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Aikido - More or Less
Aikido - More or Less
by Ross Robertson
Aikido - More or Less

A recent discussion prompts me once again to explain how I see aiki, and how I use the term in my thought, speech, and practice.

In my view, aikido as martial practice centers on the way of aiki. Aik, in turn,i is a universal principle at work in all things, but what does it mean, exactly? I translate it as "confluence," or "synergy." These may imply a certain dynamism, but aiki also applies to static structures, the way an architect might understand "force" and "thrust" as they pertain to an unmoving structure.

At its most basic, aiki is about conjoined forces. It is about the rightness of a fit between two or more components. Structure has force, and energy has structure. Time also enters into the equation, and the space around and between things must also be considered. Finally, there is a mental component involving perception and cognition and emotion.

Keeping all this in mind, it may be useful to focus primarily on the fit or join between physical objects as being illustrative with regard to the various other domains.

Part of what often comes up is an either/or assumption about aiki. A thing (or a situation, or an event) is either aiki or it isn't. Certainly this may be the case, where, for example, a puzzle piece either fits or it doesn't. More often though, it is a matter of degree.

Let's take the classic case of a round peg in a square hole. We understand this is invoked as a way of indicating as misfit or a mismatch. It's a kind of verbal shorthand, easily understood and useful to convey an idea. Yet if we examine it carefully, we will discover that a round peg of the appropriate diameter can indeed fit a square hole well enough. Moreover, so can two, four, or many other combinations of round pegs of various diameters be made to fit suitably in a given square hole. It's just as important to note that many other combinations or sizes simply don't work, or work poorly.

Moreover, it helps if we know what the task is. For a better friction fit, a square peg in a square hole is much better than a round one. But what if we want a decent friction fit but with some space around it? Perhaps we want to fill in the space with glue later on (admittedly making the filled in area square), or perhaps we want to allow some room for flow around the peg. In this case, a round peg in the square hole might be better.

The obvious point is that aiki is situational, and context dependent. Structure must match purpose for a design to be more aiki.

When you shop for clothes, you look for a good fit. How it fits your body falls on a spectrum. You may not even be able to get a garment on at all. Or it may go on but be unacceptably large or small. It may pass the threshold of acceptability, but barely. Or it might be good, great, or perfect. it might be good enough right off the rack but tailoring will make it better.

And yet this is only one dimension of rightness of fit. When you wear it, does it fit the social occasion? Does the color actually go with your hair, eye color, and skin tone? Is it part of a balanced and harmonious ensemble?

I use this example to show that fitness (aiki) occurs on a continuum. There may be thresholds where it's easy to say it does or doesn't fit, but within a zone there is much latitude for more and less, better or worse.

I also like that there is a relationship between the words "fit" and "fitness." They are clearly related, but have different usages. The former applies in discussions of engineering, carpentry, clothing design, and so on. When we say a person is fit (without other qualifiers, such as "for the position"), we are talking about their level of physical and mental health. We are talking about their fitness.

"Fitness" also has a special application in evolutionary terms. An organism is said to be fit if it has the characteristics necessary -- not just to survive -- but to reproduce. (I would argue that this definition should extend to all things and their capacity to persist through time, or to replicate their form or function.)

To bring this back around to aikido as martial discipline and way of life, both interpretations of "fit" pertain. Right practice has the potential to increase our physical and mental fitness. Through aikido we learn to adapt and survive, both key components for Darwinian Fitness. We learn to fit our shape rightly with other structures and patterns, whether material, temporal, spatial, energetic, or cognitive.

We learn -- or we ought to -- how the local relates to the global; how the immediate fits with the long term; how the individual and social are interdependent. It is the study of the root and branch, and all that implies.

I write about my definition and usage of these terms not to establish something definitive and final, with no room for discussion. I'm not even particularly interested in persuading anyone that my ideas are better than theirs. Mainly I do so to clarify my own thinking, and to provide a basis in understanding for anyone kind and patient enough to entertain my perspective, even for a little while.

Ultimately I know that even when you take something that is designed to (or just so happens to) fit together perfectly, it is usually only in one configuration. Remember the puzzle pieces that either fit together or they don't? In reality it's not that simple. The perfect fit is only so in the right orientation. Flip or rotate a piece, and they no longer fit, except in potential.

More things exist that don't belong together than do. There are more possible configurations and arrangements that don't work than do. There are more potential relationships that do not serve than those that do. The spectrum of residue that remains is what admits a plausible world in which we exist.

This, to me, is aiki. It is about knowing the difference between this and that, but also the shades in between. Too often we get fixated on you and me, when the real action is in the interstices.

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

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