Is Inhibition in Aikido and Tai Chi?

There are always many roads to a similar destination – Aikido and TaiChi, etc. are two of them that are culturally specific avenues to a similar destination in common with Alexander Technique. In fact, I’ve described the Alexander Technique as “The Westerner’s Zen.”

F.M. Alexander never claimed to have an exclusive ownership trademark on excellent coordination or the path to effortlessness and mastery. He merely figured out how to eliminate a nuisance that he had cultivated and trained into an intended habit by accident.

What made his work rare is that he formed his specific solution of voice recovery into a chain of practical principles that could be abstracted for use in other situations. Inhibition was one of those pivotal principles. Those situations would be the usefulness of freeing unintentional habits of movement response. (Which turned out to be pretty much any situation involving movement! But most valued by people who have found Alexander’s work frees performance talent for unlimited improvement, to refresh remedial lack of movement problems & as a study of consciousness and happiness.)

Put yourself in F.M. Alexander’s shoes – how would you describe what you did, as if nobody had ever described the process of inhibition? It’s a squirrelly, tricky challenge for self-observation AND the use of language to describe what happened. All of these things happen step by step and/or simultaneously all-at-once – very quickly – AND they don’t happen the same every time either.

It was an admirable and stunning success on Alexander’s part to come up with ANY way to describe the abstracted principles so they could be applied to ANY movement. Alexander’s work was a brilliant insight in applying creative thinking ability toward a practical discipline of the proof of thought in action. Other philosophers (and religions!) had some similar ideas – without the practical application and proof their ideas worked because it was assembled into a “law” or “principle” as Alexander developed.

If you have experience with Alexander Technique, here’s your assignment: In your own words, describe in language what inhibition is, without going through the blow-by-blow nuts & bolts of how to do it.

Here is one of my attempts:

Inhibition is prevention of unwanted, nuisance habits of movement that have been trained to disappear while becoming innate. Using inhibition prevents long-standing habits from obliterating a fragile, newly intended potential talent. Inhibition prevents what is previously known best to be stopped or suspended, so an unknown potential may emerge well-formed, be practiced and become another reliable skill.

Do you agree with that definition of inhibition? Stated like that, inhibition sounds like the basis of all educational processes, doesn’t it?

So once you do describe inhibition, it is more obvious that it can be used a stand-alone principle. Inhibition may operate quite independently of Primary Control. (Another important principle of Alexander Technique.) Inhibition can be ANYTHING strategically done to prevent, sidestep, re-direct, fake out, detour, put off, distract, bore (the list is only limited to your creative ability to come up with effective variations) lie, cheat, make fun of, bait & switch, etc. that unwanted, coercive habitual reaction.

What I’m saying is that this ability to do all these inhibitive-style things are so useful, that inhibition is inherent in many, many learning processes. Granted that inhibition is rarely spelled-out; I know of no other description for it. (Rarely it has been called deliberate non-judgment or deliberate suspension of short-sighted goals.) So the fact that inhibition is working the way it does remains buried in the learning process. As long as inhibition is buried in this way, it can’t be used, as such – so I agree with you, Chris – when you say…

Chris writes: “…it may well be possible to become a phenomenally good Aikido or Tai Chi
practitioner without addressing the fundamentals of misuse. ”

Absolutely! Someone who practices can excel at a sport, but effective teaching is a separate skill. Not many teachers know that prevention – inhibitive techniques exist specifically.  But some rare teachers are able to improvise specific solutions for specific students who are having problems and need help overcoming specific issues. This is the value of a good teacher – to obviate difficulty and prevent it.
Teachers in general often don’t know why what they do works, (or why some students have trouble and others excel.) – Of course, we Alexander Technique people do know why some people excel at learning and some don’t, because we have the Alexander Technique as an example and descriptor.

Most people can only think of teaching the way they were taught. They take things literally and thus, may only imitate content in state-specific way. (This statement of generalizing is not intended to be made in a derogatory way. There’s nothing wrong with being a preservationist – it’s an honorable job! We NEED people who preserve accurately!)

However, the challenge here is to think abstractly to apply principles beyond the specific situation where these principles were learned.

So – what I’m saying here is that anybody may use inhibitive strategies – without knowing that these inhibitive techniques are a separate, defined skill/ability. Mostly people do not have a clue that inhibition is the MOST important key to success in many, many situations. This is because, so often, you must stop what you do not want before you can begin to allow what you do want. Most people merely think of the “doing what you want” part. So they are left to wonder why their intention falls short. Usually they imagine it is something wrong with THEM.

Granted, most people probably will not notice their Primary Control is occurring immediately following their ability to inhibit what they do not want. (We A.T. people all know that inability to recognize what is happening occurs because sensory ability shuts down when an automatic habit justifies a cost-of-goal sacrifice.)

But that doesn’t mean a student’s teacher misses noticing what they want for their student that the student does not know. This depends on the teaching style, insight & experience of the particular teacher. With an effective and intuitive Sensei, (or any teacher) who is practiced at timing & reinforcement in training, coupled with an exacting standard of “effortlessness” as a guiding criteria of success – you essentially have exactly the same result as with using Alexander Technique. It is of no difference that it is not named that particular thing and even that the learning process is described differently.

Almost any skill may become an “art” of life with a valuable teacher.

Inhibition is a short-cut. The recommendations of how these other two disciplines are taught (I speak from experience with both of Tai Chi and Aikido) are the long way ’round and require even more dedication and practice than Alexander Technique lessons. All of them work toward the similar objectives of freedom of movement, pleasure of learning, prevention of unnecessary pain and enhancement of longevity.  Despite the way these objectives are described being quite different because of the culture surrounding it, (IMHO) I see more commonalities than differences.

What do you have to say about other disciplines or pastimes that have the ability to ascend to an art, containing philosophical principles or lessons of life?

2 thoughts on “Is Inhibition in Aikido and Tai Chi?

  1. Hi,

    This is a very useful post, you surely have good knowledge. Thanks very much. I bookmarked your site and will be back for more 😉 . Hope you post more stuff.


  2. Take a look at my recent posts on Inhibition at


    Alexander is reported to have told the graduates of his first teacher training course “don’t do what I do”. What I think he meant by this is that every teacher must teach the principles of the Alexander Technique according their own understanding and not simply try to mimic him.

    It’s VERY imporatant however that the “conservationists” of AT keep a watching brief to ensure that his principles are not distorted by the teachings of other disciplines. AT is very different to any other mind/body awareness discipline and relatively minor misunderstandings can completely corrupt the message.

    My blogs posts have been an attempt to describe the principles and issues surrounding AT in a more contemporary style. I have introduced new ideas and new thinking BUT I’ve been careful to stay within the framework developed by Alexander.

    Jeff Hall MSc MRICS MSTAT

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