Aikido, Systems and Purposeful Interactions
What draws us to a martial art?
What is the fundamental reason that we step out of our comfort zones and in to an Aikido Dojo for the first time?
And even more, why do we persist with and continue applying ourselves to such a complex time which requires hours our precious time and patience?
Reflecting on these questions gives rise to the myriad of benefits that aikido offers. Many people participate in aikido to learn a powerful form of self defence, drawing on the unique martial aspects of the art. Some practice aikido with the intention of improving our physical fitness or to learn the subtler aspects of human movement. Some see aikido as an idealistic form of communication or as a way to further personal development.
So what purpose does aikido serve in my life? In writing this Roban, I hope to reflect on and share what I see as the most important aspect of this art, and to relay one of the key reasons that I continue to practice Aikido.
Situations, Systems and Interactions
Every situation we find ourselves in involves an interaction between one or more systems. This interaction is an exchange of information. So in every thing that we do on a day to day basis we are processing information from another system, and conveying information to that system. A person’s understanding of the interaction between themselves and other systems largely dictates their ability to deal with a situation. One person interacting with a system that that they don’t understand sees chaos and problems, while a person who has an understanding of that same system will see simplicity and beauty. Chaos and problems are a product of our perception, and materialise when we do not have the level of awareness and presence to understand the situation or when we do not have the skill set to manage it.
Aikido serves to develop an ability to interact with other systems, to understand their simplicity, to avoid being frazzled by their chaotic energies, and to build the physical and mental skills needed to deal with the forces resulting from this interaction – whether the interaction be a physical conflict, a conversation between two colleagues, or a negotiation process. Many Aikido sensei’s have described how Aikido serves this purpose in different ways, but the essentials of their message is the same.
First of all, Aikido teaches us to pay attention to our own systems. Where are we physically? Where are we mentally and emotionally? What is our intended outcome with the situation that we have in front of us? Do we have the skills to handle it, or should we simply walk away? Paying attention to where we are in ourselves, and understanding what our intended outcome in interacting with other systems, is essential to achieving an outcome for the greater good. To achieve this outcome, we need to understand the system we are interacting with. Aikido also teaches us to understand the flow of forces within a system, and the motives generating those forces. With this understanding we are able to blend and interact with a situation harmoniously, dealing with the unfolding without the resistance that would accompany the situation otherwise. We see it for it’s simplicity rather than as chaos, and are able to carry those forces through to a better outcome.
The skills and techniques learned through aikido training allow us to effortlessly manipulate the energies of a physical system that we are interacting with, but only once we know where we are, and what is driving that system. This leads to a state of evolution for both systems and for the situation.
A Challenging Purpose
The real challenge with Aikido lies not with becoming proficient with the art in the dojo or on the mat, but with carrying the principles we learn on the mat into the real world. Aikido offers purpose and a constant challenge to build the ability to maintain a level of presence and awareness as life’s challenges unfold. With this we have the ability to see a challenge or problem for what it is without judgement, fear or anger. With this heightened level of presence and awareness problems can simply melt away, becoming just another episode in our life to be embraced. As with anything, this is constant work in progress as we try to be ever mindful of a need to improve, we try to recognise where we fall short, and attempt to remain open to receiving the energies of change.
Every individual faces personal conflict, whether in personal relationships, the work environment or within oneself, these conflicts are unavoidable in life. My constant challenge is to carry the level of presence and purpose learnt in the Aikido Dojo through to the challenges I face in the real world. A challenging Uke on the mat is one thing; a confrontational situation at work or on the street is another world.
To experience all we can from our lives, to experience all we can from every situation, we need to remain present, and what we see as our unique purpose in life needs to be at the forefront of our thoughts, our deeds and our communications. For me, the Aikido Dojo is the forum to practice this, but as in life, in the Dojo we must remind ourselves of our purpose before every interaction.
Participating in aikido with a purpose, participating in life with a purpose, fills us with the energy that drives us to develop and improve, to become a better version of ourselves, to be at our true potential in every given moment.
I would like to conclude by conveying my sincere gratitude and appreciation to my teachers in Aikido. The people I have learnt from are varied. Regular sensei’s who selflessly share their knowledge and experiences for no other reason than to help their students develop have contributed more than any of us can know to the development of every person who has stepped into a dojo. Less regular and guest sensei’s have been pivotal in providing regular catalysts for a leap in our development. And finally the interactions with training partners on the mat, and everyone in my life off the mat; is where I believe the greatest teaching and learning can be found.
Hold your presence, feel your purpose, and you will learn from even your most insignificant and inexperienced uke.