A I K I D O – Being in state of flow


“A heart felt gratitude gives birth to any art form. Even the art of aikido is not strictly defined; but rather, it is the art of adapting to circumstances as well as the art of freedom.”


AIKIDO “The path of love” –

Thoughts and ideas of Morihei Ueshiba,

Kokoro, Belgrade 2002, pg 12.

1. Introduction

2. Concept of flow

3. The mechanism of flow

3.1. Consciousness

3.2. Psychic energy – directing ki

4. Elements of flow in aikido

4.1. Satisfaction and exultation

4.2. Necessary abilities

4.3. Concentration

4.4. Clear goals and feedback information

4.5. Pleasant feeling

4.6. Control

4.7. Loosing awareness of oneself

4.8. Time aspect

5. Types of flow in aikido

6. Conclusion



1. Introduction

        My aim in this text is to analyse a psychological state that can be reached through the practice of aikido (but not only in aikido)1 and that is commonly referred to as the state of flow or just simply - flow, as one of the key elements of emotional intelligence (in the words of Daniel Goleman: “Being able to enter flow is emotional intelligence at its best; flow represents perhaps the ultimate in harnessing the emotions in the service of performance and learning.”)2.

       Flow is a state, which most aikidokas have reached at one point or another, and that to a greater or lesser degree, without necessarily having recognised it as such while experiencing it. An insufficient recognition of this state means it fails to be fully utilized as much in one’s overall training, as in one’s daily life. Hence one misses the opportunity to consciously experience its immense benefits and so tap into one’s own potential more fully.

       During flow emotions and thoughts are suspended and directed; they are positive, strong and focused on one specific task, stance, move, technique, or movement, in other words on directing one’s energy, and in so doing one opens the door to an experience, which according to many authors is more important than material wealth, fame, power or some other symbol of wealth and prosperity.

       Perhaps the best comparison to a state of flow is that of harmony and oneness during the act of making love.

       In this text, I have limited my analysis to the three basic aspects of this state:

·         The concept of flow

·         The mechanism of flow and

·         The elements of flow,

seen as starting points for reflecting on this vast subject, while relying as much on the scientific (psychological) findings and approach, as the experience gained through the practice of aikido.



2. Concept of flow


       The Chicago University professor of psychology, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, has dedicated over twenty years to researching the question of human happiness. At the end of his research he had arrived at the experience, which he had named - flow. In his view, happiness is viewed in the context of quality of a given experience, which as I mentioned in the introduction, is more important than material wealth, power, fame and other popular symbols of happiness. We find happiness when we are fully focused on all the details of our life, good and bad alike, but not when we try to look for happiness directly. All of us have experienced periods in our life (momentary, or of varying lengths of time), when we felt we have control over all our actions and that in some inexplicable way, we weave our own destiny. In those rare situations we felt joyfulness, a deep joy we’ve nourished for a long time inside us; and hence this experience becomes a yardstick, a measure for what life should be about. This is known as optimal experience, something that we create ourselves.

       During his research, professor Csikszentmihalyi analyzed experiences of several hundred ”experts” in their respective fields (artists, sports persons, musicians, chess players, surgeons…), following an assumption that they spend most of their time in activities they prefer the most. Following accounts of their experiences, he formed a theory of optimal experience that was based on the concept of flow: “…a state in which people are preoccupied with a given activity to such a degree that they don’t pay attention to anything else; in this state, the experience itself is so pleasurable that one is willing to carry on doing the activity at any cost and without any other ulterior motive or goal”3.

       His research has shown that, irrespective of age, gender, or any cultural differences, all participants described optimal experience in a similar way. The experience of flow was not only a characteristic reserved for the wealthy and the educated. Very much on the contrary, it belonged to many others: farmers, shepherds, factory workers, be they elderly, middle aged or teenagers.

       These preliminary findings gave the foundation for coining the term “flow”, after which it was possible to put together a comprehensive questionnaire, eventually building a picture based on having accessed and interviewed4 over 100,000 individuals across the world.

       All this, combined with theoretical explanations, inspired a wave of school curriculums, business training programs, product design and leisure services across the world; it stirred the experts into devising various new approaches in clinical psychology, underage delinquent rehabilitation programs, activities in hospitals, old people’s homes, etc.



