Should Aikido be Effective?

Aikido, Kokyu Dosa.

Aikido, Kokyu Dosa.

There have been many questions about the effectiveness of Aikido as a martial art. Human as we are, we find it difficult to reconcile the idea of something so oxymoronic like the stand of Aikido as a martial art that is “non-violent”. I believe that the question of effectiveness can only be answered when we have understood the mechanics and effects of violence and conflict, and in our proficiency to handle them. As with any martial art, when all is said and done, the most basic measure of martial effectiveness depends on the outcome.


TRAINING IN THE DOJO

OSensei3Each Aikidoka has his or her own reasons for doing Aikido. Some would join an Aikido dojo to learn self-defense, while others as a form of exercise to improve their health, and so on. If you ask a thousand Aikidokas about their reasons for training, you will get a thousand different set of answers.

Still, it is important for us to reflect on our reasons for practicing Aikido- what we emphasize in training, what we think of training, and what we would like to get out of training; all these affect our growth in Aikido. Having said this, let us start by asking ourselves the following questions. These are specific to our experiences and goals in practicing the different techniques in the dojo:

Do we seek to learn how to masterfully inflict pain during training?
Do we aspire to make our throws more “powerful”?
Do we train to better dominate our ukes?
Do we think of the best possible angles to dislocate joints?
Have we ever caused injury to someone?

Now as a follow-up, in these instances when we caused pain or injury; or in cases when we banged our ukes’ bodies mercilessly onto the mats:

How did your ukes feel? Were they happy? Were they impressed?
Or were they scared? Vengeful?
Did they like what happened?
How did they respond when you traded places and you took ukemi for them?

I don’t think anyone wants to be slammed to the floor, or have their joints twisted and painfully hyper-extended. Unless you are a masochist, pain is always uncomfortable and undesirable. If our goal in training is to learn techniques that causes harm, or learning how to dominate and injure; I think now may be a good time for us to reflect on what we’ve been doing, and their effects.

Will training to do techniques this way lead us to reconciliation or will they create more conflict? If the latter, is this really a practice of Aikido? Or something else?

In Aikido, it is our aim to transform the initial separation into a celebration of togetherness.

 Let us remember that our goal is to control the aggression of the attacker without injury; and not to escalate the conflict. Our actions reflect our intent. What is your intention in doing Aikido?

“To injure your opponent is to injure yourself. To control aggression without inflicting injury is Aikido.” -Morihei Ueshiba O’Sensei

“To injure your opponent is to injure yourself. To control aggression without inflicting injury is Aikido.” -Morihei Ueshiba O’Sensei

If we continue to train in order to or while causing harm, we are defeating the purpose of our art. As I said in another article, without understanding the philosophy, we will not be able to fully express Aikido in our movement.


DOING TECHNIQUES

You see, we have to think of the aftereffects- the consequences of our actions. We have to understand that, unless we want to be murderers and kill any and all attackers; there is always the next attack. And the next attack, this retaliation,  can happen anytime- immediately, days, months, or can even take years. This pattern of  attacking and retaliating starts a vicious cycle of “hate that leads to hate that leads to more hate”. Isn’t it more prudent (if we really want to defend ourselves) to not add fuel to the fire as our response to the threat of an attack? In my own training, I am not compromising the effectiveness of my technique in order to uphold the philosophy. Rather,

 I uphold the philosophy in order to increase the effectiveness of my technique.

Doing martially sound techniques is by all means part of our training method. And it is important to emphasize that the effectiveness of Aikido is not limited to its  collection of techniques, and physical steps. Aikido also has its principles and philosophy that should always be expressed together and within the physical movement.

As a matter of fact, it is counterproductive to act from a standpoint of “doing a technique to someone”.  To “do a technique to someone” actually hails from a mindset of separation. In Aikido, we should practice Musubi. Person A is not actually doing a technique to Person B. Instead, Persons A and B are doing the technique together. This is training in moving as one.

