Recently a question on aikido-l made me think. Someone asked if anyone had ever used aikido "in real life."
I use aikido every day. I'm not a bouncer in a bar -- I'm just a regular person who had (has) some things to figure out. Sometimes I fall and roll out. That's happened maybe twice in 18 years, once in front of a large crowd. I tripped coming down stairs while carrying my then 18-month old daughter; if I'd fallen forward the way we were going, I'd have squashed her flat. Rolling over into a side fall protected her completely, yet I felt foolish; all those people I didn't know stared at me. Another time I was wearing a brand new pair of pants I'd paid too much for -- rolling on asphalt ruins good clothes; I felt silly then, too, and hoped none of my students at the college had seen me. Looking back, I realize I should have been more thankful. Knowing how to fall kept my baby and me safe.
A few times I've avoided scary physical situations I could see developing. I wrote a story "This is My Mat", one of my first Mirror columns, about learning to stand up to a bullying boss. Another column "Not Magic, Science" talks about a time I felt threatened when walking alone in the woods. A couple of other times I've needed to use aikido off the mat at work. Years ago, an irate student (I'd busted him for plagiarizing a paper) stood over me yelling as I sat in a booth in the student commons and tried to reason with him. He was really large and physically imposing, so angry he shook. When he stuck his fist in my face, I blocked it and came up out of my seat into hanmi. He backed away. Probably if a similar situation occurred now, I wouldn't wait as long to get up; I don't know. Those sorts of situations rarely happen to me.
One time at home I could see boiling water spilling and breathed out and relaxed just as the water hit my skin, which strangely enough resulted in the burn not being painful. (If I'd been really good, I'd have gotten out of the way. If I'd been really, really good, my awareness would have kept me from spilling the water in the first place. No matter, by this stage in my training, I had the good sense to be thankful for what I'd been given -- the burn didn't hurt.) So yeah, a time or two, aikido has kept me from getting hurt. Mostly, though, I use it for things like not fighting with people I love when they're driving me crazy. I thought I'd learn aikido so I could hurt people. Instead, I'm learning it so I can NOT hurt people.
Let's see, what are some of the everyday ways I use aikido?
Not backing out of conflict
-- hmmm, I'm still working on that one, will probably always be working on that one. Recently I saw a tape of an old test, maybe my fourth kyu, where I threw uke and instead of rolling as I expected, he did a breakfall. My white belt self screamed and then covered my mouth, horrified. Hard as it is to admit, that image often described me off the mat as well. I was the "nice girl" who didn't fight, but good grief, could I goad someone else into fighting! Life is much simpler when I relax, breathe, enter, blend. Running away, conjuring up drama, creates larger conflict, if only in my mind.
Closing my mouth and listening, no excuses, explaining away, whining, self-deprecation, or facile apologies to avoid truth
-- I'll probably always be working on this one too. "But Sensei" used to be my favorite phrase on the mat, and on the mat or off, I liked to be "right". However, now that I've realized I'm not perfect, I'll never be perfect, and it's OK that I'm not perfect, I can relax and just be. I can own my space and what I do with it without constantly explaining myself. When I mess up, I can let go without beating myself up. I have a chance to try again. Once I stop talking, I can listen to all sorts of things I wasn't hearing before, such as my own body.
Not blaming "uke"
-- this one comes more easily, but it's still hard, hard, hard. If what I'm doing isn't working, damn it, it has to be uke's fault. Years ago I was a flight attendant who prided myself on getting along with my crew. On one four-day trip, I flew with a woman who didn't seem to like me at all. I made repeated overtures -- we sat on the back jump seat together and worked the back of the plane, just us, but she barely spoke. I knew I hadn't done anything to her, so I decided she disliked me because I reminded her of someone in her past. On our final flight she said, "I know I haven't been much fun. Just as I was leaving for this trip, my husband told me he wanted a divorce." Her moodiness and preoccupation had nothing to do with me. Seeing from someone else's perspective allows me to develop greater awareness and sensitivity -- again listening, this time to someone else's body.
Persevering, trying to let go of all the competitive thoughts that tell me I'm less than or better than
-- Gambarimasu! Failure gives me the opportunity to try again. In the trying, I'm building a strong center. All my points are starting to muddle together here rather than staying in neat little piles -- this one affects all the others. It really may be what aikido is all about. Now I can straighten my posture, hush that whiny little negative voice in my head, and open up. The world is such a different place when I'm strong, straight, clear, and open! Recently a younger colleague told me he had noticed that people responded to him differently when he was somewhere with me (what a nice thing to say to somebody!) and he had figured out what made the difference -- the way I enter a place or a situation with a smile. This may be the way aikido has changed me most. Of course I admire my shihan's technique; even more, I admire the way he remains the same relaxed, joyful person whether he's talking to the man who pumps his gas, the child in his aikido class, or the mayor of his town. That sort of presence is my goal in my own practice.
-- this means not doing unwarranted explosive or powerful things just because I can. Yes, hurling hurtful comments at a loved one might momentarily release my frustration, but when I do, what happens to uke and our connection? As my husband told me many years ago, "You can say 'I'm sorry', but it's always there. If you don't mean it, don't say it." Despite whatever impulse I may have to show off or prove how right I am, I must remember what truly matters The connection is more important than demonstrating what I can do.
Realizing I need the release of exercise as well as the friendship and support my aikido community gives me
-- I know that because of those things I'm a happier, more pleasant, person to be around.
Obviously I could go on and on, but I'll spare you. You get the picture. In the beginning, I thought aikido would help me with the bad guys who jump out of dark alleys. Maybe one day it will. Who knows? I haven't had to use it for that yet. Still, as you can see, I've gotten way, way more than my money's worth.
© 2009 Susan Dalton
"The Mirror" is a collaborative column written by a group of women who describe themselves as:
We comprise mothers, spouses, scientists, artists, teachers, healers, and yes, of course, writers. We range in age from 30s through 50s, we are kyu ranked and yudansha and from various parts of the United States and styles of aikido. What we have in common is a love for budo that keeps it an integral part of our busy lives, both curiosity about and a commonsense approach to life and aikido, and an inveterate tendency to write about these explorations.