Perhaps like me, you get frustrated by the many discussions that take place on social media, which end up becoming a shouting match about what aikido is all about. All too often it seems that the ‘Art of Peace’ is lost in these debates by even the most experienced practitioners. I observe with a sense of wonder and disappointment that the participants do not see the irony in this.
Yet perhaps one definition that most aikidoka might be able to get behind is that aikido is the art of managing conflict well. This is important, as conflict of some kind arises in all our lives, albeit that fortunately it is not always manifested in the form of an axe wielding nutter.
Even so, this definition leaves plenty of room for manoeuvre as we might debate what ‘managing conflict well’ mean. It suggests to me that aikido is about something more than the destruction of an attacker. It could be argued that this is victory of a sort, but when we look at the world and the many conflicts that take place, rarely does brutality do anything other than engender brutality.
It seems timely to point this out when we have just passed the 100 year anniversary of the end of First World War. The wonder of that particular horror is that there are few who understand why it took place in the first place and what was achieved when it ended, other than perhaps sowing the seeds for the Second World War, which perfectly illustrates just what I have just said.
So, back to aikido! What is clear from the fact that there is such debate is that people train for different reasons. For some it is purely for self-defence and for others it is more a way of life and a means to become a better person. No doubt, there are plenty of shades of grey in between. It’s important to accept these differences, because the purpose of your training will determine the style of your training.
By way of example, if aikido is about self-defence then one might expect an emphasis on technique, fitness and the ability to deal with physical adversity. On the other hand, if aikido is about ‘reconciling the world’, then the emphasis is likely to change to developing a greater awareness of self and through that, awareness of what is going on around you. This might require a more reflective approach to training with a greater emphasis on sensitivity and gentleness. It is inevitable that such different goals result in different training methodologies.
Whatever you want your aikido to be about, simply make sure that you don’t lose sight of your goal and that your training is geared towards getting you where you want to be.
In my own dojo, the emphasis is on developing self and helping students to fulfil their personal potential as human beings. With this in mind, I asked my students last week, what sort of person they wanted to be. I got answers like, I want to be:
to be able to engage comfortably in conversations
to be calmer
My response to this was to suggest that in every training session they should reflect these goals, so no matter what the teacher shows, they can make progress on what matters to them. Your own goals might be completely different; but be mindful of them and put yourself in a place where you have the best chance of fulfilling them.
I think aikido has an incredible capacity to transform a person into a better version of themselves. None of us will ever be the finished article; it’s a lifelong journey without an end. The joy is in the journey, not the destination, but if we are to make meaningful progress then we need to have a destination in mind.
Whatever your beliefs and whatever your style, aikido encourages the following qualities:
Strength of mind
As such, aikido cannot only make you a better person but almost inevitablly should help you foster better relationships with others. In turn, this will have an impact within the communities that you operate within on both a micro and macro level. This is because aikido offers a set of powerful principles that if practised, help us become better people and that is going to impact the world even when you are not training on the mat. That potential grows exponentially when you make the leap between dealing with conflict on the mat and conflict in everyday life.
It’s quite possible that the purpose of your training will change with time, but wherever you are at, enjoy the view and accept that others see things differently. If we can learn to do this within the aikido community as a whole, then we just might have a chance of spreading this message into the world at large. It’s time to celebrate what we share rather than fight about what divides us, which is a good message to give to the politicians that are supposed to work on our behalf.
I find that the study of aikido can be synonymous with life and when we relate our studies in this way, the possibilities of where our study can take us are boundless.
May your vistas be beautiful and your journeys be fruitful!