O Sensei is quoted, in The Art of Peace, as saying “No matter how heavily armed your opponent is, you can use the Art of Peace to disarm him (or her). When someone comes in anger, greet him with a smile. That is the highest kind of martial art.”

This video shows so clearly how our actions, little things each of us do individually, can affect the world. A well-timed smile or hug can change someone just a little. They can affect those around them, and so on. Juan Mann, in the video, maybe affected a few thousand people directly. Over 10,000 signed his petition. Over 100,000 commented on the video on YouTube. Over 56 million people have watched just this version of it. 56 million!

Much of what we do is like dropping a pebble in an ocean. We may never notice the affect of the waves we create, but we do create them. Practice peace.

I’m Destroying Aikido.

The comments on YouTube, about my 5th kyu exam, got off to a predictable start with “good luck in a street fight no offense” [sic].

From looking at the person’s recent comments on other people’s videos, this is one of the nicest things they’ve said to anyone. Most of their other comments are downright vulgar.

My reply: “None taken. In my 47 years I’ve never been in a street fight, and don’t intend to go around starting any scraps in pubs. :-) My practice of Aikido has nothing to do with fighting.”

That apparently hit a nerve with someone in Poland, who said (ellipses his – I did not edit this): “..and that this the reason this unique, interesting and demanding martial art is dying….cause people like You practice aikido with firm belief that it has nothing to do with fighting..sad…”

I could just delete their comments, but what the heck, let’s see where this goes. I’m sure I won’t change their minds, but others coming along and reading the comments might find the discussion interesting. I responded:

“Aikido is not dying, never mind being killed off by ‘people like me.’ Yes, it comes from centuries of fighting arts, and yes, it is effective. But O Sensei did not create it to help people become better street fighters.

The goal of most non-sport martial arts is not fighting. It’s interesting that even in my video comments field you are trying to start one. If you want to fight, find others who want to fight, and have a great time. I’m not opposed to that, it’s just not what I’m up to.”

I’m pretty sure that won’t be the end of it. There are a lot of people who are certain that becoming a better fighter is the primary, and only valid, purpose for practicing martial arts, and they typically try to promote that view through rudeness and bullying of anyone who practices the arts for any other reason. I wonder if fencing, kendo, tai chi, and archery catch the same kind of flak? Dressage actually does, on occasion, when people point out that a not-quite-perfectly-responsive horse could mean one’s death on the battlefield.

I am no scholar on the subject of martial arts, but in my very limited experience I’ve not met any serious student or teacher who felt that fighting was the goal. Engaging in fights is never a desirable outcome. But if you must defend yourself or others, of course you should be able to.

So far, I’ve mostly been able to. Perhaps it’s whatever confidence and presence I gained from a summer Judo class in 3rd grade, 6 months of Tang Soo Do in high school, or a very physical self-defense course in college. Maybe it was my practical, moral upbringing in a stable home. Could be a bit of street smarts from walking, biking, skateboarding, and taking the bus everywhere, and working a paper route for 3 years, as a girl, alone. Or knowing I can handle myself coordinating convoys of rigs rescuing livestock in the face of raging wildfires. I don’t go looking for danger or confrontation, but I don’t run, either. Attackers love weak, fearful targets. I’ve never been weak or fearful. I’ve been jumped and beaten once, by a predatory gang in junior high school, but I’ve never gotten into a fight, on the street or otherwise. I consider avoiding fights to be the bigger victory than being proficient in winning them.

According to Kevin Blok Kyoshi (7th Dan in Yoshinkai Aikido), weak people cannot enforce peace. Blok Sensei teaches defensive tactics for police officers, and non-physical crisis intervention. He is an expert on the effective, practical application of Aikido. But even with that background (or maybe because of it) he speaks of Aikido as a path to peace and happiness. In his interview for the “Aikido – The Way of Harmony” podcast (which I highly recommend listening to), he speaks at length about bliss. He says that true budo is about love. (Listen especially starting at the 43 minute mark.) “You want to change the world, to make it a better place.” … “It starts with you. The center of your universe is you. Don’t go to try to make other people happy, and blissful, and loving, and caring, if you can’t do it with yourself.”

George Ledyard Sensei put it plainly on his Web site, www.aikieast.com:

It’s not about fighting.
It’s about not fighting.

Aikido takes a disproportionate amount of criticism, but the goals of promoting harmony and not fighting are not unique to Aikido.

In high school I practiced Tang Soo Do – Moo Duk Kwan (a “hard” Korean art), for all of 6 months or so. I came to it to learn how to be violent, effectively. Instead I learned how not to be. Yes, there was sparring (which is great fun), and tournaments (including the requisite smashing of concrete blocks, demonstrated by the Master of our school), but it was made clear from the outset that we weren’t to be engaged in any fighting outside of class. Self control and good character were the goals. It was an art in the budo tradition, even if it included organized competitive fighting.

I still have my notebook from 30 years ago. In it, along with several lists of Key Points, Principles, and Creeds, copied earnestly by hand from the sign on the dojang wall, is the Tang Soo Do Pledge:

We pledge to contribute to the happiness of the human race with the sword and the pen, using any ability we possess in pursuit of justice for everyone, attempting to unite the perfect harmony and further the traditions of Tang Soo Do.

