why do we do it?

Yokomenuchi Kotegaeshi. Break that technique down and how many different movements do we do? How many times do we turn and flow backwards or forwards (depending on which direction we’re going in), how many circles do we move in with various parts of our body? Look at the pin. Especially when we’re beginners, it sure seems like a lot of moves just to get the guy on the ground and pin him. It woulda been a heck of a lot easier to block the strike and hit him back. Why should we do it like this? Take the attacker to the ground safely? Why would I want to do that? I keep falling off balance and forgetting step 4 and 5. This is crazy.

I remember thinking these things when I first started training. I would watch other people do the technique over and over and couldn’t quite get it. So why do we do it? I think I’m kind of starting to figure out why. We put in the extra effort of doing the Aikido technique because it’s all about giving. We’re giving the gift of, hopefully, taking the attacker to the ground without harming them or us, and that gift is paid back to us in a couple of ways. For one, it feels amazing when we do it right. Doing the technique right in perfect balance and having it feel effortless is an incredible experience, and it looks pretty too, which is always nice. During a randori, flowing around the mat like a ghost as uke’s fall everywhere is well worth the practice. Art is what we’re aiming for here, and when you lose yourself in it, it feels incredible and the self-defense practicality of the technique fades in significance a little. In the case of a real attack, the next morning when the adrenaline rush is long gone, we’ll be glad we didn’t badly hurt (or worse) someone. These are yet some other reasons we train.

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In Aikido, Irimi (entering) is a big deal.  It encompasses about half of our basic techniques, and some say it encompasses all of them.  Irimi is a big reason why Aikido is a no b.s. martial art.  Entering at a slight angle towards the attack, especially when it’s a sword attack, is something not many can do on the mat, let alone in a real life-threatening situation.  With irimi, there is no time to think, only to act.  It could take us a lifetime to thoroughly explore the concept of irimi in all of it’s applications.  We could practice the physical techniques of irimi until we pass out, but unless our mind is ready, we won’t be ably to apply the principle of it at all.

Although it is an Aikido term, irimi is a principle that I’ve seen applied by people outside the dojo who don’t know a thing about Aikido.  You can tell it in people’s physical and mental posturing.  Those who lean into things tend to be good at irimi.  In order to effect something, one must lean into it.  These people get things done.  You won’t see them standing around waiting to be told what to do or taking a victim’s posture.   When there’s an issue, they don’t shy away from it, they go right into it.  When there are no issues to deal with, they are seeking out ways to improve things.  Whether they’re asked to do this or not, they do it.  Connection is what they thrive on, and they always find a way to connect with people.

Aikido is a great way to foster and train irimi.  Entering into a physical attack effectively is great exercise to calm your mind in the face of conflict.  We can also work on this off the mat by taking a forward mental and physical posturing in our daily lives.  Even when there may be no problems in the immediate present, look for ways to improve things in your home, workplace, etc.  Take the initiative of taking inventory and cutting away the thoughts and beliefs that may be holding you back in whatever it is you’re doing.  Cross those items off your list and, most importantly, always be moving forward.


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no safety

Our minds are so complex.  I was thinking just this morning about why people do some of the stupid, and at times horrendous, things they do.  Why do people hurt each other physically and non-physically?  What kind of right-minded individual would initiate violence on another, especially over something petty or contrived?  I’ve written a bit about it in past posts, but the stuff I’m reading currently talks a lot about the “lizard brain“.  Everyone has one.  The part of your brain directly attached to the brain stem is called the amygdala.  Some people call this the lizard brain, or reptilian brain, among other things.  When we’re in a fight or flight situation, this is the first part of our brains that light up on a brain-scanner-thingy (yep, technical jargon).  It even lights up when we merely think about something we determine threatening or fearful.  This is huge.  So, basically, nothing even has to be actually happening in our physical world for this bad boy to hop into action.  When it does activate, our shoulders tend to tighten up, tunnel vision narrows our focus, our heart rate goes up a bit, and a lot of other animal-like natural instincts that may have served us well in the stone age (or if we’re actually in a life-threatening situation), but are totally counterproductive in the drive thru at In-N’-Out Burger.  So, this lizard brain can be a blessing, but it’s mostly a curse in this day and age.

