Aikido is about staying centered in the midst of conflict.
The traditional response to being pushed is to push back. Aikido provides a seemingly infinite number of ways to practice a more nuanced approach, one which may better enable our survival in today's post-Hiroshima, post-9/11 world.
In Aikido, instead of pushing back or running away when attacked (the reptilian brain's habitual "fight or flight" responses), you more or less simultaneously:
- Move toward the attacker ("Entering")
- Move slightly off the line of attack
- Execute a turn that leaves you and the attacker facing the same direction ("Blending")
- You're now facing the situation from the attacker's viewpoint
- Without giving up your own
- This often puts you in position to throw or pin your opponent
These techniques work best when you move from your own center (a spot slightly below your navel), and when you feel your connection with your opponent's center.
Aikido is also big on the concept of "ki" (similar to the Chinese "chi", and loosely translated as "energy," "the breath," or "the Force"). Ki is somewhat subtle, and yet a friend of mine, who volunteered to go onstage at an Aikido demonstration, was literally floored by the instructor's ki — he knocked her to the mat without touching her, to her great surprise, and she still has no idea how he did it.
Principles of Aikido vs. Principles of Improv
There are a number of parallels between the principles of Aikido and the principles of improv. For example, the improv saying "Enter the Danger" brings to mind the Aikido concept of Entering — instead of running from a scary situation, you move toward it. The improv dictum "Say 'Yes, and...'" is very close in spirit to the Aikido concept of Blending; after Entering, you accept the opponent's energy and redirect it, instead of opposing it head-on. Aikido says Yes to life.
Improv says "Mistakes are gifts"; Aikido says to view the attack as a gift. In either case, you use the energy of the unwelcomed reality to create a new reality.
Protect the Attacker
Aikido places an emphasis on the importance of protecting the attacker. This is of value not only in the dojo, where the attacker is simply a fellow student, but in the real world of conflict, where a vicious counter-attack can lead to a never-ending cycle of violence and vengeance.
Aikido welcomes the attack and loves and protects the attacker. Who can fight back against such an overwhelming force?
Aikido teaches new ways of responding to conflict. It offers effective alternatives to running away, fighting back, being a victim, denying there's a problem, etc. As Morihei Ueshiba, the founder of Aikido, said,
"Aikido is nonresistance. As it is nonresistance, it is always victorious."
"Aikido is not a technique to fight with or defeat the opponent. It is the way to reconcile the world and make human beings one family."
Some of the above was borrowed from The Way of Aikido, by George Leonard.
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