I took it that pledge seriously then, and I still do.

I learned decades ago to resolve conflict without physical violence, intimidation, or rude behavior. I came to Aikido for a lot of reasons, none of which were about becoming a better fighter, or even for self defense. I wanted to learn to relax and breathe, to have better balance, and to be able to stay focused and take effective action in the face of overwhelming physical threat. I am getting those things from my practice, but there is so much more available.

I am learning there are a lot of kinds of “fighting.” Fighting what is. Fighting what I feel. Fighting who others are. Resisting. I still have a lot of fight in me. I’m not practicing Aikido to develop that, I’m practicing Aikido to let that go.

– Tech Note: Improved Format –

Hi Loyal Readers (all 8-10 of you)!

Some of you have pointed out that the style sheet (CSS) for my blog was pushing the left navigation area off the screen in Firefox and Safari. I have finally gotten around to fixing it (I hope). I also expanded the content area of each post so the photos appear full size (500 pixels wide). I’ve tried it in IE8, Firefox, Chrome, and Safari on my iPhone, and it looks good so far. Please let me know if you see anything wacky.

Many thanks for your patience, and for reading!

The other day in a weapons class Sensei wanted to work with bokken, and before class was considering what to focus on that day. The class ended up being an intensive little workshop, essentially, with lots of emphasis on breathing, correct technique, and incorporating weapons into familiar techniques, such as ikkyo.

Sensei’s classes are frequently, no, usually, like that.  "Just a regular weeknight class" is never “just” anything.

After class I usually thank Sensei, if he’s not busy talking to someone. "Thank you, Sensei,“ I say, adding something like "I really enjoyed the class,” or “that was really interesting." Even, maybe especially, when the class was challenging, or even frustrating.

It’s polite to thank your teacher, and sometimes I feel like it might come across as only that. Just being polite. But there’s nothing contrived about my gratitude. I deeply mean every word. (And I’ve told him so.)

Classes are always inspired, never rote or perfunctory. Familiar techniques are presented in fresh ways, new subtleties explored. Sensei considers the response his words might elicit in a given student, knows just how much pressure or breathing room each person might need that day. He gauges the mood and abilities of the assembled students, and tailors the content of the class accordingly, on the spot. He sees endless detail in the mass of movement on the mat and offers strategic corrections, all while planning the next technique, managing the energy of the group, and keeping track of the time.

It all looks perfectly natural. For Sensei, it probably is. Just like it’s perfectly natural for a hawk to swoop at blinding speed through the branches of a tree, appearing on the other side with dinner in its talons. Perfectly natural from a lifetime of practice, and amazing to witness. It is as interesting to observe the teaching as it is to learn and practice the Aikido.

But as a student each class is a tremendous opportunity – to improve my Aikido of course, but also to examine my way of being, and to discover how I might take Aikido with me into the world. I am consistently blown away by the care and attention that goes into each class, and I am grateful for every opportunity to train under such a remarkable teacher.

Domo arigato gozaimashita, Sensei.


A note from the next morning after I wrote the above post:

I just went out to feed, and a hawk flew between the trees, at eye level, right in front of me, and across to the neighbor’s yard where it scattered a flock of small birds that were sitting in a tree.

I haven’t seen a hawk hunting in my yard in years.

There’s something really weird about the universe.

What I meant to do

If you read my post about my 5th Kyu test you may recall that when I sat down at the end of it I thought “Darn it. That wasn’t how I meant to do that!” It felt mechanical, uncommitted. Sensei’s feedback was that it looked like I was “being careful.” That wasn’t how I meant to do my test, and yet… That’s exactly what I did. I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about that since Saturday.

Aikido provides a laboratory, in which to learn about who and how we are in many areas of life. Or maybe a mirror, in which we can see ourselves more clearly. Interactions can reflect how we are with authority, trust, risk, arrogance, and so on. We can learn what scares us, what makes us happy, where we shut down, or where we step up.

It often takes several days for a lesson to sink in, for me. I’ll remember a phrase or an expression, and the significance of it will come to me, finally. I suppose it’s similar to working out a problem, and a whole new way of looking at it pops into your head as you’re walking to get the mail.

I had such a moment this morning, out feeding Rainy and the donkeys. I was rushing because I was running late. I meant to clean the pen before a rainstorm arrived, but I didn’t have time. I was going to get up at 5:30, so I would have enough time, but I hit snooze until after 6:00. I planned to get to bed early, but didn’t. I had intended to get to work on time, by 8:00, but I was late… again.

I had been thinking, since Saturday, about why I was being careful during my test, and at other times in Aikido, and in other areas. That’s still a valid question, worth exploring.

But another one that didn’t come to me until this morning is this: Why do I intend to do one thing, and then do another? All. The. Time.

It’s a good question; one I will ponder as I brush my teeth and get to bed, late, again.

Riding a horse is not a gentle hobby, to be picked up and laid down like a game of solitaire. It is a grand passion. It seizes a person whole and, once it has done so, he will have to accept that his life will be radically changed.

Ralph Waldo Emerson

Just another way in which horsemanship and Aikido are similar.