In the Aikido and Zen Dojo: The Second of Aikido’s Three Pillars – Balance
Recalling that in Aikido, our three pillars are: footwork, balance and timing. Last week we covered the first of these pillars – footwork. This week, I want to focus the concept of balance. As we practice fundamental skills during each class, I often mention the three balances:
For certain attacks we will naturally rise up to meet it. For others we will naturally sink down to control it. And so, we investigate the principles of vertical balance. In class, we practice the fundamental skill called raising and cutting. When raising, straighten both legs but do not lock the knee. When cutting, bend both legs. In both cases, place the front foot straight forward. When raising, the heel of the back foot can come off the ground. When sinking, both feet are flat. Think ‘shock absorber vs. hinge’. The shock absorber stays within its own volume – extended or compressed, while the hinge bends in the middle. We want to be the shock absorber.
For the majority of techniques, we finish them using horizontal balance. In class, we practice the fundamental skill called boat rowing. When rocking forward, bend the front leg and straighten the back. When rocking backward, bend the back leg and straighten the front. Place both feet flat on the ground. Turn the front foot out slightly. With an attention to these details, it is amazing how far forward and backward we can move our own center of gravity while still keeping centered. Always remember that the simple goal of Aikido is to take our partner’s balance while keeping our own. And we can best do this by ‘coupling well’ (so that when we move, our partner moves) and then moving our center of gravity to a point that unbalances him/her. (In theory, Aikido is remarkably simple.)
There is a small set of techniques that finish using left-right balance. This is much like horizontal balance, except that instead of rocking forward and back, we rock side to side. In class, we practice the fundamental skill called left-right exercise. Straighten one leg, bend the other and place both feet firmly on the ground. (When moving left, bend the left knee and straighten the right.) And much like horizontal balance, proper technique allows us to extend well into our partner’s space – taking his/her balance while keeping our own.
Balance is one of the three pillars of Aikido. Understand it, embrace it, practice it. (And don’t forget to relax.)
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