Seeing the optimal path

In last nights Aikido class, I had an interesting revelation. The ingredients of my revelation included the putting green (I don’t play golf) and time lapse photography. I’ll try to explain. Maybe I’ll do a good job and maybe I won’t. We were practicing a technique yesterday, “shomen uchi ikkyu” that involves connecting to an overhead strike, and then taking the energy of that strike and moving it safely to the ground for a pin so as to not hurt the attacker but effectively neutralize the attack and pin the attacker so he cannot do any harm to himself or others.

I noticed that when I was doing a really good technique, there was an optimal path that the attacker’s hand drew. The downward arch of the strike just seemed to “fit” into the curvature of the deflection, blending and redirection of his energy. This curvature turns into a spiral, and comes to land on the ground. If i could draw this in the air with light, I’m convinced that the trail would look like a totally natural path.

I remember drawing light in the air with my friend Patti a few years ago. We had some fun with some glowy balls, and long exposure photographs. We would, in fact “draw in air”. This thought of drawing light in air helped me visualize the optimal path for this technique. Subsequently, when I didn’t pull of as good an attack, I was again able to see the path that I drew, but not natural, sometimes stunted, disproportionate, or jagged, as if I was not serving the optimal path appropriate to the speed and trajectory of the attacker’s strike. It was a very enlightening experience.

So why did I mention golf? I don’t play it. It occured to me that really good golfers can see this path on the putting green. They can see how hard they need to hit the ball, the angle the ball will take and the curves, seemingly unseen by others, that the ball will need to take to sink into the hole. To me this practice of finding the path was no different. It was a great class.

Aikido is such a great art for me to practice because there is so much metaphor I can take onto the mat, but more importantly, off the mat too. The concept of the optimal path doesn’t have to be grand scheme of things. It can be the path to settlng an argument, the optimal path to getingt a job done quickly and efficiently, the optimal path to loving wholeheartedly. There is also a difference between “optimal” and “quickest”. Optimal implies just that. The optimal path… the path that brings to bear the most scenery, experience, knowledge and wisdom. Sometimes that path can be quick, but it doesn’t have to be,