Observations of the impact of aikido practice on my life
During the seven or eight years I’ve been coming to this dojo (Riai Aikido Learning Centre, Auckland, NZ) I’ve made a few observations of the impact of my aikido practice on my personal and working life that I’d like to share here. I walked in the door looking for some kind of exercise that I would enjoy and be able to stick with in the long term. I’d tried karate and judo before so I thought a martial art might be the thing for me although I was also pretty sure karate wasn’t going to be it. I think aikido did fulfil that rather limited goal but what I didn’t realise when I first started was that there is actually a lot more to it than throwing people around and getting sweaty. These other aspects of aikido are what I’d like to talk about in this roban.
Sensei Henry, 5th Dan, Riai Aikido, talks about his three C’s: close; capable; community; I’ve got a different though related set of three C’s that I’d like to talk about because of their relationship to some of the communication challenges I encounter at work and these are: Commitment; Confidence; and Calm redirection. I think fundamentally aikido is about communication so it should not be surprising that there are a lot of parallels to be found.
Firstly, commitment. One of the key lessons we learn as ukes is that we have to be committed in our attacks – the direction of our energy has to be clear and unambiguous and we can’t stop partway through to change the plan. If uke is not committed, nage can’t complete the technique. Likewise, nage must be committed in their response. While we all know that nage has a lot of options in terms of varying the technique while it is in progress, they also have to move with commitment or certainty for the technique to work. If nage is too tentative in their movements, uke won’t know where to go and the technique will not work. This turns out to be true in many aspects of life and on a personal level it seems to work for relationships. Life often gives us opportunities that rapidly slip away if we don’t commit to them promptly and fully.
Secondly, confidence. Aikido gives us a number of options to respond to most attacks and, with a few years of practice, the flexibility to find a technique even if the situation changes part way through. For me, knowing that I can deal with whatever attack gets thrown at me on the mat (within reason) gives me a bit of a confidence boost in dealing with whatever life throws at me off the mat. I certainly get this feeling after a weekend of Shihan Bob. I’m always a bit mystified when I’m trying to make sense of what he’s saying on the mat but can’t help but notice how great I feel for the following week at work.
My third C is calm redirection. It was slightly difficult to make redirection into a C but I think this works. One of the best aikido examples I can think of was an exercise Sensei Mike did at a seminar or camp one year where we walked in a straight line and our partner had to approach and gently but firmly redirect us as if there were some source of danger in the direction we had previously been travelling. A similar feeling is present in many aikido techniques – in fact most of them involve some sort of redirection whether it be a lead or a turning or a spiralling change in direction. While we sometimes use atemi or change direction abruptly, for the most part in our style of aikido these movements are calm, smooth and not rushed making sure that our partner comes along for the ride and stays with us.
These three C’s are concepts that I’ve pulled out because over the years I’ve noticed how they’ve helped me in my work as a doctor. I’ve never had to use aikido techniques to pacify an irate patient and don’t expect to have to in the future. But I have found these aikido concepts to be very useful in communicating with my patients and their families. Family meetings in particular can be quite stressful from the doctor’s perspective and I’m sure from the family’s point of view too. The doctor usually has information to get across and often wants a decision to be made or some direction about how the patient or family would like to proceed. Sometimes this information is not welcome or pleasant. The decisions to be made are often difficult ones. We tend to see patients and their families on what is for them a bad day when they are not at their best. Families have questions they want answered and often have a clear direction they want the conversation or the care of their relative to go in which may or may not be the same as what the medical team think is best or even possible. Sometimes these meetings go remarkably well – we all travel in the same direction. Other times these meetings do not go so smoothly and it is clear that we have very different ideas about what should happen. Bad things happen to good people and it is not uncommon for relatives to be angry about this. It is during these difficult meetings these aikido principles can be very helpful. Showing and saying that we, the medical team, have a commitment to best interests of the patient is a good start. Confidence in the delivery of information can help to reassure the family that we do know what we are talking about. Commitment to what you know to be true and what it is possible to achieve even when it is hard for others to hear is important. Calmly redirecting challenging conversations can be difficult. Shihan Robert Nadeau, 7th Dan, USA, talks about the concept of receptive-positive which is a good analogy for this. We are taught, and I’ve found it to be true, that people have to be listened to and to feel that they have been listened to before they will really engage with you. Depending on the difference of opinion, it really does feel a lot like you’re redirecting a well delivered mune tsuki at times. But as with aikido, the more energy there is in the delivery, the more you have to receive and move with it until, at some point it turns out that you are now leading the conversation in a more helpful direction. I don’t want it to sound like I get into arguments with patients and families all the time because I don’t – in fact that is exactly what I try to avoid doing and these techniques are one way to avoid it. I also don’t want it to sound like this always works because it doesn’t. Just like on the mat, occasionally you get a bad uke who wants to keep banging away with the same attack and can’t be redirected – commitment to doing things in a way that is genuine or true to yourself is the only way to get through this. I should also point out that the use of atemi is likely to lead to a complaint in the hospital setting.
I would like to finish by expressing my gratitude to our senseis, Henry and Danny, for their many hours of teaching over the years, and to all of you for the assistance you have given me today and over the last few years.
Roban for shodan
13 December 2014