“No matter who says what, you should accept it with a smile and do your own work.” ~ Mother Teresa
The article on the Three Steps explains how the development of the Inner Smile is the most important of the three steps. Although this article elaborates on this concept as a theory, it is essential to actually experience an attack, and focus one’s energy on exercising the Inner Smile to understand the usefulness and power in this first step. Indeed the more this skill is developed, the less need there is for the second and third steps. It is, however, difficult to reach a level of Inner Smile that truly leaves a balance in an exchange which begins with an attack, as the Aikidoist needs to have worked on many of the following aspects for it to be possible:
- o Consciousness of the present moment
- o Self-awareness
- o Self-acceptance
- o Self-confidence
- o Meditation or prayer
- o Mindfulness
The development of these aptitudes enables the Aikidoist to anticipate attacks easily and respond to them swiftly and peacefully. Even if you are one of those gifted people that can already maintain a natural calm when confronted with an attack, this article gives a few tools and concepts that will help further develop your understanding of the Inner Smile, and your capacity to regain a sense of serenity after an upset.
Centering or ‘grounding’ in Verbal Aikido is the capacity to feel stable within oneself in order to make a conscious decision on how to act next. One of the first ways the Aikidoist may work on this is to focus on his or her breathing.
Why breathing? Well, you’re doing it right now, and this act of breathing is something that your body does naturally whether you are conscious of it or not. Drawing attention to it has the effect of reminding you that you can observe and control the way you act or react at a given moment. Generally speaking you breathe without making a deliberate decision, but you can consciously change the rhythm of your breathing to gasp, hyperventilate or take a long deep breath, if you so choose.
Automatic-to-conscious awareness is taking an action that we do without focus, and then focusing our attention on it. The reason we use breathing as the starting point in centering is that there is a clear parallel between this awareness of ‘automatic-to-conscious’ breathing that we all have, and an automatic-to-conscious reaction we have learned when faced with an attack.
Even though you let your subconscious manage your breathing most of the time, with a simple decision, you can observe and control it. The same is true with your reactions to an attack – mostly you let your subconscious deal with an attack automatically, but you do have the capacity to observe and control your reaction. Aikido founder Ueshiba wrote “… if you grasp the subtle transformation of breath, you will sense a great spiritual power concentrated in your body, a power that will protect and nourish you. This is the subtle interaction of Ai-ki, the first step along the Way”. And thus Aikido schools around the globe insist that the generation of ki through controlled breathing is one of the central principles in martial aikido training.
If, while being attacked, you manage to interrupt your automatic response and consciously take a deep breath, you are making a definite step towards empowering yourself to control your actions. The following is the first Inner Smile exercise practiced for sparring. You will find a variety of sparring exercises in the practical review in chapter 7 of the book that can help you develop this reflex.
You don’t need a highly-developed imagination to picture yourself smiling confidently, yet that’s essentially all you have to do for this first stage of basic centering. Once you’ve visualized yourself smiling with confidence, now ‘inhale’ that picture of yourself into you. And that’s it; you’re starting to be centered! This is the springboard from which you can jump to start accompanying your attacker.
You can use the sparring exercises in the book to practice this technique until you can breathe and channel your energy to picture your Inner Smile in less than 3 seconds. When you are starting to deal with verbal attacks, being able to center yourself quickly is already an enormous step that will give you the edge over your attacker. Once you have started to develop the capacity to react to attacks with a breath that you link to an image of self-confidence, you’ve already started to acquire this technique of basic centering. The more solid you become with the use of centering, the smoother your transition to Step 2 will be.