Aikido and everyday life

Mire Zloh

Mire Zloh, 4th Dan so Hombu, UKA Fukushidoin

Essay for Yondan Grading by Mire Zloh

It is known that people practice Aikido for different reasons with different aims in mind. Whatever the reason is, I am positive that many people would like to try out learnt skills. In the beginning, one usually test the painful lock (like nikkyo) on their friends or close ones, latter one has questions in mind like “How would I do on the street? Could I take him?” With further progress, one asks him/herself, “Could I defend myself against knife/several attackers?”

The ultimate questions in my mind is “Can I apply Aikido principles in everyday life?” By everyday life, I mean ordinary situations, at work, in the family, business decisions, dealing with superiors and subordinates. It is known that Aikido should be used for conflict resolution, but can we go further than that and use Aikido principles to harmonize our lives. Let me consider following principles and how I see (understand) them:

  • Anticipation (awareness);
  • Flexibility;
  • Entering (irimi) or Blending (ura);
  • Harmonization.

Before I expand above principles, I would like to point out that we have to be aware that in real life we are both uke and tori. In the same situation we could be tori for our superiors and uke for our subordinates at work place. Beside that, situations are dynamic, roles might change, often, as well as rapidly, so it is very difficult to make a clear cut of our role in everyday life.

Life is unpredictable. We can not really control actions of other people and we can only control our emotions and our actions. The outcome of our actions will depend on external circumstances as well, not only on our intentions and aims.

-Anticipation. As I understand, in Aikido practice anticipation is when you are aware that attack is imminent. However tori does not wait for the start of the attack, but he starts a response a split second before attack starts, before attack develops full momentum. Sometimes, it looks even that tori has attacked uke, because tori has started moving before uke, it seems that tori has performed offensive action. Word of caution, this should not be abused, since tori could be starting offensive action even when the attack is not imminent, the judgement of the situation is critical.

In the everyday life, anticipation is also combined with awareness, when we have to monitor our surroundings (at work, in the family, on the street) at all times. We should be able to see the potential problem and to act preventative to avoid negative outcome of the situation.

Anticipation should be done in a positive manner. Some Aikidoka overlook this and anticipation becomes drawback: they predetermine the action of their partner and their response, situation might change at any moment but they carry on with their old action plan regardless of what is really going on. That usually leads to conflict and even to injuries during practice. Similar situations could arise in life, as I mentioned earlier, the developments should be followed and modify actions accordingly.

This expands into the next principle: flexibility. In our Aikido practice, we have to be flexible at all times, same technique will most likely performed in a different manner most of the times. It will depend on tori’s physique, tori’s mood, tori’s experience, uke’s physique, uke’s mood, uke’s experience, etc. Therefore, it does not matter if one is tori or uke, one has to be ready to react to the present situation and adapt own reactions to the situation at that particular moment. Technique might even change along the way, or counterattack could occur at any moment. One has to be flexible and adapt to current developments. In everyday life, situation is even more complicated, since most of the times during practice we are performing a predetermined technique on a predetermined attack, so chances for unpredictable are smaller. Outside of the dojo, we are exposed to all sorts of external influences, from local (at work, in the family, in the council) to global (current political and economical situations, pollution and ozone layer damage, wars and petrol prices, etc), we have to be ready to act appropriately in response to all expected and unexpected happenings. It does not mean that we should not have aims and goals, but we may have to change the way how to achieve a specific goal or even to change certain aims/goals in order to cope with all that comes along our way.

Anticipation is usually followed by the decision how to act to a certain situation. We can enter (perform irimi) or blend (perform tenkan, ura). The choice depends on many factors:

  • sizes of tori and uke (small uke will have difficulty to enter against extremely big uke);
  • space limitations (it is difficult to perform large tenkan in small places);
  • knowledge and experience (sometimes we choose one technique over another because we are more comfortable with it);
  • self-confidence.

