043) Just Because The Person Is Coming To Kill You, Does Not Mean That You Cannot Love That Person: Week of July 5, 2009

Students have heard me use this expression as a starting point to explore some crucial aspects of Aikido.  These aspects have to do with Proper Distance, Connection, and Communication.

Proper distance, Maai (in Japanese) is an important inter-relationship between two, or more people.  We conduct an experiment in our dojo on a regular basis to help students understand how this concept is both relational (as opposed to static) and preconscious in nature.  To new students, or other people reading this site, here is the experiment:  place two people about five to ten yards apart from one another.  One person’s job is to focus on the person approaching and tell that person to stop when a sense of discomfort is felt.  The person who is approaching the stationary person is to approach three times with three distinct mindsets.  One, as though you want to kill that person.  Two, from an interpersonally cordial-to-neutral perspective.  Three, from the perspective of greeting a best friend or lover.  Typically, when a person approaches a man with the intent to kill that person, you will see the man make an involuntary movement when the sense of discomfort is reached and then let the approaching person take one to three more steps closer before telling that person to stop.  When that happens, point this movement out and ask the person to tell the approaching person to stop the moment discomfort is felt as opposed to when this level of discomfort is intolerable.  Women tend to have much better common sense about this than men.  When the person tells the approaching person to stop when discomfort is felt and they each reach out their arms from their now stationary positions, the distance between the hands is usually one body length to approximately the length of the elbow to the tip of the hand.  This Proper Distance stops the person at a range where real, hand-to-hand fighting is simply not possible without the further closing of distance.  In the second condition, the person is usually told to stop at a distance that allows both parties to either take one step forward to shake hands, or to simply reach out and shake hands.  The third condition usually results in a distance that ranges from  hand-to-shoulder contact, to a distance in which people can begin to hug one another.

This creation of distance between two or more people happens at a pre-conscious level.  We do not think to feel a sense of discomfort, we simply feel it.  What we choose to do with that feeling is another story altogether.  The saying “Keep your friends close and your enemies closer” comes alive when we explore the concept of proper distance.  We can have a far greater impact upon a potential aggressor when the aggressor is within arms reach.  The positive and centered energy that we strive to put forth in confrontational settings allows us to control the distance in a manner that is allow us to act at a distance that is too close for the other person to respond effectively, while allowing us to apply effective applications of techniques.

Connection is an easy way to describe the process of two or more people imparting an influence upon the other person(s).  This interaction can be neutral, negative, or positive in nature.  Being aware of the presence of a connection with someone else is a helpful tool in any interpersonal encounter.  This connection happens at both a conscious and preconscious level.  Many people do not give much thought or assigned importance to the preconscious level, despite it being perhaps the most important level of information received.  We all are capable of connecting and becoming aware of connections at this level.  Simply acknowledging that when we enter into personal encounters we get a “feeling” as to who we might like or dislike, or even whether or not we feel comfortable being in that setting.  We become conscious of this information to the extend to which we “listen” to that “feeling” part of our being.

Putting out “positive vibes” is an important way of creating a sense of connection that allows others to approach us at a distance that is “friendly” close.  In other-words, we can actively manipulate the sense of proper distance that others use when interacting with us.  From a martial arts perspective, it is relatively obvious that controlling this distance is an important component towards being able to effectively stay safe.   Consciously effecting the preconscious experience of a potential attacker is an important martial arts tool.

Both of the factors talked about above, point to the importance of communication in any situation in which humans interact.  From a martial arts perspective, controlling the level and nature of communication has profound implications.  This acknowledgment and use communication is another uniquely effective and positive aspect of Aikido.  When people are in a conflict with another person, the ability to listen to that other person is typically compromised.  Yet this is the most important time to be listening!  People tend to be amazed when a highly skilled Aikidoka seems to “know” when and how you are going to attack before you think that you have communicated this information to them.  There is no mystery or magic there.  It is simply being calm, centered and positively connected with the other person in a manner that allows us to “listen” to important information that is given before a person is usually aware that he/she is sending this information out.

At another level, an attacker is expecting to “hear” communication that conveys a sense of fear and/or aggression.  If we do not communicate this to the attacker, the attacker typically falls behind us in a time-continuum sense.  that person is expecting movement associated with fear and/or aggression.  Our movements are connected in a positive manner so that when the attacker is becoming aware of what we are doing to him/er in a physical sphere of interaction, it is usually too late for that person to effectively respond and/or counter our actions.

The expression “Just because the attacker wants to kill you does not mean that you cannot love that person” encapsulates some of the unique aspects of Aikido.  This week, We will look to explore this unique interpersonal paradigm that highlights the realization that Aikido is not about fighting, but about relating to a person in way that can keep us safe.

Marc Abrams Sensei

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