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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where you at?

First of all, this is the first post on AikiLiving’s own site.  No longer under the guise of wordpress, I hope to have a little more freedom to improve the site in time.  Feel free to subscribe via RSS and get updates as soon as they go out.  I want to thank everybody for their support and kind words about AikiLiving.  It’s a joy for me to write about the great experiences I’ve had in the beautiful art of Aikido and how they’ve assisted me off the mat as well.  As always, if you have anything you’d like to share on AikiLiving, email it to me at aikiliving@gmail.com and I’d love to take a look at it.  Always looking to improve, if you have any ideas or constructive criticism, please email me those ideas as well.

I’ve written about this a bit before, but it’s amazing how much time we spend “outside” of ourselves. By “outside” I mean being caught up in trying to be somewhere, somebody, or something else.  Feeling like we’re just not in our power, and maybe we can finagle whatever situation we’re in if we were more like so-and-so, or working at “x” company, or if we just had “x” amount of money.

These are just a few specifics, but what I’m talking about is that lingering feeling of uneasyness and not-quite-enoughness that so often comes up.

This feeling of resistance bubbles up in full force during moments of conflict and struggle.  It comes up in more minute portions when we’re daydreaming or in that floundering state during times of boredom and uncreative idleness.  Not sure about you, but it easily creeps up on me the moment my head hits the pillow at night and I start feeling uber-nervous about the most minute b.s. going on in my world.

How often do we see someone who impresses us, whether it be another family member, friend, public figure, or even a complete stranger, and try to kind of model ourselves after them, if even in a small way?

Role models can be a good thing at a certain level, but they can also be kind of dangerous past a certain point, and I think it’s important to keep this in perspective.

The whole role model thing may work in times of ease and comfort, and while practicing our craft, but when confronted with an uneasy situation, or at worst a traumatic situation, this false veneer of character fades away as fast as it came.

It is during these times where we can find the absolute strength we have available to us by digging down deep within ourselves to find the energy necessary to deal with said situation in our own authentic way.  Digging down deep may be a wrong way to put it, as I’ve found that it’s more like a relaxing and sinking down deep within our own character.

Each of us is an authentic individual that, if allowed, has our own authentic, crazy potential.

Going to this place is scary because we are reaching for something unpredictable, something we haven’t seen or experienced before.  This is where true authenticity comes from.

It’s an act of creativity, not re-creativity or duplicity.

I, personally, have had several crazy, stressful moments at work lately.  One of these times was probably the most stressful day I’ve ever had in my industry.  It was a day where several people walked up to our staff and went off.  Not to get into details, but the situation at hand was one we saw coming and there wasn’t much we could do except for prepare as well as we could and hope for the best.

Most of the customers were fine, but there are always a few of the more outspoken ones that like to keep their title of head jackass of the bunch.  During their venting, I recognized what was happening, and followed a basic principle of Aikido or two, which were, keeping conscious focus on my center (located an inch below the navel), and keeping weight underside.

This physical centering trigger assisted my mindset to become centered as well, and after absorbing the energy from the monster in bermuda shorts and a goofy hat (I work at a golf course), I was able to reply in a relaxed but assertive, authentic, and very real way.

It was kind of scary because I hadn’t replied like I had replied in similar situations in the past.  Not that anything was necessarily wrong with the way I’d been reacting before, but those were different times.  This was a new situation.

People have crazy B.S. detectors and when we come from a place of authenticity and strength, people can feel that instantly.  Keep in mind that this is a golf course, not an emergency room, and I knew my new friend would be okay.

After calming down and getting on the golf course, albeit quite a bit later than they had intended, I saw them halfway through their round and they all were having a fantastic time.  After looking back, I can think of a couple things I could have done differently, but felt how powerful this Aikido principle is at first(ish) try.

Think of all the times we see someone perform an Aikido technique that looks perfect.  We see this, and we go over and try to move just like that.  All we’re thinking about when doing the technique is looking like that.  This may work fine with a nice training partner, but when we go to, say, a randori where multiple attackers are coming in at us fast, this beautiful persona is usually thrown to the wayside and we don’t have the luxury of making it nearly as beautiful.  We just don’t have time.  What we do (usually) have time to do is get into our center and create whatever we can according to what may be happening.  If we’ve worked on our Aikido enough, things will come naturally and faster.  We can’t worry about if our technique looks like **insert whatever Aikido role-model’s name may be at the time here**.  When we try to mimic the way someone else deals with conflict, walks, talks, does Aikido, dunks a basketball, or does anything really, it’s very comfortable because it’s familiar and all we have to do is, well, plagiarize it..

What I’ve observed is that these people we sometimes try to mimic are usually the ones who are authentic and original.  This is what makes whatever they do appealing.  The catch is, if we see it and do it like they do, it’s not authentic anymore and you’re, not to sugarcoat it, basically copying them.  Of course, when just starting anything, all we can do is mimic.  Getting out of the mimic phase as soon as possible and into the creation phase, getting into our unique body and mind, and becoming who we are in our own way is an exciting but scary thing.  Sink down deep and finding our true potential is something we can always work on and grow with which will pay off greatly for us, as always, both on and off the mat.  It’s powerful to realize there’s nothing we need to change, force, or manipulate.  It’s all there waiting to be tapped into if we consciously relax into it and allow it to express itself through us in our own unique way.

