Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Convulsive grips vs. facile grips

Language is rife with kinesthetic expressions related to gripping or grabbing or holding, because this form of manipulation of the world through our hands is very important to our lives as humans.  To live is to have to handle difficulties, to have to come to grips with situations, to grapple with day-to-day exigencies.  We have to grasp lessons and hold ground...  How we hold things is how we deal with the world.  It is how we are.
Aikido and judo are all about holding things.  This is part of why these arts are rife with analogies and implications in real life. It is important how we grip things, and in these arts we make a careful study of gripping and holding.
In judo or aikido classes, some participants (especially beginners) reflexively respond to their partners' actions and motions by latching on with their hands in a convulsive grip and trying to hold the situation still.  This appears to me to be some form of defensive reaction, almost like a flinch.  At some time in the past, these folks learned that they could protect themselves by clamping onto threatening things and locking them down, and this may not be too bad of a defensive reaction for some survival situations.  It is probably an adaptive thing, but there are potential side effects...

  • Once you clamp down with your hands, you can't do much else with them.  Locking down the threat locks down your hands too.  In fact, locking down with your hands locks your whole body - especially your arms and shoulders - in place.  With your upper body in a defensive spasm, there is no way to breathe naturally, and you end up gassing yourself out.
  • While reflexively clamping with the hands can be a good response to some situations, it will surely be maladaptive in other situations.  You might be able to grab a snake right behind the head, but try clamping onto a sparking high-voltage wire.
  • In a general, everyday-life sense, you can't live your life by latching onto anything around you that makes a surprising motion and crushing it until it is still.  You might be able to do that to some mild people/situations, but try latching onto a policeman who stops you about a broken tail light and you'll quickly learn that grabbing and clamping is not always best.  Even if you do not get into a dangerous situation by clamping onto something with more horsepower and willpower than you, you will alienate people around you by habitually grasping and suppressing them anytime they try to interact.  You will rapidly teach people not to try to help you.
Judo is about pliable use of strength to achieve flexible goals.  Aiki is about harmonizing with the energy around you instead of squelching it.
Learn to use your hands in a facile, pliable, harmonious, flexible way, and this will carry over to your body and your mind and your spirit and your life.

photo courtesy of Giant Ginkgo

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Patrick Parker
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