. I have seen beginners, even children, demonstrate “techniques” they have never seen before.

    This kind of practice demonstrates that the spiritual teachings of the Founder were not just flowery poetry but literal truths that can be experienced in reality.

    I began developing this system in early 2004 as an alternative to the technique emulation model of teaching that was seemingly never used by Osensei (judging by many eye-witness recollections). In 2007 my resolve was fortified after a personal encounter with Kanshu Sunadomari Shihan in Kumamoto City, during which he affirmed my belief that technique training would never bring one to the higher levels of aikido, and also that one does not have to have a teacher to learn aikido. Aiki-Lab, when done with partners who understand the fundamental precepts, is a self-educating system.

    One more thing, in response to this physical state you mentioned as being difficult to define or describe. I call this a flood because it is expansive and flowing out to the partner (ki no nagare). To help my students manifest this physically I describe the tension in the body of nage when defending with “shield” intention as an ice cap on top of a body of water. This ice could be capping a well or it could be capping a spring. I instruct my students to “allow the ice to melt,” that is, to release the tension. If the attack can then proceed to right into the target directly I ask them to see that this is what happens with a well – the water retreats back to it’s source – but if one imagines a spring – water trying to expand beyond the ice cap, when the ice melts the water pours outward. If the student retains any tension as the flood extends from their center, I point out that there is still “ice” that has not melted. If the tension is reduced enough for a fluid extension but still is a little forceful they can soon learn to recognize that as like “slush” when what they want is pure water. Of course, this is the natural way love expresses energetically when not constricted by fear – as expansive and protective. Aiki-Lab methods circumvent lower brain impulses to find various forms of love while under the duress of attack. This transcendence is profound in that it is instantly felt by both participants (or all participants when done with multiple partners simultaneously). Both get a feeling for how and why aikido can be described as “the loving protection of all things.”

    I have been taking this system around to interested aikidoka in the U.S. and abroad for a few years now and taken it to dojos of different styles as well as introducing it to people who have never even heard of aikido, all with similar results (I have begun to add some videos from this tour on my youtube channel for anyone interested). I have just returned to the states after giving 14 seminars and workshops all over western Europe and got consistent results no matter with whom I have worked or from which lineages they have come.

    There is usually an initial disbelief about the validity of this approach until they understand they have permission to not be a “good uke.” This first level of disbelief is overcome once they take this permission to heart and realize how easily they can, with authentic attack energy, feel when their nage partner is trying to impose a technique even slightly (spear), or is going limp to try to do it apart from the attack (withdrawal), or trying to perform a technique while keeping their guard up (shield). The next level of disbelief is when they feel the way it feels to have their attack met with the energetic field that expands from the hara of nage when a beneficent intention is expressed. They can’t explain why they find it almost impossible to continue expressing spear energy when they feel this flood into their system, but they can not dismiss this distinct feeling because it is not the same as the response they feel when their nage tries to counter attack (with aikido movements), defend or withdraw.

    The final level of disbelief comes when they as nage are able to embody a transcendent state while under the duress of the authentic attack. If they are experienced aikidoka they usually quickly learn that what they have trained to do with an attack in their technique based training is related to one of the unconscious defense responses – that they have either learned to muscle through the technique, do the technique from a guarded place, or “go along with the energy” of the attack, all of which interfere with aiki. Through specific exercises, they learn to transcend their limbic system and their training to embody the state of beneficent intention (a state of mushin arising from conscious intention to express love in some form). When they do this and aikido spontaneously appears, they often express disbelief, saying things like “but I didn’t do anything!” whereupon they try to do it again from a brain-led state and fail completely. Once the “flood” feeling of the expression of beneficent intention happens a few times while on either side of the uke/nage equation they lose their disbelief even though they have a hard time conceptualizing what has just happened.

    The brain has the hardest time with this because it is a program (beneficent intention as a response to the perception of threat) that doesn’t quite fit the operating system. Our human OS can run programs of help and compassion and other forms of love, but not in the context of a perceived threat. Aiki-Lab makes changes in the human OS by consciously embodying higher states of consciousness while the perception of threat is ringing the amygdala like an alarm bell. This creates synaptic paths that actually rewire the brain. Once approached like this, aikido becomes a different kind of misogi – a shugyo of discovery of embedded fear/defense responses that are gently polished away with each embodiment.

    Many of us have experienced the amazing feeling of takemusu aiki here and there in our aikido careers, but it wasn’t until I discarded the technique emulation model of practice that I was able to experience it consistently, and more importantly to teach it to others. It is quite something to experience when someone who has never even heard of aikido before can, with an attack that would stop the vast majority of aikidoka I have met, achieve an effortless aikido devoid of force of any kind. It is also quite incredible to be a teacher and to work with a beginner who is able to catch me exhibiting remnants of my old training still surfacing, a beginner who understands that he is doing me a favor in pointing out to me where I am employing force, defending myself or escaping. I have found it much easier to continue my own progress in aikido when I have students who are willing to keep me honest.