3. The mechanism of flow


       In order to explain the mechanics of flow, which essentially is based on controlling and directing thoughts and emotions, it is first necessary to point out the concept of content of consciousness, followed by attention (seen as psychic energy) that governs the processes of consciousness.



       3.1. Consciousness

       There are many different ways one can understand and define consciousness5, although here I shall consider one offered by the above mentioned professor of psychology: “…we can look at consciousness as a deliberately arranged information.”6 Such a definition is based on the information theory and a phenomenological understanding of consciousness, taking into account primarily events (phenomena) we are subjected to through direct experience, and less so the anatomical structure, the neuro-chemical processes - i.e. the effects of the unconscious, which makes the perceiving of these events possible. It also includes the knowledge about how the information we receive is being stored, processed, filed and used, which refers to the dynamics of attention and memory.

While keeping in mind the concept of consciousness, it would be good to define here the concept of “awareness”: awareness is the process in which certain specific events (i.e. sensations, feelings, thoughts, intentions) appear, become manifest, and where we are in a position to direct their course.

Since the outside events have no existence for us, unless we have an awareness of them (i.e. we have some sort of knowledge about them), it means that consciousness is connected with a subjectively experienced reality. While all that we experience carries potential for becoming our doorway into consciousness, the actual number of experiences that truly become part of it is very small in comparison. Consciousness is a mirror that reflects what our senses tell us about the happenings outside of as well as inside our bodies (primarily the nervous system), reflecting these changes selectively, actively shaping events, thus imposing on them its own reality. A reflection provided by consciousness we call our life, meaning: the sum total of all that we have heard, seen, sensed, felt, our hopes, joys, sufferings, etc., from the very moment of birth right through until death. Although we are often inclined to believe that processes outside our consciousness do exist, a direct proof exists only in those that find their place in it.

Forces contained in bits of information that are contained within consciousness, are called intentions. As such they appear in one’s awareness whenever one becomes aware of (has the knowledge of) wanting to or intending to achieve something. At the same time, intentions can also be made up of bits of information that are shaped by biological needs as well as by the adopted social goals. Intention is merely a descriptive term and as such it does not speak of why someone wants to do something, but simply that it is so.

Intentions are organized within the hierarchy of goals, which determines their mutual relationships, i.e. their order of importance. Most people adopt their goals based on the needs of their body (to live a long and healthy life, to have a successful sex life, and so on), or based on desires planted by their particular social system (to be and do good, to work hard, etc.). However, these goals can also be very flexible. Those individuals who step outside the norms, for example saints, sages, artists, poets, explorers, and so on – the so called “special individuals” (often referred to as “thinkers”)7 – are the ones who seek different things in life from the majority; their life shows that consciousness can be organized within a frame work of different goals and intentions. This means that each one of us has the freedom to control our own subjective reality.


3.2. Psychic energy – directing ki

Information enters our field of consciousness either as a result of us intending to direct our attention to it or else because it is following the instructions based on our biological and/or social conditioning. Attention is that which chooses the relevant information from the potential millions available. We need attention in order to retrieve the appropriate bits of information from our memory, then to assess that particular event and finally to reach the correct decision about how to act.

A person who can control their awareness is capable of concentrating their attention according to their will; they are able to isolate themselves from distractions and to concentrate until their desired goal is reached.

Since attention determines what will and will not appear in consciousness, and since all other mental actions, i.e. memories, opinions, feelings and decisions take place in consciousness, it would be safe to characterize this directing of attention as the psychic energy, because in any of the said processes it is essentially the case of activating, constituting and directing energy.

Therefore, by the virtue of the fact that we are the ones who choose the way in which we use our psychic energy – we are our own creators. Since this energy is under our control, we can do with it what ever we wish, which is why attention is one of the means to reach a given goal – a betterment of the quality of experience.

In aikido, attention is the primary force that moves “ki”, or better still, by its essence – it is “ki”8. It is clear that in order to learn any stance, move, technique or movement one needs to give one’s attention to learning it. Attention, in its essence is a thought; or rather at the root level of attention lies a thought process. However, at the root of a thought process lies an emotional one. Therefore, attention contains within itself both the emotional and the thought processes.

