Aikido as Metaphor

(This post was written by Paul Norris, a senior student at Vermont Aikido.)

One meaning of the word Aikidō is “the way of harmony”: finding the possibility of peace in the midst of conflict, using your attacker’s energy to undo their attack and protect you both.

In Aikidō, we work with wrist grabs, overhead strikes and strikes to the neck, punches to the solar plexus or the head; with multiple attackers and attacks with knives, swords and staves.  But we don’t address defenses against being cut off in traffic by some lunatic in an SUV, getting flamed online, or set up to fail by a control-freak boss; against being sued, having your identity stolen, or a close friend or relative going berserk on you in the middle of a restaurant. Let alone having your heart broken by a serial monogamist with commitment issues, or raising a teenager.

So does learning Aikidō, or any martial art, really cover the self-defense skills we need in our day-to-day lives?

No.

And it’s not supposed to. Martial arts are body training, learning how to be in your own body in an effective way. You can do that through conflict, being prepared to fight others to defend yourself; or through harmony. Aikidō is about harmony: very gradually, and often without understanding exactly what’s happening, changing from someone at the mercy of other people and your own emotions and reactions, into someone different. Someone who is capable of maintaining balance with others and within yourself; someone who can avoid contributing to hatred and conflict by returning good instead of evil, without becoming a victim: a force for harmony in the world.

As this happens, Aikidō will have an effect on your life, whether you notice it or not. But the possibility of learning from that connection is a valuable opportunity.

Aikidō helps me connect my body with my mind, my feelings, my life. When I’m practicing a technique and it brings up issues around safety or trust or aggressiveness or inadequacy, that’s a direct connection to the things I’m trying to learn how to deal with in my life. Paying attention to that connection will deepen my learning, inside the dōjō and in my life.  Everything I do in training that creates new physical experiences for me – a sense of balance or presence, centeredness or fluidity or flexibility – creates new possibilities. If I notice that happening, I can nurture it and find ways to explore it in my life.

More than that, Aikidō gives me a way to learn. I can bring the attitude of training to my everyday difficulties, and make my life my practice: using the (relatively) patient acceptance of the process of learning, even though I know I’m doing it wrong for now, to hold myself open to new possibilities. I’m traveling the path of harmony, in all its different forms: beginning with body training, and letting new feelings and thoughts, a new reality, grow from that. By trusting myself, the same way I have to learn to trust my body in the training.

On Connection, pt. 2

(This post was written by a senior student at Vermont Aikido.)

I have been on the mat for sixteen years, and as I sit down to contemplate an aspect of the Art of Peace that I would like to share today, I contemplate what is it that I have learned over the years that has been most meaningful for my life.

I come back to one the thing: connection, and the healing power of connection. I come to understand that connection is a basic human need, and that all suffering is really the experience of disconnection. It may be a broken connection, it may be a failed connection, it may be a connection not yet made. When we break connection, we suffer. We may cause suffering, but to cause suffering is to suffer ourselves.

As a species, we yearn for connection, we seek it, and we hurt when it fails. This may not necessarily be a connection to another person, though I think that is paramount for most of us. For some, it may be a connection to the divine, found in oneself, in the stars, in the mountains. This person goes off into solitude, to commune. In Aikido, we learn that connection to the divine and connection to the other are one and the same; indeed, to connect to the divine, one must connect to the other and when one disconnects from the other, one also disconnects from the divine.

On the mat, a technique ensues because a confrontation has been created; we are attacked by someone whose suffering we cannot fathom. Only a suffering person would try to hurt another. In fact, their attack is an attempt to connect, an attempt to be healed, albeit in an unskilled way that is unlikely to achieve this worthy goal.

But rather than reject this unskilled attempt at connection, we choose compassion and love. We choose to accept this attempt, to embrace it, and show our partner that they can have the connection they seek without being destructive. Both physically and spiritually, to redirect and neutralize an attack one must accept it into oneself with love and compassion. It is in fact the offering of this compassion that neutralizes the attack.

What if we could do this every day in our daily lives? What if we could lovingly accept each person’s attempt to connect, however it is expressed, take it into ourselves, experience it as an opportunity to enrich our own lives, through the richness this wonderful person has to offer us? Do we not have so much to offer one another, and do we not deprive ourselves when we reject the attempt of another to connect? What if we could see in each interaction the reaching out of another, a call for love and compassion, and offer it up generously?
What kind of world we have then? And how rich would our lives be?