By Richard Strozzi-Heckler
First time visitors to the dojo often find themselves mesmerized by the rolling and falling. Their eyes light up as they follow the movement of the person falling and their body has a bit of body English in it as if to catch the sensation of oneself as a circle and spinning effortlessly across the floor. Then a look of perplexity crosses their face as the person thrown comes squarely upright on two well-planted feet, not missing a beat, with a smile on their face as they charge back in for another attack and then again being hurled out into one of those exquisite rolls.
“It looks so easy!” “Does it take long to learn how to fall like that?” “Does it hurt?” “It’s beautiful”; “I’m not sure I can do that.” is what they say. But they can’t take their eyes off the movement and their bodies seem to clench and relax, clench and relax, amidst the calm chaos of many bodies being flung to the mat and then returning to engage with their partner and then changing roles and throwing the other to the mat…with no one crashing into the other. This is harmony that is health at its best. Their bodies know this and you can see it by the way they lean toward the spirals, and circles, and whirling as if they might catch some of this goodness through sheer proximity.
In the world of the martial arts Aikido is categorized as a grappling art, which means there are a wide variety of throws and pins. This means that in Aikido practice one also learns the art of falling. You learn back rolls, forward rolls, break falls, (which look like a flip in the air) and falls on the side of the body. The same principles you learn in Aikido training-center, ground, extension, focus, dynamic relaxation, connection, ki-breath-you also learn and employ in the art of falling. When people are drawn to the art and joy of falling, but are intimidated by it, they forget that everyone began where they are beginning: in this priceless present moment, anxious, thrilled, unskilled, with beginner’s mind and the promise of much to learn.
The entire historical thrust of our culture is upward and outward, away from the earth, a systematic forgetting of the elemental ground of soil, water, plants, replaced instead by an upward draft to the ethereal shrines of the theoretical and abstract. Church spires, skyscrapers, communication antennas, heads mounted on mute bodies, God in heaven above us, the head-centered accumulation of data, we are schooled to rely on thinking and have become anaesthetized to feeling. We’re afraid to surrender to the downward pull of the planet because we can’t feel our feet already on the ground. We live in anxiety because when we can’t feel the ground we can’t feel our place in the world. Living from our heads, the distant tower of the intellect, ground is at a great distance, a long drop down. In our spiritual amnesia we have forgotten we are already there. When I teach children to fall I demonstrate the roll and then ask them to do what they saw and they simply do it. They immediately engage with the mat without description or instruction. They have not yet been educated out of their bodies, schooled off the ground, taught distaste for the sacred covenant between humans and the earth. No wonder then that when newcomers see the exquisite poetry of falling they are jolted by the contradiction of attraction and fear in themselves. They sense the naturalness of it, the gentle, insistent pull to the earth, like a mother drawing a child into her embrace; and they fear what they have to let go of to experience this surrender to love. If we are afraid to surrender to our relationship with the earth, we live in fear.
I worked with a client who was a senior executive in a large multinational corporation and one day I told him I was going to teach to him fall. We went out to the grass and I taught him to fall and afterward he said, “I can smell the grass.” He didn’t say this as a way of placating me or saying the right thing but as a sincere and authentic response to the awakening of his senses. He had become more alive. In his contact with the ground, perhaps the first since his childhood, his shoulders relaxed three inches. ”He’s not afraid as he was,” I thought.
Falling requires surrendering to gravity, the energetic field of our lovely planet. To live a conscious, evolving life surrender is a requirement at every stage of growth. When we surrender we fall into a larger, luminescent, unknown space. Falling is the practice of surrendering.
What do you need to surrender to?
How do you keep yourself from surrendering?
What is the cost of not surrendering?
What do you need to fall into?