MoMA King, Tolstoy, Gandhi by Toru Tonooka used with kind permission
The strength of the body is shed. In that instant, speaking metaphorically, emerges the power to move heaven and earth. The way of compacting power, that's the secret. You squeeze it down smaller and smaller; you wind it up in the hara (the abdomen, the centre of internal energy). When you have squeezed it down as far as it will go, when you reach the precise instant of having done so - Pow! The smaller it gets, the greater the power. This is the ultimate aim of practice. What is greatest lies within what is smallest, so one aims to achieve a microscopic diminution. This is done by relinquishing strength. If strength remains, even a few small puddles of strength, one cannot achieve this diminution. Training is a way of finding out how to relinquish this strength.I wrote a blog article recently about aikido and freedom. I briefly mentioned the Arab Spring and the movements for social change which resulted in the physical dismantling of the Berlin Wall and the political dismantling of the USSR and the eastern bloc.
Although I talked about freedom I didn't really talk about resistance. Throughout history resistance and guerrilla movements have used the same principles of asymmetric warfare described by Sun Tzu in The Art of War. Guerrilla means little war. It comes from guerra, war in Spanish. These tactics of resistance were used in the American Revolutionary War and there have been many other examples in history. For example the Francs-tireurs in the Franco-Prussian War (1870-71) and the maquis and the partisans of the twentieth century. In World War II there were many brave and effective resistance movements: in France, Greece, Poland and a number of other countries.
Ross Robertson had an interview with Paul Linden in one of his columns. They discussed non-violence and teaching methods for peace. And also how positive initiatives like Aiki Extensions and International Aiki Peace Week developed.
I like the idea of flowing from microcosm to macrocosm. The founder of judo Jigoro Kano also had this vision: judoka everywhere using the principles of judo in every facet of their lives so that the whole of society would benefit: Jita Kyoei 自他共栄 we together with other people will flourish (or mutual welfare and benefit).
But does that work the other way around? Can we flow from the macrocosmic to the microcosmic? Can we translate the principles of resistance movements against tyranny or injustice into our own martial arts practice?
At first glance it seems difficult to find a relation between them. Aikido is not about continually harassing an enemy and escaping to fight again.
The word resistance suggests that there is friction or a clash of energy. So that is already inefficient. In judo when you are pushed you don't resist. You add to the power of the push by pulling so that a throw becomes almost effortless. In aikido when you are pushed you can turn to use the energy of the attack.
What about nonviolent resistance? Leo Tolstoy, who wrote War and Peace and Anna Karenina, two of the greatest novels ever written, later in his life developed a philosophy of non-violent resistance. He was a strong influence on Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King.
But resistance is still resistance even if it is nonviolent. And if there is resistance, however slight, there is inefficiency.
So what about complete non-resistance? Socrates believed in non-resistance and went to his death without protesting. Some branches of Christianity - for example the Amish - believe in turning the other cheek rather than resisting violence.
But unless you are prepared to take a very long-term view of history and your place in it total non-resistance seems to be too passive. And if this is your philosophy aikido and martial arts are probably not necessary in your life.
So we are left with Shoseki Abe Sensei's advice. Power should be compacted until it is nothing. There should not even be a few small puddles of strength remaining. This is the heart of aikido and one of the most difficult things to understand and to achieve. This is the way to find kokyu ryoku - breath power.
Gandhi's own word perhaps provides us with the answer. Satyagraha. The force born of love and compassion. It is the force of truth. But it is still a force.
Henry David Thoreau, Civil Disobedience
Leo Tolstoy, War and Peace
Leo Tolstoy, Anna Karenina
Mahatma Gandhi, Freedom's Battle
background wikipedia articles
obituary of Jean-Pierre Levy
my blog on aikiweb
© niall matthews 2011
Niall Matthews lives with his family in Japan. He teaches aikibudo and community self-defence courses and has taught budo for twenty-five years. He was the senior deshi of Kinjo Asoh Sensei, 7 dan Aikikai. He was the exclusive uke of Sadateru Arikawa Sensei, 9 dan Aikikai, at the hombu dojo in Tokyo for thirteen years until Arikawa Sensei's death in 2003. He has trained in several other martial arts to complement his aikido training, including judo (he has 4 dan from the Kodokan in Tokyo), kenjutsu (for about ten years) and karate (for about three years). He originally went to Japan as a staff member of the EU almost thirty years ago. He received 5 dan from Arikawa Sensei in 1995. This 5 dan is the last aikido dan he will receive in his life. His dojo is called Aikibudo Kokkijuku 合気武道克輝塾. Arikawa Sensei personally gave him the character for ki in kokki. It is the same character as teru in Sadateru - not the normal spelling of kokki 克己. It means you make your life shining and clear yourself.
