who are we?

Not that classifying things is healthy and I hate putting labels on things, but I was talking to a friend the other day about Aikido and he asked me what the people in the dojo are like.  Right off the bat I couldn’t really think of anything except for the standard, “The people are really nice,” bit, but that’s as descriptive as I got.  It made me think though.  Aikidoists (in general, of course, and I speak only for the dojo’s that I’ve seen) aren’t really hard-core, ground-and-pound, competitive, machismoesque martial artists.  Although we tend, as a group, to lean a little more spiritual than most, we’re also not “leave-the-body-behind” monk-like folk.  After thinking about it for a while, I came to the conclusion that our group could possibly be somewhat described as rugged yoga type people.  Although many of us don’t know a thing about yoga, Aikido is said to be a moving meditation, like yoga.  Lets face it, we’re kinda hippyish and earthy.  We’re overall in pretty good health.  Throw in the rugged part being the martial side of it, and I think it kind of fits.  As I said earlier, as a crowd, we tend to be somewhat spiritual and somewhat rough.  Plenty of us like to go out on the mat and mix it up, but most of us would draw the line if things were getting too combative.  I think it’s a good mix.

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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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why go with the flow, when you can be the flow?

Looking back over my posts, I notice that I’m guilty of putting Aikido in somewhat of an overly-righteous place and framing Aikido in a bit too much of a new-agey light.  Not that I’m discounting what I’ve written so far, but in this post, I’d like to change the contrast a little.  My teacher once said, and it’s stuck with me since, “These principles we’re learning from O’Sensei are not some fluffy, new-agey hype.  They’re very real, practical, martial principles branching back to the Samurai.”(Not exact quotes, but something like that).  We really begin to understand this when we train with someone who is martially sound (which our teacher happens to be) and when he gets moving, it’s friggin’ scary being the attacker.  The movements of Aikido, when done correctly, are super efficient, sharp, and very difficult to counter.  Practicing finding openings in our technique is a common theme in our dojo, and with a lot of people who train in the art in general, and it shows in application.  We’re taught to be able to strike vital parts of the body at any point of the technique if needed, but also keep the option open of taking the attacker down safely to the ground.  Because Aikido is called the art of peace by the founder, and it is non-competitive, it’s often displayed as more of a dance than a practical martial art.  Don’t get me wrong, a nice thing about Aikido, and one of the aspects about the art that I love, is that it can be practiced as a dance-like right-brained creative practice.  I love moving in this way, and it does break up the practice a lot and allows us to expand our movements and find different ways of doing the basic techniques.  Just like anything though, it’s easy to over-indulge in this practice and get away from the fact that it is a martial art with very powerful gifts available to us if we choose to accept them and work at it in that way.

“Go with the flow” is a common term used in America and probably all over the world.  It’s advised to us by friends and elders when dealing with problems and we’re told to just “Go with the flow”.  There’s a certain virtue in this, I guess, and there’s a place where it does apply and can assist us.  My view is that going with the flow might be good at a certain stage of a conflict, but shouldn’t be the end goal.  If it does become the end goal, it’s easy to be manipulated.  I’ve always been apt to going with the flow, thinking it was a good idea, and it may have been, but I’ve noticed, when looking back, that it’s made me complacent in a lot of aspects of my life.  There were times I could have put myself forth and caused an outcome that might have been more favorable on my part and others if I wouldn’t have been so docile and compromising.

I read a quote a while back by an unknown Japanese author that said, “Don’t go with the flow, be the flow.”  This struck me as being a very profound statement and I think about it all the time now.   Hmmm.  What a great way to put it.  We see this in nature all the time.  Does a tidal wave go with the flow?  Kind of, maybe.  But I see it more as being the flow, and I think I’d be proven correct if I was in its way.  Looking at electricity we see the same thing.  With this ideal, we’re not exactly bucking the flow of things and being pugilistic.  I see it as being the flow of all things in our consciousness (which is…everything).  Being one with the universe, which O’Sensei said on many occasions, is pretty much saying this.  Being “one with” means being “it”.  If you look at Aikido technique, this is exactly what we’re practicing.  Initially, we may go with the flow, but then we become the flow and take the attack in a new direction.  This is so profound to me.  When you get right down to it, our consciousness is all we have, and all we really can control, if we consciously recognize it and accept it.  How often do we give that gift up to others?  It’s amazing how easy we surrender control to others and end up sabotaging ourselves.  Mostly it’s done out of ignorance or fear.  I’ve done it several times in just the last week, mostly in small ways that I wasn’t even cognizant of when it happened, and I’m sure by the time the sun goes down, it’ll happen again.  Anytime we compromise our situation, even in the slightest way, and lose something for others out of fear or inferiority, we’re doing this.  This is not to say we need to be greedy and selfish in a thievish kind of way, stealing from others and being offensive.  Sure, there’s only so much we can do, and others may be offended by certain things we do or say, but sometimes it’s for the better if we’re coming from the right place.  If your boss at work asks you to work an extra 10 hours this week for no pay, offending him may be the way to go.  If you have the aiki-ability to do this in a way that benefits you both.  Maybe you do it in a way that gets the point across to him that he can’t get away with treating people like that, especially you.   Just “going with the flow” would be doing both of you an injustice in this situation because not only are you proving yourself to be an easily manipulated slave, but you’re letting him know that he can get away with this.  Peace will be established by being the flow and taking the conflict in a new direction.  You’re not initiating force over anyone or trying to control anyone else, just yourself.  Initiated aggression is a sign of losing control.

