“Spiritual power. Not muscle power” ~Saotome Shihan
Aikido is not about physical power. At least, it is not supposed to be. When you watch a high level teacher practicing Aikido, it often looks fake. The reason it looks fake is because he is not using physical power. He is not blocking or parrying or meeting force with force. He is being gentle.
It sounds strange sometimes to talk about being gentle in a martial art. To me, though, it makes perfect sense. When I am gentle, I can make a real connection to my partner. I can’t do that if I am tense or aggressive, because then I am only focused on myself and not my partner. I can only feel my own tension, and I can only think about my own aggression. This all gets in the way of my connection—it’s interference.
Imagine an ordinary garden hose. Now imagine it cold, constricted, and crimped—tense. How does the water flow out of it? It’s restricted, slow; it comes out in spurts, and when you see the water spurting out at the nozzle, it is jagged and uneven. Now imagine that same water hose warmed by the sun, completely stretched out, and full of water. How does the water flow out now? Even, smooth, and full of energy.
I often imagine my own Aikido power in terms of that hose. I don’t want my energy crimped and restricted. I want it full and flowing. I can do this by keeping myself energized with “spiritual power,” by releasing tension and aggression from my body and my mind.
When I train without tension I can make a genuine connection with my partner. When my partner grabs me or strikes at me, I can sincerely connect with her. My energy is flowing outward, like a hose, trying to make a connection and understand what is happening with her. Only then can I “do” something, and even then I’m not making something happen—I’m allowing something to happen.
Making something happen is “muscle power,” the cold, crimped up hose. Allowing Aikido to happen in the moment, when I am relaxed and free from aggression—that is “spiritual power.”