Perhaps we need to realize that the external resistance is the easiest to overcome.
IMHO, to find that freedom we must first overcome our own internal self-imposed resistance.
Then we may know which external factors and situations we need to stop resisting and which we need to start actively and proactively challenge and confront directly.
Compliments and appreciation.
Lovely column. It reminds me of what my old teacher used to say which he said he got from Tohei Sensei. It was a description of one point which we had as our main datum for Ki 'power' energy.
It was; One point is the infinite gathering of infinitely small particles.
Anyway, resistance and non-resistance is one of my favourite topics and at the hub of Aikido for me.
You're tempting me to start a thread, ha, ha. I always say there is no 'against' in Aikido. There is no opposing either. Resistance contains both.
The key to understanding non-resistance is by discovering what is borne by doing so. Thus we discover plenty of energy or energies and they are all non-resistive. So once we get over the need or even ingrained automatic resistive factors we discover plenty of non-resistive ones.
This for me is the key to understanding non-resistance, the fact that it doesn't mean you are left with nothing at all in fact quite the opposite.
Thanks Niall. Regards.G.
Very nice post. Good questions to ponder for sure. I think it is all very complex and there are no easy answers. At least in this day and age I don't think the complete non-violence or non-resistance is possible. Even when we consider, for instance the Amish, they are afforded that luxury on the blood and sweat of others.
We need societies and cultures like the Amish though. I was listening to Robert Thurman, one of the West leading scholars and authorities on Tibetan Buddhism. He was making an argument for the need for a monastic society and why we need this today.
I think we need institutions, role models, societies, monks etc to remind of our morale center and what we need to be working towards.
I think though, that for today, the middle road is about the best we can do.
Thank you Lynn and Graham and Kevin for the thoughtful and perceptive comments. It's always a pleasure when an article is the starting point for a deeper discussion.
This is a review from last week from the Washington Post of a book by a former French resistance fighter. It was a best-seller in Europe.
Interesting article Niall. I once counselled a lady who had virtually had a nervous breakdown. Up to that point she was successful and a senior lecturer at a polytechnic. Great family. All was well and then crash. That was the outer appearance.
It took a while but the realization she had that changed everything and put her back on track was that she had always resisted what she thought was wrong.
This caused a gradual build up of stress (or karma as I called it) until a simple thing in life was the final straw. Collapse.
Suffice to say she then fully recovered and got her job back and went on to become vice principal. One relieved family also. She even took up Aikido too.
So that's another aspect to the subject of resistance.
I also from a spiritual perspective look at things you mention like when the berlin wall came down and the general kind of uprisings seen across the arab world at the moment and the article you refer to.
For me I look at it this way. Spiritually people can put up with a lot but basically spirit is free, not something to be bottled up or undermined. Thus when you get dictatorships or heavy oppressive regimes there can only be one day an explosion of some sort. A rebellion.
Thanks for the nod to one of my columns.
I've arrived at a point where I see all aikido interactions as the relationship between what is solid and what is empty. What we call "conflict" or "violence" can only come from the collision of solids. This happens in degrees, so a lesser degree might manifest as mere resistance.
However, I don't believe the answer is to become only emptiness. If there were only emptiness, there would be no creation, no form, no universe. Rather, I think our job is to align the structures of solid and empty so that they are in accord.
Good structural engineers know that resistance has its part to play in achieving balance, harmony, stability, and integration. Balanced resistance creates boundedness which allows for form.
Persistent resistance in the face of an overwhelming force is likely to perpetuate a violence, when some flexibility, fluidity, or resilience of form might mitigate it. Does a resistance promote a healthy equilibrium, as in the structure of a truss? Or should a yielding to force initiate the collapse of an undesirable structure, and to what extent should we guide the collapse and minimize the fallout? When forces resist our movements, when should we go around and when should we overcome the resistance to move that which is wrongly placed?
Our training can't answer all the questions for all situations, but I do think it provides us the way to find the answers for the exigencies of the moment and its future consequence.
All of which is just to say I agree with you, and merely wished to add my voice to the discussion.
And thank you for adding your voice, Ross. Great comments. I really like your concept of the relationship between solid and emptiness. Aikido as smoke! The inherent resistance of a structure is interesting too. I wonder how we can fit the surface tension of a liquid into this model. By the way the system wouldn't let me message you.
Smoke, air, water... I do think aikido and fluid dynamics have a lot in common. But fluids often are bounded by, and directed by channels and surfaces. To me, aikido is not about being either solid or empty, but about understanding the intercourse between them. We can be either, or both, in varying degrees as need and opportunity arise.
Not sure about the PM. Feel free to contact me directly any time at <email@example.com>.
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