Aikido, like all martial arts, devotes a lot of time to focus on the individual. However, unlike most martial arts, whose sole focus is on the physical, Aikido spends much more time on the mental and spiritual aspects. Whether or not you believe in chi, life forces, etc, softer styles like Aikido offer a unique perspective not just on the individual, but to your entire life.
One exercise we do from time to time is a little something called Unbendable Arm. This is a really cool exercise as it’s something anyone can do, regardless of your level, and it provides great insights to not only your martial arts journey, but to your life as a whole.
Unbendable Arm works as such. Stand facing your partner and rest your arm on their shoulder to where your wrist is making contact with their shoulder. The goal of your partner is to bend your arm by putting their hands/arms on top of your arm and pushing down.
If you would like to try this real quick, go find someone and give it a shot. I’ll wait…
So how’d it go? It’s pretty hard, isn’t it? Chances are you were focused on the big muscles of your arm to keep it straight. I bet the muscles in your arm is burning a bit now from you trying to resist your partner pressing down, right?
Now try this drill one more time, but with a subtle change. This time, instead of focusing on keeping your arm straight by using your muscles, focus on nothing else, but pointing your finger on a point behind your partner that’s approximately at your head level.
Focus on nothing else but pointing that finger straight ahead. Pretend it’s a fire hose that you’re pointing at a raging fire, whatever visual that helps you focus.
Now try again…
It’s insanely easy this time, isn’t it?
The first time I did this drill with my instructor, I honestly thought he was bullshitting me until I tried it myself. To say I was dumbfounded was an understatement.
Then it got me thinking…
What other aspects in our lives do we make harder by exerting our focus on the wrong thing?
How can we slightly tweak our focus in a way that yields the desired results with seemingly much less effort?
As it usually is with martial arts and life in general, I don’t have the answers for you. Your situation is different than mine. You have different strengths, weakness, and opportunities than I do.
What I can tell you is that no matter what obstacle or hurdle presents itself to you, there’s a way around it. Sometimes we struggle, huff and heave, give it our all, and still wind up failing or coming short. Instead of giving up, take a step back and see if you’re focusing on the wrong aspect of the problem.
Instead of focusing directly on the area that the opposing force is crashing against, try focusing past or over it.
In Taekwondo, when we’re teaching a student how to break a board, we tell them not to strike the board, but rather strike past the board. We tell them to imagine a point behind the board that they’re hitting and the board is just in the way.
Notice the similarities between this example and the Unbendable Arm?
The fact is that no one can give you all the answers. They can only advise you on what worked for them and offer advice. For most of the important things in life, you will have to find your own way. Sure, absolutely take the advice when it’s from a source you trust, but at the end of the day, you have only yourself to rely on.
This is my hope in more ambiguous articles like this one; not to provide direct answers, but to help you expand your own perspective.
Best of luck.