The Light Response

Some years ago, when I was working on ships, my boss asked me to tell the crew not to use compressed air for cleaning up the deck and tank tops. There was a danger paint chippings could go in their eyes, and using compressed air in this manner was against the Code of Safe Working Practice. The crew were to use a broom instead.

Now I felt we had more pressing safety concerns on our hands than this, I had been on the receiving end of a lot of grief about the lack of safety standards of some of the crew, but I dutifully passed the message on. Perhaps the scepticism was clear in my voice, because one hour later I found a crew member cleaning down with… yep, compressed air.

I lost it. It was in the engine room, were you have to shout to make yourself heard, but even I had been speaking quietly it would have made no difference. I called the crew member stupid, I demanded to know why he had ignored what I said. I knew I would be in trouble if my boss had caught the guy, so I was furious.

Unsurprisingly the crew member lost his temper in return He shouted back, things went downhill, and it took us about two months to recover to a good working relationship. In hindsight there are a number of things I should have done, such as going to a more quiet environment to explain what the issue really was, but what had been done was done.

I was reminded of this incident during aikido training this week. (Yes, I snuck in an aikido class, despite saying I would concentrate on the jitsu.) We were doing an exercise which required the defendant to be relaxed in order for the throw to work. The experienced was from the least threatening attack of all, a wrist grab. I am sure the experienced amongst you are now nodding wisely when I say it was very difficult to reach that relaxed state.

75T3ACgntbT_q_AVcwkRYsHRz42PDGQVxBhERCkYwc8,Sanct0iicDhb21XG2pjsrERtapbWBHYktjVrNx3kGSYIf you haven’t done this before, try it at your next training session. Hold your arm out, get someone to grab your wrist with as much strength as they can, and then relax your own arm. To check if it is relaxed ask your training partner to let go without telling you. A truly relaxed arm will swing down, a tensed one will not.

I reached the stage were I was able to keep that relaxed state when standing, but the moment I moved my arm tensed against the attack. And when I tensed up, my uke was able to respond and throw me. Eventually I managed to maintain a relaxed arm throughout the technique, but I can honestly say it is not an easy state of mind to be in and not one I could put into practice if someone were to attack me now.

Though it occurs to me that I sometimes do something similar in my jitsu groundwork. With certain training partners I know it is tricky to make a pin hold. So I cease to fight back. I go all limp, squirm out of every hold like a fish and wait for my uke to be worn out. Then I pounce!

It does feel counter-intuitive, not to fight back, but this is what our training is for. Staying calm and engaging on your terms. Shout at someone, they will shout back. Fight someone, they will fight back. Jitsu and aikido are not about shows of strength, they are about being able to take what your attacker offers and directing it back at them.

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