Lessons on “One Point” from Bull Durham

For some time I’ve been wanting to write about using the aikido concept of one point in playing music. “One point?” laughed my son, another aikidoka, “That’s tough to understand. You’ll have a hard time explaining that.” Challenge accepted.

In the movie “Bull Durham,” Annie Savoy (Susan Sarandon) gets rookie pitcher “Nuke” LaLoosh (Tim Robbins) to wear a garter belt to overcome his game-day jitters. Not only does it work, he goes on a winning streak. Baseball lore includes many stories of players wearing women’s underwear, thongs, and lucky boxers under their uniforms. Why? I think it helps players focus on their one point.

Tim Robbins and Kevin Costner in Bull Durham — “The rose goes in the front.”

In Kokikai Aikido, we describe one point as a place about 2” below your navel, nestled against your spine. Focusing on this spot while we practice can help us move more naturally and with less tension. The concept works exactly the same way when we play musical instrument.

We usually say focusing on one point helps us become “stronger.” While it doesn’t make anyone physically stronger, it helps us get the results we want: using our strength more effectively and only when needed; using softness when appropriate; moving more quickly and more naturally.

If you search the Internet for hara (the Japanese word for one point), you may find it described as the repository of life force, or the seat of enlightenment, or a lot of other crazy stuff. There’s actually nothing esoteric about it. It’s just a change of focus.

When I’m practicing violin, piano or accordion, I often focus on my one point. I find that my arms and shoulders relax naturally. I lose some of my habitual tension, my fixation on technique, and the fear of mistakes I’m about to make. I play more easily and, I dare say, more naturally.

What is going on here? One reason is that we normally think of our core “selves” as located in our heads. It is understandable: The eyes, ears, nose and mouth feed all their sensory input to the brain. All of these are perched at the top of our bodies. When we then engage in complex, difficult, or delicate activities — martial arts, sports, music, building gingerbread houses, you name it — we unconsciously assume that to “try harder” we should do something involving our heads. We involve muscles in the face, neck, shoulders, arms and hands, in ways that are completely unnecessary. Intentionally drawing the focus to a different part of the body, especially one that is the natural center of gravity, helps us let go of this unnecessary tension.

Don’t take my word for it. Give it a try.

Sit or stand naturally. Bring your attention to your one point: Imagine a spot about 2” below your navel, nestled against your spine. You don’t have to tighten any muscles or do anything physical. Just focus your mind there. Take about 15 seconds, and give this spot as much of your mind’s attention as you can.

Now take another 15 seconds, and think of your one point as a black hole: infinitely massive and infinitely small. Then imagine it getting smaller and smaller, more and more dense and heavy.

Alternately you might try thinking of it as warm and glowing, radiating with energy like the sun. Imagine it expanding larger and larger, until it encompasses your entire body, the room, the town, the country, the planet, the universe.

Now, keeping as much of that focus as you can, pick up your instrument and start to play. Does it feel different? You decide.

Judy Minot is the author of Best Practice: Inspiration and Ideas for Traditional Musicians. Available on Amazon in paperback and Kindle.

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Judy Minot

A musician and author of the book Best Practice: Inspiration and Ideas for Traditional Musicians