054) Aikido as a Tool for Positive Personal Transformation: Week of September 20, 2009

I am back home from celebrating my teacher’s  (Imaizumi Shizuo Shihan) 50th year in Aikido.  A number of years ago, Imaizumi Sensei and I were walking back to my house from a hike and in our discussion, he told me that his “shrine” to Aikido were his students.  That statement stayed with me and led me to come up with a gift from all of Shin-Budo Kai to present to Sensei at his celebration banquet.   I solicited from former and current students stories, vignettes, etc. as to what impact Imaizumi Sensei had on their lives.   Steve Self, from Durango Shin-budo Kai took those submissions, along with photos of Sensei and turned them into a beautiful book that we presented to Sensei at the celebration banquet (9/19/09).   Those reflections re-affirmed my belief that Aikido can be a powerful tool for positive, personal transformation.

Any martial art “asks of”  the practitioner to learn how be successful in a violent encounter.   A violent encounter is a form of interpersonal contact that places the highest demands and challenges upon our interpersonal skills.  This interpersonal crucible  has forged some of our greatest seekers of a moral society, has forged some memorable sadists and has forged some psychologically tortured souls. Aikido addresses this interpersonal arena in a very interesting manner.

I have spoken of Aikido waza as a form of kata.  As I have written about previously, this form of kata is remarkably unrealistic in terms of direct applicability to real-life violent encounters.  I genuinely believe that this nature of practice has the potential to allow us to engage in a level of personal transformation that can lead to us becoming both more caring and connected people, while becoming effective martial artists.  Nobody is comfortable with violence.  Within each of us, lies a history that leads us to struggle with how we confront violence.  Aikido practice asks us to remain interpersonally open, thereby leaving us to experience a sense of personal vulnerability.  Asking a person to remain interpersonally connected to a person who is trying to hurt you is asking a lot from someone. In doing so, we become aware of how not to allow ourselves to get hurt while acting in a manner that can effectively stop an attack.

A violent encounter is a form of interpersonal communication.  It seems to me that effectively communicating during this form of interpersonal contact is critical to a successful outcome for me to survive/succeed the encounter.  A typical fight involves people acting and reacting to the actions of the other person.  There is no real attempt made at trying to understand what the other person is doing, rather it is the acting and reacting to our immediate perceptions of what the other person is doing.  This is akin to an argument where two people are talking AT each other, each trying to get one’s point across without really listening to what the other person is saying.

Aikido waza done properly is a condition where the nage is truly listening to the other person.  This form of listening, that we call a connection, allows us to move in harmony with the acts of the uke while shaping and changing the nature of the connection so that we do not become injured in an attack.  This sense of openness and connectedness is not easy in the best of circumstances.  Allowing our practice to “ramp itself up” to powerful committed attacks and successful execution of techniques takes time, patience, good students and better teachers.

The interesting “side product” of this type of training is the ability to truly listen to other people in all kinds of circumstances.  This skill leads people to relate better with those around them.  This should help us to gain a greater sense of appreciation for the beauty and vulnerability of the world that we share with those around us.  This is truly a transformational process that should help us become better citizens of our world.

I have been truly blessed (along with many others) to have Imaizumi Shizuo as my teacher.  I looked around the room at the celebration banquet and saw many faces, new and old whom I truly enjoyed spending time with.  I was struck by how they were a group of men and women who used our teacher’s teachings to transform their lives for the better.  Even people who no longer trained, wrote touching vignettes about how their lives changed for the better because of their training with Sensei Imaizumi.

I have used Aikido as a powerful tool for positive personal transformation.  I hope that I can be as successful as my teacher in helping my students to use Aikido in this manner.  In many respects, I believe that this is one of the greatest gifts that Aikido can offer us.  Not everybody looks to their Aikido training as a means of becoming effective martial artists.  People come to Aikido, stay in Aikido and leave Aikido for all kinds of reasons.  If they can take this one gift with them, then I think that this can help to make our world a more sane and peaceful place to live in.

Marc Abrams Sensei

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