Common sense is defined as something that everyone should already understand and as such doesn’t need to be explained. In our daily decisions, common sense should already be part of our filter; it is the practical, and even the universal cognitive representation of the survival instinct. But as I noticed, what may be common sense to you is not common sense to me! This brings to fore the saying: “Common sense is not so common.”
A friend in Aikido once told me that Aikido is natural. Being natural, it will not go against nature. Then he continues to say,
“Don’t think too much in doing Aikido. From technique to application, all Aikido is common sense.”
As I matured in the art, I have witnessed a lot of applications Aikido has taught me not only on the mats but also in real life. These are my Aikido Lesseons in Common Sense. I will try to list down the top 14 Life Applications of Aikido that I have learned through the years. I have Aikido training to thank for these realizations that are now important with regard to my idea of what “common sense” is:
1. Always value your partners.
In Aikido we value are training partners. We train in pairs, changing roles between tori (the one doing the technique) and uke (the one receiving the technique). We can never learn Aikido without our partners. They are important in training. In life, your partner is important. It is your partner/partners that help you grow. Aikido has taught me to always value my partners, respecting them, and always appreciating the fact that I would never be where I am today without them.
2. You should never force your way in dealing with others.
In doing Aikido, it is always a bad idea to force the technique. You can not muscle your way into finishing the techniques being taught. One should follow that path of least resistance in practicing techniques. That is why they are called techniques; they were developed so that a person can learn to defend himself without using much physical force. In the same manner, Aikido has taught me not to force my ideas on others. It is always a bad idea to act like a spoiled brat and demand that people should do things your own way. This doesn’t lead to understanding, but to resentment and disdain. Instead one should develop a certain social “finesse” in their dealings with others. We have to learn to work well with others.
3. When the aggression is too great, it never hurts to look at things in the other’s perspective.
In Aikido, we have a movement called tenkan. When the energy from the aggressor is too great, one can do this tenkan movement and diffuse the energy of the attack, at the same time gaining a greater perspective of his surroundings. Tenkan has also taught me this life lesson: it is a good idea to look at another person’s perspective and your environment. Conflicts have a tendency to escalate. Looking from the standpoint of the opposition and the environment in general often gives you a better perspective on how to go about everyday dealings and decisions with a level head.
4. We can also stop conflict before it happens.
In Aikido there are movements that preempt an attack before it goes full swing (i.e. yokomenuchi shihonage ura). This has taught me to “never wait until it is too late”. If you know that waiting can worsen the situation, we can always choose to actively stop the aggression before it gains momentum. Applied to daily living, foresight as well as concentration is integral for successful conflict intervention.
5. Always act from love.
In all Aikido techniques, we must act from a vantage point of compassion. All the techniques of Aikido has been taught not to harm another person but to neutralize the aggression through conflict transformation-from a lose-lose to a win-win. As with all conflicts in life, we should not act from a disposition of anger or hate but try to resolve conflicts with an open heart that is ready to show compassion. This concept alone can help us become more collaborative, proactive and understanding. This can help us avoid a lot of misunderstandings and pain.
6. Stepping out is a good idea.
In Aikido, you should not be there when the attack lands. All Aikido techniques involve some form of stepping out of the line of attack. We look for different angles of redirection to make our techniques effective. I think this is a very common sense concept, even more so in daily life: Do not just sit there when you know there is a lot of hate going your way. Step out for a bit and gain a little perspective. However, I would like to emphasize that like in Aikido training, it is better to step out while entering fully (irimi). You see, we do not step out to run from our problems, rather we step out to put ourselves in a better position to handle them.
7. Communication is never one way.
As previously mentioned, in Aikido, we train together. Although there are exercises for solo training, Aikido as a martial art is always best learned in pairs. During this partnered training, we learn how to transform the aggressive energy of an attack into a harmonious movement between the tori and the uke. To be able to do so, there should be energy from both sides. This is how we communicate, through feeling each other’s energy and responding to it. We communicate in life much in the same way. As they say, it takes two to tango. Reconciliation can never happen without communication from both sides. It is the first step.