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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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arrogance through comfort

Some people are so impressed with themselves that they don’t ever change and grow.  I’m sure we all know these people who are, a lot of times, big fish in a small pond type people and who are very comfortable in their surroundings.

It’s the bully at school, the biggest guy at the local bar, the know-it-all jackass at work, the “darkest” artist at the coffeeshop, the “holiest” person at church, and the list goes on… you get the idea.

In their most comfortable environment, these people may be very intimidating and hard to get close to.  A lower part of ourselves is so easily drawn to their aura if we’re not watching, and we sometimes do things that are very self-defeating in order to get in their circle.

After a while it may work.  We’ve made it!  We can actually talk with this person, and even though they’re complete asses, it’s cool.  Hey, they wouldn’t be as cool as they are if they weren’t like that, and it’s worth taking some psychological (in some cases, physical) abuse just to be in their circle.

Until the day we notice (usually after being away for some time) how sad and limited their situation really is.  We might move away for a few years, experience life at different venues, come back, and… they’re still there.  They may have tried to move away, but “That place just sucked,” they may tell us.

But we realize that their circle of minions didn’t move with them.  Without their circle, they were scared.  Scared to open up with different people and create new relationships.  Scared because their tactics may not have worked with these strangers in another place.  Going home at night and not knowing who they are without their crew.

Keep in mind that in the above statement, I’m talking about the very extreme cases of these types.  You may have known a few of them throughout your life.

Take this type a few notches down, and we see people who are not as obnoxious, but still limited by their self-aggrandizement in a lot of ways.

I think a lot of us fall into this trap at different times.  We find something we’re good at, or a place we’re comfortable in, and we obtain an inflated sense of self during said activity.

We get addicted to it.  We get comfortable.

The ego games then start.  Maybe another person starts coming to that place who we think is better than us, and we immediately start comparing.  The lizard brain speaks first and loudest, and the survival instincts start kicking in.  “Geez, I have to step up my game to maintain my level of respect here,” or,”I can’t get too friendly with this person or they’ll take it as weakness,” or we start gossiping about this person to our close friends and build allies.

It’s ridiculous!

It can happen anywhere, at work, at home, at the family’s house during the holidays, family reunions, at the gym, etc.  Anywhere we frequent kind of a lot and have the potential to socialize with others can be a place where we can fall into this trap.  It can happen on many levels from being just a little too comfortable and stuck in your ways, to being completely obnoxious.

Yes folks, I hate to tell you, the Aikido world, surprisingly, has several of these people in its population.  Think about it, it’s the perfect environment for it.  Usually, people who train Aikido are quite reasonable and somewhat friendly and because it’s a non-competitive art, these people aren’t easily challenged.  It takes a good sensei to keep the environment clean of this kind of attitude, and is probably one of their biggest challenges.  The more extreme cases usually train in one dojo forever, and are usually seen in their popularity bubble training with people (mainly kohei) who have always been impressed by them, and even if they aren’t anymore, they have to act like it or else they think it may damage the relationship and be very uncomfortable at said dojo.  This may work fine for some for a while, but if this power is abused, dojo-cred goes down and they start losing respectable training partners.  The dynamics of the dojo are very interesting and kind of resemble the marketplace.  If you hurt someone once, it may be an accident.  If you gain a reputation of hurting people, people will begin not wanting to train with you.

Again, the above description fits the more extreme advocates of this.  Personally, I’ve been guilty at times of training with the same people for too long.  It’s really cool to train with someone we really get along with, but the light really hits our technique when training at another dojo or seminar.  It’s a very uncomfortable situation, especially if their style of Aikido is different than ours.  It’s so easy to get angry at these people who may feel like they’re resisting our technique or blocking us out.  Is this the case, or is it just that our friends in our home dojo are just taking courtesy falls for us in order to keep the peace?

Let me be clear and say that there’s nothing wrong with having friends in the dojo and having certain people who we’re comfortable training with.  There’s also no reason to always try to obnoxiously resist our partner’s technique to challenge them.  I’m just suggesting that we keep our training honest.  Humility in training is very important.  We should never feel like we’re the best, most powerful aikidoist on the mat.  Every interaction should come from a place of mutual respect and experimentation with growth of both, or all, parties being the goal.  If we go to the dojo to train with a few of our buddies because we get an ego high from it, pretty soon, those buddies will be gone and our aikido will be crap, especially when visiting another dojo.  I experienced this in the beginning of my training.  Being young and kind of athletic, I felt like I was really getting the hang of this thing, and then I went to a Saito sensei seminar, and was smacked upside the head with a reality check.

When at work, try getting out of your area and help other departments out a little.  Have lunch with different people, connect with those who it’s not comfortable to do so.  At the family reunion, try talking with the drunk, obnoxious husband of your second cousin you’ve never seen.  Have fun with it.  Ignore the lower part of ourselves that is scared to do so.  Recognize it, set it aside, and connect with that person.  This is one of my personal goals to do this more often.  I was a painfully shy kid, and am still that way in a lot of environments.  All that is fear, not humility.  True humility is being able to connect and experience.

In the dojo, we should maintain humility and always look to grow mutually with our training partners.  Reconnect with them every day and feel that every time we train is the first time.

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