As I have mentioned before, many of us get together as friends after training. Recently I just didn't know what I wanted to write about this month. I talk too much anyway and usually don't have a problem coming up with topics, but this time was different. The things I wanted to express were very personal and of no interest to anyone but me. So with nothing specific in mind, I asked for topic suggestions. And I got some. They ranged from writing about not knowing what to write, to training injured but not broken, to taking someone else's work and putting my name on it. I love brainstorming because anything goes and pretty soon we were all laughing and I had forgotten why I asked this group that question.
Later in the morning cup of communal meditation, we got on the topic of communication. For one of our regular members, Aikido was a relationship between two people that relied on clear and concise communication. Leave it to a white belt to see the obvious.
We can easily and obviously assign the role of communication sender to the uke. Equally easy and obvious is the tori/nage who by default, takes on the role of communication receiver. The uke says they are attacking by hitting and grabbing. The tori/nage listens by accepting, entering, and blending with the intent and intensity of that message.
I remember an experience on the mat that morning where I kept walking away from the tori/nage rather than take the fall. I didn't know initially why I was doing that. I usually don't give up a technique unless someone is doing it wrong. I also am trying to work on my entering and blending with the defense looking for openings to counter to appear. So I wasn't resisting. As I paid close attention to attempt at some constructive feedback, I realized the "failure to communicate". I was being moved horizontally. He had my balance and my momentum, but at no time did he communicate to me to go down. I often feel this in people's irimi-nage and ikkyo. They move me in a circular path, but they don't tell me they want me to go down. So I don't.
As a couple's counselor I deal with communication problems all the time. Many people think it's the number one reason that couples have problems. Usually that's because communication for most people is a one way street. Everyone wants to be heard but very few people want to listen. Add to that the idea that most people don't communicate what they really intend to and we have no one listening and no one saying what they really intend or want.
Communication is filled with mixed messages. The words say "yes" but the body says "no". Since most communication is actually nonverbal, I go with the unspoken message. But what if mixed messages just mean mixed feelings? After all, who of us are totally congruent? Now I am really confused. If I listen closely I may be hearing two conflicting and contradictory messages, that are both true.
Now the fun starts because to make sense of the message I will go into mind reading and attempt to understand the meaning of the communication within my own frame of reference, which I usually call fantasyland. What is the other person trying to tell me? Okay, I admit it. When left to my own interpretation and devices; I use my worse fears and insecurities to try to understand others. At least that's what I do in my personal life which explains the social awkwardness in my life. Professionally I know better. I simply ask the person sending the message what they mean. And they usually tell me if I am really willing to listen.
Then it is my turn to attempt to send a clear and concise communication. I really have to figure out what I want to say. I don't usually know, so I go quiet externally and beginning yelling at myself internally while looking for just the right words to express what I haven't decided I want to express yet. A relationship based on good communication is reciprocal, it is a back and forth, a trading places of sender and receiver.
So let us get back to the Aikido application, after all this is AikiWeb and we should be communicating about Aikido practice and application.
When you are uke, are you sending a clear and concise message that you are approaching and attacking the other person? With a few acceptations, other kindred spirits of martial intent, I must admit I don't see a lot of people giving an honest and genuine approach and attack. It is mostly really nice people who really don't want to hurt me who hold back. While I appreciate the sentiment, if you are really nice, and you really like me, I deserve your very best. I deserve a clear and concise communication from you to respond to. I am communicating to you, right now, that you have my absolute permission to attack, even hit me if I do not get off the line and enter and blend with your approach and attack. As tori/nage, I can only learn if you cooperate and we communicate our agreement to this arrangement.
As tori/nage, are you sending a clear and concise message that you are ready and able to accept an approach and attack? Are you communicating a willingness and ability to engage in the reciprocal communication exchange we call training? I once heard that we had two ears and one mouth because we were to listen twice as much as we talk. To have something to listen to stand ready and invite a communication (approach and attack) for your relationship partner. Listen with your eyes, ears, and body as they send you a message. Accept and listen to it. Don't resist what they have to say. Don't take it personally. The approach and attack is about them, not you. As they are communicating, so are you. Let yourself respond (not react) to their message by sending your own. First send the message of acceptance, enter and blend with their message. Then following the energy and direction of the conversation, send your own. Let the other person know you heard them and that you have taken appropriate actions to protect yourself from them, and them from you. While you do not mean them harm, you will not let them harm you or others.
So the next time you train, pay attention to the communications. As you enter the dojo door, what are you saying and what is being said to you? As you bow onto the mat, what are you saying and what is being said to you? As you bow to each other and practice, what are you saying and what is being said to you? As you end the discipline and bow to your training partners, the mat, and the dojo, are you making a statement of honor, humility, and gratitude?
Please take the time to really listen to others and to make sure your communications are clear and concise.
Thanks for listening, for the opportunity to be of service, and for sharing the journey. Now get back to training. KWATZ!
Lynn Seiser (b. 1950 Pontiac, Michigan), Ph.D. has been a perpetual student of martial arts, CQC/H2H, FMA/JKD, and other fighting systems for 40 years. He currently holds the rank of Sandan (3rd degree Black Belt) in Tenshinkai Aikido under Sensei Dang Thong Phong at the Westminster Aikikai Dojo in Southern California. He is the co-author, with Phong Sensei, of Aikido Basics (2003), Advanced Aikido (2006), and Aikido Weapons Techniques (2006) for Tuttle Publishing. His martial art articles have appeared in Black Belt Magazine, Aikido Today Magazine, and Martial Arts and Combat Sports Magazine. He is the founder of Aiki-Solutions and IdentityTherapy and is an internationally respected psychotherapist in the clinical treatment of offenders and victims of violence, trauma, abuse, and addiction. He currently lives in Marietta, GA and trains at Roswell Budokan.