The Circle and the Spiral

I often think of Aikido in philosophical terms. When a teacher gives advice about how to do a technique physically, I sometimes translate it into advice on how to live my life. It doesn’t always happen, and I’m not always sitting in class listening to my sensei (teacher) and thinking, “hmm, now how could that apply to my life?” There are times, though, when it hits me like a slap in the face. I can feel it physically, and it seems as though I’ve discovered something wonderful.

O'Sensei doing ikkyo
O’Sensei doing ikkyo

One day I was sitting in meditation when an insight from Aikido hit me. It was the concept of moving your uke (the person attacking you) in a spiral motion rather than a circle. When you do ura (a turning movement) or any kind of turning technique (like ikkyo) where you take uke from a high spot to a spot on the ground, ideally you turn him/her in a spiral rather than a circle. If you turn uke in a circle…nothing happens. He can just go round and round and you never take him down, and you never fully take control of his balance. If you have trouble with ikkyo ura, you are probably moving in a circle rather than a spiral. If you move uke in a spiral, from the high point where you both meet to the low spot on the mat, then it works and you should have control of uke’s balance throughout the entire technique.

Here is a video of aikidoka doing ikkyo–skip to :44 to see the spiraling ura movement.

It occurred to me that this concept of the circle and the spiral applies to how I deal with life problems, especially those problems that keep coming back to me time after time. I realized that I’m dealing with these recurring problems as circles rather than spirals. First, it’s a circle in that the problem comes back to me again and again. The reason it comes back is because I always deal with it on the same level. I handle it in almost exactly the same way every time it surfaces. I think about it the same, and I try to solve it in the same way. This never works!

If I deal with these problems as spirals they’ll work themselves out. Instead of thinking about them and acting on them in the same way as I have in the past, I need to deal with them on a different level and on a different plane. It’s the spiral. Each time I encounter the problem, I need to deal with it on a different level of engagement. In this way it will eventually be solved.

That’s how the spiral works differently and better than the circle. When I’m in the circle mode (in Aikido or in life) I always come back to the same place. My uke and my problem are in the same place. The balance of my uke isn’t broken, and my problem isn’t altered. In the spiral, the plane of existence is broken. I don’t come back to the same place; I keep moving down towards the end. The balance of my uke is broken a little bit every time the plane is moved, and my problem is cracked every time I move downward.

The way for me to do this is to focus on the end rather than on the problem. If I’ve got all of my attention on uke during ikkyo ura, then I’ll instinctively move in a circle. I cannot move towards the conclusion if I’m concentrating on the uke. I must focus on the end–on where I want uke to be rather than where he is. I put my focus on the spot on the ground where I want uke to end up. This also allows me to open my awareness to my surroundings, so I know if something else is coming to sideswipe me.

This all corresponds to life problems as well. If I focus on the end result, and where I want to be rather than focusing on the problem as it is now, then I can get to that end and break the cycle. I also need to open my awareness to my surroundings in real life too. Only in this way can I be open to new and more creative solutions to my problems.

3 thoughts on “The Circle and the Spiral”

  1. How interesting, I’m going to have to ponder this idea, of moving things in a spiral and getting them off balance.
    I can see this working, last night this kid and I were butting heads all night long. In the past I had used humor to break him out of his temper tantrums but last night I was in a mood and just kept the circle going. Huuummmm

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