Going to Aikido techniques, at one level, the attack is initiated, and secondly, the Aikido practitioner reacts to this and applies the technique.  Taking this to a higher level, there are those who, even before the attack takes place, have complete control of the attacker.  I believe that they achieve this by having complete dominion of their consciousness which happens to include the attacker who has surrendered control to them by even intending to attack.  This can be practiced in the dojo or outside of it in our day to day lives.  Having dominion over our thoughts and our being is something I think we all should strive for, and it seems obvious, but we give it away way too often.  I know I do.

Being the 4th of July holiday, let this be the theme for Aiki-Living and declare your independence by fully controlling yourself and your life.  Only you can do this, and it really does make a huge difference when realizing this and applying it.  As usual with most things concerning growth, it may not be the most comfortable thing, but once applied, I think you’ll see and feel a big difference in the way you relate to others and yourself.  We make the decision to chart our own course in life, or we make the decision to hand it over to others.  Both ways, the decision is ours.  Which one do we pick?  Be the flow.

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we’re only human

I work in an environment where, at times, we get a high-maintenance customer or two.  I love the challenge though.  At work, when a customer comes in bent out of shape, it seems natural to try to place myself on a throne of authority and make the goal of the interaction to be the first one to assume that power and win.  Being the one “who works there” I naturally feel like I need to hold my ground against this rude intruder in dorky pants (yep, I work at a golf course) and be in the right, reigning victorious over the customer as he vehemently apologizes, realizes he’s way out of line, and leaves shamefully…

Okay, we all know that assuming this stance almost never leads to this result.  It usually escalates to the embarrassing point where the customer makes a scene and never comes back, with the end result being a lost customer(s) and a ruined day.

This is especially difficult when dealing with customers/people who are older than you (which, in my line of work, is usually the case).  Almost impossible.

Instead, lately (not that customers blow up on me all that often, thankfully, but they more often come to me with some minor frustration or confusion about various things), I’ve tried shedding the cloak of authority which is really a fear induced go-to state, and sinking down into my humanness which we both have in common.

Here we can both relate and easily resolve the issue.  After all, we’re both human, right?

I mean, I’ve been confused/frustrated/stupid at times.  It’s getting into this mental state that’s the hard part.  Finding our humanity and seeing where this person’s frustrations stem from is the direction we should take which, once attained, will have a better chance of leading to a resolved conflict.

Turn as in tai no henko and look in the same direction (ideally without allowing any openings) as that person.  This is the moment of musubi or blending with them.

Nobody’s surrendering here.

From here, redirection can happen and we can work something out, if need be, because most of the time, this is all the customer/co-worker/family member/telemarketer was trying to achieve anyways.

In the dojo, while doing the technique, we should try to see the reality that: we’re both humans here, in a very human interaction.  This tends to bring us out of our aloofness and into harmony with the reality of the conflict.

It can also help us be more alert knowing that from this very human place, we should be prepared for anything.  Out of the dojo, the attacker may have a knife, gun, bouquet of flowers, pacemaker, banana peel, or who knows what.  That smooth kotegaishi we have successfully pulled off 1000 times in class becomes more of a raw thing that may potentially go in another unpredictable direction at any time when we train with this intention.

Sometimes it’s fun to do Aikido from a higher place and feel like we’re shedding our human flesh for a while, moving more like a wave or an electrical current.

Sometimes we feel like we’re moving in pure intention and energy, and our movement feels, how could I say, “cloudy” more than solid and physical.

On the flip side of this though, it’s really interesting to get really embedded in our humanness.  Sometimes, especially in the metaphysical realm which Aikido walks the line of, it’s almost discouraged to come from this human place.

We’re encouraged to bring our mind to different places and to get out of the fight/flight mode of being.  I think this is great, even necessary, when we first start our training, because I think, especially us westerners, live most of our lives from a lower-level human place.  The thing is that we don’t realize our humanness because we’re consumed by it.

If not aware of something, it’s hard to separate yourself from it and work with it.  It’s when we can see it, feel it, and are aware and conscious of it that we can re-experience it in a way that is to our benefit.

