Aikido & the Church Parking Lot

In my childhood, I used to be amused after church services. After one hour of obligatory weekly spirituality, everything was immediately forgotten in the congregation’s race to get out of the parking lot. More likely then forgetting, the bulk of people never really knew the purpose of being there in the first place.

Some will argue that it is better to go than not to go, even if you do not know why. For some people, at least they are off the streets for an hour a week. For others, who knows when something will click and all of what has been transmitted may suddenly make sense. Being in the presence of a mystery may even transform you unwittingly for the better.

Who knows?

I claim no special insight, but I presume the point is deeper than a mandatory social hour and that the application of what is conveyed is not meant to be limited to that hour. The wisdom and principles are seen in the mundane. God is everywhere, so to speak.

The martial arts (and other arts) that have adopted the –do suffix are seen by their founders as something of a spiritual path. Through sincere and dedicated practice, you may eventually see the world through the master’s eyes…

… or maybe you will just learn punching and kicking, flower arranging, or how to make a pot of tea. The deeper aspects are not mandatory, and they are not for everyone.

In any event, Aikido, an art that adopts the moniker, “The Art of Peace,” practically invites scrutiny to the more spiritual aspects. The founder himself states the purpose of aikido: True victory is victory over oneself, right now. Still, squabbles develop. Why do we practice?

Here is one of my somewhat obtuse posts from an AikiWeb thread. An anonymous user presents a problem and asks what he should do. A decidedly un-aiki discussion follows. Is there an aikdo-compliant way all of this should have been handled? I think so.

The Post

Today we’ll practice shomenuchi ikkyo omote. Demonstration, clap, pair up and practice!

A shomenuchi with a roaring kiai! Have you ever observed how different beginners respond? Some flee the atack. Some cover their heads and cower. Some stand dumbfounded. A few do something else, like an unrefined counter-strike. Whatever the starting point, over time we’re going to work to make that beginner’s technique become something like what was demonstrated. We’ll practice shomenuchi ikkyo undo basic exercise again and again. We’ll transform the slumped over cowering into the bright-postured shomenuchi ikkyo undo. We’ll transform fleeing into fearless entry. We’ll transform being dumbfounded, stuck in thought, into immediate and appropriate response. We’ll transform the unrefined counter-sttack into fierce kiai and off-balancing atemi in the spirit of irimi.

Step outside the dojo for a moment, since this is “real life.”

Where are you coming from? Here you are. There is no going back to change the circumstances of right now.

What is coming at you? What is it that you face? No wishful thinking will change the circumstances of right now.

The circumstances are set. Events are in motion: An instructor mindlessly makes a pass at a female student. The female cowers. A third-party male friend of both watches dumbfounded.

Where is the error, who is at fault, and what is aikido’s path through this?

Does it matter in aikido’s practice whether or not the attack has intent? Will we respond differently in the moment if it does? No, that is decidedly not how we train. We “protect” the attacker and act with “loving kindness.” Why? Ultimately, we do not know the attacker’s mind. We do not know the causes and conditions that led to this moment. We do not add our assumptions to the situation. We do not judge good or bad, right or wrong, or degree of fault. We simply act—or, perhaps better said, we act simply.

The instructor operated in habitual mind; he lost zanshin. It happens. Restoring harmony with the universe is to restore zanshin, his awareness. In the lucid moments, he may recognize that his behavior has a negative impact on the club; the goal for him and for everyone is to remain lucid.

The woman psychologically cowers. The friend stands dumbfounded. Are they at fault? Restoring harmony with the universe means what for them? Perhaps it means restoring their original minds (to borrow terminology) as well—examining what baggage they carry that caused them to fail to act when they sensed an attack and working through it until their responses start to look like aikido.

This is what aikido practice is for me. If your understanding of aikido is different, I will naturally expect different response. Through continued practice, hopefully we all meet in the same place.

Bow to shomen. Bow to teacher. Bow to each other.

By Joe

Puzzle Wrestler & Mountain Herder. Math & Computer Nerd since the 80s. Longtime linux (current debian, ubuntu, raspian, centos, gentoo), currently fighting feebsd. Over-complicates networks for fun, occasionally secures them for profit. Develops own tools & services (cli, web services, and lately some android). Degrees in Math, Belts in Aikido. Zen, Motorcycle, Ham Radio, Homebrew (Ale, not Radio), Coffee & Tea, some Mandolin & Fiddle, MDA Advocacy (son with Duchenne), …

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