Pardon my intrusion brothers and sisters, but recent postings have compelled me to weigh in. One of the reasons that I have not been more participatory in the forums is the frequent lack of civility and professionalism. Everything posted affects how we are perceived as a group, and frankly, it’s not altogether flattering. My peers in other arts regularly ask me, “How and where does the art of Harmony manifest itself among its practitioners?” It’s noteworthy that more harmony seems to exist in the competitive arts.
Bear with me: it’s human nature to be competitive, it’s in our DNA. Everyone wants, even needs to feel correct. Correctness can be expressed in many ways, including acceptance (i.e. agreement) and winning. When folks don’t feel “correct,” they may experience unpleasant emotional reactions; the most potent of these is fear. Fear-based reactions (i.e. uncivil behavior) result when an individual’s core beliefs are challenged. Fear is commonly expressed as anger. Rudeness is a form of fear.
Some say that the only thing an individual can truly control is how they choose to respond to the environmental stimuli encountered in life (karma). If true, then every moment of every day provides each individual with almost infinite choices in thought and action (free will). If that’s true, then it’s up to each of us to choose how to respond, how to come together… harmoniously, or not. Some of us are going to execute on this better than others; to expect otherwise ignores the learning curve.
This is why self-discipline is a core tenet in martial arts training. An inability to control one’s thoughts, words, and actions inevitably leads to disaster. Self-discipline is the root skill requisite to learning (if you can’t shut up and sit still, the only lessons learned will be painful ones).
The reason that civility is paramount in martial arts training is safety, both physical and psychological. The tribal origins of martial arts across the planet employed “tough love” in training beloved family members to protect or further the clan. Elders demanded discipline, effort, and sacrifice so that life preserving skills could be transferred. Gradually, as abilities progressed the training became tougher and tougher both physically and psychologically. Today, it seems that most martial artists don’t train with this attitude, and that explains a lot.
Aikido’s global reach spans many cultures with differing languages and core beliefs. Add to that overlapping social strata, and the complexities of human interaction are fraught with opportunities for miscommunication; especially when virtual interaction is global and instantaneous. No doubt some are misunderstanding my message even as they read this. Let’s not forget that over 90% of in-person human communication is non-verbal. So, as wonderful as the AikiWeb and Aikido Journal websites are, participants are not even getting the cues that come with verbal communication. Is it any wonder that misunderstandings abound?
In aikido, we have a shared context and lexicon of sorts, but there are so many accepted expressions of the art that neither is consistent across the spectrum; this also fosters misunderstandings. None of this should be construed as excusing rude behavior. There is no excuse. Angry disagreements over historical facts and implications, even when proffered as well intentioned education, undermine the effort. If some choose to live in ignorance, isn’t that their choice with its own ramifications? We’ve all been perpetrators at some point; most have regrets, but it’s not enough to just “take the high road” and hope others will follow.
Tolerance is seen in many cultures, and the law, as acceptance. How much one should tolerate is a soft beach. We owe it to each other to coach one another when someone crosses the proverbial line. If a member of our clan is unwilling, or unable, to exercise self-discipline, is it not incumbent upon those of us in the leadership to address the issue? To argue that it’s “not your business” is to ignore personal responsibility to the family. If the offender can’t be rehabilitated, they must be banished. Ultimately, choices, both good and bad, have inevitable consequences. If we follow the great teacher’s central tenet and “love one another,” fear will diminish and misunderstandings will be minimized.
We should revel in our differences! If everyone was the same, we’d have nothing to discuss, and life would be very boring. If all you were allowed to eat, ever, your favorite dish would grow old quickly. As sensei, until we let go of our fears and risk exploring, interacting, and possibly patiently embracing other perspectives and approaches, we are limiting our own ability to grow.
In the end, there is no one true way, except the one you create for yourself.
With all due respect,