Centerline as Emphasized in Aikido and Wing Chun

“Center” is a word that is heard a lot in the practice of Aikido.  Just like many things from Japanese culture/language, it can mean something different depending on the context.  Many times in class, center is used to refer to your own center (hara, below and behind your bellybutton).  Also, it can be used in reference to your opponent, or uke.  “You must take uke’s center….” is heard quite a lot by Aikidoka around the world. This concept is quite useful to practitioners in visualizing what you need to do in the course of executing a technique or movement. 

What is interesting in the use of “center” in Aikido is that it is typically referred to as a point, or as a disruption of “center”.  I think that part of the problem we as non-Japanese have in interpreting these kinds of things is that we do not fully appreciate all of the nuances that perhaps a native Japanese speaker would understand.  I speak some Japanese, but am far from fluent, and I don’t even pretend to be able to interpret the language with any but the most limited understanding.  However, I think that there is much more to the use of the word center than is typically made explicit in most Aikido practice.

Over the last 2 ½ years of my practice in Hung Fa Yi Wing Chun, I have learned a slightly different way of talking about “center”.  As expressed by Grandmaster Garret Gee, Hung Fa Yi Wing Chun (HFYWC or HFY from now on), there are three centers to address in two person combat, and these are not points as discussed above, but lines:  self centerline, opponent centerline, and the line connecting your centers.  In this way, you can talk about what is happening to your (and your uke’s) centerline in terms of its orientation (vertical or tilted) and not just its location.  I have learned a lot about taking center and putting pressure on someone’s center from training in HFY.  This is not because it is better or more “effective”, but because it provides a very systematic and scientific framework that can be analyzed and evaluated with relative ease.  What is wonderful, is that all of these ideas are essentially identical to what Aikidoka are using the word “center” for, they are just more specific in their expression from the HFY system.

I have found that by thinking about these three centerlines in my Aikido practice has improved it significantly.  I think this concept was there all along in Aikido, but many times it ends up expressed in quasi-mystical terms, or dismissed as something which must be felt and cannot be described.  On the contrary, it can be described (as HFY does) and there is nothing mystical about it.  You do still need to feel it to get the full meaning, but knowing intellectually in addition to feeling it makes a big difference in terms of the quality of your training.

For example, if you think about uke’s centerline as extending vertically through their hara, down to the floor and up through the head, you can easily see how as a nage, you can put pressure on their center at any point along that line.  The results may very depending on where you apply pressure, but you will still be affecting their “center”.  So next time you train, try to find (and keep track of) all three “centers”.

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