Friday, March 26, 2010

Using the startle reaction

One of the ideals in aikido is to make use of simple, natural motions because this makes your art easier to do as well as being more reliable under stress. One example of this is our use of the startle response.
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When surprised by a sudden sound or movement, the typical reaction includes:
  • bend elbows - this results in the hands being rapidly brought in front of the throat and face in a protective gesture
  • bend knees - this results in the body starting to fall backwards, presumably away from the threatening stimulus.
There are numerous other automatic reactions throughout the body, but the most interesting and useful part of the startle response is to start moving back as the hands shoot up between the face and the threat.
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It is possible to deaden your response to surprising stimuli, as in the children's game where you try to stand still while someone feigns slapping you in the face. Little boys like to be the" tough guy" who can stand still in the face of an oncoming strike, or else be the guy who "made the other guy flinch."
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But this startle response is hardwired into your nervous system, so why bother trying to overcome it? It is amazingly rapid, reliable, and effective, so let's learn to use it. You don't really want to fall back into a fetal position when threatened, but maybe we can learn to gently steer our innate startle reaction to be even more useful. Here's the direction that we try to steer the reaction:
  • as your hands come up between your face and the threat, turn your palms toward the threat and extend your arms as if to push the threat away.
  • as you start falling, shift your weight so that you fall to the side or forward instead of straight back.
This type of modified startle reaction results in you automatically stepping out of the way, blocking the centerline, and attacking the face of the attacker (assuming a human threat). You will make your aikido much more robust and reliable if you can work on making all your techniques start with this type of motion. Once you play with this for a while, you will find yourself automatically entering with a 2-handed shomenate (chin jab/eye gouge) when threatened, then falling into an appropriate technique.

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Patrick Parker is a Christian, husband, father, martial arts teacher, Program Director for a Cardiac Rehab, and a Ph.D. Contact: mokurendojo@gmail.com or phone 601.248.7282 木蓮
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