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Home > Columns > "The Mirror" > January, 2005 - Appropriate Force
by "The Mirror"

Happy new year to all our readers. It is hard to believe we have been at this nearly a full year now!

Janet, Katherine and Susan would like to thank outgoing "The Mirror" collaborator Emily Gordon for her contributions this past year, and wish her all the best in her budo and Rolfing adventures.

We'd like to introduce our new collaborator, AJ "Al" Garcia. A former firefighter/EMT, she has been living with fibromyalgia for several years, during which time she resumed aikido training, practicing Ki-Aikido in Arizona. Her dogged determination and articulate expression over the past 3+ years have inspired those of us who have met her on the mat and online, and her perspective/voice will be a good addition to this group.


Appropriate Force by "The Mirror"


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This column was written by Susan Dalton, Greensboro Kodokan Aikido Dojo


Like me, my son Ryan was passive and prone to back out of conflict. We already knew how to blend and see uke's point of view. Years of aikido taught us to find our centers and demanded we enter. I am a "nice girl" who is still learning to enter. On the other hand, my daughter Kelsey has my husband Kemp's temperament. She is an entering girl who's learning to be nice. Even without aikido she can enter like nobody's business.

"Warrior child," my sensei said. "Ki in your breast milk."

When she was a little over two years old, we were swimming in a hotel pool at the beach. As we were leaving the water, an older woman we didn't know called her sweetheart. Kelsey turned to face her, throwing her hand on her hip. (I'd never before noticed how much that motion resembles the drawing of a sword.) "I am not your sweetheart. My name is Kelsey."

About a year later, my husband and I were packing the car to leave my parents' house. Ryan (seven and a half years older than his sister) was watching her. My father was aggravating her by calling her Lucille.

"Granddaddy, please don't call me Lucille."

"Why not, Lucille?"

"I don't like it. Don't call me Lucille."

"Whatever you say, Lucille."

"Granddaddy, when someone asks you not to do something and tells you they don't like it, why do you do it anyway?

"I don't know, Lucille, why do I?"

"GRANDDADDY, ARE YOU HANDICAPPED?!!"




A few weeks before her fourth birthday, we walked around the neighborhood to give out party invitations. Any time we walked in the neighborhood we stopped first to see her special friend, who wasn't home that day. However, on the way back to our house, we saw the child swinging next door with some other children, including an older boy we didn't know. After giving her family's invitation to her mother, I walked and Kelsey ran to greet her friend. "Go away," the older boy said to Kelsey. "No one here likes you."

Kelsey pointed to her friend. "She does."

"No, I don't," the friend said. "I hate you. Go home."

I asked both children to think about how they would feel if someone used such hurtful words when speaking to them and we left. Kelsey cried so hard, she couldn't talk. When we got home, she could finally say, "She's not coming to my party."

"We've already invited her. Her whole family is coming."

"Well then, she can stand in the yard and look in the window and watch us all eat cake. She is not coming in my house."

"We'll all be outside, remember?"

My answer seemed to satisfy her and she went off to play. The day of the party she took her friend by the hand as soon as she arrived. About ten minutes later we heard screaming and banging and ran in the house and up the stairs. There we found the friend locked in Kelsey's bedroom with Kelsey standing guard at the door. "She was mean to be me. She needs to be in time-out." Mama had not entered with intent, so a four-year old took that deep step forward.

Maybe I fuel her innate tendency to enter by being astounded and amused. Her reactions are so different from mine. Yes, I want her to be nice and sometimes her forthrightness embarrasses me, but I admire her ability to recognize and stand her ground. If I can ever get her on the mat (she did practice for about eighteen months when she was five and six but now says aikido is for old people, her assumption an unfortunate byproduct of having her wimpy old mother be a sensei), no one will ask her to stride around the dojo, saying, "This is MY mat" as I had to do. Instead, we may have to remind her that other people are also allowed some space.

Some people call her ability to enter "aggressiveness". A good friend's son was going skiing with us one weekend. Since we'd be leaving early, he'd spend the night and go to Kelsey's basketball game. (I've always hated playing any game where people fight over a ball. You want the ball? Fine, have it. Just please give me time to get out of your way.) On the way to the game he was talking about his birthday party. When he noticed she was giving him the eye, he told her he would have invited her but he invited only boys. They played football. "What, I don't like football?" she asked. He explained that since only boys were playing, they'd played roughly and she probably wouldn't have been comfortable. She nodded and said not another word. That night she played the game of her ten year old life. As he watched her steal balls, rip down rebounds, and full-body block the person she was guarding, he laughed. "Dang, I should have invited her to my birthday and I should have made sure she was on my team."

She and a boy from her class love soccer and often captained the playground teams at recess. However, they preferred to play on the same team and if they did, they won. One day in the classroom the alpha male of the group asked why the other boy was talking to Kelsey.

"Yeah, disgusting, why am I talking to you?" he said.

"She's on swim team with me and when she jumps in the pool, the whole building shakes."

As Kelsey talked about this incident, I could feel all my own adolescent angst and body image issues creeping in. So, I took a deep breath and gave my best motherly advice. "Tell him if he's going to be your friend, he needs to be your friend no matter who's there. Tell him you don't appreciate his showing off by being mean to you when the other boys are around."

The next evening I casually (ha!) asked if she'd talked to her friend. "No," she said. "We had to go to the stage to practice dancing together for the PTA program. So I pulled him around by his ear the whole time. Then when we got back to class, I tripped him so he fell flat on his face in front of everyone. He's nice to me now."

How can I laugh at such a non-aiki solution to a problem? The thing is, I see the aiki in her actions. She's practiced soccer enough with her friend to be confident of his ukemi, and she used no more force than she felt necessary. Tripping him in front of the entire class was an atemi which took his mind enough so that he'll thoughtfully consider any future attacks against her. I think and talk; she acts. Her way isn't my way, but I do acknowledge its effectiveness.

Now in middle school, Kelsey is feeling the pressure her environment will exert on her. The offensive players on her all-girls soccer team love the way she barrels over people in games to get to the ball. They aren't quite as impressed when she shows this same determination in practice and they're the ones being run over. The boys show their appreciation for a tough girl with terms like, "man hands" and "beast of the east". Time will tell whether peer pressure and society's expectations of feminine behavior soften her and alter her behavior. I hope not. She's teaching her mother to enter.


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