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Mark Anthony Sensei
©2000 (as published in Aikido Today Magazine)
The next time you step on to a golf course, instead of thinking of your "attack", try to view the round as a challenge to your Aiki skills. A lot of frustrated high handicappers that I observe, think of attacking the ball and attacking the hole. The way I see it, the golf course is much bigger than we are. Immovable and unyielding.
Since humans (especially aikidoka) have the ability to adapt quickly and use an opponent's strength to his or her advantage, I think that a lot of frustrated golfers have been working too hard trying to beat the golf course when all they have to do is "go with the flow" by using Aiki principles.
Think of this when you're on the mat with a more physically powerful opponent. Do you try to out-muscle him when he attacks? Of course not! You accept his power and while remaining centered and balanced, you move Aiki. You're able to bend and control his rigid attack and redirect it to your advantage. The reason Aiki works is because there is no fight, no wrestling match only flow. Just as fighting a larger, stronger opponent expends energy needlessly, fighting the golf course is also a futile endeavor.
Anybody that has Aikido applied to them will know what I mean when I say that golf is Aikido. When you apply the movements dynamically, although you are soft and relaxed, you are very explosive and powerful. The reason is simple. When you have perfect alignment, you don't need muscle or horsepower to be powerful. Think of the "unbendable arm" technique. With the arm extended and shoulders relaxed, the student's ki flows outward through the fingers like a river, The arm is indeed unbendable. However, once the student tightens up, the arm is easily broken at the elbow. Tensed muscles impede the flow of ki just as a dam impedes the flow of a river. Being relaxed within the trained mechanics is the key. Hence the reason for the slow, precise repetitive movement in Aikido and Tai Chi.
Look at any PGA tour pro. There isn't a single player that's built like a NFL linebacker. That's because they don't have to be. It doesn't take muscle or raw physical power to hit long straight golf shots. The secret to a powerful golf swing is proper body alignment and remaining relaxed within the mechanics just like Aikido and Tai Chi.
We all have the potential to hit the ball on target. We just need to train the body to move in the proper mechanics, without muscular tension and strain. Grunting will not produce more power in a golf swing. In fact, any chiropractor will tell you that muscular tension destroys the body's natural alignment. Since muscular tension inhibits the natural alignment of the spine, it therefore directly effects the golf swing. Precise alignment at the point of impact is essential to hitting the ball straight.
Your body already knows how to align itself perfectly when it's in a relaxed state. When you start trying to consciously control and align everything, you can't possibly hope to be absolutely perfect every time. It's just too much for our conscious mind to handle. Take walking, for example. We don't think of every little muscular contraction necessary to balance on one foot while standing upright, then move our other foot forward to take a step. We just walk. Thoughtlessly. Why? Because we burned the mechanics of walking into our subconscious mind at an early age by rote. We didn't need to understand the kenisiology of walking in order to walk. Same thing goes for training in the dojo.
Sensei doesn't tell a white belt about spiraling power or try to explain the complexities of building leverage from the ground up through the body for the maximum power in a punch. Such information would only cloud the student's mind and actually prevent him from learning the technique. He simply tells us to "do this". And we do it a thousand times like he does. The why and wherefore come much later after we've burned in the movements so they've become natural and "thoughtless". This is the EASTERN way of teaching, BODY before BRAIN.
I teach the golf swing the same way. The golf student doesn't need to know about swing planes, hip torque, weight ratio, wrist cocks and a whole litany of terms and slogans to execute a proper golf swing. Putting a ball in front of a student that doesn't know how to swing is the same as putting a white belt on the mat in a combat situation with a black belt and expecting the untrained beginner to perform thoughtlessly with all the physics of every single component of a technique. It just doesn't work.
If people trained in proper golf mechanics the same way they learned to walk , and then just swung thoughtlessly, their body would automatically execute the move. The subconscious will remember the movement precisely without the brain getting in the way, By allowing the subconscious to take over and swing the club, the movement will be performed perfectly every time.
The whole reason that we train in the dojo is to burn the moves into the subconscious so that they become automatic. The goal is to attain a state of what the Japanese refer to as mushin (no mind). Moving without thought is less tiring and actually more precise. The whole secret is learning the moves in a controlled environment without the stress of an opponent (at first).
This is the way I teach Aiki techniques, such as Irimi Nage, to new students. Step-by-step. First, I drill in tenkan. Then I teach them how to move the front arm to the hip as they pivot. Next they learn to raise their arm from the hip and step-through with the arm raised. Following that, they learn to point after the step-through. This is all done without a partner (at first). Lastly, when my students are comfortable with these motions, they learn to finalize the classic technique by hugging uke's head to their lead shoulder when they turn, and complete the throw.
That's the reason that I teach the initial mechanics of the golf swing without a ball. Learning the mechanics of a golf swing is much easier when the student doesn't have the anxiety of where the ball is flying occupying their mind.
Once the motion of a proper golf swing is ingrained in the student's mind, it's simply a matter of dropping a golf ball into the equation. As far as the student is concerned the ball isn't there. He simply swings as if the ball doesn't exist. The club-face and the entire body will be automatically and perfectly aligned at the point-of-impact. Like a karateka punching through his opponent as if he wasn't there, the golfer swings through the golf ball as if it wasn't there, as well. The result is a perfectly hit shot straight down the fairway.
Training without stress is the key. By eliminating anxiety during training, the more relaxed you will be and the faster you will build self-confidence in your ability to stay relaxed when you perform. Which takes me back to the subject of alignment. Precise consistent alignment is only possible when the moves are done in a relaxed state by the subconscious.
A golf swing is not difficult to master. However, it must be learned correctly by the subconscious. This requires an instructor who can keep it simple by giving the student the mechanics that they need to learn in an easy-to-understand format. This also requires the complete trust of the teacher by the student.
In TAO of GOLF®, I've broken down the golf swing into three easy-to-master body movements that takes the brain out of the swing and has the student doing a textbook golf swing immediately without the stress of worrying where the ball is flying.
All that I've done is apply the 5000 year-old eastern teaching techniques to teaching a golf swing. The techniques have been around 5000 years because they work. Most of the people that are the first to buy my system are martial artists. That is because they know exactly what I'm talking about, but never thought to apply it to their golf swing. Building on easy stuff is the way to mastering thoughtless movement in the martial arts or anything else. When you understand this, you can learn anything. My goal is to show the world how easy it is to hit the golf ball on target.
Every time you practice with TAO of GOLF®, you're not simply training on a physical level. You're also burning the feeling of the proper mechanics into your body and your subconscious. The Masters of their Arts don't think when they move. They just move. If you train in the proper mechanics, your subconscious will take care of you. All you have to do is trust yourself. In time, you'll find yourself more relaxed, confident, and consistent in your game. O Sensei not only taught us to relax but also to be patient.
Mastering self control is the cornerstone of Aikido. If you can't control your internal self, you can't control your external opponent. The same principle applies to golf. If you can't control your internal self, you can't control your external game. Unification of the body & mind is the goal in my golf program. The same is true for Aikido. Aiki means unification (e.g., harmonized energy). To be in harmony with your internal self is The Way to a more relaxed and consistent golf game.
Golf is Aikido, pure and simple.