Internal dialog can be interesting if we slow down enough to listen to what the little person in the back of our brain is trying to say to us.
One of the important lessons inherent in a serious martial arts study, most especially a MA such as Aikido, is the growing awareness of internal dialog's that can impact our training and in some cases, if not fully understood, can cause us to quit our training without really knowing why. Some therapists refer to these dialog's as "tapes" that were programmed into us by our parents, our siblings, our peer group and by our life experiences. Worst of all, these tapes can run in the background and cause us to make important decisions based not on the facts of a given situation but instead on the unvoiced and unidentified fears from our subconscious.
Lets quickly look at only two that I see on the tatami on a very regular basis.
The first is "hand in the face". In Aikido, throwing uke, setting up a technique, or achieving separation from uke to enlarge the ma-ai (combative distance) is usually done by placing a hand in the face and either pushing or threatening a strike which physically shoves uke away or causes them to react on a subconscious level by jerking their head/entire body back to stay off of that hand. Once understood this becomes quite valuable in training and of course in self-defense since you are using the natural human reaction of protecting the eyes for Aikido purposes. Aikido is quite good at teaching the recognition and use of these natural fears in ways that other martial arts simply do not.
Men who have never been in many fights as a kid have a natural fear of this as do women; women having been taught that they never touch a man's face or allow their face to be touched due to the potential sexual content. Additionally, girls fight much less in grade school as kids than boys do and unless they have been trained (unusual for the most part for little girls) then instead of balling up their fist and striking the face, they claw, scratch and pull hair such that striking the face is not second nature nor natural for them. Men are much the same. There has to be either prior experience or training to make it natural.
This fear of touching the face is conquered over time by placing the student in a non-competitive, non-combative training atmosphere and by going through the technique over and over until, over time, it becomes a "no-thoughts-required" kind of response in normal kata practice.
Eventually any man or woman will easily be able to do any waza requiring hand-in-the-face first as part of normal practice, then as part of normal kata demonstration, and then as part of normal randori. At that point, it has become a natural response on the intuitive/subconscious level and the fear of placing your hand in someone's face (to throw them) or of having them place their hand in your face (as part of practice or randori) is no longer of concern. The fear has been conquered and it since it no longer bothers you, it becomes a valuable "arrow in your quiver" of waza upon which you can draw.
The second fear (or subconscious concern) is grappling aka ne-waza. This for the most part originates in two areas of concern; the first being sexual (for men and women both) and the second being that school-yard fear of the bully sitting on your chest and pounding you senseless.
For men the sexual part is a fear of being considered homosexual. Even if that is not their personal preference, the cultural programming says don't roll around on the ground with guys otherwise someone might doubt you.
For women the sexual part is a natural and completely understandable fear of rape.
Both of these fears/concerns are subconscious and completely natural and both can be conquered once again by simply going to class and training. By doing so, we conquer the fear and begin to understand how it has influenced our life, thus leading us to the realization that we don't have to let it control us unless we choose to. Again, another extremely valuable "Aikido for life" lesson that on the surface has nothing to do with MA and self-defense and yet has everything to do with Aikido/MA/Self-Defense.
If you have been attacked and are on the ground and the guy is on top with sex on his mind, or with pounding your skull flat against the ground on his mind, then at that point in your life the fear is real and you become powerless to protect yourself. Because you allowed your fears/concerns to detract from your training; you are now unprepared and the fear, having been fully realized in a true-to-life and dangerous situation has completely paralyzed you and, unable to get control of your emotions, you are unable to think or react properly.
Training in ne-waza allows you to work on relaxing, focusing, breathing and on thinking about strategy and technique. You push aside the fears and concerns that make you want to do anything else in the dojo other than grappling, regardless of what Sensei says. The problem is, the only way to understand how to fight and defend on your back is to do it ands to do it often; kata style, slowly and focused, repeat the move, etc., etc., etc.
Over time, focusing only on the practice with a partner that you trust not to hurt you (because you both play and train with full attention paid to Kano's dictum of "Mutual Welfare, Mutual Benefit") allows you to pay no attention to the "sex" or the "bully" "internal tapes" that you have playing inside you, but instead allows you to focus only on doing the work and having fun doing it since it's a challenge and an interesting part of your time at the dojo. Pretty soon you become a real ne-waza person and you pay no attention to what the attacker on top is or is not trying to do. You just focus on the principles and the waza and you submit them. Submitting a real attacker simply becomes another dojo training exercise because the fear has been conquered and it becomes "just another day at the office".
These fears are purely subliminal and subconscious and although they are powerful, they can first be conquered and later fully understood resulting in a high level understanding of Aikido, self-defense and martial arts in general; not to mention the new and more in-depth understanding our ourselves and our fears and the growing ability to apply this to our daily life off the mat.
Aside from self-defense, self-awareness was probably one of the most valuable life skills that I acquired from the last 40 years of Aikido training and teaching and I still work on it every single time I put on my gi and hakama.
Most wondrously of all, it was a skill that was given me in a very sly and subtle fashion. I went to class and just did what Sensei said. After lots of mat time, I became desensitized and a hand in the face and rolling around on the mat with another guy simply ceased to bother me. It was just another part of the training regimen, leading to personal knowledge and understanding that increased my self-confidence and martial arts ability and allowed me to focus more intensely on the learning.
Focusing on the learning and not the fears is valuable to anyone, in any facet of life, work, or family. Acquiring that ability makes you infinitely more than what you were.
Now turn of that plasma HD, go get your gi-bag and get down to the dojo and put your hand in someone's face and do a little rolling around.
L.F. Wilkinson Sensei
Aikibudokan, Houston, TX