This month's "The Mirror" column was written by Pauliina Lievonen © 2015, all rights reserved.
I've been thinking about marketing lately for my teaching practise in both recorder playing and Alexander technique. And reading articles on the subject one idea that I frequently encountered was the idea of an unique selling point.
There have been some slightly anxious discussions about the uniqueness of the Alexander technique on some internet forums I visit lately. Is it the teaching people to stop, to pause before reacting? But isn't that something they talk about in mindfulness as well? How about directing your movement, intentional movement? But many movement disciplines pay attention to that… Maybe it's the specialised hands on work?
So that got me thinking about what about aikido would be unique. A topic that has been discussed on Aikiweb in the past as well.
When you start to analyze the different ideas, techniques and practises that together make up the art of aikido, you start to realize that not one of them is unique to aikido alone.
Peace and harmony is the goal of many other arts. So is using your opponents power against them. The technical curriculum is sometimes almost identical to other forms of jujutsu. The underlying bodywork can be found and used in many arts.
Why is it that the question about uniqueness keeps coming up? From a marketing point of view it makes sense: COME TRAIN WITH US, YOU CAN'T GET THIS ANYWHERE ELSE! But why are we so susceptible to that marketing tactic? Unique doesn't necessarily mean better -- there are plenty of things that are unique in their awfulness.
One thing people who start martial arts often are looking for I think is some kind of power, almost of a magical sort. And one thing some people are looking for when the start the Alexander technique, is a magical cure for their problems, or a special ability to perform better at what you are doing. It's nice to think that you are learning something that makes you extra special. After you train for a while you start to realize that although you might be learning very valuable skills, they aren't magical, and you are still you, and people aren't all that impressed. Except maybe your mom.
On the other hand -- aikido isn't called karate. Alexander technique isn't called Feldenkrais. There clearly are some differences between the arts. It's just that the difference isn't just one thing, some super secret sauce -- the difference is a combination of many qualities that combine in unique ways to form the different arts.
Just like there are plenty of women with long light brown hair and glasses, and plenty of women who also love to drink tea, and are called Pauliina, and are good at languages, and can't drink milk. But at some point the combination of qualities ends up with a list of just one: me.
There isn't the one single thing in aikido that makes it unique and special. The real question we're asking is : why should I choose this art and not another? And after training for a while: did I make the right choice?
The one thing that is absolutely necessary if you want to teach someone something is this: they have to want to learn it. So the art you should choose is the one that appeals to you the most, the one that has the collection of skills you want to learn. That's the one you will be willing to put your time and effort into. What is unique about aikido for me is that I want to learn it. Something about it all, the techniques, the philosophy, the clothes, the etiquette, of maybe just the people at this particular dojo is appealing to me.
Is aikido unique? In the end, that might not be the right question to ask.
"The Mirror" is written by a roster of women who describe themselves as a disparate bunch of scientists, healers, artists, teachers, and, yes, writers. Over ten years into this collaboration we find we are a bunch of middle-aged yudansha from various parts of the world and styles of aikido. What we share is a lively curiosity about and love for both life and budo, and an inveterate tendency to write about our explorations.