According to a classical psychological definition, attention or energy (i.e. constituting and canalizing of “ki”) is governed by the “self”, which is also seen as a content of consciousness, representing: all memories, desires, actions, intentions, pleasant and unpleasant experiences, etc., as well as the hierarchy of goals which have been built during one’s life time. In a broader sense, the concept of “self” can be seen as the same as that of the “mind”. “Self” is the most important element of consciousness since symbolically it represents all other contents of consciousness, as well as the “plan” of their mutual relations.

The “self” governs attention, or else psychic energy. But, if the “self” is a sum total of all the contents of consciousness and of a structure of its goals, and equally the contents of consciousness and the goals therein are results of various degrees of employing one’s attention, then we end up with a closed system that runs along the rim of its own circular design, without any clear starting point (so in other words not at all touching on the commonly referred to concept of “cause and effect”). The “self” governs attention and attention determines the “self”. Both claims are true, since awareness (knowledge) is not strictly linear system, but rather a system based on a circular causality – hence the above claim.

In aikido this process comes to its full prominence: through attention one activates and moves “ki”, and by using spiral movements this process increases. This in turn has a rebound effect on the particular utilisation of one’s mind in the direction of development of awareness. Spiral movement initiates processes “above” duality of the mind, and therefore above the yin-yang movement of energy within us. In turn, this leads to activation of the psycho-physiological “cleansing” processes and harmonization of body and mind, and so to the development of one’s awareness.

“Once you identify yourself with the vibration of the Universe, a mutual exchange takes place.

This transformation is the basis of any art form – a wondrous effect of energy.

Then even the vibration of the Universe adapts to your body and it gives birth to light, enthusiasm and strength.”

AIKIDO “The Path Of Love” –

Thoughts and ideas of Morihei Ueshiba,

Kokoro, Belgrade, 2002, pg. 59.


Whenever some information disrupts our awareness by jeopardizing its goals we get into a state of inner disarray or rather psychological entropy, meaning a disorganized “self”, which thus renders it less efficient. Our optimal experience is the state that is exactly opposite to such psychological entropy.

There are situations in which attention can be freely used for creativity; since there is no disorder, there is nothing to threaten the “self” – this state Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi calls the “experience of flow”9. We have often experienced it for ourselves, as well as heard others describe it: “I was in the flow”, or “It was as if I was floating”, or “I forgot about myself during practice”, “I totally lost track of time”, etc. Many times the experience of flow happens while we are sitting in seiza position – the mind turns “inwards”, emotions are suspended and channeled, and the thoughts get directed towards a conscious state of stillness and inner harmony with which we identify ourselves.

After the experience of flow, when compared to moments before this, a structure of what we call the “self” or “I” is more complete and more harmonious. This is the result of the two significant psychological elements:

- differentiation, in which we recognize our inner emotional and thinking currents as something that is connected to us specifically – our individuality,

- integration, which relates to an opposite process, meaning a movement towards togetherness with events, situations, other people and ideas that lie outside the “Self” – i.e. union with others.

The state of flow helps for the two said principles to integrate – through merging – because the “self” in the broader context of the mind reorganizes itself, having discarded the outdated superfluous  contents (emotions and thoughts) and stimulating those processes that spontaneously aid a development of awareness through self-observation and connection with one’s surroundings.



4. Elements of flow in aikido


Material wealth, status, power, image – all have become powerful symbols of happiness in today’s modern society. For the majority of people, these symbols are synonyms and as such they become ways of measuring the value of others and themselves. Lives of those who posses these qualities are immediately seen as valuable and worthy, even if there is plenty of evidence that such people are more than often feeling unhappy and empty. But symbols can change and often have a tendency to pull us away from the reality of life, which we mistakenly tend to see them representing. And the reality is that the quality of life does not directly depend on what we posses or what others think of us. The key factor lies in what we feel in relation to ourselves and in relation to what happens around us. In order for one to improve the quality of one’s life, they must improve the quality of experience, in order for it to result in an increased harmonization of the “self”, and that is possible through an increased and prolonged being in the state of flow.

