In thinking about applying principle of Aikido away from the mat, I am reminded of how some of the basic tenants of my daily practice have become a part of my world view. It is perhaps not so surprising after all, considering that Aikido is in a sense a very organic, natural application of simple physical and logical principles – blending with opponent, extending the opponent past his center, keeping yourself grounded and balanced, remaining calm and introspective, being respectful and honoring your teachers and their teachers. The list can go on and on. I will mention here connecting two basic principles that transcend their physical application but nevertheless are an integral part of Aikido worldview – centering oneself and self examination.
The concept of centering yourself physically and mentally in order to enhance one’s perception or to generate strength in movement or in mental fortitude is not unique to Aikido. Many philosophers and artist independently came to understand the value of this viewpoint — Henry Miller for example wrote a series of essays titled “Stand Still Like The Hummingbird”. The application of this tenet is reinforced day in and day out in our practice – do not focus on controlling the hand but focus on controlling the whole body; look toward other possible attackers; think of yourself as a center of calm in the whirlwind. I often think of this concept when faced with challenges that have a potential to overwhelm or to unbalance one’s life – personal relationships, challenges of parenting, work. Finding a foundation — an idea or a concept — that allows you to remain grounded in facing potentially unsettling circumstances is often absolutely necessary for a balanced life. Being presented with a daunting task of caring for aging parents, for example, can be unsettling. The difficult aspect is not providing the actual physical assistance – that is the easy part of the task. It is the demoralizing anguish of seeing once strong and independent loved ones slowly becoming physically and mentally infirm that can make one feel helpless and self-centered. There is a strong desire to avoid seeing the inevitable, to escape reality by preserving the memory of how things were. How do you find that inner anchor –what center do you hold on to remain strong for yourself and for them? See the forest for the trees then, the important and sacred instead of daily disappointments. So instead of feeling threatened or overwhelmed by the unsettling circumstances, find your strength in thinking of your obligation as a privilege, an honor to be there for your parents in the time of need, being their center as well as yours. Find your grounding in focusing outward, in being selfless and compassionate in facing the challenges with a clear mind, in understanding that your position is a blessing – both of your lives will be enriched in the process.
Studying of Aikido teaches one to continuously examine the strength of one’s practice – what makes a particular technique effective, where lies the strength or weakness of a particular defense or counter? One quickly learns that success is rooted not simply in doing something harder, or faster, but in breaking down the movement and understanding the dynamics, understanding the balance, the source of strength and also of weakness of a particular technique. This daily introspection becomes a part of one’s outlook on life and leads to finding opportunities to examine merits and weaknesses in other undertakings. I find no better place to apply these lessons that in the everyday challenges of parenting. How do you get through to your kids in the most effective way, how do you teach them life’s lessons, how do you teach them to teach themselves – to impart to them the practice of recognizing valuable lessons embedded in their own daily experiences? And so begins the application of practices the value of which I’ve recognized because of the daily lesson taught to me by my Aikido teachers. Daily life lessons after all are never seizing. Your kid and a friend get in trouble in school—you can punish them or it might be a time for a conversation about learning how to recognize when a friend’s influence can be damaging or a conversation about teaching a child to assert their sense of moral comfort in their relationships or a talk on how to recognize the signs of losing their independence in a relationship that they value. Your kid makes silly mistakes on a test – you can tell them to be more careful next time, or it might be a good learning moment to teach them the value of examining their work, of looking back and checking their own conclusions with a critical eye of an independent observer. A kid feels put upon in school or feels having their trust betrayed by a classmate – it might be an opportunity for a discussion about learning how to deal with adversity, about holding their ground or walking away. Rightly or wrongly, I found in Aikido not just a series of self defense techniques, but a rich and life affirming outlook on dealing with many complex issues. Many more lessons are waiting to be discovered by a diligent student. The learning never stops.