Anticipation–On and Off the Aikido Mat

Anticipation. We often think of it positively, like a child getting excited for a birthday or Christmas, or an adult looking forward to a big event. But there is a downside to anticipation—prediction. To anticipate something is also to predict what is going to happen, and that can be unhealthy and even dangerous.

My Aikido dojo is hosting a visiting teacher this weekend, and I’ve been anticipating this seminar for a long time. I’m looking forward to it! But, as the person in charge of organizing and marketing it, I find myself anticipating in another way…predicting. Every so often I sit at my desk and make tick marks of how many people I expect to come to the seminar. The success of this seminar has been on my mind constantly for the past few days.

I finally told myself last night that I’d do no more anticipating. Whatever happens this weekend, happens. There is nothing more I can do!

The worst thing about this kind of anticipating (well, any anticipating) is that it takes me out of the moment. I can’t enjoy the present moment when I am either looking forward to something that will happen in the future or trying to predict what will happen in the future. It’s all about the future!

Be present in the moment and you can fly!
Be present in the moment and you can fly!

I began to relate this aspect of anticipation to my Aikido practice. In short, I should NEVER anticipate in Aikido, either as the attacker or as the person being attacked. It happens all the time, though. Some of that is understandable, since an Aikido class or seminar is arranged around the teacher demonstrating a technique and then the students performing that specific technique. How can I not anticipate what is coming when the teacher has just said the name of the technique and the attack!

However, I think there is a difference between knowing what attack will come and anticipating what will come. Every single moment in Aikido (as in life) is different from the moment before or after. I may have done a particular technique a thousand times, and I may have worked with my partner hundreds of times, but it is still different IN THAT MOMENT. My partner will be different in that moment. His attack will be different. It may be harder or softer or off center a little or any millions of variations. I will be a different person in that moment than I was the last time we did this technique together. The variables within the dojo will be different.

Because of this, it is important for me not to anticipate. I need to be in that moment if I want to do things correctly, and, more importantly, if I want to stay safe and keep my partner safe. If I’m anticipating that he will strike at me hard and I react accordingly, but what he really does is give me something much softer than normal, my reaction is out of balance. If I accept his soft attack as something hard, then I could act more aggressively than is necessary and hurt him.

If I’m not in the present moment, I can’t feel my partner’s energy, so we lose that connection. The connection is what Aikido is all about! After all, the incoming energy is why we always work with partners. Aikido doesn’t work without connection. My connection is faulty if I’m anticipating and predicting what my partner will do.

If I’m the person doing the attacking, then I have to work to keep from anticipating and predicting as well. How can I give an honest and meaningful attack if I’m thinking I know exactly what my partner will do next? If I KNOW what he will do, I might as well not keep training. It just becomes a dance with choreographed steps. The beauty of taking ukemi (attacking) is that you are constantly engaged on a moment-by-moment basis with your partner. You go in hard with a punch or strike, but then you have to meld softly with whatever then happens to your body as your partner takes control of the situation.

I remember vividly a time when I attacked one of my teachers and predicted what he was going to do. He was teaching a technique and held out his hand in a way that I’d seen many times before. I smiled thinking that I knew exactly how he was going to throw me. Luckily for me his technique was so good, so fast, and so hard, that I didn’t have time to realize that he wasn’t doing what I expected, until I was on my back on the floor! If he hadn’t been such a good Aikidoka, I might have been injured…and it would have been all my fault! If I’d had time to think, “hey, this isn’t what he’s supposed to be doing!” I most likely would have seized up, tensed up, and hurt myself.

That was a good lesson…for on the mat and off. Anticipation and predicting will take me out of the moment, and that is not where I need to be. I need to be right here, right now, paying attention to what I’m doing and to what others are doing around me. That is how I keep myself safe…and sane!

What about you? Do you find yourself anticipating the future rather than living in the moment?

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