Before pointing out the elements of flow, it is important to bring your attention to the difference between a mere satisfaction and exultation – as an essence of flow.

4.1. Satisfaction and exultation

Satisfaction is a feeling we reach whenever a particular information tells us that we have met certain expectations, which were based on either our biological or social conditioning. Satisfaction is an important element of the quality of life, but in itself it does not bring happiness. It helps in bringing about order within consciousness (if we are hungry we eat, if we feel tired we rest by watching TV or having a massage, etc.), but on its own it can’t form a new order in consciousness. If aikido is practiced only as means of improving one’s fitness levels, tonality, self-defense skills, or even a psychological release, and so on – all that will be achieved is the sensory and perhaps a limited emotional satisfaction. But this is nothing special since it does not bring about inner harmony, a sort of harmony that reaches higher and deeper, each time resulting in development of awareness.

Exultation happens when a person not only satisfies their needs, desires or some previous expectations, but when it goes beyond these (i.e. that which has in some way been programmed) reaching a new quality, through something unexpected and until then unimaginable. This is a specific characteristic of exultation – the experience of something new, unexpected or of some extraordinary achievement. In aikido it is an experience of having successfully performed a certain move, lock or movement, which until then kept eluding us. But more importantly, it is combined with the awareness of where it all comes from, how it takes shape and what it changes and shifts within us. This process assumes total presence (awareness of oneself and one’s surroundings) during practice.

Experiences that offer satisfaction can also lead to exultation, although the two differ greatly from each other. For example, a walk results in satisfaction for most people, but only a few get to feel exulted by it, because the majority does not pay enough attention to very act of walking and all the many sensations it offers – the so called taking energy from the earth, etc. Similarly, when one practices some basic techniques (expl. shionage, iriminage, kotegaeshi, ikkyo) one should pay attention not only to how that technique relates to one’s partner, but also how it relates to oneself, how the spiral movement instigates one’s own inner processes – physical and psychological. It is good to try doing these techniques on one’s own (without a partner), while remaining aware of every move, feeling the energy being stirred within...

Therefore, it is possible to experience satisfaction without (or rather with very little) psychic energy invested into a given action. On the contrary, exultation can only happen as a result of an increased attention given to a particular action that’s being performed. Equally, someone can feel satisfaction without putting in much of their own effort into what they are doing, for example if certain centers in the brain are being stimulated artificially (i.e. electrically or through drug use). However, as these are externally induced states of a heightened alertness and perception and not naturally (i.e. spontaneously) occurring ones and as such removed from one’s own control, it is not possible to feel exulted from any action performed while in such a state.

To summarise, if we are not fully present, that is fully concentrated on the given activity (be it as simple as a walk, having a fully engaging conversation, or a more complex one such as carrying out an aikido technique and so on).

“Progress is reached when we expand our world through introspection and actual presence (existence).”

AIKIDO “The Path Of Love” –

Thoughts and ideas of Morihei Ueshiba,

Kokoro, Belgrade, 2002, pg. 51.

Satisfaction is an unstable state, because only a slight psychic energy is being invested into it, so that the pleasant experiences (e.g. performing a technique with a minimum of concentration) falls short of developing the “self”.

In order for someone to gain control over the quality of their experience, they must first learn how to weave exultation into activities that take place throughout the day. This in turn will enable them to transfer the affirmative experiences from their training into the everyday experiences. The research has shown10 that psychological conditions that allow for the optimal experience to emerge are possible always and do not vary from place to place.


4.2. Necessary abilities

Activities that lead to flow require one to invest one’s psychic energy, but are not possible to perform without certain abilities. For example, writing requires concentration and the knowledge of the rules and laws of a written word; also painting, which apart from concentration requires the knowledge about a particular painting technique, and so does composing music as it requires one to know how to read notation and many other things other than just concentration, etc. In the case of aikido, it is clear that one needs to know the actual techniques, locks and throws, and at the same time these need be performed with a level of relative ease. To illustrate what I mean by this and bearing in mind that presently it is not possible to scientifically measure the quantity and quality of the use of energy (ki), I shall state the opinion very much present among the teachers of aikido in regards to the physical effort, and that is that any effort that exceeds the equivalent of lifting 8kg in weight – is not aikido11.

