While cleaning out some computer files, I found some material that we posted from time to time on the dojo bulletin board back in 2007. It was drawn from a version of our dojo handbook. Not surprisingly, the thoughts are still relevant. So, I thought I would share:
Western culture tends to generate the attitude that tension and strength are related to each other while relaxation is associated with sleep, laxness, spacing out, or some form of vulnerability. In actuality, the more relaxed you are, the more effective you can be in just about any activity. All masters, no matter what their artistic skill, perform best in a totally relaxed and alert state. Only beginners try hard. Masters try easy. It is the mark of a master to be calm, relaxed, and in a deep state of peace while doing what he or she does best, be it a defensive art, painting, music, dance or any sports activity. By giving yourself permission to be relaxed and alert now, you will facilitate your advancement in aikido and enjoy your training much more.
When learning new moves, take your time. Go as slowly as you want to, and see how relaxed you can be in your learning. Especially play with how soft you can be in your breathing, face, neck, and shoulders. As these relax, your personal movement patterns will become more comfortable, while your actions on the mat will quickly gain ease, speed, and effectiveness. At the same time, your attentiveness will increase.
Aikido is a defensive art which requires your full attention, readiness to respond, and willingness to be flexible. In your training as an aikido student, it will be beneficial for you to cultivate a new level of sensory attentiveness. This is facilitated by your relaxation.
This does not imply that you should not train hard or push yourself. In order to learn any defensive art, you must train very hard. There will be plenty of sweat, challenge, effort, pleasurable exhaustion and much to overcome. Work hard on yourself. Simply remember that you are doing something completely new and that its results will be evident in you when you are ready to replace old patterns with new ones. This is accomplished as a release, as a relaxation of old, unnecessary tension and patterns of struggling with your life.