It’s been some years since I wrote about my experiences hearing Dr. King speak on that cold wintery January weekend in Washington, DC, a time that would be only months away from Dr. King’s killing.
As we celebrate another national day in his honor, I am again reminded about how he exemplified the very best of core martial arts principles. And I also realize I saw many of these same principles in the late Kato Sensei (and other senior instructors such Robert Frager Sensei, Mary Heiny Sensei, Jack Wada Sensei and Richard Strozzi-Heckler Sensei).
When speaking that weekend, I observed Dr. King’s attempts to blend with those who did not agree with him. I heard him offer reconciliation, rather than confrontation especially when dealing with the issue of so many young African-American youth being drafted for the conflict in Vietnam (young African-Americans were being drafted totally out of proportion to young white men at the height of the conflict).
It was clear to me that he wasn’t interested in getting into a “fight” about this issue. Yet, his words were powerful and direct. I would term in martial terminology that what he was doing as an irmi movement. He went to the heart of the issue. He moved into the situation, the issue, the conflict, and did so with blend of his words and his energy (read also spirit here).
The basis of this movement was done in a number of ways:
It was done with his words, which as I note above were about reconciliation, not more division (the last thing we needed in the United States at that time!).
He also did this with his body language. It was never aggressive for the hours I was in his presence that weekend. For example, his hands were often outstretched as if receiving (as opposed to a clinched fist, a common gesture then).
And his presence was relaxed, even when driving home an important point when he was speaking. You could tell there was a calm quiet there in him that was surrounded by fire and passion. What emerged was the power of his message, but there was always peace in his core and in the core of what he was saying.
There was surely a lot of pressure on him to go out in the streets and raise his fists in anger. But he never did this. When he did go to the streets, the purposes of his marches were peaceful.
These are the same core principles I have heard from O Sensei’s direct student, ones that in many ways he also exemplified. And I have seen these same core principels in the best senior instructors in Aikido and other martial arts.
I think if there is one take away for Dr. King’s day of celebration this weekend is that of reconciliation. And, how can we create this in our own martial arts classes, and in our lives, in our students and in our communities— especially in the wake of Sandy Hill and the other senseless tragedies that we must all deal with on a daily basis.