Every situation can be used as a gateway into a state of flow, providing that our abilities are being utilised and developed. Even activities such as competitions can provide access into flow if taking part in them means enhancing our own abilities. In aikido there are no competitions; what there is instead, is the most important form of competition, and that’s competing with oneself – one’s self-search.

In aikido (just as in any other activity) there is a so-called golden edge between challenge and ability, or rather when the challenge is in balance with our ability to act. For example, someone may be getting exulted from performing certain techniques in a less demanding fashion (doing the ikkyo ura, kotegaeshi, etc. slowly), and yet when they are required to do it faster this may cause them frustration. That is why it is necessary that both instructor and student ascertain what is optimal, and to gage the level of activities accordingly. It is important to on one hand take into account the current level of skill and knowledge of the student, and on the other hand to determine what sort of challenge their level of ability would find stimulating and engaging, as opposed to burdensome and overwhelming.


“Understand that the body and mind

must be permeated with the soul of a warrior,

illumined by wisdom and profound peace.”


“The heart of aikido”

Thoughts and ideas of Morihei Ueshiba, III,

Kokoro, Belgrade, 2005, pg. 15.

4.3. Concentration

When a given activity demands all of one’s relevant abilities, that is a point when one’s attention is completely absorbed by the activity. Here, there is no surplus of psychic energy available to tackle any other piece of information outside the activity at hand. All of one’s attention is concentrated solely on the relevant stimulus. During these moments (or periods) one stops being so intensely engaged in what they are doing, the activity itself takes over spontaneously, almost automatically; one then sees oneself as not separate from what they are doing, but as one with it. At such a time a given activity (be it writing, playing music, movement…) is recognised as flow – oneness (unity) of the subject and of the process at hand unfolds.

The basic goal of sitting in seiza is to instigate a state in which the external influences are being switched off, primarily the excessive emotions and thoughts, and so through a spontaneous turning of mind inwards (towards its source), to “enter” a state of silence (tranquility and harmony), which in time enables one to remain in the state of flow for a longer and more frequent periods during the practice of techniques.

The actual meaning of flow is not in reaching perfection in a given activity, but in attaining and maintaining union with it – for as long as possible. In aikido therefore,  the accent is not on comparing oneself with others (I am doing this better or worst than someone else) nor on reaching perfection (as it actually does not exist in the manifested world, in time and space), but rather on the very being in that state of flow, which in itself brings about progress in self-knowledge, through an increased communication with oneself.

“The great strength lies in one’s thought and this must be the focus of one’s practice, but only with the right feeling.”

AIKIDO “The Path Of Love” –

Thoughts and ideas of Morihei Ueshiba,

Kokoro, Belgrade, 2002, pg. 57.

4.4. Clear goals and feedback information

A condition for entering flow is having a clear achievable goal, as well as feedback that always immediately follows the action. For example, a climber is closer to his goal every time he climbs a centimeter higher, and simultaneously he carries this information with him all the way to the end.

If a person doesn’t know how to establish clear goals and how to recognise and process the feedback information they get from the activities they are involved in, they won’t be in the flow.

In certain activities including aikido (as well as tai chi, chi gung, yoga…) one must develop a strong personal (inner) sense of what they are supposed to do. For instance, during the practice of aikido one of the tasks is to execute techniques performed with one’s partner as accurately as possible, free hand and weapon alike. It is possible for the feedback information of whether this was successfully met to reach an instructor, but this is not even close to the quality of that “inner sense” (intuition, inner realisation…) of the practitioner of whether they have performed it successfully. It is the development of this very sense of aikidoka’s own inner state that presents an important condition for recognising flow, and the later easier reentry into it.

The value of the feedback information lies in the symbolic message contained therein: a message of having reached one’s goal. This knowledge results in restructuring of information, their harmonisation in consciousness and so it amalgamates the “self”.

“Change your perception of what the Universe

actually looks like and how it acts and turn the

martial techniques into the carriers of

goodness, purity and grace.”


“The heart of aikido”

Thoughts and ideas of Morihei Ueshiba, III,

Kokoro, Belgrade, 2005, pg. 14.

