An old friend and Alexander Technique colleague, Bruce Fertman, sent me this video with an intriguing request – analyze the movement from an Aikido perspective. Bruce is comparing how differently trained people see movement. I found this fascinating, and my answer continued to grow . . . so I thought it would live well on Riding Between Heaven and Earth.
Marj placed great emphasis on observing movement. My involvement with horses and riding has given me a new appreciation of that aspect of her teaching. Marj was a horsewoman who raised and rode quarter horses on her ranch. Now I understand how significantly that informed her Alexander Technique teaching. My riding mentors are all extremely keen observers of movement. But I have been asked to answer through the lens of Aikido. My response looks at how much power is generated with the least amount of effort though use of the body as a whole and through a harmonious relationship with the tool.
I’m noticing how much body integration each worker seems to possess and how they are trying to maximize the effect of their effort; how energy is moving through them and their sledge hammers; what is their relationship to the tool they are using -- if they make it a natural extension of their movement or if they seem very separate from it. All of them are standing in right hamni, the triangular stance used in Aikido and in Aikido weapons training. The worker in the green hat is using himself in a manner closest to Aikido body movement. He is the most efficient, initiating the movement from his center and allowing it to spiral up his torso through his arms. He is using the dropping of his center and maximizing the movement of his hip, knee and ankle joints, and his torso has a lot of integrity. He maintains his vertical axis nicely -- he is not twisting himself off axis. He allows his hip movement to swing the hammer back and behind him, which carries through as his arms raise over his head and he then lets the hammer drop with gravity, enhancing the effect of that with the timing of the dropping of his center, just slightly before the hammer strike. Sugano Sensei had this quality of timing in his bokken (wooden sword) cut.
“Green hat” also has the best ma-ai (distance) between his center and the center of the post. The other workers’ distance appears not quite comfortable. Possibly the different distances are necessary to coordinate the movements of the four of them. The third worker from the right has to throw his hammer out forward to reach the post, which puts some extra stress on his upper body. Green hat‘s efficiency means that he does not need to reposition his grip each time he swings the hammer. The worker to his right repositions his grip for each strike to create leverage with his upper body and arms against the hammer, but this means his upper body is taking more impact and also doing more work – he is actually lifting that heavy hammer with his arms for each swing – you can see his left elbow come away from his body creating the stressful relationship to his hammer. The other two workers are focused on hitting with their upper bodies as well; the worker in the left front is at least moving his center laterally and using his large joints (like the rowing exercise in Aikido) which gives him some whole body power; however, his upper body has an energetic break mid-chest, as he is still overworking with his arms and upper body, so he dissipates some of the useful energy generated by the movement of his lower body. He and the worker in the white hat are each tensing their upper back and neck against impact of the strike which indicates to me that they are using “hard eyes” or a narrowed field of vision, focusing a lot of effort on the end goal and slightly anticipating each impact. I also notice that green hat’s efficiency with his body mechanics, timing and distance makes his striking seem slower and more spacious, even though I believe they are all striking at about the same actual speed.
So, the worker with the most ease, awareness and integration within his own body is able to work most efficiently. In Aikido this efficiency translates into the martial quality. The beauty of the movement is not separate from the effectiveness.
What an interesting opportunity to see four people’s unique relationship to the same activity! Thank you, Bruce, for asking my perspective. I suggest asking Gail Field to give an Alexander Technique/Centered Riding analysis, and Maria Katsamanis to talk about movement from a Classical Equitation context.