Imagine that you are standing outside and you see some raging lunatic running at your young child. this person screaming that your child is going to die. Some feeling in your “gut” tells you that this person will not stop until your child is dead. You believe that you are a peaceful person. You train in Aikido as a way of making yourself and the world more peaceful. You have learned that you are responsible for the well-being of your attacker. What would you do?
This scenario places us in a situation where the concepts of “peace” and “violence” are not so black & white as we would conveniently like them to be. Part of this problem is a tendency to view these terms as “concrete” ideas, or terms reflecting a state of stasis. When we look up definitions of both peace and violence, we can see that these terms reflect a point in time highlighted within a longer time frame. Peace: Non-warring state, state of harmony….. are definitions that imply that this current condition has not always been so. Violence: Swift and intense force; violent act, unwarranted act of force…. are definitions that imply that this current condition has not always been so. Temporal states of peace and violence appear to be conditions that exist within most animal species. Is it realistic to expect that life should exist permanently on any end of this spectrum?
I like the definition of Aikido as: The way of harmonizing/unifying with life energy. The notion that Aikido is the martial way of peace is a distortion at multiple levels that creates unrealistic expectations that can lead to disastrous outcomes. The ebb and flow of human life is one that is filled with periods of clearly distinct peace and violence and multiple gradients of “in-between.” This definition allows us to realistically assess and respond to life situations. We need to first understand where we are at inside of ourselves. Are we angry, sad, happy,…… “entering” our day. We need to assess what condition those in the world are in when we potentially interacting with others. We need to assess that unique combination of “our space” and the “space of others.” Hopefully, our Aikido training has allowed us to learn a large spectrum of responses to situation that might allow us to accurately be harmonized with that moment. That moment might include protecting our child from the raving lunatic by executing a technique that severely injures the person, followed up by an act that kills that attacker so as to preserve the life of the child. If we are truly “in the moment”, that unique interaction of “our space” and that of the attacker, that means that we might preserve our ability to choose life by being in a violent moment. The greater time-frame of our lives might clearly indicate that we are basically “peaceful.” Focusing on “peace” and “violence” in understanding that moment is likely to lead to greater confusion and less understanding.
The truly difficult task seems to be remaining consistently “in the moment” when something is happening. The interesting thing that seems to happen is that one’s awareness is greatly increased so the “warning signals” of danger are picked up quickly, providing us with more opportunities to respond in a moment in which the gradients between peace and violence are not so extreme. This intra-personal and inter-personal awareness is one of the truly remarkable “gifts” that Aikido can offer us. I believe that the distorted focus on the “peaceful” or “violent” nature of our actions takes us away from the sense of connection/harmonizing/unification within ourselves and with others, which Aikido can provide to us as a tool to hopefully live safer.
Last month’s focus was “michibiki.” This leads us to this month’s focus which is on the connection within ourselves and with others. Aiki-Extensions is helping to celebrate the UN’s focus on peace with their own efforts to focus on peace. I appreciate and support these efforts. I do believe that the more important focus should be on our ability to connect with ourselves and others so that we can appreciate the special gift that is our own fragile life. We can then appreciate this gift in others, even if we do not agree with them, like them…. This can be experienced through our Aikido practice, which should hopefully allow us the ability to recognize the importance of wanting to live in a more peaceful world. Our practice this month should be to try and remain aware of ourselves and others before, during and after our techniques. I will be curious to see what people discover from this intense focus throughout this month.
Marc Abrams Sensei
(Original blog post may be found here