Dojo: Still Point Aikido Center
Location: Austin, TX, USA
Join Date: Jul 2002
Re: It Has to be Felt #0
More deeply nested quotes will get confusing, so I'm going to try to address your points without quoting all of them back.
Aikido for me is about engaging structures. On the mat, this plays out as a kind of ritual combat. For lessons to be learned in earnest, the self-defense (martial) applications have to be genuine. But...
I've never been in a fight in my life. I expect I might live out the rest of my days without ever needing to do hand-to-hand combat. If I do need it, I fully expect my aikido training to be there for me.
Still, I do engage in conflicts all the time, every day. Many are within myself, many are between me and others, me and my world. Many are of my own making, many are not. My experience on the mat is available (when I have the good sense to access it) to help navigate these structures when they do not fit well together. I can learn to find increasingly better pattern-matching strategies that promote equilibrium and flow.
For me, this can and should be applied in all arenas, not just conflict areas, but also in wellness and opportunity. So I try to do my best to use my aikido while driving, working, conversing, playing, lovemaking, in relaxation and recreation. (I'm also working at improving my ability to do aikido through writing.)
You ask how. For now I must disappoint you with a lack of details, but a broad answer is twofold:
First, by accepting that the patterns and forms of aikido can be analogues to all other life experiences. In this modality, no special modifications to regular aikido practice are necessary. However, the mindset matters, so that attention is given to how the mat relates to the larger world, and vice-versa. When this is so, washing dishes is also aikido practice. Not in a way that can substitute for mat training, but rather, they inform one another.
Second, explicit practices do exist for promoting calmness, for learning to not overreact when threatened, and how to act decisively in the face of a challenge or opportunity. These are manifold, but often involve attention to breath, tension in the body, awareness of posture and body language.
I do like your stated goals of training. The point where we may disagree is that being more "open, centered, and grounded," being more "relaxed and free" while remaining in control, and "getting more towards me [you]" all sound like extremely desirable traits off the mat as well as on the mat. And if aikido training, in itself, improves your quality of life in other domains, that sounds like a good thing.
Is it automatic? Ideally, it should be. Yet I think aikido is vulnerable to the same kind of mindset of certain religious folk, who believe their salvation and all their religious practice is satisfied by merely showing up once a week and going through the motions. I'm not getting that sense about you, except it almost seems like that's what you're arguing in favor of.
Aikido is indeed a transmission of a tradition, and that is precisely what hierarchies are good at.
Aikido is also a work in progress. O Sensei said that we should discard the old ways that do not work. Tohei Sensei himself was a true innovator. My main influences (R. Kobayashi, H. Kono) have been experiential in their orientations. Thus, my tradition, my lineage, if you will, IS one of research, investigation, and experimentation. And that's what heterarchies are optimized for.
If I quote O Sensei, it's not meant to invoke him as an ultimate authority. Rather, I will refer to some things he expressed that I strongly agree with, or am powerfully excited by. Also, for the historical precedents of how aikido has been framed and conceived.
So when I go to the mat, I try to remember that I am there to try to find a way to unite the world into one family. (I understand that to mean a healthy family that loves one another and fosters unity through diversity, rather than through monomaniacal fundamentalism.) When I go to the mat I try to remember that I am there to penetrate the mystery of why true budo is the loving protection of all things. This is the self-defense I want to practice, to learn, to teach, to promote, and to evolve.
Disclosure: I myself am somewhat connected to Aiki Extensions, and I serve on the board for Peace Dojos International.
On the subject of naming, I generally agree with what you say. There are those who would say that what I do these days is not aikido. I can't be too concerned about that. The Aiki no Michi is the road that brought me here, and as far as I'm concerned, it's still the path that I'm on. Yet I'm not prepared to say that a thing is aikido just because someone says it is. And part of the process of refinement is the continuing discovery of what a thing is, and what it is not.
By the way, I've looked at your dojo web site. The language there (admittedly through horrible Google translation) seems to generally agree with me. There are good thoughts about the value of community, and the importance of training "off the tatami." Or am I simply projecting my own interpretations into the language?
I do want to say that engaging with you in dialogue is a pleasure, and I hope I have not at any point offended you in any way. I do respect your point of view, and am eager to understand it better.