In embracing the principles of Aikido, we should be training our techniques with the intention of love. It is important to realize that in the practice and application of the different techniques in conflict situations (actual or as simulated in paired exercises ), all these movements are in fact, physical opportunities for sharing our peace, our goodwill, and our compassion. In our practice of techniques, let us not fight fire with fire, but fire with water.

For some time now, I have made it a habit in my training to sometimes ask my ukes this question after each technique:

“How did that make you feel?”

The tricky thing about Aikido training is that we cannot actually feel the effect of our techniques ourselves. We need feedback in order for us to know what we have to work on. I am very grateful to my ukes, without whom, I would have never improved; because basing from their response and the principles I know, I can adjust my training goals accordingly.


THE LOVING PROTECTION OF ALL THAT EXISTS

avol3

Avalokiteshvara, Chinese: Guanyin, Japanese: Kannon. The Bodhisattva of Infinite Compassion and Mercy.

In a fight under the win-lose dynamic, winning and not losing are two different things, and Aikido is very effective in not losing. Actually, Aikido goes beyond this. In doing Aikido, we act to reconstruct the win-lose dynamic itself by reconciling the separation (brought by conflict) through our movements, and transforming it into togetherness (win-win).

From a win-lose to a win-win situation, both parties end up unharmed and at peace. 

Let us remember that there is no other in Aikido; that there is no enemy. What we have are techniques (when done correctly) capable of transforming the harmful intention from an attacker; ultimately bringing both parties together in peaceful understanding. Quoting  O’Sensei:

“The source of Budo is Divine Love- the spirit of loving protection for all that exists.”
「武道の根源は、神の愛—万有愛護の精神—である」

In any martial situation, Aikido’s goal is to transform conflict and purify it, so that there may be peace. This is the practice of Aikido as Misogi, or purification. It is an art that seeks to purify malice and overcome hate through movements coming from a heart of sincere compassion. This compassionate intent can always be felt in the vibrations of our movement. It is never a vain effort. We aim for purification- a change of heart.

This is a very difficult level of mastery to reach, requiring patience, diligence, initiative, and above all, an unwavering curiosity to learn. As Budo, Aikido is truly as ambitious as it is revolutionary. So now to answer the question, should Aikido be effective?

“Yes. Aikido, should be effective. It should be very effective.”


(Please also see: “Aikido: When The Body Moves the Mind“)

 

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Let go and Let’s Go

let go let's go

We have worn a rut in doing routine.
But there is more out there
To be learned and explored.
We don’t know.
We don’t know.

And so we clutch at straws to Life,
Gathering mementos that remind us of happier times.
We cling to the familiar, close and dear;
Foregoing chances for the unknown
to make themselves known.
Maybe in fear.
Maybe in sloth.

There lies the horizon,
Drawing our gaze, calling to our wild inner selves:
Let go the straws,
Let go the familiar,
The way back to it, you already know.
Let’s go!

The future teems with all that can be.
All possibilities spread out before you.

Let go your ego.
Let go and let’s go!

Balance

balance1

“Balance, the stroke of the wise, the style of the sharp. The way, the groove. Bal-ance: the sole of the feet, the soul of the Universe, takes step after step down the beat to time: da DUM, da DUM. Bal. Ance.” -Mark O’Brien

Such a delicate topic, balance.

A long time ago, I was totally enamoured reading Dungeons and  Dragons books.  There was this series about twin brothers.  One of them was a strong kind of moose-like kind of warrior, and the other was a sickly but powerful magician with hour-glass eyes.  I loved that series, and  felt especially drawn to Raistlin, the magician.  That was his name.

In their world, the gods were always in a power struggle to tip the balance of the world to their advantage, and all the people had a basic orientation: the good, the bad and the neutral.

I was happy reading through this fictional world and enjoyed my literary sojourns into those books.  Balance was just an important part of the story, but in real life, I never really paid much attention to it before Aikido came into my life.  That was x number of years ago.


  • Aikido

In Aikido, we are always conscious of our center of gravity and the seat of our balance so that we can do our techniques effectively.  We practice together and in pair work we find out the point at which we can upset or affect the balance of our partners.  After a while, being aware of our hara and center becomes second nature and  “is just is”.  It’s just there, in yourself, in your mind, in your technique.  How can I explain this any better knowing it’s just there?”

