Four weeks in and I am thoroughly enjoying my Aikido classes.
"Staying centred" and "going with" have been the two key principles which I've learnt in Aikido which have translated to my riding and work with horses.
I have been practicing staying centred in a number of ways; firstly when lunging. In class we had to "feel" how our partner was moving towards us before an attack and mimic their movement so it was easier to blend with their movement as part of the defense. I have tried to do the same when lunging Tintin.
To start with I have been thinking about where my centre is. It should be about 3 inches below the belly button, where a belt buckle would be. However, our centre changes depending on how we're feeling. When we are overthinking it is in our head, when we are emotional it is in our heart, but when we are balanced and centred it is near the bottom of our abdomen.
The aim is to maintain that feeling of being centred whilst you are moving. Aikido is all about moving, and centering is much more about being balanced in motion than being rooted in one place. I think I am starting to get to grips with it.
So whilst Tintin is walking round in a circle, I am focusing firstly on my centre, but then secondly on his and whether I can connect the two. The horse's centre will change (like ours) depending on how they are feeling. But horses are innately more centred and balance than people because they don't overthink it. I imagine Tintin's centre to be in the middle of his ribcage, by his shoulder, just slightly behind where his front leg is.
As we walk round, I think about our centres and about matching my body language and matching my pace with his. I definitely felt Tintin soften and listen much more the first time I did this (luckily for me he was in one of his more relaxed moods!).
One of the exercises I particularly enjoyed in class was trying to maintain your centre whilst moving round with a partner (we also did this whilst one person was trying to pull you around with a long stick). The aim with this was to try to get your partner to lose their centre yet whilst doing so not sacrificing your own.
This is so much like riding. Often we sacrifice our balance, posture or position is order to ask the horse something. However, if we are not balanced and grounded, we are little use to the horse when he does move, as we have sacrificed our balance in the process.
The way we regain control is by feeling the movement of the horse's centre and deciding when it is most vulnerable (ie when the horse is most off balance) and use this as our advantage. This is best done in Aikido on a circle. When you are turning, you are more likely to lose your balance than if you are moving forward. So as you turn with the horse, you then blend with his movement and are then better able to redirect the horse's energy and momentum in the direction you want to go.
This, however, is all very subtle. It shouldn't look like you're doing much at all. But after all, isn't that what "feel" and true horsemanship is all about?
This links in to the second principle which is "going with". Aikido is not about fighting or conflict, but rather about blending with the energy and moving with it.
I find going with a difficult task in all areas of life. I generally want things done yesterday and done my way so I have been trying very hard to "go with" in all areas of my life... not always easy! But this principle did get me thinking about why I resist things and what I can do to overcome this. Stress is such a huge part of many of our lives and I think most people could practice a little bit of "going with" every day.
Practically with Tintin I have been trying to go with his movements a little more and then get my timing better for regaining the direction I want to go. This has actually led him to be more, rather than less cooperative. I feel like he responds more quickly when he appreciates that I am on his wavelength and generally we get to our final destination sooner and with less effort. This obviously merges with my previous description of staying centred , which is at the heart of going with.
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