Almost every type of feedback information can be pleasant under the condition that it logically and spontaneously emerges from the goal, into which someone had invested their psychic energy. Each one of us is extremely sensitive to a certain band of information so to speak, which during our life time we learn to value more than most other people, therefore the feedback information containing exactly that type of information (relevant specifically to us and no one else) will be regarded as more important for us than for anyone else. The feedback information sought after by someone is always an expression of some emotion. For some it is important to attain a good physical form, or a high level of fitness, or the elasticity of muscles and joints, or to “release” the excess tension and stress through training, while others are more concerned with following the inner processes, such as: the energetic, psychological and other trends and tendencies.


4.5. Pleasant feeling


A total concentration of attention on the task at hand leaves no space in one’s awareness for information regarded as irrelevant to the task. While in flow, one forgets all the unpleasant aspects of life. Firstly sitting in seiza (switching off the unpleasant influences – emotions, thoughts, feelings, happenings…), followed by focusing one’s attention on the events taking place in the dojo creates the general conditions for entering a state of flow.

Clearly defined goals and requirements for a training session bring order and harmony, thus minimizing the possibility for disorder and disharmony to arise within a practitioner. At such time, information that was stirred in the process of one’s training is selectively formed in one’s awareness; this is why all the worries, problems, negative emotions and thoughts that are normally prominent in one’s awareness are temporarily suspended. And even after the training they do not return in the same force as before, as due to flow one has effectively increased the harmony and unity of the “self”.

Concentration during flow, together with clearly defined goals and an immediate feedback ensures a qualitative shift in awareness (reaching an ever-higher levels of harmony by the way of integration of the mind), thus creating a pleasant state – a state of psychic non-entropy.

It is important to note that pleasant experience of flow is not as simple as a mere sensory satisfaction (which in itself is certainly not a negative thing), but rather it has an added quality, attained only through awareness (or in other words, the knowledge of each individual element of oneself in that particular moment), which in itself represents the development of awareness.


4.6. Control


The experience of flow also includes the sense of control, or more accurately, the absence of concern over the possibility of loosing control, typical to many situations of everyday life. Essentially, it is more the case of the sense of the possibility, rather than the actual realisation of control.

The accent here is not on the pathological excitement one can reach while being exposed to danger, but rather on the affirmative emotions enjoyed by someone who is in the state of flow and that give rise to the pleasant sense of being capable of controlling potential situations and forces (physical and energetic surges). It is also important to point out that activities that produce a state of flow so to speak, even those more difficult and even risky, are being constructed in such a way that they still enable for the development of the abilities necessary to bring the number of possible mistakes to a minimum.

Just imagine how much thought and practice one needs to put in perfecting all the elements of one technique, let’s say ikkyo omote, in order to acquire a level of control that would enable them to perform it with ease. But not only that: to actually feel it, to have a clear sense of control while executing it. This is where real beauty and subtlety of aikido becomes apparent – when you are aware through direct and total experience of how the most complex techniques (full of numerous subtle elements, as well as being aware of your relationship with your partner) can be performed with ease through control. This realisation enables you to identify yourself with the process of execution of a given technique, and so to become one with it – i.e. to be in the flow.

It is necessary at this point to issue a warning: here lies a danger for a person to become addicted to their own ability to control a pleasant activity (this being an activity without entropy – without disorder) so much so that one is unable to redirect their attention onto anything else; this is when one looses control, i.e. the freedom to constitute the contents of awareness. Then pleasant activities that produce flow take on potentially negative attributes. This way from just pleasant they become addictive, thus maximizing one’s attachment to a particular way of behavior, which by definition reduces one’s ability to resolve and deal with problems in life. Because aikido places a strong accent on self-awareness (being a universal principle, an expression of man’s inherent drive towards self-realisation) expressed as application of its basic principles, it does not lead towards creating attachments. On the contrary, it leads towards breaking down of all forms of attachment (primarily to a body and mind) and ultimately towards freedom.


4.7. Loosing awareness of oneself


As mentioned earlier, when a certain kind of activity is being developed, there simply is not enough free attention left in a person engaged in that activity to enable them to exchange any other unrelated stimuli.