Our brains have evolved a lot since the lizard brain came around.  They’ve grown in mass and we’ve developed the frontal cortex, which lights up when we listen to music we like, or are creating things.  The lizard brain is quiet during those times.  We’re stuck with this lizard brain.  Sure, it could save our lives, so thank goodness we have em’, but more often than not, when we obey it’s command, it gets us in a pickle, almost every time.  The difficult thing about it is it’s automatic.  When we’re stressed, angry, scared, or (trying to keep this as P.G. as possible) sexually aroused, that ole’ lizard brain is going to talk to us first.  It’s a lot like walking around with a loaded gun with no safety.  It would be nice, if when we get up in the morning, to be able to flip a switch to make sure it doesn’t go off unexpectedly and get us fired or kicked out of our mother-in-law’s house or something.  We have to always be aware of it.  Just know that if something comes up in our day (which it will) that when it starts giving us commands, to consciously recognize it, thank it for doing it’s job, and not listen to it.  In Aikido, we build this safety switch, so to say.  There are times during a technique that our partner’s floating rib is soooo exposed, and we could just blast em’, but we don’t, and we take them to the ground fairly safely.  I’ve heard it said that there should always be opportunity for a debilitating strike throughout the technique.  Do we act on the opportunity?  That’s up to us, but in Aikido we mostly practice the option of not taking it while also being well aware that the option is there.

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I’ve slowly been realizing how essential enthusiasm is for prolonged enjoyment and growth in anything it’s applied to.  Drawing the parallel to Aikido, I liken it to the ki of the technique, or intention/energy behind it.  Adding enthusiasm to anything makes whatever it is we’re doing more worth while, and sometimes quite a bit so.  Those of us who are naturally more enthusiastic than others will see this as obvious.  I’ve always known enthusiasm to be a great attribute but it’s been kind of an epiphany for me just how big of a key enthusiasm is in development and how essential it is for getting the most out of whatever we may be doing.  When we leave our enthusiasm behind, we leave ourselves behind, and although we may still be able to do whatever task we’re doing, we’re really only partly there.  I’m sure in past posts I may have touched on this, but I’ve really been experimenting with it in daily life and am amazed at the outcomes I see.  When we consciously bring enthusiasm to the task, now we’re fully engaged, and we can work wonders, excelling faster and more fully than before.

Sure, there are certain things that bring out our enthusiasm more than others.  These are things we are naturally inclined towards, and this is why we accomplish more in these areas than others.  Training in Aikido, we are always looking to improve (the Japanese concept of kaizen) little by little.  It’s natural and relatively simple to enjoy working on techniques we’re good at, and when we do a technique that we don’t really like, we sometimes don’t really want to be doing that technique at all.  This not-wanting-to attitude stems from a lack of enthusiasm and leads to us not practicing it, which leads to it still being a technique we really don’t like.  When faced with this, try consciously adding enthusiasm to the technique(s) you’re not crazy about doing.  Psyche yourself into learning to really enjoy this.  As usual, it’s easier said than done, but well worth it. It’s fun to really hack away at the more difficult techniques, or even the ones you just don’t like doing if you go about it with this mindset.

The reason we don’t like certain techniques is because we have some sort of resistance with it.  Being Aikidoists, we can work with this resistance and create art out of it.  This isn’t going to happen without enthusiasm.  Going into it with the undertone of enthusiasm makes the most boring or difficult technique into art.  As usual, this works on the ukemi (attack) part of the technique as well.  Even the slowest tsuki (strike to the solar plexus) can feel really real if done with enthusiasm.  It adds another layer of connection.

A tricky part about it is we can’t wait for this enthusiasm to come to us.  Sure, it sometimes does, but we need to be able to control this great tool and put it to work as much as possible.  I’ve been applying enthusiasm to tasks at work lately, and the results are really satisfying.  I first catch myself becoming bored.  This is my signal to myself (there’s those multiple personalities again…) to remove the kink and let the enthusiasm flow into whatever it is I’m doing.  In cases where before I was getting mediocre results, after consciously applying enthusiasm, I learn way more, retain way more, and feel positive about what was just done as opposed to frustrated or indifferent.  In most cases, this is something we have to initiate.  We have to bring the enthusiasm to the task, and can’t wait for it to come to us.  Just having this undertone of enthusiasm changes so many things.  Our posture changes, our tone changes, our coordination changes, our eye to eye contact changes, and probably more.  Enthusiasm is contagious, and when others sense that we have it, they tend to become more enthusiastic as well, leading to a better interaction if we happen to be working or communicating with someone else or in a group.