8. Don’t put yourself in a position you will later regret.
We have different footwork in Aikido that help us navigate the martial situation and gain an advantage over the conflict. However, sometimes due to our inexperience, we react and move in a position that is actually the opposite of what we want. This is where training in the concept of maai comes in. In life, there is also a maai that must be maintained during conflicts, and this can only be honed through experience. I have learned however that people should be smart in dealing with each other too, and always think of their position as well, in relation to the other parties involved. Never trap yourself on the mats and in real life.
9. Most of the time, it is better to shut up and listen/observe.
Have you ever been to a class where the sensei in the middle of the technique stops and in a loud booming voice reprimands students who are talking while he was demonstrating? I have witnessed this so many times. This made me realize that maybe in life, it is also better to shut up, especially if you do not understand what is being talked about. Test the waters first and get your feet wet before diving in. Learn to observe other people and how a particular system works before offering your points. This way, you will save yourself from a lot of embarrassment and scorn.
10. Your successes are not entirely of your own doing.
As I said, Aikido has taught me to be appreciative of my training partners. It also has made me thankful for the different teachers who have taught me along the way. It is good to remember that in society, people are actually interdependent. There is no real independence in life. We are social beings and we need other people for us to learn, grow, and survive. To be able look back and give due credit for your successes where credit is due is not only a good gesture. It is actually the right thing to do.
11. Always finish what you have started.
This is simple enough. Never quit. In Aikido, we are encouraged to continue in practicing a certain technique until we finish it; and not stopping mid-way. We can never learn the entire technique if we always stop in the beginning and do the initial part over and over again. In life, we should remember the same thing. Never decide on doing something then quit midway. That will never get you anywhere. Instead, finish what you have started. As they say, Never quit when you are tired, quit when you are done.
12. Humility takes time to learn.
When I first started Aikido, I never really liked the role of uke. I don’t like that I am supposed to be thrown, pinned, locked, etc. I like being tori best! However, ukemi is 1/2 of Aikido. It is not until much later in my Aikido journey that I appreciated this role of being uke. I have come to accept that learning Aikido is very much the influence of physical transmission of the technique. This is where the importance of ukemi comes in. I also see being uke as a practice of humility. Ukemi is integral to learning Aikido. The role of uke has taught me this valuable lesson in life: We need to be humble in order for us to learn. If we are too proud, there is no room for new knowledge to come in. In Aikido and in life, let us continue on our journey with a spirit of humility within us and learn from the masters and beginners alike.
13. We can learn from words, but experience is the best teacher.
Life has to be experienced. With its ups and the downs, experience is the best teacher. One has to truly experience living to be able to realize how truly wonderful it is to be alive. This is true for Aikido too, one should experience the art to see how truly wonderful it is. Enjoy the journey, it is good to be anchored on a goal, but that is not an excuse to not fully experience your walk.
14. There is no enemy.
To get to the heart of Aikido is to see that there is no enemy. It is all in your head. Once you can internalize this concept, you can realize that harmony with each other is not just a fancy phrase, but an ideal that is a desired consequence of human interaction.
How we see each other is central to how we will act toward each other.
Aikido has taught me to see the aggressor not as the enemy but as a human being like myself. No judgments, no biases, no walls. Let us not build walls where there is none. Let us remember what O’sensei said:
“There is no discord in love. There is no enemy of love. A mind of discord, thinking of the existence of an enemy is no more consistent with the will of the kami…Those who do not agree with this cannot be in harmony with the universe. Their budo is that of destruction. It is not constructive budo…Therefore to compete in techniques, winning and losing, is not true budo. True budo knows no defeat. “Never defeated” means “never fighting.”
(Please also see: “Aikido Beginner’s Guide: 11 Misconceptions About Training in Martial Arts“)