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The Secret
The Secret
by Ross Robertson
The Secret

The main goal of the future is to stop violence. The world is addicted to it.
~ Bill Cosby

I don't believe we will ever be able to stop violence. I think violence in some form or another is built into the fabric of the universe. We, being made of the same fabric, can expect to continue to experience it, and perpetuate it indefinitely.

That said, I do believe we can overcome our addiction to it. We can make ourselves more robust in the face of it, thereby lessening the severity of its consequences upon us. We can identify it within us, honestly and unflinchingly, thereby acting more conscientiously. We can practice the skills of violence, thereby to measure it out most parsimoniously when and only when it is the most appropriate recourse.

I also believe that aikido is specifically the art of removing our addiction to violence. Accordingly, aikido is violent, and beyond violence. Though it may seem so, this is not a paradox. Nature is violent, but also life-giving, life sustaining. Aikido is the way of Nature -- but also the study of how we humans may make the very best of it.

I define violence simply as the collision of solids. No multiplicity of objects can occupy the same space at the same time, and any attempt to violate this law will result in stress, damage, or destruction. The expression "collision of solids" is not meant to be taken too literally, since waveforms can cancel one another, chemicals can corrode, radiation can kill, etc. But it's a handy device for approaching our practice of aikido on the mat. Once we understand deeply the collision of solids, experiencing it with our own bodies, we can see how the same principles apply in other domains.

In hand-to-hand combat, an attacker must close distance and inflict harm. Here, the collision of solids implies blunt impact trauma, torque, compression, tension, or leverage in a degree that exceeds the body's limits. The flow of breath may be stopped, the flow of blood may be started. As one combat manual put it (effectively reversing Boy Scout first-aid training) "Start the bleeding, stop the breathing, induce shock."

It follows then that the logical complement of attack strategy would be to avoid the collision of solids in all its forms. If just this could be perfected, then violence could not be inflicted and there would be no need to resort to violence as a "defense."

Not that any of us can be so perfect, but through aikido and related disciplines, we can make significant improvements. We can move closer toward perfection.

To say "avoid the collision of solids" is to state a negative strategy. This absence of collision is characterized by flow and equilibrium, so we may state our strategy positively as follows:

Foster flow and equilibrium.

We can study and learn this by ourselves, and this is the very best place to begin. We observe that we cannot walk well with our legs crossed; we cannot move well when our muscles are cramped or over-stretched; we cannot act coherently when our thoughts, perceptions, and feelings are out of alignment with each other or with reality. Happily, most of these experiences do not cause great harm in our day-to-day lives, but we notice when they interfere with optimal performance. If we are wise, we notice and learn.

The lessons learned by ourselves may then be applied when interacting with others. Whenever we are relating to others, regardless of the dynamic at hand, it is theoretically possible to align all the forces so that there are no collisions. If two people are physically engaged, potentially to fight, no harm will occur if all movements are coordinated in time and space, and balanced in matter and energy.

The important part here is that one person, sufficiently skilled, may bring coherence into a system, even in the face of a persistent intent to harm. Every hostile act has one or more complementary movements which result in flow or equilibrium. At its best, aikido is the art of turning conflict into dance.

Imagine, as an exercise, you are tasked with practicing your attack moves on a mannequin. But suppose your wrists are joined to the mannequin's with a stiff rod. Likewise, the ankles. Every step you take to advance on your adversary is met with a perfectly matched retreat. Every time you try to lure your ersatz opponent toward you, it comes forward yet remains forever out of reach.

You, being cleverer than a mannequin, will eventually figure out how to twist the rods to your advantage, or smash it against a wall, or topple yourself upon it. Yet it will take some doing even then, even though the dummy is a purely passive element in the system. If we students of aikido could be just like the mannequin, but active and intelligent, then our art would be utterly invincible.

To do this, however, we might have to relinquish (for a time, at least) our cherished notions of ikkyo and shihonage, of uke and tori. The mannequin has no need for such thoughts, and on some level, neither do we. In fact, such thoughts and habits will often cause much interference, perhaps leading to the very collisions we seek to avoid.

I must stress that we should not be passive, like a rag doll. On the contrary, we must be wide awake, aware, receptive, responsive, and even proactive. Yet if we were able to be perfectly attuned to every movement of our living partner, if our own actions reflected a perfectly coherent choreography, then the standard concepts of kotegaeshi or kokyunage would be crude tactics indeed.

If two (or more) people move as one being, then there is no leading and no following. There is no uke or tori, no need for joint locks or atemi, no one to be thrown or pinned. When Shakespeare wrote of "the beast with two backs," he was alluding to sexual intercourse. But the image applies equally well to dance-cum-combat.

