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Life lessons from Aikido, eh? That's a huge topic, and the subject of entire books. So many lessons are available in every aspect of the practice. The challenge with this subject will be keeping it brief. Here goes…
Aikido and life. It goes two ways.
The way I see it, there are two ways in which Aikido can be relevant to our life off the mat, and they flow in opposite directions.
First, there are qualities we develop through taking deliberate actions on the mat. These then percolate into our daily lives. In training we viscerally embody the principles that are central to the art -- compassion toward others, working with circumstances rather than fighting, keeping our center, moving with confidence, being clear and direct, etc. Through that practice we literally get these principles into our bodies -- into who we are. We'll look at this more closely when we get to "Q -- Qualities -- Discovering and Developing Our Better Selves."
Second, there's what we learn about who we are in the rest of our lives, through observing our own actions on the mat. In training we can step outside of ourselves and watch what we physically do -- how we react (or overreact) to an attack, how we try so hard to make things work out the way we pictured, or how we just give up when things aren't working out. Our Aikido practice is a mirror -- a way for us to see ourselves more clearly. In this way we can begin to understand how we act, respond, and relate in everyday life.
It's the latter, these lessons we learn about who we really are, that I'm speaking of here.
See how you are?
In our training we can begin to see how we are in relationship to others in the contexts of conflict or authority, size or attitude, age or gender. How do we respond when someone strong grabs us in a rough, aggressive way? How does it affect us when a partner seems timid or nervous? Do we defer to our partner even when we hold a higher rank? Do we not quite trust them to fall safely, and so hold back in throwing them? Might we train differently with men, or assume a younger person can naturally handle more power?
"That's interesting," we might say. "I just forfeited my own grounded stance, and gave up my balance, rather than inconvenience my partner or make them uncomfortable."
"Hmm… What's with that?" we ask ourselves. "When that big guy charged me I noticed I got jumpy and forceful rather than settling down, feeling my way through, and blending with the attack."
How we deal with things on the mat is often how we handle them in the rest of our lives, too.
The dojo as a laboratory.
Once these habitual behaviors, attitudes, and beliefs are revealed to us, we can begin to separate ourselves from them. They no longer have quite the same hold on us. We can bring them out into the light and examine them. Once they are visible we can more consciously choose whether they serve us, or not. We get to work on these things in the laboratory of the dojo, and then take into our lives.
When is it appropriate to be nice about things, and when do we cross the line into being a self-sacrificing doormat? Can we find a way to be direct and powerful without being mean or pushy?
Where do we stop in life? Is it when things get uncomfortable? When we feel we might be judged? Are we so afraid of physical pain that we won't risk encountering it? Does the idea of demonstrating skills in front of everyone during an exam so petrify us that we quietly stop coming to class just before we qualify for our first test?
Once we see these things about ourselves we can consciously work on them. We can choose to train with that big guy who scares us. We can experiment with being a little less "nice," and see what happens. We can try things on for size and test ourselves, building new and more functional responses that we can then take with us into our daily lives.
Your mileage may vary.
Everyone will learn something different. Your life lessons will come to you throughout your training, at uncannily appropriate times. You will look in the mirror that is Aikido and your own self will be reflected back at you. No one else can guess what you might see there. The things you discover on the mat -- and how you choose to apply them in your life -- will be all your own.
Two of my favorite books of all time -- books that literally changed the course of my life -- are relevant here. Both discuss many ways in which Aikido training can have an impact on who we are and how we live our lives:
Linda Eskin is a writer, Aikido student, personal trainer, horse person (with a pet donkey), and former software/web industry professional (tech comm and UX). She is currently completing two books for students of Aikido, one for children and one for adult beginners. Linda trains with Dave Goldberg Sensei at Aikido of San Diego, in California, and holds the first black belt rank, sho-dan. Sho-dan literally means "beginning rank."