Over the years, I have gotten into several 'street aikido' situations by walking around corners too close. You'd think I'd learn to turn corners with at least an arm's length or two between me and the corner. But no, I continue to get distracted and turn a corner sharply and find someone in my face. Fortunately, these situations lend some validation to my aikido training, because in every instance my aikido training has diffused the situation before I even realized what had happened.
The first time I was in the Computer Science building at college. I walked through the front door and turned the corner sharply and there was a guy running toward me crossing ma-ai just as I turned the corner. Before I realized what happened, I had sidestepped just a bit and both hands were on that guy's face. He jerked to a stop and froze on his tiptoes with me holding him in offbalance. Finally I realized what had happened and stepped back and we both apologized for running into each other. The really cool things about this encounter were the automaticity of the response, and the gentle precision. I managed to stop both of us and separate us with shomenate without smashing him and without being smashed myself.
The second time I was in the Maths building at college and was running to class. I cut around a corner and ran into a guy just like the previous incident. And just as before, my hands popped up into his face, but this time I evaded better and brushed off, turning and continuing down the hall. There were two or three people between us by the time I'd realized what had happened and I called back, "Sorry, dude!" and kept going. The really cool thing about this encounter was how I subconsciously applied the appropriate response without even breaking stride. This was an even better shomenate brushoff than before!
Well, years pass and today I walked around a corner carrying a cup of water and was face-to-face with a lady who also had a drink in her hand. This time the brushoff was even more perfect than the previous two. Without even touching her I started to evade "over the hill", was blocked by a wall, sidestepped, and backed off to ma-ai. The shomenate reflex is still there but this time it was unnecessary. I had done an evasion and brushoff without touching her and without spilling either of our drinks.
These incidents suggest to me that:
- the shomenate reflex is a highly effective response for a surprise encounter
- you can build shomenate and the aiki brushoff into a very finely-tuned automatic reflex
- you can even train these skills to the point that they self-regulate appropriately
Now that's aiki - automatic, effective, and appropriate! Maybe I have learned something in the past 18 years of aikido. I've just got to stop running around corners!
Patrick Parker is a Christian, husband, father, martial arts teacher, Program Director for a Cardiac Rehab, and a Ph.D. Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org or phone 601.248.7282