One of the most difficult things that aikidoka have to do is maintain their structure. In this post I’m specifically going to focus on the importance of being upright. There are many aspects to having good posture and one of those is simply standing up straight.
Many people think they are standing up straight but when you look at them it is quite obvious that their spine is bent and they’re hunching over. This isn’t always our own fault though. Almost everything around is is designed to make us slouch. From office chairs to armchairs we are used to letting ourselves fold over.
Stand Up Straight
There are numerous problems with this and many of them can be corrected by simply straightening the spine. The easiest way to do this is imagine that you have a balloon tied to your head that is lifting you up off the ground. At the same time imagine your ass weighs 1 ton and is pulling you back down. Boom, a nice straight spine. There is a bit more to it than that admittedly but that’s a good way to start.
Having a good posture is vital to aikido, this is something I’ve known since my first week on the mats when my sensei told us, “You have to stand up straight, you need good posture or this doesn’t work.” There are numerous reasons that this is true but I’m going to relate it through an experience I had at a course in Holland.
Shimamoto Shihan shows the way
While attending the course at Aikido Centruum, taught by Shimamoto Katsuyuki Shihan I was lucky enough to be corrected by him. We were doing a very simple exercise and I was doing it wrong. Shimamoto Shihan demonstrated what it should be using me as his uke.
As an aside I had wanted to take ukemi for Shimamoto Shihan for a long time. His ukes are incredible. They are so good that I found myself wondering whether or not Shimamoto himself was that good, or if the ukes were doing most of the work. I was reasonably certain that it was the former, that Shimamoto is indeed that good, but I wanted to know for certain. After being his uke for a grand total of 30 seconds I am utterly convinced that he really is that good.
The move we were practicing was supposed to help us focus on shizentai, translated for us as ‘natural body’. We were training our structure. Quite simply we held our arm out and nage would press it down. This was accomplished by nage taking a kote gaeshi arm position and lowering the hand to nage’s side. Uke would then attempt to raise their hand straight up. A simple exercise but one that is very difficult to accomplish without good structure through the body.
An Astounding Correction
As it happens my partner and I were doing this slightly wrong so Shimamoto Shihan demonstrated to us using me. What happened next was one of the most astonishing experiences of my aikido training and demonstrated to me just how far I truly have to go. I held out my arm and Shimamoto took it down to the position beside his body, he looked at me and said simply, “Please, lift”. As instructed, I did. I lifted. I lifted with the entire strength at my disposal. His friendly smile beamed out at me as I looked at him in utter astonishment. My jaw, literally, fell open. I was utterly unable to overpower this 81 year old man.
Shimamoto’s structure was so complete, so defined, so perfectly set, that up was not an option. To be clear, I don’t mean that I couldn’t lift my arm. I couldn’t, but that’s not what I felt. What I felt was that the very concept of up had been removed. The entire possibility of that direction no longer existed. As far as I could tell it never had existed. The best way I can think to describe this would be if I told you to jump in a swimming pool, sit on the bottom of it and breathe. You can’t; it’s a concept that is so fundamentally flawed that you would never even entertain the notion. By the way, did I mention this was his left hand, my right. His ‘weak’ side, my strong?
Sounds like bullshido
Many people would dismiss what I’ve just described as woo woo bullshido. It wasn’t, and here’s why. I absolutely could have stood up. All I had to do was take a half step sideways, or straighten my elbow to regain my structure, or step in towards his centre. I could have attacked with my free hand, or tried a headbutt, or a shoulder tackle to the centre. Any of these things. Within the context of the exercise however, which was to test the structure of nage, I could not do it. This wasn’t ki power, internal energy or any of that stuff, this was simply perfection of posture.
An important aspect of aikido is to maintain the sphere in which we are strong and can safely move. The creation of structure within our body is the key to achieving this and that starts with learning to stand up straight.
If you can afford it, and would like to help out,
consider donating some brain fuel!
Also, if you enjoyed this post you can find further insights in this book.