Aikido: Existing in Harmony© (adapted from my forthcoming book, Widening Your Lens.)
“Remember that harmony is inextricably bound up with the conflict from which it sprang.” - Terry Dobson
Morihei Ueshiba’s portrait hangs above the kamiza, a place of honor in the front of our Dojo’s practice area. He was born in 1883 and died in 1969. Aikido, with its flowing circular movements, was founded by him after many years of practicing adversarial martial arts. His goal was to create a “path” and way of life to reconcile all conflict.
Aikido is now practiced throughout the world. In the opinion of many, he was the greatest martial artist who ever lived. His life was a dedicated journey in matters of spirit. Like so many other mind/body methods, Aikido uses one’s Ki - or universal energy - to blend with others and to mitigate the never ending injurious interactions in our life. O Sensei or “Great Teacher,” as he was fondly called by his students, was a devotee of Kotodama, a Shinto sect of Zen Buddhism which emphasizes the spirit of sound and breathing energy.
I have been practicing Aikido, translated as “the way to harmony,” for nearly thirty years. A Japanese calligraphy by O Sensei of one of his favorite sayings- “True victory is victory over oneself”-hangs in my office. The lessons I learn on the mat enhance and guide my every moment. It provides an aesthetic and ecological framework that responds to the interconnections of all actions taking place. In my therapy practice it gives me tools to help individuals create collaborative solutions in the present by being sensitive, to their individual attributes.
In Aikido, as in life, there are infinite ways to receive an attack or an uncomfortable encounter, which necessitates being open to many options. This leads to what are called “thousand year techniques,” illustrating the many and never-ending learning possibilities that we are offered in life. When confronted by another, be it a physical or a verbal altercation, one who is trained in Aikido possesses skills to effectively resolve conflict by accessing the ever-present Ki. It is then that you can gracefully step off the line of attack by sensing the perspective of the attacker’s view point and attain a position to reconcile or even enlighten an adversary. As Lao-tzu the Chinese poet said, “The way lies in not doing, yet nothing is left undone” (from Tao Te Ching, translated by Ralph Alan Dale, New York: Barnes and Noble, 2002).
Pushing back when one is pushed is a western cultural habit; however, this stops us from recognizing different means to resolve situations. Harmony can be attained from weathering opposing views. It is an expression of our faith in humanity, to embrace even the most powerful of attacks and find a space to connect with it and produce a unifying result.
Aikido provides many segues to finding one’s “self” and transforming one’s life. Practicing Aikido prepares one to deal with aspects of conflict and communication skills, not only on the mat but in everyday life, as demonstrated by the writings of Terry Dobson, George Leonard, Wendy Palmer, John Stevens and Foster Gamble to name a few, as well as my sensei, Greg O’Connor, who wrote Elements of Aikido (BookSurge Publishing, 2009) and makes Aikido beautiful to watch and exhilarating to practice.
Sensei Greg O'Connor, Chief Instructor, Aikido Centers of New Jersey
Being prepared to blend, as George Leonard remarks in his The Way of Aikido (New York: Penguin, 2000), does not mean one must censor or weaken their true self. He continues by stating “To begin experiencing the self and the universe as one, we must learn to sit, stand, move, speak, feel, think, create, and love as if the impetus for each of these activities arises in our center, a point in the middle of the abdomen an inch or so beneath the navel” (p.33). We cannot deny the yin/yang of life with its many ways of saying “no” and “yes,” but we can continue to interact in a calm relaxed way, choosing when to blend by actualizing our Ki, whether it be from Aikido, Yoga, Tai Chi, Qigong, etc.
In his book, Aikido in Everyday Life (Berkeley California: North Atlantic Books, 1993) Terry Dobson, who studied in Japan with Morihei Ueshiba, describes different responses to conflict. We can fight back, withdraw, parley, do nothing or use deception. The problem, according to him, is that we need to manage our feelings to make a good choice. Here is where widening one’s lens, as I encourage those who I work with in my practice, helps us to perceive all elements of the situation. Success “will lie in your ability to find your center and retain it, or regain it if it gets lost” (p.76). Given the state of our world today, we can surely use more Aikido.
If you are a colleague interested in learning more about Aikido and how it can provide skills to enhance your practice and/or interested in learning about the benefits of Aikido for your own well-being, please contact me about workshops being planned for later in the year.