Ei Mei Kan - July - 2011

Not Being... Here

by Chris Mooney

In the mid-1980s, I was asked to appear in the Crown Court as an expert witness, as an Aikido student had been injured during training. When asked by the prosecution if I had ever sustained any injuries during my time training in Aikido, I said, “Yes.” “Could you tell us of some of your injuries?” With a certain pride, I began to recount a long list, starting from my feet and working my way up to my head! I felt the courtroom, already silent, becoming more attentive. The judge leaned over and looked down at me, and said, “And you do this for pleasure?” In his summing-up, after a two-day court case, the judge said, “It’s not unlike cricket. There’s a certain risk involved, and it’s difficult to know whether a foul ball was delivered.”

Now, years later, reflecting on this, I think that my pride in my “battle scars” was somewhat misplaced, and showed my ignorance more than anything else. However, the judge was indeed correct. In any sport or activity, there is risk, although we try to minimize it. In the martial arts, by the sheer nature of the activity, this even more the case. We are, after all, considering an activity which historically concerned the maiming or even death of other human beings.

Why do accidents happen?
Lao Tzu: “Delusions in the mind, resistance in the body.”

Accidents indicate a need for direct and immediate action, as the mind is using an extreme situation to express itself, often involving an actual stopping of the direction we are going in. The conflict may have been unfolding over a period of time. Usually, the part of the body damaged by the accident is already weakened in some way: the accident just brings the weakness to the surface for us to see. The unconscious need for change, for complete reassessment, is so great that it is dramatic. For students who continually get injured (the accident-prone), this situation arises through a conflicted relationship with reality, an inability to be fully present and aware of the world as presents itself.

The most obvious example of conflict is collision: literally, two or more bodies coming into contact in an uncontrolled way. Here, the basic cause is lack of spatial awareness. Another common conflict in the dojo (particularly in the early stages of training) is being strong/heavy or light at the wrong times. Ideally, one should be stable when throwing and light when taking ukemi; the opposite situation is a recipe for injury. Another potential source of injury is confusion between kihon waza and ki-no-nagare.

More deeply, fear is a common cause of injury; ironically, the fear of injury itself makes injury more likely. For the beginner, it may be fear of rolling; for the senior, it may be fear of kiri-otoshi. Through the process of training, we learn to let go of our “control-freakery” and place more trust in a response that is not just about the conscious mind.

Actually, many of these examples bring us back to the quality of the teacher-student relationship. Within the teacher-student relationship, many of these challenges are confronted and passed through.

At times, in the dojo or in the wider world, we may indeed want to be elsewhere. We are ungrounded in what is happening around us. Maybe it is because our reality is unacceptable, or difficult to relate to. We need to be more grounded to discover our security and inner trust.

Chiba Sensei has expressed similar views, saying, “In my opinion, sustaining injuries during training is largely a result of the practitioner handling his or her body in a fragmented manner, reacting with only a particular or limited portion of the body, instead of responding or deflecting with the whole body as a unified whole.”

Finally, sadly, it cannot be ignored than another potential cause of injury is malice. This possibility is something to which teachers especially must be very attentive: we are charged with transmitting the Art without malice, and not permitting cruelty to grow in ourselves or our students.

How to recover from injuries?
Of course, there are many practical aspects to the treatment of an injury: some injuries require rest, some ice or heat, some may need surgery. Almost always, the injured part must be strengthened and conditioned to prevent a second injury. These are the practicalities: how does one go about that process?

In my opinion, the solution to an injury is to study it. In my experience, my injuries have been great teachers. As the Zen teachings put it, make your body one great inquiry: with all your 364 bones and 84,000 pores, listen. Listen. This is the fastest and most effective way to recover. If we do so, then our injuries become an opportunity to learn from the body’s magnificent intelligence.

Preventing injuries?
Unfortunately, injuries can never be entirely prevented. Accidents will happen from time to time. Nevertheless, through consistent physical conditioning (strength and suppleness) and psychological conditioning (awareness), the occurrence of injuries and their severity and be minimized, and the healing (learning) process can be cultivated.


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