Connection is an interesting thing. Stepping off the line of an attack too much leads to loss of connection. I know we’re told a lot to step off the line, and obviously you do need to (or you get hit), but too much off the line makes it really difficult to connect with your partner, and forces you to reach for the technique as opposed to it being sitting there in your lap. The getting off the line part, I like to think about as a subtle thing, mostly mental but slightly physical. If you have the guts to stay in there a bit more and not listen to your defense mechanisms all that much, it’ll make your Aikido much tighter and more effortless. Make an effort to do it. Take the gift of energy that your partner is providing you and really connect to it. Don’t run from it or try to dodge it. Get yourself in the aiki state and join with the attack to make something new out of it. It’s amazing what comes up if you don’t try to move away from the attack so much. It’s a fine line. In real cases, it can be the difference between life or death. Walk that line in class. Play with it and see how it goes. We’re practicing so it’s okay to get a tsuki to the solar plexus every once in a while to tell you when it’s not enough.
The aim for a lot of what we do in Aikido, I believe, is to break down those barriers. There are many barriers that we need to break down. First there’s the barrier between you and your partner. Whether you’re uke or nage, there’s always that mental barrier there where you’re not fully unified with your partner. You don’t want to fall or you really want to make uke fall. You’re fighting them. Even a little bit. The big barrier though is the barrier within you. You know you have that perfect aiki-self inside. We all do. That perfect aiki-self comes out at certain times and we are shocked at what it does. Everything is effortless. You enjoy training with the partner you’re with at the time and there are no struggles involved. The attacks are very real and committed, but you don’t think much of them. The faster they come in, the more solid your aikido is. Your ukemi is so solid that you feel that connection with your partner the whole time, even as you stand up to attack again, you still feel that connectedness. As you do the technique, your partner knows that you are totally in control and can come in as hard as they want, and you will be there supporting them through their ukemi. As you go through the repititions of the technique, have an intention to break down those barriers bit by bit. It goes unsaid that this also applies directly with life away from the mat as well. When dealing with anyone face to face, whether it be someone you have a natural resistance with or maybe it’s someone you always mesh well with, you can always feel that barrier while dealing with that person. You can feel it in your center. Let that go. Meld with your center first and then it’s automatic that you meld with that person too.