The practice of aikido opened a whole new way of looking at balance, and  I am rereading those books again, as well as revisiting older classical works.  How refreshing it is to come back to old haunts and see them and feel them with fresh eyes, new perspectives!

  • Ancient Wisdom

Ancient philosophers caution us to do things in moderation, to maintain a balance in our lives.  Some of them advise us to balance the pleasures and the sacrifices, the spiritual and the worldly, to consider the one side of an issue alongside with the other.  In old Chinese medical books, there are even cold food  and hot food categories and acupuncture meridian points to activate to restore an unbalanced spleen, or an upset stomach and all that. Diets are advised to be balanced according to our energy and nutritional needs.  To dancers,  athletes, actors and everyday ordinary people:  Balance is a universal prerequisite to living a full and well-lived existence.

stones

“Health is the natural condition. When sickness occurs, it is a sign that Nature has gone off course because of a physical or mental imbalance. The road to health for everyone is through moderation, harmony, and a ‘sound mind in a sound body’.”  -Jostein Gaarder, Sophies World

It is one of the first things we acquire in order to walk, to appreciate  visual art, to blend and adjust flavors in cooking.  For example, if you are a fan of cooking shows, you will see that the host/cook balances the acidic and the salty, sweet flavorings in his dish.   When we eat something, we don’t like it too salty, or too sweet.  Like the baby bear in Goldilocks, we want everything just right, and “just right” is actually the balance we instinctively seek.

What happens when there is imbalance? We get sick. Too much salt and our liver and kidneys get out of whack.  We go to the doctors to set our internal balance right. When we are sick, we try to get well again.

  • The Arts

When we experience extreme joy or extreme sorrow,  when we experience ecstasy and despair, we also seek to right the imbalance.  We cannot stay ecstatic all the time, or depressed all the time.  When we experience a great event, we seek creative outlets to pour  out the excess of the emotions incurred by  that event.  Hence, some great works of literature or of art have been the fruit of the creator’s  life of imbalance.  If I remember right, Van Gogh painted his most memorable pieces  when he was in a deep depression.  Picasso had his periods, too.  His life was tumultuous, and his periods reflected it.  They had to find a way to let it all out.  Unconsciously, we seek to right the balance.   It is the same with composing  photographs.  One has to be keenly aware of the balance of the composition to be able to create a pleasing, or disturbing or moving  image.

  • Drives and the Self

When we act on a desire or a need, shouldn’t  the action also be balanced by our conscience or ethics? When there is an imbalance, confusion  ensues.  Take for example those two girls who stabbed their friend in order to get close to a certain “slenderman”.   Extreme desire without the balance of conscience or ethics results in harming another human being, which  might  also result in extinguishing a life.


I was not aware of the importance of balance in every aspect of life before I studied Aikido.  I took it for granted,  and took balance for movement as separate from balance for art, or from emotion.  There was never a unifying element and connection and they, (dance, movement, art, photography, painting etc.) were just subjects.  Until Aikido.  Now, it feels like a prerequisite in self- awareness to me so that I can relate to the world better.balance2

What is it about this martial art that opens me up to being more sensitive?  More perceptive? More appreciative? Less  reactive, more calm, more patient? Is it particular only to Aikido? Or does this happen to someone practicing in other disciplines as well?  Yoga? Tai Chi? Has the art you have been practicing ultimately thrown open the doors to your inner self-awareness and your relationship with the world around you?  I am curious and happily grateful for this stage of growth.  Infinitely curious, boundlessly grateful,  and thoroughly  happy!

And yes, I have a life aside from Aikido and away from the blog.  I don’t practice on the mats all the time, or think about it all the time.  I have more fluency in maintaining a healthy balance in living a full and happy life.

I still think about Raistlin, the magician with hour-glass eyes, even if he went over to the dark side.  Maintaining his neutrality got in the way of his ambition.  But he sacrificed himself to right the balance in his world.

Delicate, I tell you, this element we call Balance.

