Of Time, Space, and Other Stories

I’ve studied Aikido for long enough to come up with a theory about it: I think it is a study of how to bend time and alter space.


There are tales of O’Sensei – the founder of Aikido – bamboozling his students by disappearing and reappearing behind them, so much so that they thought he was supernaturally travelling between dimensions.

What if they were right? What if it’s possible to have such an exquisite sense of timing that you move out of the way of an attack at an impossibly last moment?

Enter with caution

When I provide an attack, I enter with a certain wariness lest my partner moves to counter or evade. That wariness both keeps me safe and allows me to alter my attack in line with their evasion. That attention to my partner continues all the way until I’m millimetres and nanoseconds away from touching them – until I know it’s impossible for them to escape; and then I move into a different state of “got ’em!” that is all about grabbing the victory or hitting the target. My mind moves from open awareness to the closed certainty of having grasped what I aimed for (despite my best intentions to stay open-minded).

And – whilst it rarely happens with others than my teacher – sometimes my partner moves out of the way at precisely that point when my certainty that they can’t escape is total. My mind has moved from open to any possibilities to grasping just one possibility so complete that it’s become reality: I’ve got them.

In those moments, I’m left reeling and almost throwing myself as my partner leaves me clutching at and leaning on thin air. Given the certainties in my head about having achieved my goal, I can only conclude that my partner has bent both time and space.

Meet the Timelord

Looking at the equation of the attack-and-throw from the other side, the thrower has a moment of complete mastery of time and space, allowing them to do exactly the right thing at exactly the right moment – with a timing so fine that the attacker isn’t able to notice it happening. So, here’s my question: what would it be like to carry the experience of that skill through into daily life – be it in the workplace, at home with young children, or out negotiating the traffic rushing from one place to another?

How might this skill bolster our confidence and enhance our relationships, if we could bring such timing and spatial awareness off the mat and into our lives? What if our bodies, having viscerally experienced the bending of time and space, could replicate the required conditions to bring those effects to other realms?

Obviously, such a skill can’t be plucked out of thin air – we need enough experience of it to create an embodied memory, so let’s start there. What might it take to give the body a tangible experience of space?

Walking into walls

Confessions time: last year, after a frustrating conference call I went out in the garden to let off some steam and ended up walking into the fence several times over, not realising that my wife was watching …

I stood a couple of yards away from the fence, closed my eyes, and walked slowly forwards until I bumped into it. And again; and again. Then I started to pay attention and found that my body was giving me indications of when it wanted to stop. When I responded to these subtle signals, I found that I stopped at arm’s length from the fence every time.

So I did it all again, but walking backwards – several times walking into the fence, several times stopping when I felt that my body wanted me to. Then again, sidling up to the fence on my right hand side. Then again, on my left hand side.

Apart from the embarrassment of having to explain myself to my wife (#husbandexcusefail), I walked away with a different sense of my body and space – an expanded awareness, a sense of greater openness to what was around me.

Minimum effort …

Taking that awareness out into the world beyond my fence – relying on my body to inform when I should stop, go, or pause – frees my mind to do other things. Knowing that my body senses the right time and right place to be in, I know that’s one less thing to think about – minimum effort, maximum efficiency. And sometimes, just sometimes, I might be able to judge things so finely that a little bit of magic happens, and time and space become my servants.

Or, at least, that’s the dream.

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