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beyond the breaking point

I’ll try not to dwell on the negative, but a big shift just happened in my life.  I’ve been in an industry for my whole working life that I used to love, but which I’ve grown discouraged with for the last seven years or so.  Being in this industry has been frustrating for me but has, in a strange way, been my comfort zone.  I’ve been in this line of work for so long that the work has been easy, almost to the point of sleepy automation with not a lot of real passion or drive involved anymore than what I could muster up by long periods of self pep talk before the work shift.  It’s been kind of like that old lawn mower which you’ve fixed time and time again that really just needs replacing and you’re just tugging on that chain, again and again, until one day you throw your back out before you decide to just get a new one.  I’ve reached that symbolic point in my career in the last year or so and am now leaving it behind.

Again, not to harp on the negative, but it’s not just the industry, it’s also bad management by ownership from one dictatorial individual who was the proverbial straw who broke this camel’s back this time around.  I’ve found out I’m way too much of an individualist to work for someone who rules in an old-school fashion.  I’m losing almost all respect for the old school.  I’ve recently heard this type of reign described as the seagull management style.  It’s called this because the boss comes in, shits on everyone, and then leaves.  Totally makes sense and applied in my case.  Granted, I have a firm belief that this person has full right to run his business however he sees fit.  After all, this was his show, not mine.  He and his family has taken the risk in taking on this business, and they can run it however they want.  It’s their place.  However, I also have the right to speak with my feet and leave.  At times, this individual could be the warmest, kindest person in the world, but could change in a flash.  The whole day would run according to his mood which filtered down through the whole staff.    Keeping good people on staff has been a problem for them, although there are a lot of good people currently on staff who do make it a great place for the customer.  Being there for just over a year, I was the longest-employed salaried employee there.   There’s a lot of dinosaurs like him who are still predominant in the industry.  He’s been very well respected and successful throughout his career, so I’m sure he’s not going to change anytime soon.  When you have someone like this at the top, it flows down throughout the whole crew and becomes contagious like a plague.  I’ve seen managers hired on above me who started off in a very positive direction who have struggled staying in that direction.

Notwithstanding all of the stress and nonsense from this past year, I will say that it’s been my favorite, not because I’ve somehow fallen back in love with the industry, but it has happened in spite of it.  A big attribute to that has been my application of Aikido principles at the workplace and several supportive co-workers.  I dealt with hundreds of customers every day.  Establishing a connection with them and growing relationships with a lot of them has been the sole source of fulfillment there.  Finally bringing my own art to the job has been life changing and I will take that with me wherever I am.  Taking personal responsibility for each customer’s experience has been very motivating, albeit stressful at times, but at the end of the day, it’s been very fulfilling.

It amazes me how difficult it is for us to make the choice of siding with ourselves.   Getting out of bad situations and actually acting on that choice can be extremely hard.  Making that jump away from something very damaging, albeit comfortable, is very difficult and can be very inconvenient, but it’s crazy to me how often we’d rather stay in bad situations than undergo a little discomfort.  Thoughts of letting people down, leaving people behind, people talking about us negatively behind our back, etc. (these thoughts are usually presented to ourself – wait is there multiple personalities involved here? We’ll touch on this in another post – as an uber-blown out of proportion Tarantinoesque movie – yes, with flashbacks and all) terrify us and we talk ourselves into staying.  We have nightmarish visions with these grandiose scenes where our boss has this crazy monologue on how disloyal we are to the company and coworkers as they all gather behind him with tears welling up in their eyes as they shake their heads at us in shame before the door slams shut as we walk out in the snowstorm, homeless, helpless, and lost.  After seeing this movie in our heads, we actually BELIEVE IT!  We then think the best thing to do is just hang tight, hope things change, and let it roll off our back.  Funny thing is, it usually does get a little better…. Then it happens again.  Sure as night follows day, another blowout happens, we promise ourselves that we’ll leave, we complain to our family and friends AGAIN, and the cycle of doom repeats itself.  Every time we end up siding with our aggressors, leaving our own best interest behind.  We kick ourselves over and over for it.  Maybe I should speak for myself here, but I think at least some of you have had this similar experience.  I just came out of this vicious cycle, so it’s fresh in my mind.