 

(Please also see: “Rollercoaster Sensei“)

Only Hope Left

Please

He cried alone
behind a closed door.
This boy listens to everyone
yet speaks words
no one hears-

She cried alone
behind a closed door.
This plump girl with curly hair
and beautiful eyes
no one sees-

He cried alone
behind a closed door.
This man in debt who lost his job
and reputation because of lies
everyone believed-

She cried alone
behind a closed door.
This woman has lost her husband
to someone younger with fuller breasts;
he only loved her youth-

They made him
a liar.
They made her
ugly.
They made him
incompetent.
They made her
unworthy.

Please.
Help.
Rescue them.
Help rescue us.

My Hope,
You’re the only one left.

Please, save now…

(Please also see: “Cry “Wolf” !“)

Opposites: A Humourous Approach to Balancing Acts

Photo source: Publications International, Ltd.

Photo source: Publications International, Ltd.

Yin and yang, dark and light, soft and hard, cold and hot, female and male. Working with these opposing characteristics everyday makes the world go round and mat practice interesting. We harness their balance to create an effect. And of what worth is one without the foil of the other? There can be no appreciation for light without the contrast of what is dark. Of what value would chiaroscuro be without contrasts?

How light is a feather without comparing it to the heaviness of, for example, a brick? Unless a pound of feathers is equal to a pound of bricks, then a pound is a pound is a pound. Let’s take a look at dragons, for example. Smaug, the dragon in the hobbit, is a western born dragon. By that, I mean, he was conceptualized by someone from the West. Smaug was grasping, greedy, exceedingly proud and exceedingly destructive; a total manic gold-hoarder. Eastern dragons, on the other hand, are usually regarded as benevolent beings, bringing rain to parched land, teaching man the arts. The eastern dragon usually guards a pearl . Just one pearl, not a hoard of pearls. A creature much revered for its wisdom and elusiveness . Same creatures, but polar opposites.

Cultures are like that, as well.

In my line of work, I have met a lot of people from different countries. For some cultures, smiles are few and far between, sometimes they are even considered a sign of weakness . Being brusque to the point of being rude and firm is the norm. It takes some getting used to, but I have to try to understand, since I was born and raised in a city of smiles. I smiled at someone once who misunderstood it for disrespect. Since I cannot vow never to smile again, I simply and sincerely apologized.

It is the same with eye contact. In some places, a direct eye contact indicates you are open to conversation, in other places, direct eye contact is considered an affront and could get you into trouble. So many differences and opposites that it could drive a body to hermit-dom.

We try to establish a balance of these opposites to allow us to be ourselves yet operate in a world that might not be as understanding as our birthplace culture.

creekIt is a delicate on-going process in our day to day existence. I tend to liken the situation to a tightrope walker, wherein the tightrope is the life you want to live, and it is the tightrope walker’s job to stay balanced and focused so he can reach the other end safely. He uses his arms, his feet and his body to keep himself on that rope. Whenever he becomes unbalanced, he compensates by moving his arms or feet. But his center of gravity must, at all times, be within his control while on the rope.

It looks easy when you are just watching him do it, but when you try it yourself, you fall after 2-3 seconds. When we watch other people’s lives, it is easy to think “I can do that!” But when the time comes for us to live it, we falter and wonder how they can do it.

Once, a long time ago, while I was out in the field doing some grassroots peace education, I met a very stern and unyielding man. He had grown stern and unyielding from the hardships of farming and poverty. He never cracked jokes, and every attempt at humor me and my friends made fell flat. He was guarded, suspicious and angry. But he was interested collaborating with an education program that would benefit the residents in his area.

And, his eyes softened every time he saw his grandchildren.

Just that. Right there and then, I knew. He wasn’t doing this for himself. He was too old, too set in his ways, too brusque, too angry. He was doing this collaboration for his grandchildren. And it was all there, in just one soft look from one hard and angry man. All the hard work made it all worthwhile, for all of us who were involved in the project. Since he could not do what I can and I could not do what he can, we had to find a way to finish the job without losing his identity nor losing mine.

