042) The Challenge: Week of June 29, 2009
The issue of competition in Aikido is one that always seems to simmer beneath the surface, occasionally rearing it’s proverbial head on Internet forums such as the Aikiweb, or even worse, on the mat between two students. The debate will never be conclusive, particularly since we can not ask the founder to answer some direct questions about this topic. I do not think that anybody could argue that O’Sensei ever advocated competition as a functional component of Aikido. By the same token, I do not think that people could honestly say that O’Sensei was not aware of the competitive nature of his students and more famously, the competitive nature between dojos (Tokyo vs. Iwama). This duality between the overt and the covert was and is an ongoing tension in the world of Aikido.
Maybe O’Sensei used the tension between these two polar positions as a functional component of the training paradigm in Aikido. As a starting point, I would concur with those people in the Aikido world who advocate that the big flowing movements that the founder taught would not be movements of choice in a real fight. By the same token, O’Sensei and many of his top students were formidable people who seemed to have no problems finishing fights. These big movements contain the energy paths and hide the minor adjustments that result in these movements becoming powerful tools to use in a fight. My teacher, Imaizumi Sensei, is over 70 years of age and can easily neutralize and crush an attacking person with seemingly little effort.
I think that they path to helping to understand and effectively utilize this duality between the overt and the covert has to start with changing the focus from competition to challenge. Competitions of old were frequently life-and-death encounters that outlived their usefulness a long time ago. Today, competitions are more about garnering external trappings to try and appease an underlying sense of insecurity and vulnerability than anything else. By practicing large and basically unrealistic movements we quickly come face-to-face with the futility of trying to frame Aikido techniques within the realm of “awesome fighting tools.” We then are forced to confront our real purpose for training. Are we trying to defend ourselves against “The Threat”, or are we trying to use Aikido as a tool to self and ultimately world betterment? The founder recognized that the ultimate power in Aikido did not rest in the repertoire of techniques, but in the power that real human connectedness can have amongst people. This powerful, preconscious connection with another person enables the Aikidoka to literally be inside of the attack and attacker so as to remain safe and if need be, move in a manner that causes the opponents attacking force to be the genesis of his/her defeat.
In order for this to happen, we need to eliminate within ourselves the desire to be better than and to defeat an opponent. We need to open our hearts and spirits to the real awareness of others. We need to truly connect with individuals in a manner that would reflect the high degree of empathic abilities seen in truly gifted psychotherapists. We cannot move in this direction if we set up competitions based upon a winner and loser. We cannot move in this direction if we seek to create techniques that are invincible. We need to lose the desire for this form of futile competition and begin to challenge ourselves to even more elusive goals. We need to challenge ourselves to be able to connect to those around us, regardless of the circumstances. Connecting with a friend, or loved one is an easy goal. Connecting in that same manner when somebody is truly trying to hurt you, or even kill you is a goal of a remarkably higher order. There is no question that this challenge is a personal challenge that cannot happen without the interaction of another person. This challenge becomes all the more difficult when two people then have to also challenge their own insecurities that result in them trying to create a “pecking order.”
The practice of Aikido begins to change with this transformation. It should not resemble a wrestling, judo, or sparring match. It should not resemble some fantasy-based, orchestrated dance between two co-opting delusional fools. The transformation should resemble people who are truly engaging in sincere attacks to see if what happens next is too late for the attacker’ s reactive awareness to successfully alter one’s actions before the person ends up on the ground and/or is restrained. If this does not happen, you have two sincere people providing feedback to one another to help towards achieving this goal.
Some very interesting things happen when we begin to spend some time challenging ourselves, rather than engaging in these futile competitions with others. First, time seems to slow down. You begin to develop this awareness of what the person is doing before that person is actually doing it. You seem to perceive that person’s actions as slower, in comparison to how you are moving. You suddenly seem to relax and guide the connection with the attacker in a more focused and centered manner. You seem to gain a greater degree of options in how to handle both emerging and actual conflicts. People with whom you train with start to provide you with feedback as to how much more effective your Aikido is becoming. People begin to wonder how you are defeating their attacks with seemingly little effort on your part. They begin to talk about how you seem to know what they are doing before they are doing it. They begin to comment about how you seem to disappear and their attack leads to their sudden defeats.
In the beginning of this process, you truly think that the attacker was faking both the attack and the sudden failure. The attacker seems to be clueless as to how and what just happened. People watching this believe that the encounter was simply staged and could never really happen in that manner. Slowly, it dawns on you the genius of O’Sensei. This is the beginning of the awareness of the true power of Aikido. The transformation process of moving from what is a natural process of competition amongst members of a species to a challenge to truly connect with others. This is the hidden genius and power of the martial art of Aikido. I truly believe that the founder created an art where we had to go through this transformational process in order to become better people and at the same time, better martial artists.
Marc Abrams … [visit site to read more]
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