Getting out of this initial phase of our lives (well, a lot of us anyways) a bit, and experiencing different states of being is the great thing about this art, and is one of the many gifts it gives us.  We can experiment with these.   However, it does us nor anyone else any good if we stay there and don’t bring those gifts back to our humanity.

It’s great to really get deep into our humanness while being aware of it.  It really is a gift to be human and its really empowering to be okay with it, experience it fully, and realize how great it is.  From here, we can mold it and rearrange it in whatever way is best for us.

I’ve heard “Aikido” defined as “meeting the energy”.  This can mean many things, I guess, but it does relate to what I’m saying here.  When we die, all that’s left is a lump of flesh and bone.  This, I don’t believe, is “us”.  What makes “us” humans is the life energy that moves and gives life to that flesh, or – our humanness.  It’s interesting to sink into that part of ourselves and connect with each other on that very human level.

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can’t buy me aiki

A great thing about Aikido is that you can’t “buy” great Aikido.  I happen to work in the golf industry, and what infuriates me is that people will drop $5k, no problem, for all of the top of the line equipment, etc., in order to “buy” a great golf game.  They spend thousands of dollars on golf lessons and don’t practice between sessions.  I know golf requires equipment, but take something like exercise as an example, if you just did body weight exercise with no fancy “shake-weights” (you know you wish you came up with that idea..) or special equipment of any kind, there’s plenty of clothing, supplements, and special routines that people pay a lot of money for to try to “buy” a great body.

I love Aikido because it’s raw.  You can’t buy special Aikido training tools in order to become a better Aikidoist (not yet, anyways, *gulp*).  It’s all about the soul, dedication, and practice you put into it.  A big reason why is that Aikido is an inside thing, really.  There’s only so much you can do on the physical plane of the art, most of it comes from feel and experimentation and has a lot to do with where your mind’s at.  In our mass-marketing society here in America, I think it’s very easy to fall into this trap of trying to buy a skill.  I’m a big fan of having a lot of choices in the marketplace, but it can be overwhelming at times.  Think of any kind of venture whether it be a new sport, card game, video game, fashion style, exercise, music, drawing, painting, architecture, cooking, etc., and you can go online right now and find a million “how to” manuals, training aids, and “for Dummies” books for it all.

When starting something new, fear jumps in and tells us not to start until we’re extremely comfortable doing so.  “Are you sure you’re ready?”, it says, in the back of our minds.  “You know what, try buying this DVD, watch it first, and then you’ll definitely be ready…  Look how good these people on the cover are at it, why not see how they do it first before just jumping on in?”, it suggests.  How many times do we follow those orders?  Following those orders are what those marketers are banking on.  The lower part of ourselves doesn’t like growing.  It’s scared of “failure” and is quite comfortable where it’s at.  It’s easy to watch a video or read a book on a subject that is deemed “difficult”.  Growing would mean death for this part of ourselves.

In Aikido, there are a few training books out there.  There are even a few DVD’s you can buy (I bought a LOT of them when I first started training), but compared to other martial arts and things like it, there’s not that many.  Why is that?  Maybe it’s just because Aikido isn’t that big right now, but I really think that it’s because Aikido needs to be experienced to be learned.  O’Sensei was very clear about this and the leading teachers in the art are as well (I guess the idea rolls downhill).  O’Sensei didn’t show “perfect technique” or a technical system that was claimed to be unbeatable.  He didn’t make it easily appealing to the lizard brain.  He came at it from another angle.  Watching videos of O’Sensei without understanding Aikido, it looks almost fake.  How can that possibly work?  A typical insomniac surfing the web for the next best “fighting system” with the intention to show off and impress their friends would skip right by it.

Aikido’s magic has to be felt in order to be believed.  Experiencing aiki is what creates passionate users.  Aikido plays hard to get.  I don’t think people even think they can pick this art up fast when they see it for the first time,  especially after they train in their first couple of classes, and if they did think so initially, it’s usually dispelled after the first class or two.  There’s no false sense of easy mastery that is put out there to the mass consumer by this art.  Something has to click in the student’s consciousness in order to want to pursue this art.  This click usually is triggered at a different location in the psyche than, say, when we’re buying the Ultimate Cage Fighter system or something.  There’s usually no delusions of grandeur in the egotistical sense when first picking up this art (unless, like a lot of us, we get our inspiration from Steven Seagal movies).  But even then, the first time we step into a dojo, those delusions are squelched by the atmosphere of most Aikido dojo’s.

We can learn a lot from this, though.  This carries over to any new undertaking.  You can’t buy the skill.  There are no shortcuts to mastery.  Four payments of $9.95 isn’t going to cut it for proficiency in any endeavor.  Start by doing.  Get your hands dirty.  Studying is okay.  It’s good to withdraw at times to reflect and study what we’re doing.  Real moments of growth are accomplished by digging in and doing the work.  Putting ourselves out there in front of everybody and failing a few times is necessary to real, lasting growth.

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