Sometimes, there is no middle ground, and we have problems reconciling two opposing ends . So it becomes a balancing act of understanding where the other person is coming from and what we can do from our stand point, too. All this trouble, going back and forth, working on working harmoniously together to finish a project must be seasoned liberally with a sense of humor and a willingness to try something new or strange.

DandelionWe had problems, sometimes, because neither one of us was willing to concede decisions to the other. There were times when one of us had to walk away and take a time out. I realized I could never fully understand being in his shoes, and he bluntly told me, he couldn’t imagine himself to ever be in my position, as well. But we both had the community’s best interest at heart, and neither one of us was going to leave any unfinished business behind. That we were both very stubborn was obvious. We also had to keep the integrity of the project intact despite our differences.

For about 18 months we were seesawing with working it all out, that when we finally came to a mutually satisfying plan of action and an even better execution, we felt a huge sense of accomplishment, relief, joy and fulfillment at the closing celebration.

When all was done, and it was time for me to leave, in the end, seeing that man’s smile was my own secret reward.

(Please also see: “8 Tips to Making Peace a Habit“)

8 Tips to Making Peace a Habit

???????????????????????????????????????????????????Why is peace so elusive? There is no one answer to this question; however, it is true that peace starts within ourselves. If each of us actively strive for peace, I think having peace in our lives isn’t such an impossible dream. Listed below are 8 of most practical tips to start living peacefully with ourselves and others. I am sure you will feel lighter and more at peace by applying these tips in your everyday lives:

1. Say Thank you.

The attitude of gratitude. Most people today think they are entitled to certain privileges. Bosses barking orders to subordinates, customers ranting in stores and restaurants, children feeling they should have this or that toy because all their friends have them; the list can go on and on. Seldom do we hear even a “thank you“. How would you feel if after doing something for others they say thank you to you? Isn’t it a great feeling?

Saying thank you is spreading love. Thank you is a miracle phrase. Try it and don’t be sarcastic. The habit of saying thank you melts the stress of our everyday work, and enforces an environment of respect for each other.

2. Forgive others.

Pride is very dangerous, and oftentimes destructive. Human as we are, we make mistakes. Let us realize that people around us are human as well. They also make mistakes.

Forgiving others is a great way to fortify shaky relationships and rebuild broken ones. The best thing about forgiveness is it is free! All we need to do is swallow our pride. Think about it. Is this heartache and stress really worth it? Does it even do any good? Maybe you can dust it off and opt for a fresh start. Forgiveness is never easy, believe me, I know. But I also know that what is worth having is never easy to begin with.

Try forgiving. What do you really have to lose??

3. Forgive yourself. Let go.

There are also times that we fail to accept that we are wrong. Again, we are human. We make mistakes- and often! Let us learn to accept our humanity and forgive ourselves.

Our mistakes do not define us. It is how we respond to these failures that shapes our character. Learn forgiveness by accepting our faults and learning from them- meaning, please don’t do the same mistake over and over again. The best way to learn is learning from experience.

4. Listen.

We all want other people to listen to us. But did we ever think of listening to others too? True listening is just being fully there for another person. Most of the time, we say we listen but actually our mind is somewhere else. Listen and be fully present. A lot of people will appreciate this, and not only will you have better relationships, you will also get to know other people more deeply. Listening is a skill that has to be practiced. It may seem tedious at first, but once you get the hang of it, it can actually be fun.

5. Meditate/Pray.

Meditation and prayer is a way to unload. These are precious moments where we can actually gain perspective of what really matters. In prayer, we pour out our anxiety. In meditation, we center our minds and try to experience life and regain perspective. These practices have been around for thousands of years. These practices have existed for so long because there is wisdom in doing them. Each day, find time to meditate and pray. It will make a difference.

6. Respect differences.

We all come in different colors, shapes and sizes with different beliefs, lifestyles, and cultures. But our differences doesn’t mean we can not work with each other; or at least co-exist. I have found that one of the hallmark of respect is being patient with each other. Not everyone is like you. This is a fact of life. Having the patience to deal with it is a key to peace.

