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Old 05-21-2013, 08:39 AM   #66
Location: Massachusetts
Join Date: Jun 2006
Posts: 3,192
Re: How long does it take to understand Aikido? How long to use it effectively?

Jon Reading wrote: View Post
Since we are back at effective self-defense...

While I agree that the risk of being targeted for battery and/or assault is not particularly high for mostof us, I do not think that we are acting irresponsibley in our preparation. I personally believe that we are constantly bombarded with acts of bullyism in our daily life. We won't call them that because only kids are bullied, but we are. That guy that eyed you and then cut you off on the highway? What about the skeezy guy that just steppped in front of you while waiting to check out. The cat call from across the street? The inexcusibly high phone bill... the DMV...

Everyday we experience some form of intimidation. Sometimes we do something, sometimes we don't. We are presented with these judgment calls. Ultimately you either capitulate to the intimidation or you do not. I am not sure judging another's decisions gets anywhere... This is why the life skill of a budo is so important over the physical skill of kata. We need kata, but we can do so much with budo.
But (and I realize I'm not saying this very well) what makes it "intimidation"? That tango takes two, and sometimes there's a choice about whether you want to dance. The guy that eyed you and then cut you off on the highway is playing a game that he wants to play; it's called "I show you who's boss of this road", and he believes he can win at it. Maybe he's wrong; maybe you and your car can win. Maybe you choose not to play, but instead just shrug and let him have the lane. Can someone beat you at a game you're not playing?

I realize that the choice to not play doesn't always exist. On the other hand, you know that saying about when your only tool is a hammer, every problem has to be a nail. When someone asks "is aikido good for self-defense?" we know what they're asking - if we're not being disingenuous, we know that they mean as a physical response to a physical attack, not using ki to redirect the bad energy at the DMV. So we enter into that discussion, but in so doing, we need to remind ourselves that this is a tiny slice of self-defense. If you want to defend yourself, you'll use many more tools than just the physical responses of aikido - and that, to be honest, those are probably the last tools you should ever use.

Jon Reading wrote: View Post
When I teach self-defense, I often use the analogy of a fear of spiders and the dangers of a spider bite. While we are very low risk to die from a spider bite (or be seriously injured), the condition of Arachnophobia will cause indivudals to go to extreme measures to insure they are not in contact with spiders. In a previous post there was mention that often self-defense measures are not taken out of the real danger of occurance, but rather a sense of empowerment over a fear. This is a driving motivation in the purchase of insurance - that the liklihood of a thing happening is so great that we should prepare for it.
Sure. But, while I can see how self-defense measures can lead to a sense of empowerment, when taken past a certain point, the measures themselves have a deleterious effect on a person's quality of life. You mention arachnophobia - as it happens, I have a very good friend who has a completely outsized freakout factor with insects of all kinds. This leads to behaviors such as drenching herself with deet, throwing out everything in her pantry and spending days bleaching every surface if she ever sees a grain moth, not wanting to visit my house which is out in the country and surrounded by gardens where I encourage some types of beneficial insects, etc. I keep my mouth firmly shut on the topic, but I see another choice: to attempt to address the fear itself, rather than to try to eliminate everything that provokes it from one's life.

There's a quote from Pema Chodron that I think is really relevant here, where she's talking about Shantideva's teachings about how we respond to the difficulties of life in the most counterproductive way. You can watch it on Youtube at

"This lousy world, this lousy people, this lousy government, this lousy everything. Lousy weather, lousy blah blah blah blah. Pissed off, you know, it's too hot in here, it's too cold, I don't like the smell and, the person is too tall in front, and -- too fat next to me, and they're wearing perfume and I'm allergic, and just -- unnnh!"

So he says, the analogy is that you're barefooted, it's like being barefooted and walking across blazing-hot sand or across cut glass. Or in a field with thorns. And your feet are bare, and you say, this is just, you know, it's really hurting, it's terrible, it's too sharp, it's too painful, it's too hot. Do I have a great idea! I am just going to cover the whole, everywhere I go, I'm going to cover it with leather. And then it won't hurt my feet anymore. That's like saying, "I'm going to get rid of her and get rid of him and get the temperature right, and I'm going to ban perfume in the world and, you know, there will be no, nothing that bothers me anywhere. There -- I am going to get rid of everything, including mosquitoes, that bothers me, anywhere in the world, and then I will be a very happy, content person."

We're laughing, but it's what we all do. That is how we do approach things. We think, if we could just get rid of them or cover it with leather, then our pain would go away. Well, sure, because, you know, then it wouldn't be cutting our feet anymore -- I mean, it's just logical, isn't it? But it doesn't make any sense, really. So he said, "but if you simply wrap the leather around your feet" -- in other words, shoes -- then you could walk across the boiling sand and the cut glass and the thorns, and it wouldn't bother you. So the analogy is, if you work with your mind, instead of trying to change everything on the outside, that's how your temper will cool down.
It's not to say that the problems on the outside aren't real. Generally they are (although this quote is a great example of how we tend to magnify them). But our ability to control these outside problems is limited. So, the choices are, as I see it: 1)Respond to the "provocations" of life's daily problems as if to an aggressive, conscious threat or attack on your self (which indeed they may very well not be...the guy who cut you off may be distracted or may have just seen his exit; the insect is simply trying to live), 2)Try to "cover the world with leather", by eliminating all the insects and bad drivers and people standing in line in front of you at the DMV (which of course you can't do), or 3)Respond to threats that really are threats, and "wear shoes" when dealing with the stuff that's just life being life.
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