This post is the second in a series begun back in October interviewing 3rd degree black belt Aikido practitioner Dwight Sora of Chicago Aikido club. While I’m interested in martial arts for their own sake, Aikido strikes me as having some unusual philosophical lessons about acceptance, change, and growth.
The first post in this series was Aikido Interviews, #1: Trying to Discover Truths. New posts will go up on the next three Mondays, February 4, 11, and 18.
Luc: What’s the relationship between engaging with the world and engaging with an attacker? What approach or approaches does Aikido indicate for a practitioner who is being attacked?
Dwight: This may seem overly simplistic and reductive, but it really does seem to boil down to staying calm. And furthermore, that really seems to be what all martial arts ultimately strive to achieve.
Naturally, Aikido, with its strong philosophical component, places a lot of emphasis on keeping the body relaxed and centered and keeping your mind focused. However, I have met senior Judo instructors who emphasized the exact same points. Also, years ago I attended a series of Aikido camps in the Colorado Rockies where the guest instructor was Kenji Ushiro, a traditional Okinawan Karate instructor. It seemed odd to have a Karate instructor at an Aikido camp, until I saw what he was teaching. His technique was amazingly soft, and he never broke posture (or a sweat) and moved with total control. (Clip below.)
[Note from Luc: I don’t know if the following will be as fascinating to you as it was to me, but I do recommend checking out this short video Dwight sent.]
In terms of attitude, Aikido teaches one to respond to attackers non-aggressively. Now, that doesn’t mean passively, as some might assume from my earlier statement. The response is still dynamic, but you try to avoid ideas like “I’m going teach this guy a lesson” or “I’m going to put this person down.” And by keeping a cool head, you keep an open mind, and hopefully are able to see more possibilities (and of course, strategic openings) in a situation.
In terms of technicalities, the idea is that your body will also respond faster and stronger if your muscles are relaxed and not tense. And this does make a lot of sense even in street terms (I believe). I was once told that statistically speaking, a large number of the women who study martial arts will pick a striking art over anything involving grappling or throwing (So, Karate or kickboxing instead of Judo, Aikido or Jujitsu). The answer is understandable – A lot of women don’t like the idea of being in a room having to grab and possibly roll around the floor with men. However, I’ve also heard that if the intent of their study is self-defense against a mugger or rapist, there’s a hole in their decision-making. Most attackers on the street don’t want to fight you; they just want to subdue you or get the jump on you (often from behind) and grab on. The advantage of studying a grappling art is that you become desensitized to the fear that is induced during the act of being grabbed or choked, and learn how to keep your muscles relaxed (and flexible) while in such a situation to allow an effective response.
My senior teacher is always telling me to avoid being aggressive. He’ll even raise his head and say, “Don’t think about the other guy, lift your head and say ‘ Isn’t today a great day’.”
Photo by Janna Giacoppo