In everyday life I would compare irimi with a direct action. Such action could be expressing opposing opinion, stopping a child from hurting/damaging itself by forbidding certain things, making urgent executive decision because it will lead to the best outcome. On the other hand ura would be blending and leading situation to the achievement of a specific goal. For example, at work place, during decision making processes, instead of angrily expressing opposing opinion, it might be better to consider all opinions, show respect for them, and then give a constructive criticism. Sometimes this might cause only a small shift, but one should be ready to carry on giving suggestion and gently leading decision making process to the desired outcome. The choice “irimi or ura“ will depend on a few factors such as:

  • time (is there enough time to gently lead the group (ura) or decision must be made on the spot (irimi));
  • urgency (maybe somebody is going to be “harmed” so you have to step in – act swiftly);
  • “size of the opposing force” (when you are expressing opposing opinion, is it wise to do it directly (irimi) if on the other side is powerful boss who does not take criticism well and can fire you on the spot).

 

Whatever decision is being made “omote or ura”, I feel that action should be performed in a such way that nobody feels hurt or threatened. So many times our Aikido teachers said that practice should be done in such way that everybody leaves dojo gratified, without feeling abused and hurt. Aikido techniques could be done gently without compromising effectiveness. It should be achieved by keeping martial mind, keeping contact, distance, and being relaxed in mind and having relaxed body, yet caring of uke’s ability to do ukemi, minding uke’s injuries and not taking uke too much over his physical and mental limits (at least not extremely over the limits so that uke feels abused but rather leaving him satisfied that he/she achieved something more than what he/she could do it before). I ask myself is it necessary to apply nikyo to the point that uke almost gets tears in his eyes, should we drop very low during kotegeashi while uke is doing over the top breakfal, apply shihonage with such a pressure that could dislocate wrist, exercise atemi in such way that uke sees all stars on the sky. Maybe I am wrong, but I feel that is more important to break uke’s balance and control him through body movement, rather that relying on the pain of an atemi or a lock, people tend to resist more when they feel pain (lock) or feel threatened (atemi). Also, some people will fight harder when they are hurt. Most of the time, causing the pain will break the technique since uke will resist or backup, and flow will be stopped, harmonization will be broken. If the pain and threat are being kept to a minimum, uke will not feel urge to resist but will go with flow and techniques could be performed on mutual satisfaction. Here, I am not saying that Aikido should be abstract, it should be martial and effective, but safe and enjoyable. If O’Sensei has taught us that we should defeat enemy without hurting him, why should we harm (especially willingly) our Aikido partner who trusted us with his body so that we could practice our technique. Practice could be dynamic and vigorous, yet safe and enjoyable for all participants. Again, this has parallel in everyday life, it does not matter if you perform irimi or ura, nobody should be felt hurt or threaten, since it is against Aikido principles and second you make more enemies that way and achieving goal will be more difficult. For example, if you want to express opposing opinion to your boss and you decide to do it directly, at least do not do it publicly so that he feels cornered and need to react and prove his authority in front of other people. Also, if you do ura and lead situation to desired outcome, other participants should not feel used.

It is easy to see that all above could be summarized in the last principle: harmonizing. Act naturally, be flexible and have consideration for other people could be basis for going through life, or how some sayings suggest “behaving like a leaf in the stream”.

As you may have noticed, title of this essay is not “Aikido in everyday life”, since I think that some lessons from everyday life could improve one’s Aikido practice. For example, our senior teachers try to teaches us that Uke should be responsive during attack and when receiving technique. However, most of us have a problem to accept this and the common responses are either that Uke becomes static in the middle of the technique or gives up and falls prematurely. My question is how many of us in everyday life starts an action and then stops or gives up. Everybody usually follows up with the next step until aim is achieved, if one gets knocked down one does not just give up, one bounces back and carries on. We should apply this in our Aikido practice, especially as Ukes, after initial attack, do not become static, do not give up, carry on moving to escape out of powerless position and if knocked down bounce back as soon as first opportunity arises. This follow up of the attack should be done according to Aikido principles, Uke should harmonize with its partner. This is all what our senior teachers are trying to tell us, we have to find a way to implement it in our practice, and do it as we usually do in everyday life.

It is easy to put thoughts on the piece of paper, however lifetime is in front of me to put same into practice, the sooner the better. I was lucky to have Barbara Sotowicz Sensei, William Smith Shihan, UKA Shidoins and fellow Aikidoka to help me feel “Way of Peace”.

Mire Zloh,
March 2003