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Unity vs. Coordination

Aikidoka talk about unifying body and mind. It is a target we train for, but I still balk at the phrase. I couldn’t articulate why until I was recently re-reading The Aikido of Shin-Budo Kai. The phrase “coordinating body and mind” stuck out to me.

Unity, to my mind is an ideal or abstract state of oneness.  I realize that a high degree of mental and physical unity is what we pursue. But there is a process to get there, progress from my current state to better and better states.

Coordination, however, is separate things working together. As a beginner, I can wrap my head around coordinating body and mind. To borrow an analogy from Ikeda Sensei, a baby has to learn the coordination to walk. Then he has to wobble along from support to support in fits and starts until his little legs are strong and coordinated enough to walk freely. Then he has to learn how to go up slopes, down stairs, over rough gravel, across an icy sidewalk. Coordination is learned and practiced.

I can hit a baseball. But I lack the coordinated swing to hit a home run out of a major league park. I can be coached, I can physically and mentally train, I can practice, and one day smack a ball out of the park. But not without focused practice.

We train both mind and body separately and together. One without the other is useless. To strike only physically is madness. To strike only mentally is absurd. So each time I practice a motion, my mind participates. Whenever I have a mental intent, my body must move in order to fulfill it. No Jedi powers here.

I’m learning how to coordinate my body and my intent. The more they coordinate, the less either dominates or slackens. Everything begins to cohere into a single system.

I only understand unity as an embodied ideal sporadically, when uke attacks, I move, and things just happen. That only occurs on techniques I have practiced a thousand times. It almost never happens the first time I practice a new attack, technique or principle. Unity transcends mere coordination. But unity is coordinated. I can’t force unity to happen, but I can train my body and mind to be coordinated, laying a foundation.

Image credits: “Molnija 3601 watch movement macro.” Guy Sei.  CC BY-SA 2.

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