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I have put 40+ hours into aikido practice. It it is becoming very obvious that training in class is not sufficient. I need to stretch more and work on cardio to improve my physic.

What I'm having huge problems with is finding my center or hara as the aikidoa refer to it.

I tend to stick out my butt out and tense up in my shoulders which seems to be common among beginners. I asked my sensei but he just said it requires constant practice and patience and it will come in time. I'm fine with it, but I was hoping someone can suggest meditation, breathing, or visualization technique that could help in the long run.

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40+ hours in what timeframe? –  Matt Chan Dec 3 '12 at 3:31
    
I do about 3 classes a week –  Mat Banik Dec 3 '12 at 22:57
    
Find a really really good Tai Chi teacher - they'll fix that posture in a few weeks. –  William Mioch Dec 13 '12 at 1:12
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5 Answers

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Your sensei is correct and it will take patience and practice. That is true of all things in life.

For meditation / breathing.

  • Sit in seiza.
  • Either rest your hands in your lap, or hold your hands up, interlock the pinky, ring, and middle fingers. Extend your index fingers up and press your thumbs side by side.
  • Breathe slowly in through your nose, and exhale slowly out through your mouth.

For visualization:

  1. Water

    • As you inhale imagine your body being filled with pure clear water.
    • As you exhale imagine dirty polluted water leaving your body.
  2. Energy

    • Stand in a horse stand and hold your arms out as if hugging a large tree (fingers about six inches apart from each other).
    • As you inhale imagine energy entering through your left hand, traveling up your arm, and into your torso.
    • As you exhale imagine the energy continuing through your torso, down your right arm, and out of your right hand.

Taking a few moments before class to sit in seiza and relax and breathe can really help to relax your mind and prepare you for Aikido. Learning to relax is also one of the hardest things for beginners. Particularly people who are fairly big or muscular, because they are used to throwing their weight and strength around.

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"Meditation, breathing, or visualization" practice will not help with what is essentially a failure of physicality and technique. Technique usually improves with in-class practice, but physicality requires out-of-class work to develop for most adults who are not genetically gifted.

You must attain a basic level of athleticism--that is, physical strength, mobility, and conditioning--in order to reach a basic level of proficiency in any martial art. Consider basic strength training with resistance tools, short and long cardio work, and something similar to yoga for flexibility. You will find your hara easier to find after you've developed a flexible, strong posterior chain and you don't tire during practice.

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Standing practice ideas:

  • wear light clothing
  • stand with feet slightly apart, knees and elbows slightly bent, just enough to be relaxed and not have your legs or arms locked
  • stand in a breeze, different wind levels on different days, and think about how the wind feels on different parts of your body. Can you feel it moving your hands? Raise your arms a bit and feel the wind around your body. Feel it pushing your body.
  • now stand out of the wind, in a similar pose, feel the absence of wind
  • repeat until you feel the wind blow right through you

Go ice skating (preferably with the figure skating blades so you can stand erect) and just skate around consciously standing upright and relaxing from your shoulders down. I tell people to imagine their body is a heavy coat hanging from a coat hanger. Yeah I know it sounds weird but I found ice dancing helped my martial arts considerably (and vice versa). I live in Perth, Western Australia - you find rinks in many cities where you wouldn't expect them ;-)

Just do the exercises and don't think about your centre - it will find itself.

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You need to work on this enough to lose all the superfluous tension in your body.

If you really want to work on this, then just do standing practice. Stand, feet approximately shoulder-width apart, and then scan your body in horizontal slices (along the sagittal plane) feeling for tension. Go from your head to your toes. I would recommend trying to limit yourself to five minutes at first (it will feel like forever). You can do two or three sessions a day. Progressively, increase the length of the sessions. Over a period of six months or a year, they may become as long as one hour -- or maybe even more. B.K. Frantzis mentions in one of his books that when he was younger and had nothing to do with his time, he was doing this up to six hours a day. Whether it's true or not, it's an indication of how useful this practice is.

As a note, 40+ hours is a wonderful beginning, but unless you are a prodigy, you ought to expect at least one year (I would, conservatively, say ten years) before you can properly feel and use your center.

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The idea that it takes ten years to feel and use one's center is complete hogwash. –  Dave Liepmann Dec 6 '12 at 21:28
    
@DaveLiepmann Gosh, I love how you always focus on four words out of a complete answer. –  Trevoke Dec 7 '12 at 0:28
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Your centre is nothing more than the centre of mass of the human body. It could refer as well to the line of symmetry of the human body. I suggest you picked a book on human anatomy. The Body In Motion by Theodore Dimon is a good starting point.

If you really wanted to go down the mystical route, then Oomoto might be the sect for you. It was very influential to Ueshiba.

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