This career has been a huge part of my identity and is how a lot of people relate to me.  Even though I inherently knew I was changing on the inside, it’s been so hard to express that on the outside out of fear that I’d be going against the (okay, I’ve said it before, so I’ll name the industry here) clean-cut golf pro label I’ve had on my back for so long.  I loved golf when I was a kid.  Being an only child and having a couple dramatic events at a fairly young age that not many of my peers understood, I was attracted to golf because of the solitude.  I could go out just before sunset, just me and a little white ball, and focus on one thing: getting that ball in the cup.  A golf course just after sunrise or just before sunset is one of the most peaceful and invigorating places to be, and the course seemed to speak to me, not so much in language, but more so in vibration.  The shifting of colors and changing of terrain from hole to hole was intriguing.  Not being much (okay, at all) of a school person, I got straight into the business after high school, where I played competitively.  After some time, golf became a business, and a lot of my bosses were the typical stereotypical old golf pro – good ole’ boys who hob-nobbed with the snobbish and hung on their every word to gain status in their social club.  I can count on one hand the number of bosses who have been a positive force in my life, and I’ve had a lot more than two bosses in my career.  When being groomed for management, what happens is, if you don’t act and manage like your bosses, they end up not liking you, so people usually either change in order to act and manage like them, or they move on.  Moving on has been scary for me before now because it implied the unknown.  What else are you going to do?  You have a pretty good thing going here, do you want to just give it up?  I’ve been trying to do a hybrid of working with these types, but being myself behind their backs and managing in my own way when I could.  This has become tiresome, and I’ve grown to resent a lot of those I’ve worked with through the years.  It’s a business that, because of them, is stale and has hit a wall.

After looking for some time, I think I’ve found a company that encourages autonomy and allows people to be themselves at work.  It’s well known for creating an environment at the workplace where people want to be driven by an incredible mission and culture that fosters great teamwork and productivity.  Enter the new school.  I am very excited to be a part of a company like this and look forward to observing and writing a bit about the aiki principles involved in it.  This is, I believe, where business is going if it’s going to be successful.  The human spirit is too strong to be ruled by an iron fist, and I think people are evolving to the point where they know this.  People don’t want to be cogs in a machine.  Companies managing in the old school way are (hopefully) going to find it harder and harder to keep good, productive, conscious workers on their team as more of these newer companies come on line.

Philosophically, I see Aikido and it’s core principles to be a great vehicle to move the human consciousness to this place.  The more people care about self-growth and the possibilities we each have, the more of them will start to move to this new type of business.  Being more in tune with human nature and in nature itself, people can use this knowledge to foster and grow this spirit in others through their businesses instead of acting against these forces for short-term profit and difficulty for everyone down the road.  I don’t believe this can be governed or forced on people.  These ideas must be shown, experienced, and believed by people through the voluntary interaction between us, not through the use of force (government).  Not to get too preachy, but I’m on a roll here, like Mahatma Ghandi suggested, be the change you want to see in your world and make it happen, inspiring others to do the same.  If you feel like your life is being governed by someone or some group in a way that’s anti-life and against your personal growth (which usually includes the world around you), do something to change it, or cast your vote of non-support by going elsewhere.  If you can’t find somewhere else to go that does this, start something of your own offering others something to be involved in where they can bring themselves, encouraging them to be themselves to help your cause.  That thing doesn’t necessarily be a business.  Start a group or a movement towards making that change.  Try to only work for people who will allow you to bring yourself to the job.  When companies have people who can do this, there’s not much need to micro-manage them.  Getting out of their way will be the goal and letting them each individually cast the light that only they can shine on their work will be the result.  Those who only want to be told what to do and are only interested in punching the clock and getting that check will go to a place where only that is expected of them.  By enslaving themselves, these people will easily find those who are willing to enslave them, and they will feel safe and secure working in this situation.  I’m not sure about you, but I’d rather be invigorated and excited by my work rather than safe.  In this economy, not being safe can be scary, but it’s a risk I think is worth taking which is the only route to personal freedom.

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