July 3, 2015

The Limits of Strength

"In muscle there's strength, but in softness there's power." — Mark Rashid

You learn through aikido that strength is based in muscle, which means that you are only as strong as your muscles. But power comes from energy and transcends your physical strength. If you are using power rather than strength, advantages of size and weight are nullified.

The key here is softness because energy can only move through you when you are soft. When you are using your muscles with tension (which is what most of us do most of the time), you are actually blocking your energy and so reducing your overall ability to be effective. (Not to mention doing things in a way that is hard on your body.)

Another advantage of using energy instead of strength is that it eliminates resistance in others. If you are tense/braced, then others brace in response. (And rightly so because that’s when you’re likely to hurt them.) But if you are soft, they soften.

The difference became very clear to me in the dojo. When my partner used physical strength only, it had a completely different feel than when he used softness. Both moves resulted in my arm being twisted behind my back and the rest of me lowered to the floor, and both were effective in disabling me. But one felt good and one felt like something was about to break me. If you're going to achieve your goal--in this case to protect yourself--either way, why not pick the route that feels good to others? Aren’t they more likely to take a better perspective on things if they’re feeling better?

And obviously when we’re talking about horses we are only working against ourselves when we use strength instead of energy. A horse is stronger than we can ever dream of being. We get away with what we do in part because of leverage, but that only works up to a point. Mainly we get away with it because horses are beings looking for connection rather than a fight. I think a nice way to repay them for this is to stop fighting on our end and instead offer them a connection that feels good.

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