I’m currently reading the new autobiography of Gozo Shioda, “Aikido – My Spiritual Journey.” Although I am enjoying the book, it seems like Sensei Shioda got in way too many fights when perhaps there would have been a better, a more sensible way to deal with the situation.
Aikido is a martial art that does have a real and powerful martial application. When used in this manner, the results can be devastating to the attacker—and perhaps emotionally later to the person being attacked? Rather than fight or flight, I think Aikido offers a third way of dealing with aggression.
This third way utilizes all the core martial principles of Aikido, but with avoiding a physical encounter. This was brought home to me again some time ago. One of my Sensei’s, a man I respect very much, related how he had been to a large public event. Upon leaving, he saw a man hitting a woman in the lobby. There were many people there so this was somehow lost in the crowd. I know this Instructor is highly skilled in a number of martial arts beside Aikido. He related when telling the story that he could “see that the man had some martial training in his body.”
What would have obviously followed was some sort of altercation if he had confronted the man directly, meaning, probably a fight. As a martial artist, he couldn’t just stand there and let the man continue to hit the woman. No security was around so he knew he had to act.
What he did was brilliant. He casually walked up to them and said in an excited voice something to the effect of, “Great event! What’d you think of it?” It broke whatever crazy haze the two were in. The man stopped and responded, "Yeah, it was!" The woman joined in agreeing that the event had been great. Bottom line: the violence stopped.
Upon hearing this story, I realized it was so similar to the famous Terry Dobson story about the drunk on the Tokyo subway-- and how Terry, a new black belt was ready for a fight to subdue the drunk only to watch an old man commiserate with the drunk to the point where the drunk was crying on the old man’s shoulder.
What my Instructor friend did was act and move from his center. From there, he somatically and intuitively was able to assess the situation and provide a third way of resolving the conflict. This is what the old man did on the subway train. I think when we immediately move into our heads and our histories when dealing with difficult situations in life, this is when we create more problems than solve.
Recently my senior student was walking with a friend when she realized a person was stalking them. Besides Aikido, she has had specialized training in tactical situations so could have effectively dealt with this situation martially in any number of ways. Rather than go into that mode, she used her Aikido training and began tracking the stalker from her center. As he approached them from behind, she simply turned and moving into a hamni and said in a conversational voice, “Can I help you?” He stammered and said, “No, I just wanted to say hello.” He quickly walked past them and kept going. Her walking companion turned to her and said, “Something just happened? What was all that about?”
One of the major advantages to Aikido is that seeing from our centers, we can make choices. This is why I see Aikido as truly a martial art about Peace. We do not need to act immediately using martial techniques that ultimately would be destructive. The core principles are there at work: We are simply choosing them to heal the world’s wounds rather than making them worse.
More on dealing with aggression in future articles.
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