For as long as I viewed the person across from me on the mat as an attacker I had something to win or lose as a result of our encounter. After all, attackers attack do they not? And attacks are launched with the intention of gain; be it control of the opponent's behavior, the infliction of injury, the imposition of one's will on another, intimidation, the inducement of fear... As the defender I had a very specific duty to not give up anything to this person who wanted to wrest whatever it was from me by force. A very simple calculus; the attacker wants and so attacks, I seek to deny the wants of the attacker and so defend. A binary outcome then, I prevail and win or the attacker prevails and I lose. I could not see it any other way. There was, however, a small problem.
I was learning a martial art the philosophy of which, as was slowly presented to me, was totally at odds with my ideas regarding how to deal with a conflict situation. I mean really, harmonizing, blending, least possible harm, being one with the attacker and all that? Please, someone attacks you blow his ass away and be done with it... no? Concepts like keep one point, progressive relaxation, positive mind, correct posture (that one, at least, made sense right off), not relying on muscle power to overcome an opponent... seemed more like guidelines for meditation than a way to fight. Aikido is a martial art, right? And martial arts are all about fighting and overcoming, right?
What drew me to Aikido in the first place was the promise of Power. Power that wasn't generated by muscles, something I already had plenty of thanks to years of dedicated lifting. No this Power was a product of something called Ki and could be learned and applied by anyone. Small people could defend themselves against much larger folks by using the energy of the attack against the attacker, taking the attackers balance and with a calm unified mind and body throw them with ease. Well, so the pitch went in all the books about Aikido I had read. Trouble was, however, this Power wasn't something that could be discovered solely by repetitious practice of technique. I had to dig deeper than the physical practice, had to open myself up to new ideas about what it meant to be powerful.
So here I was having to, of all things, look inside myself; forced to wade into the morass and face all the angels and demons running around in there. Gradually, as I sorted through the mess, something coherent and solid emerged from the maelstrom; my center and the first inklings of what it felt like to have mind and body coordinated. As I became adept at conjuring up this "correct feeling", for in the early stages of my training it sure felt like conjuring, I could feel the changes being wrought in me. I experienced the very different strength that comes from having mind and body coordinated.
The most amazing change of all, at least on a personal level, was that I no longer saw the person opposite me as an attacker. After all how could I view the gift of that energy and trust my partner was giving me as an attack? With the dissolution of the partner as attacker image so too did I no longer see myself as a defender; having, I realized, nothing to defend. With no one attacking and nothing to defend I could see that there was no reason to fight. Protecting myself and fighting were no longer synonymous.
Since the first day I stepped on the mat my Aikido practice has continued to sculpt me. Along the way, in my role as an instructor I have come into contact with many people who have taken time out of their lives to share my study of Aikido. Most have moved on, some remain, some have gone on to become instructors themselves. Each person like a falling raindrop into a still pool of water, adds his or her own ripples to the pool and so Aikido spreads, one person at a time. Thus is the future of Aikido assured.
(Original blog post may be found here