On Atemi (2)

– – – by Kimbal Anderson Sensei

So one of the things we covered in the first Atemi Workshop was the idea of  ‘a catalyst’.  It’s basically something that tips a balance. If the universe is very perfectly balanced, a tiny thing can create a great change. For instance: how many molecules of a match catch on fire first? One. But you can melt steel from this tiny thing. If you keep it rolling.  You also can reach Mars, as best I can tell. It’s pretty good what we can do with just a spark.

So you can think of atemi as a creative spark.

One of the reasons I wanted to record this is that once upon a time, in a dojo far, far away:  at BSU when I first started aikido here in Boise,  we got George Leonard Sensei to come. He is a venerable author, and his writings on aikido in general I do recommend. They are on our reading list:  The Silent Pulse is a great one, and The Future of the Body – which he and Michael Murphy and some other people did – is just elegant: an amazing book. It has the best bibliography I have ever seen dealing with personal transformation, mind-body stuff, all of it.

He came and we were training, and he stopped everyone and he said, “Okay, I’m going to show you the atemi.” And he said that when he first started aikido, he came across people who were training who thought  that aikido was a bad form of karate: because they would like punch  you, and then do a joint-lock, and then ineffectively pin you to the ground. In other words:  they didn’t understand what atemi is.

You have atemi when you’re driving the car and someone hits full beam. It changes your attention doesn’t it? Can you NOT be affected by it? You might be conscious of what you do, but your pupils still dilate.

Atemi would be like putting cream of tartar in eggs so they whip up and make foam. It is a tiny thing that changes the structure of something.

So in aikido the person being uke is,  story-telling-wise, being the aggressor: an aggressor…

If some is just standing there, being mad, do you have any problem?

Not really.

This is one of the things about the way our culture is now: until we get over certain reactivities, we think we should bomb them into the stone age because they’re looking angry at us!

The real thing is the active phase. From the idea it goes through the fascia: the body sets up and there’s a launch.

But the idea has to be embraced as a future. That person has to go from “I’m thinking I should punch you in the face” to “I am going to punch you in the face.”

So we just cut to the chase in here: we always are working with  t h a t   phase of energy. And in that way we don’t have to go do all the silly psycho-stuff that people do. Also, it doesn’t allow you guys to be goofy: because there’s no way, if you’re following reishiki, to get all wrapped up in your stuff.  Because uke‘s “stuff”, if we were to do it, really isn’t about punching them in the face: it’s everything up to that, really.

So in our Atemi Workshop I did a demonstration from the time I was teaching women self-defence, over at the college. A demonstration of what a real predatory attack looks like, as opposed to the staged version that often women are taught to deal with.  And doing it from the staged version is really a disservice: because you’re ill-prepared. It’d be like using simulated fire, if you’re teaching someone to be a fireman. A  picture of fire. No heat.

But most importantly there’s not that stage… you don’t get to feel that stage where sen happens – initiative. And you don’t get to deal with it.

You can – I’m sure you’ve had this happen – get ready to blow your stack and someone has the kind word or they step away or you slip… or anything: you swallow your own spit <SNORT>  or whatever, and it stops you from the next action.

Good cooking’s like that:  when you expect it to be dull and it goes in your mouth and then <TOK> you taste again.

That’s atemi.

All those things are atemi.

We want to cut to the chase because we want to study these really: THE action. The thing that’s important. Not block, kick, punch, wrestling tournament… But just understanding the phase of energy from “I’m thinking about it” to when it’s real. Because then you as nage are learning to sense intentionality. Learning to be able to differentiate between anger, or someone just trying to trigger you and the real physiological “that’s the impulse, it’s 2/3 second away from manifesting” and it’s necessary to launch…

When you begin to do that you can work within the waves. If you can work within the waves,  you can change anything and avoid violence. You can do all kinds of stuff

But if you cannot recognise it, or your response to it is to freeze, or to aggress back, then you can’t do aiki. Because you have a wrong condition of mind.

So what often people do is: someone does the surge then they attack back, and THEN they want to blend and do the nicey-nice thing.

So it’s this very strange psychology that you’re developing…

I think if you wish to study it, watch any Steven Seagal film, because it’s all about that!

“I’m a peaceful guy. Don’t trigger me.”

Well right there what’s that saying?

Let me try this out, let me say it the other way:

“You’re not going to like me if I get angry, so don’t make me angry.”

That really got a lot of peace going, didn’t it?

“You want of piece of it there, man? You want a piece of peace? I’ll give you a blending with the universe that you’ll never forget…”

I think we’re kind of missing the trajectory we’re after.

The other thing is this: when things get that really interesting, almost magical look – you know how when you see aikido and it looks magic and it can’t be real? Well, in many cases it’s not. But in other cases it’s the person understanding this thing we’re talking about, and being really functional with it. And having trained themselves not to do the other thing anymore. Not to do that any more.

And what’s interesting is that that person has a lot more time in the equation. Because they’re not freaked out, and it’s like everything slows down for them. They don’t have an  “I’m only going to feel good if…”  built into it   And they don’t have some definition built into it.

So if you’re in that place, you don’t have to poke their eye out. And if you happen to hurt them, you don’t have to feel horrible, but you don’t feel good. It’s not like it’s something you set out to do, but it could happen.

So it gives you a little more sense of equanimity with difficult situations.

Now, most of you, I noticed, during the Atemi Workshop, at first… None of you, luckily – because I wouldn’t really want to be knowing you much – have the desire to punch someone in the face just because they look at you… And most of you, your initial thing is,  in fact, you hesitate.

Which is not good. Because you start backing up, and then you have to somehow get out of that first.

So we say: sen. Initiative. We want to change the energy, in order to seize the initiative. But not in an aggressive way, not in the sense of harming, even if we physically strike them.

It seems like that you can’t do that:  that you can’t touch uke in some way to change the energy without violence. But that’s not true. And that’s one of the beauties of this.

Once you understand it you can go: “hey…”

So I use the metaphor of robashin. It means  grandmotherly mind.

And so you’ve got this grand-baby, and you’re cooking, and they keep coming over and putting their hand on the hot stove… and you say: “No, quit it!”  And you tell them “You’ll be burnt.” And about the third time they come over, you take the spoon and without missing a beat you just just wack them, so they don’t touch the stove.  You don’t even look at them: You see them: you wack them.

So it’s not like “I’m going to hit you ” – it’s just “wack”. Immediately.

Because you’re trading one thing for another.

And if they bawl and cry, at least they’re not burned.

And that is a good metaphor for some kinds of atemi.

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