Violence is a subject matter that few people are genuinely comfortable exploring. Violent interactions with others leave an indelible mark upon you. People can be impacted in a large variety of ways regardless of whether you are the person who has done something violent to another person, or you have been the recipient of violence. If you have never violently acted upon another person, or have never been at the receiving end of violence, you will have a hard time in truly understanding the depth of the impact that violence has upon the psyche of another person.
Aikido is a martial art. Martial arts by their very nature, can allow us to explore violence in a hopefully safe, stylized and contained manner. This is an area of exploration that is wrought with difficulties, dangers, fears, anger, and a host of other emotions and response sets. The manner in which the teacher shapes this experience, impacts upon a person’s ability to confront violence in a manner that hopefully leads to a safe resolution.
It is very common for Aikido dojos to create an overly collusive training environment that allows for “soft & fuzzy” philosophical ideas to float about in a manner that creates a genuine disconnect between the “realities” experienced in that dojo, and the world at large. It has been my experience that these dojos create a plethora of people who are really good at acting in a passive-aggressive manner, and they then quickly fall apart when they are confronted with, and cannot escape from assertive aggression (words or deeds). Those dojos are great places to feel good and believe that you are creating that “peaceful self”. They just need to insure that their life experiences can keep them safely tucked away from a world that can be remarkably violent at times.
Another type of Aikido dojo experience is one that is shaped by a move to the other extreme. This type of dojo seeks to teach “real” stuff that really works with violence. This type of training experience seeks to take innate fear and turn it into pro-active violent responses to perceived threats. These dojos promote themselves as “tough” training experiences meant for only those that can learn to be “tough enough” to survive violent assaults. Injuries in those dojos are worn like achievement badges. The more experienced and tougher you become, the better you become at “helping” the junior students “learn” violent acts intentionally inflicted upon the junior students. The hypervigilance and fear that is fostered, serves to reinforce the need to always been tougher and more violent than you are now. This type of training experience creates a student that has a damaged body and psyche.
Aikido can offer us the opportunity to learn how to remain calm and stable while surrounded by violence. I personally find that the harder that I work on the internal energy training aspects of this art, the more aware I become of how difficult and vitally important it is to remain in a state of dynamic equilibrium, regardless of the external environment. We talk about how Aiki is created as a function of this dynamic balance. We talk about what a profound impact it has upon the attacker. I don’t think that we talk enough about how it creates the “eye in the storm”. This profound peace that is created is protected from being disturbed from outside forces. This state enables us to be free and safe, while functioning effectively in addressing violence. Creating this place within us comes from the many, many hours of serious training (particularly solo training). Hopefully, we can work in a dojo that trains together in this manner (personally and together). This can enable us to experiment with where we are. We recognize that we will fail, our “buttons” will get pushed, etc.. Keeping an eye on the larger goal of creating that safe space within us, allows us to work through the difficulties that will arise in the dojo.
I am working very hard at fostering this kind of training environment. It is remarkably difficult at all levels. I have to be the conductor in allowing a symphony to exist that creates an order amidst chaos. We have to really trust one another, so that no one is really going to try and intentionally harm the other person. We can get pushed to the point of almost acting in that manner, but we must all rise to the level of recognizing that such a response arises from our own personal failings. As a teacher, I have to remain ever-vigilant of interactions approaching these “boiling points” so that I can use them as examples of how we must shape our training to push each other AND remain safe and in control. This means really accepting our own personal responsibility in violent interactions. It is far easier to displace blame than it is to accept responsibility. The stark reality remains that we all must accept more than our fair share of responsibility when dissecting these incidents “post-mortem”. We need to look deep and hard within ourselves as to what we are doing that allows us to not remain in a dynamic equilibrium within ourselves. This can be as simple as having a stiff shoulder, to as complex as not being fully cognizant of how some event from our day is shaping our current experience.
At the end of the day, I expect myself and my students to foster an environment that keeps us on the edge of success and failure, enabling success to prevail. I want us to build upon success during difficult times. The more success and achievement, the more we can allow the severity of the “edge” to greater. If we all accept this communal responsibility, I believe that our dojo can be a very successful Aikido experience that seeks to have us all live up to the high bar set by O’Sensei.
Marc Abrams Sensei
(Original blog post may be found here