So, we had a great Aikido seminar this past weekend, with our now-annual visit from one of the most traveled instructors in the world, Donovan Waite shihan. As always, I was exposed to a lot of new concepts, and – again as always – it will be weeks before any of it actually shows up in my practice.
It’s somewhat amusing, then, that I actually had a bit of a breakthrough tonight in one of the areas that has been causing me the most trouble since I began practicing over 2 ½ years ago, and one that was definitely NOT a focus of the seminar – mai kaiten ukemi. (Also known as the basic front roll – one of the very first things you learn when you step on the mat. Sigh.)
Fundamentally, my problem is that somewhere in the back of my subconscious, my brain doesn’t believe that I’m going to fall correctly if I do it right – with the inevitable result that I DON’T fall correctly, because I’m always trying to catch myself. Ushiro ukemi, or back rolls, I don’t have much of a problem with, except an occasional tendency for my left arm to stick out when I roll on the right side. I’ve been wondering why, completely ignoring the obvious answer that it’s because I can’t see where I’m going, so I just go.
It’s worth noting that my sensei has been pointing this out to me for, oh, about 2 ½ years. However, being aware of the problem and being able to translate that awareness into my actual movement are very different things… remembering that healing the mind-body disconnect is one of the reasons that I started this training in the first place. I’m not surprised, and really shouldn’t be frustrated, that it’s taking a long time to undo a lifetime of living in my head.
I figured all this out tonight in a burst of inspiration (a.k.a., “d’oh!”). I arrived at the dojo a half hour early, and walked out in the dark. I bowed in, and before turning on the lights I just stood for a couple of minutes watching the moonlight and listening to the wind in the trees (I may have mentioned that our dojo is built outdoors, backed up on the woods)… and decided to try some rolls, just for the heck of it.
What happened next should be pretty obvious – I rolled. Correctly. For 10 minutes straight. Better on my dominant side than on the other, but still basically correctly. (When I told my wife about this she just said, “Use the Force, Luke”… thereby pointing out that I lose at least three geek points because I didn’t immediately think of the Jedi Trainer scene myself. :)
I then turned the lights on, and worked on remembering what it felt like when I did it right so that I could avoid slipping back into my now-ingrained bad habits. It worked, mostly, although by the end of the class some of the bad falling started to come back as I got tired.
It’s going to take time and a lot of extra practice to burn the new, good rolls into my muscle memory, but I think I am actually going to accomplish the goal that I set for myself of fixing this particular problem before my next kyu test.