As for the actual practice of Aikido, think about the first act in every class. As soon as we enter the dojo, we bow. When we get on the mats, we bow. When we start class, we bow and when we engage a partner, we bow. Aside from exercising our hip joints, what is the purpose of all this bowing? Generally, we are told the reason is to show respect. If we do not respect a subject, we will not be able to learn it well. This fact is true of every subject, not just Aikido. However, why should we respect the practice of Aikido? In earlier posts, Aikido was established as a means to promote genuine peace and happiness within ourselves, while at the same time learning how to perform a function in the most efficient manner humanly possible. As it turns out, the function is to preserve our life in the face of grave threat. In this sense, Aikido touches upon the two most important facets of human life: the wish to be happy and the wish to live.
So, in essence we look to the practice of Aikido to learn how to become happy and survive in the face of a difficult threat. We look to our lineage of teachers as setting out the path to accomplish this goal. Dojo protocol suggests we respect this path and the lineage of teachers. Well, excuse me for being devil’s advocate, but WHY? Who are these people? What do they know? How do I even know it is possible to accomplish these goals? Yes, in order to be successful, we need to be confident that success is at least possible and that our lineage of instruction can lead to success. Being confident because the person sitting next to me seems to be okay with the idea is not our target level of confidence. We need to do some real inspection.
The first question we need to address is whether or not success is possible. The previous entry “Back on Track…Targeting the Source of the Problem” explored how we can be confident genuine happiness is possible. We can apply similar reasoning for self defense. Try an experiment: become enraged about something and ask your partner to punch you. Then relax and be peaceful and do the same. Under which circumstance can you perceive the attack earlier. I will let the cat out of the bag here – you should be more perceptive when not angry. So by eliminating anger and other such negative/uncomfortable emotions we can perceive an attacker earlier, and with training can respond reflexively for defense. Taking this process to its natural conclusion, we become invincible as we become aware of the attack before someone immersed in these negative emotions is even aware of their own physical movements. The only possible exception from the stand point of logic is the question of immovable object meets irresistible force. Specifically, if 2 people are 100% successful in finding happiness (and also perfected their perception) and they try to kill each other, who would win? I will let the absurdity of the question provide the answer.
Any process which can produce complete happiness and protect us from harm efficiently is worthy of great respect. So the next question to address is whether the practice of Aikido and our lineage of instructors fall into this category. The answer might not be as straight forward as you would expect. The fact is that the world is comprised of an enormous number of people with different dispositions and cultures. If we are going for the extreme result of 100% happiness, and why should we target anything less, we are going to find that different people have different ideas on the subject. Not surprisingly, while most have not achieved 100% success, they all feel their particular approach is the correct one. (If they felt they were on the wrong track, obviously they would change to the right track, so believing you are correct is healthy.) The practice of Aikido does not regulate or even try to manipulate which belief system, if any, to which someone might ascribe. Instead, the idea is more one of how to blend with different people.
So while some people might believe Morehei Ueshiba was the pinnacle of human existence, no one is really expected to draw that conclusion. Others might take Jesus, Mohummed, Ghandi, Mother Theresa, Buddha, Jung, Socrates, etc. as their role models. Another population might be divorced from religion, philosophy, psychology and other traditions that do target the search for peace and happiness, yet they have not lost interest in the pursuit themselves. Perhaps the institutions representing some of these traditions caused them to lose confidence in the underlying tradition or its practice.
So for someone who wishes to follow a particular tradition, whether participating in an institution or not, they can compare the teachings of the leader, say Jesus for instance, with those of Morehei Ueshiba. Where they are the same, they study both because they are the teachings of Jesus; where they differ, they follow Jesus. They believe following the teachings of Jesus will lead to pure happiness and use that confidence when practicing Aikido. When they bow, they simply consider they are showing respect to Jesus. For someone who takes more of a secular approach, they might have noticed that individuals on the above list did seem to be happier and more effective than the average person on the street. They might then take a common sense approach to their search for happiness: generally reducing extreme emotions is helpful, ethical conduct is beneficial, compassion for others is useful, etc. In showing respect for the practice of Aikido, they might think “All of those people can’t be wrong. I can show respect for the locus where they all agree.” Such areas as compassion, the importance of ethics, etc, are examples.
So showing respect for the practice is critical in order to be successful. And in targeting respect, merely a mundane level will be a hindrance. Targeting complete respect and appreciation for the practice can lead to a more completely positive result. So the answer to how to show respect does not take a rigid form where everyone follows the same protocol. Instead, each person should inspect their own thinking and follow a process suited for themselves to gain the best result. Since the practice of Aikido targets benefit for each participant, the approach is not prescribed based on a fixed practice but rather specifically directed to each individual according to which will produce the most positive results for them. We blend/harmonize with each person by doing what is purely best for them.