What makes aikido different from other martial arts is the idea that we should not seek to be victorious over an attacker, but to be victorious with them. Life in general is just much better if you can find a win-win situation when conflict arises. If anyone has any doubts about this, then they only need to refer back to the translation of the Japanese words, ‘Ai’,(harmony) ‘Ki’(life force or nature) and ‘Do’ (the way. The key word here is harmony. This is the goal on every level, to be at peace with yourself, (a real battle for many), to find harmony with others on a one to one basis and within the wider communities to which we all belong.
Whilst this may be the aim, it is difficult to maintain this state on a permanent basis. The reality is that conflict is part and parcel of life. At first sight, this may appear to be sad state of affairs, but change is inevitable and desirable if we are to develop individually and as a species. Think about the huge social changes that have occurred in the last few hundred years on issues such as slavery, racism, sexism and more recently, environmental issues. All these changes in attitude (still an ongoing battle I appreciate) as to what is acceptable and what is not, didn’t happen as a matter of course, but because the accepted norm was challenged and in some form fought over until change occurred. The question is not so much seeking to avoid conflict, but rather how we embrace it and manage it to produce a positive outcome.
It is this idea that sits at the heart of aikido practice. We deliberately create conflict by asking one student to attack another, and we manifest this physically, by grabs and strikes of different kinds. The idea is that if we can learn to deal positively with an attack that threatens our physical well-being and potentially our lives, then we may just be able to deal with the conflicts that arise in daily life, which usually have far less serious consequences.
If your training is to be anything more than simply a nice way to spend a few hours each week, then it is important to make this connection between what you learn in the dojo and what you actually do on the mat of life. Aikido gives us all the tools, but are you going to use them?
Hard-wired into good training is a formula that allows us to create the win-win outcomes that we ought to be searching for. Firstly, if you want to blend with your partner’s attack, you have to have an awareness of what is going on. Awareness provides the opportunity for us to have a clear idea of our attacker’s intentions, to be aware of the potential consequences, to appreciate where you can move to safely, and not get in the way of the attack. It provides all the information we need to respond at the appropriate time and in an appropriate way, which keeps both parties safe from harm.
That said, it is one thing to be aware, but it is another to truly respect your attacker’s intentions and to allow them to express themselves fully. It is this acceptance of the situation in both mind and body that allows you to fully blend with them and find the appropriate response, by which I mean an outcome that looks after both parties.
Acceptance in this sense is not a passive state that allows others to do what they want but a recognition that someone is taking action that impinges on our personal well-being and that we need to acknowledge this, whilst at the same time, ensuring that their intended consequences have a positive outcome for both parties. It requires a full understanding of what is going on as only then are we able to provide exactly the right response. Then our aikido can be smooth and effortless and leaves our attacker wondering exactly what happened, uncertain as to why their attack failed and even less certain as to why they ended up on their backside. They feel no pain and no damage and like as not, are left smiling.
Off the mat, exactly the same formula can be applied in the daily scraps that occur with friends, family, colleagues or anyone else that we come into contact with. When someone verbally attacks you, it is all too easy to respond in kind, as opposed to creating the space for them to fully express themselves. Finding out exactly why they are angry, provides you with all the information you need as to how best to respond. Just as with a physical attack, we want to respond at an appropriate time and in an appropriate way. An apology or excuse offered before you have fully understood all the reasons as to just how upset the other person is and what the reasons are for this, leaves the injured party still feeling dissatisfied and unheard. For a real resolution to conflict off the mat, you have to provide space for the attack to be fully expressed, just as we do on the mat, because that is when people are open to change.
Accepting the bad things that happen in life that are beyond our control and responding positively is a simple concept, but for most of us there is a gap between the idea and the reality of actually doing this. It takes practice! The good news is that aikido, and the ideas hard-wired into the practise provide a perfect medium to explore the concept in a very real way and to hone our skills in truly accepting what is front of us and finding a way to a positive resolution. The consequence will almost certainly be a happier life and one with less conflict.