by lavinia plonka
modern physics wrestles with vibrating strings and charm quarks, I find
myself trying to shift from my Newtonian habits (Action = Reaction)
to something more…quantum.
my understanding of the laws of relativity mushes around in my brain
with E = mc2 written across Einstein’s hairdo on a poster advocating
imagination, images of mushroom clouds and the sensation of moving while
in a stationary train next to one that’s pulling out. Relatively
speaking, relating to, even relatives must have something to do with
atomic explosions and moving while standing still. One of my biggest
challenges in life and business is what happens to me in a moment of
perceived incompetence. And one of the places I get to study this the
most is when I practice Aikido, a martial art that stresses conflict
of the time when I go to Aikido class, I am subject to simple Newtonian
physics: action/reaction, Force = mass times acceleration, a moving
body will stay in motion unless something interferes. Aikido, when properly
executed, uses the adversary’s energy to disarm him. Quantum physics,
which the theory of relativity gave birth to, deals with quarks and
neutrinos in vacuums and particle acceleration chambers, so how can
it apply to two people throwing each other around on a mat?
class begins, and like sub-atomic particles dancing in space, everyone
searches for a partner. It is a moment of chaos as electrons link with
protons to create hydrogen atoms across the mat. I am bouncing off of
couples – is there such a thing as a lost quark? - searching for
someone I can blend with, and come face to face with a senior student
I generally avoid. He bows and I am sucked into his orbit.
is big and pompous. I stare up at him and repeat my mantra. “O
Sensei (the founder of Aikido) was under five feet tall. Aikido is for
small people.” He attacks me as if I am twice my size, charging
towards me like a runaway train. Even though I’m standing still,
I feel like I’m moving backward. My technique goes out the window
as my hands haphazardly fly up and I desperately pin him to the mat.
I think I actually fall on him. After the very first round, he looks
at me and asks condescendingly, “Would you mind some feedback?”
“Mind? Of course not!” I smile tightly. My hair is still
on fire, my heart is pounding and the stars are still whirling around
my head. Right. I can take feedback. Inwardly I begin to churn. He corrects
my hand position. A hand position I know perfectly well, but that even
after 10 years refuses to cooperate when I panic. And I still panic
when rushed by anyone over 200 pounds with a superior attitude. I find
myself following his instructions resentfully, like a child who has
been told that her handwriting is too sloppy and she has to re-write
it. Oblivious to my petulant scowl, he begins correcting other aspects
of my technique. I can’t seem to do anything right.
the time we switch partners, I’m seething. I’m radioactive.
I’m in the beginning stages of meltdown and nothing can stop the
chain reaction. My next partner is no help. Instead of hearing the warning
bells and alarms screaming, “Red alert! Evacuate! Evacuate!”
he accelerates the heating of my reactor core by giving me a hard time.
Instead of blending with my technique, he seems to intentionally resist
my efforts. When I go for the pin, he doesn’t budge. I have done
this pin hundreds of times. For goodness sake, it was on my first test.
Frustrated, I try to muscle him, a useless task against a much stronger
male. At that moment, my teacher appears, as he always does when you
don’t want him to see you. He corrects my hand, which I realize
to my horror is not nestled in the crook of my partner’s elbow,
but gripping his forearm for dear life. How has it gotten there? I know
better than that! My teacher says, as he has said countless times, “Aim
his hand for the stomach.” “I was aiming his hand! It wouldn’t
move!” I explode. (Breach of the inner core! Meltdown in 30 seconds!)
Feeling toxic, I repeat the move, my partner obligingly flips around.
I am convinced he did it because the teacher was there, that I had been
doing it right before and he had just been giving me a hard time. I
can’t be wrong. My lip quivers. Then my partner shows me that
it wasn’t just about the hand, it was how I moved the elbow as
well. He insists that this small shift is what propelled him onto his
stomach. I try to feel grateful, but instead bite back tears.
remember the first time I heard my sister say that she went nuclear.
We all laughed at the image – my sister erupting in a mushroom
cloud, the fallout leaving everyone feeling slightly ill. A reaction
can be triggered by the merest push of a button. (Don’t touch
that red button!) Once the button is pushed, meltdown is almost inevitable.
When I was about 35, my Dad once took me aside. “Listen kid, I
want to give you some words of advice if you want to succeed in business.
It’s what helped me survive the war, and it will help you too.
I learned these principles the hard way. I’ve tried to teach them
to you by example, but now I’m just telling you. Remember one
thing, OK two things. Number one – never let anyone know that
you don’t know what you’re doing. Number two – if
you make a mistake, don’t get caught. Oh, and Number three –
if you do get caught, blame it on somebody else.”
I understand everything. The was the invisible myth that had formed
my nuclear core. So much a part of my life, I had never even noticed.
Arrrgh! Too late, I’m hard wired.
here I am, about to annihilate the civilized world, blow up my laboratory,
melt down in front of the whole class. The teacher signals to change
partners. I stand, trembling, glowing with poisonous isotopes. As everyone
in my near vicinity pretends not to see me, I feel my hair turning into
serpents. Did Medusa just have a difficult childhood?
“Lavinia!” Harry’s grinning, open face bows before
me. “May I have the pleasure of this dance?” He does not
avoid my brimming eyes. I clumsily attack him, not even aware of what
technique we are practicing. “Ho, ho!” he laughs, “Caught
me off guard!” He whirls like lightning, his arm like an embrace
around my neck and gently rolls me to the ground. Moshe Feldenkrais,
a pioneer in somatic education once said that we are programmed by the
time we are three years old. Certain habits are learned, then hard wired,
into the system. Unless one is aware of the button about to be pressed,
one is helpless when the reaction is triggered. It can be a look, a
comment, a situation – I am a bunch of atoms in a particle accelerator
that have just gotten excited and there’s no stopping the chain
reaction. He also said, “If you know what you are doing, you can
do what you want.” What about if you don’t know what you’re
doing, but you’re acting as if you do?When it’s my turn
to throw Harry, I repeatedly step back and turn to bring him down. He
obligingly lands, but it’s like downing a leaping walrus. His
arm seems like a piece of board screwed into his torso, only responding
if I grit my teeth and muscle him. He says nothing. The rocket scientist
that I am, I conclude that since he is a black belt, perhaps there is
something in my technique that could be refined. Of course, this means
I break Dad’s rule Number One and admit that I don’t know
what I’m doing. When I ask him, he beams as if I have discovered,
why, the theory of relativity, and proceeds to show me several ways
to connect better; get closer, use my hip, just so. We are like two
kids opening up their first chemistry set. I am exhilarated.
start thinking about fusion vs. fission. If instead of reacting when
someone points out that I don’t know what I’m doing, perhaps
admitting it would be like like blending, agreeing with his point of
view. From there, learning can take place and a new energy emerges!
As I imagine the possibilities, I think to myself maybe scientists could
solve the question of fusion if they studied the principles of Aikido.
Plonka: When not throwing large men around at
Aikido, Lavinia guides others to move with greater ease through life
via The Feldenkrais Method®.