Leading

Customers, whether they consciously think so or not, want to be lead. The tricky thing is that they also need to feel like they are in control at the same time. This is where the art part of business comes in.

When a customer comes into contact with a business, whether it be a store, website, or via telephone, they want their experience to be convenient. Some want to be swept off their feet by customer service, looking for more of an aggressive approach. Some want to be left alone more, and not bothered by customer service, depending more on product placement being easy either in the store or website. They know exactly what they want. Either way, businesses need to lead their consumers the way the consumer wants to be lead, not how they want to lead the consumer.

This can not be done via a script. Being receptive to the vibe of each customer is a great skill, and a necessary one in today’s day and age where consumers have so many choices. It used to be that if you were loud enough and you could produce stuff for cheap, you’d win. This is still the case in some areas, but things are changing fast. If your business upsets someone, they have an almost endless number of other places they can go, and when they get home, they can log in to their Facebook or Twitter account and tell 200 of their friends how horrible their experience was. Things are getting back to small town rules, which is refreshing, but businesses will have to adapt after having it their way for so long. Word of mouth is on steroids now, and if businesses don’t do their sole job of taking care of the customer, they’ll find they won’t be around long.

We can work on this skill of leading in the dojo, it’s a skill we work on all the time. During training, some attackers come in faster and more aggressive, and some come in slower. Some come in fast but sloppy, some come in slow but deliberate. Our Aikido improves tenfold when we feel this. I totally see the parallel to this practice off the mat in the business world. Each attack must be dealt with differently.

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Bowing

In the dojo, bowing is traditionally very important. We bow to our partner(s) before we begin the training exercise and after the exercise is over. This is done out of respect for our training partner and acknowledges the fact that we appreciate them letting us use their body during practice and vice-versa. This is something that should not be taken for granted. Being Americans living in the culture where simulated, entertaining, mindless violence is a part of our lives from childhood, we can very easily take this ritual for granted. Back in O’Sensei’s day of training when he was a young man, in the early 1900’s, training was very, very serious. He and those he trained with were preparing for very real survival situations. Martial Arts were such a big part of Japanese culture, not because of huge marketing campaigns and kids wearing Tapout shirts, but because the culture had to embrace it in order to survive. This is where the essence of bowing came, and I think we should try to be as conscious of this as possible when we train.

Here in America, most of us have had the luxury of being sheltered from real violence. Other than the occasional Friday night out with friends where the guy at the bar has too much to drink and threatens to beat your friend up for looking at his girl, it doesn’t automatically click with us to think too deeply about our training much past the competitive level. Training in a traditional Japanese art like Aikido is very healthy because it instills in us the respect for others and humility in a simulated environment. Not to get too deep about this, because I am kind of straying from my point a little, but if our culture embraced this respect and humility as a whole, it may prevent future conflicts in our society. This scenario would be better than our sloppy, comfortable, spoiled behavior leading to conflicts down the road where we have to embrace this mindset, but under not so comfortable circumstances due to our actions. I dunno, food for thought.

Anyways, this brief but sincere acknowledgment of others before we interact is a great thing to take into our daily lives. This especially works well at the workplace or in business. There is always a defined time before the verbal part of the conversation takes place and begins with eye-contact. When we mentally thank this person for the interaction before we speak as well as at the end of the conversation, sincerely of course, it’s interesting what it does to the underlying current of the interaction. This is incredibly difficult to do, especially during heated arguments, and I’ve personally only been able to do it maybe a time or two in application. When I’ve done it, it really does make what could have been a bad conversation much better. The best way to practice this is to bow sincerely to our partners in the dojo. While in public, try mentally bowing to strangers without even making eye contact. It would be great for this to become a habit and will only help our relationships as well as our training.

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Undercurrent

In Aikido, we’re especially practicing the undercurrent. I’ll explain what I mean by this in a bit, but it’s the reason why, when people see Aikido practice, they sometimes discount it for an unrealistic martial art not practical “on the street”. They may not realize that when we practice the physical techniques, we use these techniques as guidelines for more important principles, and the martial functionality of the physical manifestation of the techniques pale in relation to the non-physical work we’re doing. I just read a great article from Jay Lindholm Sensei from South Austin Aikido that helped me with this. I’ve been pondering this concept for a while, but he put it very well.

Everything we do is about the undercurrent. It’s not what we say, it’s the state of our undercurrent at the time which we’re actually communicating to others. If we have an undercurrent of fear or greed, no matter what we say, we are communicating fear or greed. Even when we’re merely in the same room as someone else and no words are spoken, our undercurrents are communicating. If we don’t like that person, we (and others in the same room) can feel the state of that undercurrent, even if we fake nice. If we’re upset with ourselves or not confident, this comes through in our undercurrent as well. On the flip side of that coin, if we have awareness, confidence, calmness, control, and we carry ourselves well, this also is communicated through our undercurrent. This, I believe, is why O’Sensei didn’t seem to focus his instruction too much on physical technique. This undercurrent is where we’re all united and are constantly communicating with eachother whether we know it or not.

The techniques of Aikido are vessels carrying the principles of Aiki which help us refine our spirit (undercurrent). In Aikido training, I see a big purpose of our training being to purify this undercurrent with Aiki. When we do this, and we keep in mind why we’re doing this, we’ll see just how ‘practical’ this art really is to so many aspects of our lives.

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Options

It’s only possible to withdraw power if you already have it. Without it, you have no other choice than to remain powerless. Being in a position of strength, but able to withdraw power from a situation is the absolute best position to be in. This is another reason we train. During a correctly performed Aikido technique, we should, at all times, be able to exert more power, but are choosing not to. This was part of O’Sensei’s genius. In Aikido, we usually have more in the tank if needed. My teacher once said “Walk softly but carry a big stick.” I think this is kind of what he was referring to.

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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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