Again, you may (if you dare) practice this alone. Attempt to have your right side attack your left. Or your upper half your lower; or have your front assault your backside. In some cases it is all but impossible. In other cases, it can be managed quite easily, but only if the receiving side colludes to collide. Where elements move together, there is no harm. Where they move separately, without touching, there is no harm. Just this simple thing is aikido.

Alas, we are not perfect, so the crude tactics of ikkyo, nikyo, and sankyo still pertain. Yet even within the strictures of paired aiki kata training, tori may seek movements which do not appreciably increase compression, tension, or torque, thus avoiding collisions within any part of the system.

Ikkyo without torque? Well, not really... but if through proper movement of the body, uke's arm turns over of its own accord, naturally and inevitably, then torque will occur, but will not have been inflicted.

To inflict ikkyo of necessity is good aikido. To have ikkyo arise effortlessly without such infliction is better. Both are my practice, but only the latter is my aim.

Takemusu Aiki is aikido beyond technique. Yet there are most definitely teaching/learning techniques for being able to practice this, as is the case with any improvisatory discipline. Let no one wait 20 years to begin... by then too many bad habits will have to be undone. Learn the patterns, but see them as emergent properties of the improv. This should be taught from the very beginning.

The main goal of the future is to evolve. Not merely to change, but to improve. I very much want to improve in both senses of the verb. I want a better me, and I want to make a better world. I want healthier societies and healthier economies and healthier ecologies.

If we be not perfect, then let us at least not persist in our addictions to harmful habits. Practice aikido with me, and if we can end violence while fostering vitality, then let it be so. But if the best we can do is to find a new and improved, healthier form of violence, then let us put that into practice as soon as possible.

People joke about the secret of aikido, but it's stunningly obvious. I can teach it to you in just a few minutes. And yes, it's still worthy of a lifetime of study, but it's much better if you know the secret from the first day. I can teach it to you, but if you've understood what I've written here and elsewhere, you already have all you need and can discover it for yourself. It doesn't require masters and guilds and temples. Pay attention to what conflict is saying and you will always know what to do.

That's about it. My work in the world of aikido is done, and it's my gift to you. From here on out, it's play.

Have fun, y'all.

Ross Robertson
Still Point Aikido Systems
Honmatsu Aikido
Austin TX, USA

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Old 12-16-2009, 06:32 AM   #2
Shadowfax's Avatar
Dojo: Allegheny Aikido, Pitsburgh PA
Location: Pittsburgh PA
Join Date: May 2009
Posts: 948
Re: The Secret

Nice article, thank you.

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Old 01-03-2010, 01:40 PM   #3
sigi raveh
Dojo: beer sheva
Location: beer sheva
Join Date: Jan 2010
Posts: 1
Re: The Secret

beautiful. absolutley beautiful. thank you for your wonderful writings
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Old 01-03-2010, 10:20 PM   #4
Rob Watson
Location: CA
Join Date: Sep 2005
Posts: 697
Re: The Secret

The perfect calm and uniformity of the void was destroyed by the act of creation. In the hellish nuclear fired hearts of stars new atoms are built leading to our planet and ourselves. Birthed by forceful ejection from our mothers womb. We are bathed in violence eternal. To break the cycle of violence is to simply cease to exist - a logical fallacy.

We must accept the gift of violence from the creator and make of it what we will. Pay attention indeed.

Do not be disheartened by this seemingly sad state of affairs as we are not alone in our quest. Simply seek to do no more violence.

"In my opinion, the time of spreading aikido to the world is finished; now we have to focus on quality." Yamada Yoshimitsu

Ultracrepidarianism ... don't.
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Old 01-16-2010, 08:13 AM   #5
Tim Lee
Location: Dallas Texas
Join Date: Nov 2008
Posts: 11
Re: The Secret

Very Nice, among ways that I attempt to avoid violence is choosing who I support whether in TV, Radio, movie media, etc (I leave out religion and politics on purpose guys). We all love a good action film, but the very people in some cases that regale themselves with anti-weapons publicity, make money off showing us things blowing up and being riddled with bullets. There is a paradox there that is confusing. The good guy is the one that purveys the most lethal violence. Your way of teaching has such beauty in that by avoiding the violence your collision of solids, you re-direct this negative energy ( I will call it) to ground itself. This is a great lesson to me. A fiery meteor blazes into the atmosphere it is extinguished grounded and snuffed out. Along the path it can create fire and all sorts of havoc, but once grounded it is snuffed out. If the universe was set in path by a tremendous collision of violence and hence we were borne of violence, then on the other side there was a quiet void from whence it blasted. We need to search for the void, a quiet place to rest. The balance we call it Timbalin in Indonesian is tipped way to far and whatever we can do to stack up on the other side, we need to. I think you, your group and extensions do that everyday, and thats a good thing. Nice column

Last edited by Tim Lee : 01-16-2010 at 08:16 AM.
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