The art of Aikido and non-violent communication

The art of Aikido and non-violent communication

It started, for me, with a book. Family and friends, who know me, will laugh at that understatement, as I have spent a lot of time with my head submerged. I have always believed in peace being possible, on a personal, social and cosmic level, and had found that Science Fiction novels provided a great scope for imagining a different future for our struggle worn world. In this particular sci-fi gem, Aikido featured as the tool for relatively peaceful revolution, and it captured my imagination. Two weeks later, Sensei Johannes Buiter advertised a beginner’s course at the Commercial Street dojo, and I was there like a shot.

Aikido was challenging – it asked me to become co-ordinated, wanted me to roll, backwards and forwards! And get hot and sweaty with people I had only just met. Most importantly though, for me, it asked that I connect, compassionately and lovingly, with this other person, who was attacking me and mine, try and see things from their perspective, and take us both to a safe place of conscious communication. Here was my opportunity to bring peace to the world! What a joy and a journey.

I prided myself on my enlightened choice of Martial Art and then proceeded to clog the flow of connection with all my feelings, needs, and patterns of the Ego’s attention seeking behaviour. My realisation of the complexity of learning Aikido, and how, on all levels, my desire for peace was bamboozled by my own feelings, thoughts and actions, led me to question if peace would be achievable, how was it possible?

Instead of bringing peace, I had to somehow find a way to be Peace, on and off the mat. Also too, to remain respectful of the other’s right to be how they chose. Over the years working in Child and Adolescent Mental Health, I utilised many forms of talking with clients. Some of them worked, some did not. It seemed to me that any talking, was essentially judging good from bad, right from wrong, them from us, not ok from ok – that what was happening was someone’s fault, that someone had to take the blame; that these ideas disconnected people from one another.

As Aikido training and life refined me and my being in the world, the answer to my question, that has gradually emerged is one of connection: My connection with self and the world.

We play with connection on the mat constantly, checking our stance, our zanshin, our alignment with other, providing feedback and support. We recognise when we don’t connect in the techniques and work together to remedy it. We talk about taking Aikido off the mat into everyday life. This was perplexing – how to do this, when other people may not even be aware that the connection is not there, broken, desired or even repelled. They might not even know Aikido.

So it was gratefully that I learnt about Non-violent Communication, a way of talking developed by psychologist Marshall Rosenberg that “helps people to exchange the information necessary to resolve conflicts and differences peacefully.”

NVC was challenging. It asked me to learn self-empathy, to be aware of what is going on inside of me and accepting it. Next, to have empathy for other, that is to understand and share the feelings of another. (This is as opposed to sympathy where you feel sorry for another person.) Lastly, honest self-expression, the most difficult, as it required learning a new language of communication, described to me once as “not kind, but honest”.

In NVC I found a framework and language that allows me to take the ideas of Aikido off the mat and use them, to connect with others in a peaceful way.

  1. Observation: The observation mode relates to neutrality in Aikido. Our response to attack ideally is enquiring, safe and open on the mat. In NVC we state what happened in 40 words or less, as though you are seeing it through a video lens, without evaluation, judging or referring to feelings, needs or any such commentary.
  2. Feelings: The feeling mode relates to the 3 steps of Aikido from Richard Moon Sensei’s teaching. Presence, be where you are; Harmony, harmonious relationship; Creativity, share who you are. In NVC, being present is crucial – being open and aware is key to the development of an harmonious relationship, and sharing who you are, reflects trust and connection, that on the mat looks like a beautiful technique.
  3. Needs: The needs mode is thinking about what your current need in the given situation is. Commonly, on the mat, that can be safety, space, a shared movement – in the off mat world these are common as well.
  4. Request: the request mode is asking yourself or another to do something specific. Requests are difficult to convey without blame, judgement, or anger. Being a request the answer could be yes or no. If it is no and you don’t like it, you need to try again. Definitely reminds of some tenacious ukes, who just won’t stay down, as the technique you had on them hasn’t connected with the need you may have for safety or space.

All this fosters real connection at a heart level and is that not the way to peace?

I appreciate these intertwined disciplines, they have both given gifts in my life and as I continue on my life path I hope that Peace continues to grow in my life and the lives of all, and I give thanks to all I have trained with, leaving the finishing quote coming from O’Sensei:

“Build a peaceful, beautiful world where there are no wars and no fighting; actualise the great way in Heaven and earth. This is the path of Aikido”.

Monica Chapman, Nidan Roban, 2015