7. Empathize.

Putting yourself in another person’s shoes. It is feeling what the other is feeling. It is the experience of understanding another person’s condition from their perspective. Empathizing is a skill and can be learned. A simple way to start practicing this is to always consider what the other person is going through.

Practicing empathy is both compassionate and helpful. If we can see and experience things from the perspective of another, we can begin identifying with each other. Empathy is the act of experiencing together. When we empathize, we are training ourselves to look at what is the same, instead of what is different.

8. Let go of the need to understand, instead Accept.

The most important tip for having peace is to let go of trying to understand each other and instead just accept one another for who we are. We can never fully understand each other. We, each one of us, are uniquely our own selves. If we agree, we agree. If we disagree, we disagree. Either way, we can co-exist.

hands2We can always try to see from the other person’s perspective, and understand where they are coming from, but that doesn’t mean we always share their view. Instead of trying to understand each other, let us learn to accept each other’s uniqueness- the good along with the not so good. When we learn to accept each other’s individuality, we also learn to respect diversity. This is a practice of appreciating life itself. When we learn acceptance, we learn to thrive in spite of our differences; and there can be peace. The language that maintains order is kindness.

(Please also see: “Sharing Meals with Death and Coming Out Alive“)

Senshin: The Enlightened Mind

Leaf RipplesWe strive towards Enlightenment. There are different paths and different methods. Most martial disciplines and Zen strives towards achieving the state of enlightenment.

There is no exact way to literally translate Senshin. Roughly, it means The Enlightened Mind. In Budo, it is one of the states that martial artists strive for. In Aikido, we have the 5 Spirits of Budo: The beginner’s mind (see Shoshin), the mind without mind (see Mushin), the immovable mind (see Fudoshin), the mind of continuing alertness (see Zanshin) and we have, the enlightened mind, Senshin.

Sen is the kanji for before, ahead, precedence, future and also previous, while Shin is the kanji that could read both for mind , heart and spirit, true. But in this case, we will consider Senshin as the state of the enlightened mind.

In O’Sensei’s writings, as translated by John Stevens, he enumerates Life’s four great treasures: the energy of the sun and the moon, the breath of heaven, the breath of earth and the ebb and flow of the tide. He states that we must understand these gifts and also added that “the pure and radiant jewel of a mind” will allow us to purify the world and harmonize all hostility.

That is the aim of Senshin: The enlightened mind of the practicing budoka must be able to protect all Life and harmonize the universe.

The enlightened mind holds all life sacred, knows how one aspect of imbalance can affect another. Senshin perceives the fine webbing in the universe that connects and affects us all. Senshin strives to nurture and cultivate the spirit of compassion. It should embrace all and serve all. It is not exclusive, it is all-inclusive. Senshin is to say “Yes!” to life and love and the best of humanity.

This vision and philosophy is not particular only to Aikido or Zen. Such aspirations also exist in other world philosophies. “That the lion will lie down with the lamb” speaks of possible future harmony in the universe. That humanity seeks to find a Utopia or Eden on Earth is everyman’s goodwill wish for the world.

Senshin might be described as joyful, motherly and vast.

Joyful because it takes joy in all the phases of life, birth, growth, growing old, decaying and dying. Joy in doing the mundane things by being fully engaged that it brings forth a sense of gratefulness. Gratefulness of being alive, to look and to see as fully as possible, to listen and to hear as fully as possible, to taste and do things as fully as possible. Motherly, because it brings forth the qualities of compassion, being nurturers and giving unconditionally without any consideration that what you give, you might not receive in return; and Vast because it encompasses and understands all, what we do, who we are, what we see and experience, Not good or bad, just all of ourselves and the universe we live in.

Senshin is possible and achievable, but most probably, rare, because it is not only the mind that is enlightened but the spirit of the budoka must also be purified. Ideally, it is the warrior with a purified spirit /intention and an enlightened attitude.20121017_001

Senshin gives itself away in silence, in acts of compassion, in grieving with the inconsolable, in giving generously, in forgiving even when we are wronged, because one who possesses Senshin, perceives the plight and value of Life with his heart, mind and soul.