Aikido and the art of mountain biking. Part three: Flow

Once again, I was out riding my mountain bike in the desert near my house when I was inspired to finish up this series of articles connecting riding (and other pursuits) to Aikido practice.

It had been a while since I had taken my last ride, so it took me a little time to get comfortable on the bike.  Finally, my body/mind made the transition to that familiar state in which I didn’t think about what I was doing, I just let my body take over.  In this state, you just feel how the bike is moving under you, reacting to the terrain, looking ahead down the trail to let your mind prepare for the next obstacle.  You can’t really think about anything when you are in this mode.  If you do, you will invariably tighten up, start manhandling the bike, and generally flailing around gracelessly on the trail.  This also expends a significant amount of energy needlessly (and it’s no fun.)  So you have to strive for this relaxed “flow” state to have the best ride.

So how is “flow” achieved?  First, you have to forget about how your day went, or what’s going to happen when you get home.  You have to “live in the now”, as they say.  This is actually pretty easy on a desert trail since there are so many obstacles (rocks, ruts, bushes, cactus) to avoid.  If you aren’t paying attention to the “now” you are probably crashing.  This step is the same when stepping onto the mat for Aikido practice, or using it in a self defense situation.  The risk of mishap or injury is just too high to clutter up your mind with random crap while you are trying to deal with an attacker.  The attacker and your immediate surroundings, which might include other attackers, has to be your full priority.

Second, you have to stay relaxed and not over-control the bike.  If you tighten up and try to steer the front wheel around every little rock, you will fail and crash.  Things come too quickly for you to process them all so you have to let your body do the steering by leaning your body and bike to steer with only small inputs to the bars.  Similar to Aikido practice, if you are so concerned about using your hands/arms to apply a “technique” at the point of conflict, your defense will fail because you ignored uke’s BODY.  Your muscles can perform better from a relaxed state since they don’t have to unclench before being put to work again.

Third, you have to “see” (or “listen” to) the trail through touch.  This means you can’t just look down the trail for rocks to avoid, you have to feel what the trail is telling you through the contact with the tires and up through the structure of the bike.  This allows you to react by changing your position to maintain your line or carve a turn around a rock.  My Wing Chun Sifu uses this all the time.  You have to listen to your attacker through your sense of touch once you have engaged and made contact with them.  Then depending on what you “hear” through that contact, you make a response.  Aikido is exactly the same, in fact, this is what Aikido is all about.  If you are too worried about yourself, and not listening to what your uke is telling you through your connection, your defense will fail.

In practice, this sense of “flow” is difficult for beginning students to achieve.  They are still working on the basic gross motor aspect of many techniques that they can’t just stop thinking about them and react.  However, it is good practice to once and a while have uke change up the attack to see what comes out of nage in terms of defense.  The longer you practice, the more likely your body will respond without you thinking about it.  That is the goal:  Takemusu Aiki.


Gambate kudasai!

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One Comment to Aikido and the art of mountain biking. Part three: Flow

  1. On December 21, 2015 at 2:41 pm Charles R says:

    And Atemi?

    I’m an assistant coach at a local mountain biking club where we and the National Interscholastic Cycling League (NICA) teach Aikido rolling to prevent injury. Talk about flow when you can roll out a near-death experience. ;-)

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