Being preoccupied with oneself uses up psychic energy; in everyday life we often feel threatened by others, starting from various ways we are expected to carry out our responsibilities, through possible illnesses, to the very uncertainty of life on the whole. Whenever we are feeling endangered, we need to bring back into our awareness an image we have of ourselves, in order to find out whether the threat we are facing is a real one and if so, how can we best deal with it. However, flow leaves precious little room for such enquires, just as it does for the very opportunity for the “self” to become endangered in the first place.

Absence of “self” from one’s awareness doesn’t mean that while in flow one has lost all control of their psychic energy, or that one is not aware of what is happening in their body and mind. Optimal experience of flow assumes a very active role of the “self”. For example, while doing a certain technique, it’s important to direct your attention to every single movement you perform, and even more so to your whole being. Then the very process of directing attention (a so called direct attention) will bring about the flow, or we can also look at it as – a state of identification with the process of a given activity, which results in the loss of awareness of “self”.

Therefore, a loss of awareness of oneself doesn’t mean loss of the “self”, but only that – a loss of awareness of “self”.

When we are not preoccupied with our “self”, or rather when we get a chance to expand the concept of who or what we are, this can lead to the transcendence of this “self”, towards a sense that we have somehow shifted the limits of our very existence. Such occasional giving up of the sense of “self” is necessary in order to build it, because in flow a person’s challenge is to give it their all and to continually make progress in their chosen activity. But later, when the activity is finished, and the awareness of oneself has a chance to return, the “self” that is experienced is no longer the same as the one that was there before we entered flow: we are left enriched with new abilities and fresh accomplishments.

A sense of fulfillment after training, a result of being in the state of flow (particularly after the multiple training sessions, as in the case of several days long seminars), will spontaneously transport into the days following the experience, and even longer, into all spheres of life (family, work, friends…)


4.8. Time aspect


One of the most commonly reported accounts of the experience of flow is that of the sense of time working in a way different to how it normally does. It is often the case that hours seem like minutes (which is more common), and some times it is the opposite, that time is so slow it feels it’s almost still (much less common).

The closest definition of this is that while in flow, the sense of time is not strongly connected with the so called objective passage of time (clock based “real” time).

The loss of the sense of time is not the main element of exultation, and yet the freedom from the tyranny of time certainly does contribute to the overall experience.

Just how many times have you thought: “Has it already been half an hour?”, or thought “The time just flew by”...?


5. Types of flow in aikido


Being able to recognise when you are in a state of flow is very important, as it is this very process of recognition that leads to a quantitative (extending in duration) as well as a qualitative (harmonisation with an ever fuller content) increase in its occurrence and expansion, and thus its transfer to all spheres of life.

During the aikido practice, one can observe several different types of flow, in the following order:

a.   Micro flow – happens when for a moment (a split second or few seconds at the most) one fully identifies with the action one is performing, as well as feeling that it has been done to the maximum level of proficiency.

b.  Partial flow – happens when while performing one or several connected techniques, one experiences the same feeling as with the micro flow, although here there is continuity in one’s awareness (over a longer period of time) of harmonizing single emotion and thought, or rather a group of emotions and thoughts with another individual emotion and thought, or rather a group of emotions and thoughts – one has a sense of inner harmony, peace, relaxation, that nothing is done too much or too little… The situation shows that the state can be controlled during practice, but also that it can be “transferred” and brought about in other spheres of life.

c.   Complete flow – presupposes that all emotions and thoughts are harmonised, and that there is a complete awareness (knowledge) of this. As a figure of speech: “as I feel so I think, and as I think so I feel.” It assumes one’s possession of a unified mind or rather a total awareness, which starts with a partial flow and from there it spreads onto all the spheres of one’s life. In this way aikido becomes a complete path, permeating one’s whole being, but not so that one spends all day thinking about it, but rather that its principles and elements are interwoven into every second of one’s life, primarily through the state of flow.

In aikido, the path to a complete state of flow leads through a constant study and application of the basic postulates of aikido, which are:

                                                                          -     Principle of seeking the truth

                                                                          -     Principle of the Universe

                                                                          -     Principle of love

                                                                          -     Principle of harmony

                                                                          -     Principle of unified energy

                                                                          -     Principle of channeling energy

                                                                          -     Principle of absence of form

                                                                          -     Principle of non-resistance

                                                                          -     Principle of self-knowledge


6. Conclusion


Flow represents emotional intelligence of the highest order. In it emotions and thoughts are tamed and channeled for the purpose of performing a given action successfully. Here one identifies with a given activity, feels fulfilled, finding the very purpose of one’s being in the activity at hand.

