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Aikido and violence

The aim of Aikido is to maintain or to (re-) establish a harmonious state of balance. Emphasis is placed upon the joint process of conflict resolution, throughout which the Aikidoka absorbs and/or guides energy in a way that prevents damage. One can neither catch a falling raw egg nor ride a skateboard through violent force without causing a disaster. Though there is some logic behind that approach apparently – in reality it feels a bit more sophisticated.

Often we enter the scene of a conflict because we decide to. We feel an inner urge to solve it. Sometimes we even get a sense of being competent and therefore obliged to contribute to a peaceful solution. Alternatively, we simply cannot withdraw. This is when we ourselves are targeted or we realize that – without our intervention – someone else is going to suffer.

Still, entering a conflict always bears uncertainties. Consequently, there is no guarantee that we are going to succeed (in the intended way). Even though we seem to know what is going on and what to do – the course of any process is (de facto) unpredictable. The unknown quality of life (and conflict) challenges us steadily. It is a most valuable source of growth. Whenever we are forced to face a new challenge, we need to adapt, change, improvise… Through that, we obtain experience, skills, and abilities in order to evolve (and to become more capable of conflict resolution). To handle challenging partners or behavior is a very dear skill. Albeit, we will not always master any situation smoothly. Misinterpretation, lack of ability, sudden changes etc. impose a vast amount of pressure upon us. This can be the case during training with resistance, too (and therefore must be watched closely). Despite all of our good intentions, increasing intensity and growing challenge may lead to defensive mechanisms or aggression. Either phenomenon indicates mental and/or physical overload, potentially creating ruthless utilization of power (violence).

As long as this overload is temporary and we manage to get back into a (strengthened) peaceful state of mind we will be benefiting from the challenge and facilitate the “Do” of “Aiki”. In case we do not recover from the event, trauma can lead to a state of victimhood, resulting in some protective wall of defense. (Self-) Defense is – certainly – an understandable and reasonable reaction. However, it does not necessarily include the other. At this point, I want to be clear that this is not an assessment of self-defense. I am aiming to stress one essential aspect of Aikido, instead. The goal of self-defense is to keep oneself free from injury/harm. Hence, everything that keeps an attack at bay or stops it is acceptable – no matter if it harms the opponent (adequately or not). In this context, there is no factual need to separate violence from non-violence.

In comparison, in Aikido there is a profound confession to non-violent conflict resolution. We have decided to include and to care about each participant of a conflict. Sure, by taking this particular road we are facing risks (as everyone does). Consciously, we spare some options that do not serve the purpose of peaceful intervention – making it even more demanding. There are difficulties, injuries, doubts, effort etc. ahead – we should not lend ourselves to illusions.

If it does not seem to work then the conclusion does not have to be that Aikido is the wrong way. We should as well take into account that we still have a lot to learn (takes some humbleness and honesty!). Children – as they learn to walk – fall a hundred times a day without giving up. It is a long way to become an Olympic champion! Following a „do“ means walking a path that does not end all of a sudden – not after repeating hundreds of exercises for thousands of times, not after having visited two hundred teachers within 40 years, and not after reading 500 Aikido books, even not after being awarded a high rank. Patience, stamina and discipline, complemented by curiosity, openness and humility, are basic requirements to move forward. Each section has its own pace and it is as well possible to re-visit a passage we have already gone through a while ago. If we are not aware of that, we are likely to fail. Perhaps we discard Aikido as
something not functional or we add physical force/violence to what we have learned in order to “make it work”. Also, trauma, a different understanding of Aikido principles or the sensation of competition (with other martial arts, neighboring dojos, teachers…) can result in an atmosphere where practicing is strongly shaped by power, dominance, and control. Nevertheless, this approach falls short of Aikido’s nature. To pursue the study of Aikido means to strive for non-violent conflict resolution. This path is not an easy one. In the face of obstacles and difficulties, I hope that we keep walking it. Figuratively speaking: Would it not be most regrettable giving up while studying the alphabet if one day we could have written beautiful poems? Failure does not lie in falling down but in not trying to get back up. So if we ‘went astray’ (having doubts, becoming aggressive, willing to give up…), then it is vitally important to get back on track and try again.

O-Sensei once said: ‘I am not teaching you technique. I am teaching you non- violence.’ In that sense there cannot be violence in Aikido. Aikido does not unfold through violence but through power based upon universal connectedness with all beings. We must not mistake the two.



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