So what’s this Inner Smile about anyway?

“I am constantly losing my balance. My skill lies in my ability to regain it.” ~ Morihei Ueshiba

The closer you are to your centered posture when practicing the techniques, the more effective they will be. Centering in Verbal Aikido is the capacity to feel stable within oneself in order to make a conscious decision on how to act next. Having a regular centering practice, coming into alignment with yourself to accept and observe the sensations or energy within yourself, enables you to access this posture more easily when you need it most.

In verbal dojo practice, participants are encouraged to share their own style of centering once they feel ready to do so. There’s usually something in their approach that benefits others. Generally, the different forms of centering touch on at least one of the following:

  • Connection with one’s breathing cycle
  • Connection with the earth or universe
  • Consciousness of the present moment
  • Tuning into one’s senses
  • Self-awareness
  • Self-acceptance
  • Self-confidence
  • Meditation or prayer
  • Mindfulness
  • Visualization or projection

    Basic centering

One of the easily accessible ways you can develop work on this is to focus on your breathing. Why breathing? Well, you’re doing it right now, and no matter where you are, you can become aware of it in an instant. The act of breathing is something that we do naturally whether we’re conscious of it or not. Drawing attention to it has the effect of reminding us that we can observe and influence the way we act at a given moment. Mostly, we breathe without making a deliberate decision, but we can consciously change the rhythm of our breathing to gasp, hyperventilate or take a long deep breath, if we so choose.

Automatic-to-conscious awareness is taking an action that we do without focus, and then focusing our attention on it. We often use breathing as a starting point in centering. This is because there is a clear parallel between making automatic breathing conscious, and making our automatic reaction to attacks a conscious response. Even though we let your subconscious manage our breathing most of the time, with a simple decision, we can observe and influence it. The same is true with our reactions to an attack – mostly we let our subconscious deal with an attack automatically, but we do have the capacity to observe and influence our reactions.

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 (energy) through controlled breathing is one of the central principles in martial aikido training.

Recently I was attending an aikido seminar near Cambridge, England and my niece Megan came along to discover the practice for the first time. A couple of days later we had returned to my appartment in France and I gave her the key so she could come and go as she pleased. Although she’s a very easy-going person, the very first time she had to use the key she found herself losing her center. The more she turned the key the more resistance the keyhole seemed to give her. She recounted later that she suddenly remembered the idea of centering from the conference. She took a deep breath, reinserted the key, turned it, and the door opened.

Next time you become aware that you are off-balance, whether it be faced with an inanimate object or another person, if you manage to interrupt your automatic response and consciously take a deep breath, you’ll be making a definite step towards empowering yourself to respond with deliberate intention. There is a difference between a regular centering practice that can take a few minutes and being able to get centered in a matter of seconds. The former, however, facilitates the latter greatly. The more we explore and focus on our capacity to return to that Inner Smile reference point, the easier it becomes to do so, when life’s challenges inevitably push us off center.

There’s at least as many ways to get centered as there are people on the planet. Which approaches work/don’t work for you? With what attitude are you exploring your ability to return to your center in an emergency? The development of this aptitude enables the Aikidoist to anticipate attacks easily and respond to them swiftly and peacefully. The more solid you become with the use of centering, the smoother your transition to the accompanying posture (Step 2) will be.