The author of the theory of flow is a psychologist, professor Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, who has come across it as a particular state in its own right while studying the phenomena of human happiness.

Those who reach the state of flow go beyond satisfaction and reach exultation, which involves a conscious act of increased attention or better still of increased psychic energy.

Every human activity offers a possible gateway to flow, although some activities are better suited for this task than others – scientific work, painting, sculpting, sexual act, listening to music, to name but a few.

Certain arts (or perhaps a better term to use might be spiritual paths) such as yoga, chi gung, tai chi, and certainly aikido assume that one must give oneself to them fully. This is particularly accentuated in aikido, when energetic harmonisation ties in with awareness (knowledge of the process) as a singular process, and it is at this point that one gradually and spontaneously starts to enter a flow state.

The most important elements of flow are: concentration and the loss of awareness of oneself, or more precisely – of the “self”, which leads to transcending this “self” in the direction of perfecting one’s abilities.

The practice of aikido is not an end in itself, but rather a tool through which one can enter the state of flow (while remaining aware of this process during practice) and eventually transport it onto all aspects of one’s life (family, work…), thus becoming ever more fulfilled. And yet, flow is only one step on the path of development of awareness…

“The present is rooted in eternity and eternity

is rooted in the present, and each of our actions

contains a prayer to the divine. Our goal is

an unchanging universal eternity.

A stopped Source creates the world endlessly.

In the science of the universe, man is a fulfilled

soul and strength."


AIKIDO “The Path Of Love” –

Thoughts and ideas of Morihei Ueshiba,

Kokoro, Belgrade, 2002, pg. 53.




Author: Dušan Gruičić, August 2008.

Translated from Serbian: Dušan Đurović


1) The “flow state” is not a sole privilege of aikido practitioners, but rather a widely spread phenomenon throughout many other art forms, such as: Tai Chi Chuan, Yoga, Chi Gung, etc. It also occurs and can be observed with artists, scientists and so on.

2) Daniel Goleman: “Emotional intelligence”, Bloomsbury Publishing Plc, London 1996, pg. 90.

3) Mihaly Csikszentmyhalyi, “Flow – the psychology of optimal experience” Forum, Novi Sad, 1999, pg 14.

4) Each volunteer was asked to carry a pager and to write down exactly what they were feeling and thinking each time the pager would ring (this would on average be eight times a day). After this all the results were statistically assimilated and analyzed and summarized by using psychological methods.

5) See: Žarko Trebješanin, “Dictionary of psychology”, third edition, Stubovi Kulture, Belgrade, 2004, pg. 476 and “Consciousness – a scientific challenge of the 21st century”, The collection of works from EPCD, Belgrade, 1996.

6) Mihaly Csikszentmyhalyi, “Flow – the psychology of optimal experience” Forum, Novi Sad, 1999, pg 37.

7) The so called “exceptional individuals” have in recent years come into the spot light of attention of psychologists, where the four common characteristics have been marked: “they radiate goodness”, they are generous, people enjoy being in their company and they posses an exceptionally high level of attention and concentration. The characteristic of flow is also very important here. For more details see: Daniel Goleman, “Destructive emotions” – a scientific talk with Dalai Lama, Geopoetika, Belgrade, 2004, pg. 40-42.

8) I will put aside for the moment the concept and content of “ki” and will only point out the most famous among the names this concept has acquired: “chi” in Tai Chi and Chi Gong, “prana” in yoga and the “life energy” in classical western esoteric tradition.

9) Same as above, pg. 51.

10) Mihaly Csikszentmyhalyi, “Flow – the psychology of optimal experience” Forum, Novi Sad, 1999, pg. 60.

11) There has not been a scientific systematic testing done for aikido to date, hence the reference to 8kg of weight, something often heard on aikido seminars. It is a way of expressing my own personal reference to its deeper meaning, based on a direct experience of it in practice.


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