    Again, sorry for the long-winded response, but it feels very good not to be alone in what I call “addressing the 800 lb. gorilla in the corner of the dojo.” I wanted to share with you that indeed there is at least one training modality that exists that considers all that you have expressed in your original posting. The Aiki-Lab system is a training modality that from the ground up trains takemusu aiki rather than technique proficiency and all the deterrents to progress you have mentioned go along with it.

    Thanks for the inquiry!

  21. Corky,

    Thank you very much for your lengthy remarks that I found most interesting. With your permission I would like to publish them as a separate blog. I will also take a look at some of your videos to get a better idea of your approach.

    Please keep up the good work!

  22. Thank you so much for wanting to investigate further! I finished a comprehensive course one week in length in London two weeks ago and I am uploading clips of the training in sequence. I will let you know as they go up. Thanks again!


  23. Having just been to Corky’s seminar in London, I can honestly say it was incredible. Perhaps most exciting were the beginners who came, and having never had any prior training, were by the end of the week expressing beautiful takemusu aiki repeatedly with a variety of unpleasant attacks including wrist locks, pressure points, and multiple grabs. Aikido can be so simple! I’m really excited about the Aiki-lab training system because it leads to a way that is effective, whole and actually pretty quick to learn once you cotton on to it. Corky’s trick is in being able to give almost anyone a direct taste of that connected experience within the first couple of hours training, moving on to fairly consistently after perhaps only three or four days training. I sound excited because I am excited: people can experience takemusu aiki directly in a very short amount of time! Nonviolence is then undeniable!

  24. “A man can carry anything as long as it’s touching the ground’ This was what my handyman, Pete, would cheerily say to me over the course of 2 decades when he always proudly declined my offers of help with carrying heavy stuff from his pick- up truck from the driveway to my house.

    He was a ‘fighting Greek” and as a boy had been sent to a school in Athens where, if the boys flagged in the gym, they were jeered at with comments like ” You can’t do it ? A Spartan could do it!”. Then he got cancer and lost a third of his weight and strength. Too proud to accept my offer of a gift or loan of money, he insisted on continuing to work, albeit at a glacial slow pace and horribly weak compared to olden times.

    For once in his lifetime, he accepted my offer to help carry something. It was an ungainly 8ft long panel of plywood that wafted about if you tried to carry it solo. I was wearing flip-flops and as it’s hard to walk backwards in flip -flops, Pete was the one walking backwards. “Be careful of that uneven brick !” I warned him several times as we struggled along the winding brick path. I was very relieved when he had got beyond the jagged brick. So pleased was I that I forgot I was still walking along and I was the one who now tripped over it. Pete let go of one corner of the plywood panel with one hand so that he was suddenly managing to carry the unwieldy panel in the other hand alone and with lightning swiftness, his now free hand shot out to catch me from falling. He yanked me back to upright as if I was light as a feather.

    This jolt of energy was uncannily powerful and seemed to involve magic more than human strength. I have had to drop this anecdote from my talks accompanying iaido demonstrations (these are usually on the topic of ‘The Shared Elements of Iaido and Haiku’ and involve the idea that the non-pitbull styles of martial arts practised at a higher level and language itself are ‘quantum events’), the reason for this being that so many people in the audience have had similar experiences and want to start discussing them.

    The true test , I think, is whether this sudden spurt of superhuman energy can be felt emanating from a person’s BACK (I have often read of top-level martial artists being approached from behind and emitting a ‘wall of energy’), or whether it works with animals. I have several times ‘blasted’ people several yards, once when I was actually jumping backwards so that would presumably eliminate intimidation. But these have occurred at a time of heightened emotion, e.g., someone dying, so there is no way I could rely on reproducing that kind of impressive superluminal energy in a street fight.

    I prefer to use a phrase I borrowed from the internet: ‘release energy in all directions ‘ when teaching beginners, rather than the misleading word ‘relax’ which is underpinned with oppositional notions. In the realm of quantum physics, our quotidian sense of time and space are merely potential states and I, for one, believe that O’Sensei not only had glimpses of this, but could physically and spiritually experience the ‘floating bridge’ that is is manifested at the interface of Yin and Yang – i.e., he experienced the spiral path dividing the two halves of the Yin/Yang symbol and could transcend time and space.

    When people pour scorn on this putative ability to transcend Time and Space, I only have to ask for examples of telepathy, and again the room becomes animated with people eager to share their telepathy experiences. As for language, and the borderline potentials of language as exemplified in haiku (traditional Japanese poems defined by a kigo, season word (Time) and a kiri, cutting word (Space), that really requires a whole separate article to itself.

  25. Thank you all

    Amazing, all of this.

    So simple ‘directing energy in all directions ‘ and
    Cory’s enhanced training method.


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