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A lot about Aikido training is about pattern breaking. The fight or flight response is automatic. People who train to fight are honing that natural instinct. This is fine, but leads to different ends. A really great thing about Aikido training is it can be tailored towards whatever it is you’re trying to achieve as a mindset or as a physical skill. I’m at a place where I’m trying to break the patterns of the lizard brain, which are automatic. If the signals that it’s sending me are automatic, without my conscious thought, and I’m acting on them, aren’t they, in a way, controlling me? In Aikido we can work on overriding these signals. Our techniques are designed against the will of the lizard brain. Our lizard brain doesn’t like them. One thing the lizard brain doesn’t realize is that we don’t, thankfully, need its help much anymore. In a few cases, sure. If you’re dodging a bullet, saving a child from walking in front of a bus , or running from a wild bore, I suppose listening to it would serve you well.
It’s not only the patterns of the lizard brain we can work to break. We can also try to break the patterns of sloppy technique, balance which is off, mindset while training, etc. Maybe you’re not very martial and are trying to do be more technically sound. Whatever they may be, these patterns we should be trying to break come natural. They don’t leave easily. If you train the same way, comfortably, every time, you do nothing but ingrain those patterns. The dojo is a perfect laboratory for this, but can be done off the mat as well. Recognizing those patterns and intentionally breaking them, replacing them with new ones, is where it’s at.
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“Oh, so Aikido is purely a self-defense martial art.” people usually say when explaining Aikido to them. They then move on from it during the conversation to their childhood story of training Kempo for two years when they were ten years old, dismissing Aikido as a mamby-pamby martial art. Happens all the time. Thing is, I often agree with them that Aikido is, in fact, a purely defensive martial art. I was thinking of this the other day and realized how much this discounts the art. “Aikido as self-defense” is misleading. In Aikido, we don’t look at the world as something to defend ourselves from. We look at the world as something to change, wherein the first, if not the only, place to change it is with ourselves. We meet the energy and change it into something else, hopefully more positive and creative. No true Aikidoists play the victim card that I’ve ever met, and I guarantee you that O’Sensei didn’t. To be able to look at violence with soft eyes and transcend it is not for the weak. Merely looking for self-defense against a big, bad bully can be achieved by a weekend class at the YMCA. To be able to smile at the man coming in to take your life and protect him as he falls rendering his attack laughable takes a warrior.
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In Aikido, we’re always moving in a circular way where we can see multiple attackers. Blind spots are bad. We don’t want to be exchanging blows with one person because there may be two or three others coming up behind us. If that’s the case, we need to handle that person as soon as possible before either getting out of there or moving on to the next one. We need to bring our blind spots into our awareness as soon as possible.
Life is not the octagon. In a real life ‘situation’, survival is the goal, not ‘winning’. To do this, we have to open our peripheral and not fear multiple attackers.
Mentally and spiritually, we can take this same principle and apply it just as well. We all have beliefs that work against us. Just like in the randori (multiple attacker situation), we need to open our peripheral and bring to awareness those beliefs and emotions that may be holding us back. If not, they will lurk in the darkness and hamper our every move.
Having tunnel vision usually doesn’t work in our favor and comes from the part of our consciousness that has been programmed during a time where we had to run from saber-toothed tigers on a regular basis. There are a few instances where that automatic response may save our lives, but the disadvantages of it far outweigh the advantages in this day and age. Eliminate the blind spots.
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Competition. Get a point. Make the other guy fall. Punch him in the face. Block his punch. Sweep the knee! Whuh? If a fight is the end all, be all, have at it. Keep your focus right where it is. Good luck getting real world results with that mindset outside the ring, mat, gym, club, office, school, dinner table, or wherever you may be duking it out. In above situation, the obstacle is the focus. We’re fighting the competitor. We’re locked into dealing with the problem. Wrestling it. But then what? What happens when we do that? Usually, if this is our mindset, we just move on to the next problem and rinse, repeat. I propose we do something else. With Aikido, I’ve learned that we need to realize said obstacle is essentially unimportant and to focus on the positive outcome, whatever that may be. If you can do like O’Sensei, and do it while someone’s shooting at you or coming at you with a live blade, please, email me, and you’re guaranteed a guest post. Something to work for, though.
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Routine. The word tends to bring to mind negative connotations. It resembles the boring grind. It exemplifies complacency and monotony. I agree that being stuck in a routine can be a bad thing. There are some aspects of having a routine that can serve us well though. I think ‘routine’ may be the wrong word for what I’m getting at. What I’m thinking of is more of a ‘ritual’ than a ‘routine’.
Through time rituals have been developed and passed down from generation to generation to keep a certain idea or way of doing something going. Mindfully used, rituals can be a good thing. When rituals become dogma, that’s when it turns into a mindless ritual and loses its purpose. Having mindful rituals can be great and setting the right ones up can really help us. In Aikido, we have many routines. They all have purpose though. In our dojo, we bow and clap twice at the beginning and end of every class to shoe away the bad mojo and bring in the good mojo and awareness. We mindfully bow to each other before and after training to make the short time we have to train with that particular person that much more meaningful. Rituals can be a good thing. Set some up. Try it out. Stay away from ritual sacrifices, though. Leave the farm animals alone. Other than that, go nuts on the rituals and use them to improve your life.
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