123) Aikido is not Aggressive, Passive, or Passive-Aggressive: November 2014

Imagine this scene:  An angry, aggressive Aikidoka walks into a bar looking to start a bar fight and goes up to a stranger and says “grab my arm!”

Aikido is not an aggressive martial art.  I have yet to see Aikido taught in a manner that leads a person to aggressively start a physical confrontation with another person or people.  I believe that a great strength of Aikido is in helping people learn to maintain a calm awareness when the potential for conflict arises.  Aikido instruction frequently focuses on centering one’s self, while using one’s awareness and intent to be cognizant of the energy of those around us.  If a person is angry, anxious, or scared, these states preclude that person from having a calm center.  Additionally, we are producing so much “white noise” inside of ourselves, that we will have a very difficult time becoming genuinely aware of the energy, intent, motives, etc. of those around us.

A very well trained martial artist in the form of an Aikidoka, is a formidable person to have to engage in a physical conflict with.  I can only hope that this Aikidoka has gained a great respect for the potential outcome of a physical encounter.  The ability to kill, maim and injure another human being is not something to be taken lightly.  It should be deeply informative to us about the fragility and preciousness of life itself.  This awareness should clearly result in a person making better choices as to when and how to become engaged in a physical conflict with others.

Just because we should be taught not to be aggressive, that should not be mistaken for not being able to initiate and/or lead a physical conflict in order to survive the encounter.  There is a very big difference between waiting for somebody to physically assault you, with creating the perception of an opening that enables a person to give away what he/she intends to do to you.  Another possibility is to create a perception of no openings and an impending sense of danger to a person trying to find an opening.  Waiting for somebody to assault you before you believe that you are entitled to physically act is both foolish and dangerous.  The founder of Aikido talked directly about the importance of Atemi in Aikido!  My teacher beautifully stated that if you move properly, you do not need technique.  If you are not able to remove yourself from a potentially violent encounter, or you cannot adequately de-escalate the potential attacker, then you need to be in control of the center-line and be ahead of that person’s attack.

Imagine one person threatens to hit another person.  The person about to get hit says “I won’t stop you, I will just connect with you peacefully.”

Aikido is not a passive experience.  I have unfortunately observed some people trying to teach Aikido so that the person tries to passively connect with an attacker so that both people can experience each other.  I cannot speak for everybody, but the last thing that I would ever want an opponent to do would be to accurately read me!  Nor would I want to passively connect with an opponent.  A physical conflict is a very active process that typically involved the OODA loop (observe, orient, decide and act).  The adversary that maintains the tactical advantage in this process has a distinct advantage over the opponent.  Aikido should enable us to be able to be very difficult to physically and energetically read.  It should make it so that an opponent cannot find our center.  If you cannot genuinely achieve these important goals, then I would strongly encourage you to make them very important goals to achieve in your Aikido training.  As a hint, developing Aiki and Internal Power are critical components in order to achieve those goals.  In Aikido, we need to be able to actively manipulate both the environment and the attacker so that the attacker’s moves  are ineffective, while our moves are highly effective.

Imagine this scene:  One person challenges another person to a fight and the person being challenged says “I don’t fight with people, that is beneath me.”

let’s face it folks, Aikido tends to be an attractive breeding ground for passive-aggressive people.  Catchphrases like “non-violent, martial art,” and “the martial art of love” are attractants to passive-aggressive people.  What a feel-good thing to be able to believe that you have real martial abilities when in reality, you are utterly fearful of real aggression.  The plethora of passive-aggressive Aikidoka that I have run into over the  years is genuinely saddening to me.  There is no shame in stating that you have never been in a fight, do not know how you would do in a fight and have no desire to find out.  There is something wrong with poor rationalizations that serve to keep you from facing and owning up to certain realities.  It is okay to be honest and openly state that you are not using Aikido as a martial art.  It is not okay to claim that you practice Aikido as a martial art and your training in entirely devoid of any realistic aspect contained in a physical confrontation.  It is acceptable to make mistakes in which minor injuries result.  It is entirely unacceptable to have students and fellow Aikodoka get hurt as a consequence of regularly training with you.  It is okay to maintain a kohai-sempai relationship structure within your school. It is not okay to use the kohai-sempai relationship as a vehicle for domineering behavior.

The Aikidokas who have a confident, calm center,  can remain aware, act appropriately and assertively to control situations to diffuse conflicts and emerge victorious in conflicts.  They are honest in what they say and do.  They do not shy away from testing their real abilities and are eager to find areas that need to be improved upon.  These Aikidoka train in an open and honest manner with their partners.  They are open to give and receive feedback regardless of the rank of the person providing that feedback.  They train in an atmosphere of open and mutual respect so that one’s actions, mirror one’s intent, thereby greatly minimizing the possibility of accidental injuries.  If they have issues with another person, they are dealt with directly in a manner that allows both parties to retain their sense of dignity and respect for his/herself and the other person.

Aikido has been a remarkable, transformational experience for me.  That is the main reason why it is now one of my professional jobs.  I genuinely believe in the transformational capacity of our art.  I recognize that the possibility of myself or my students ever having to use Aikido to survive a physical fight is ridiculously small.  The time spent in our sincere training can lead us to become calmer, more aware of our environment, better able to address conflicts and better aware of our strengths and weaknesses.  I have seen these changes in myself and in my students.  I genuinely believe that these changes are possible through a training experience based in reality and directly linked to the precious experience of living.  This Aikido practice needs to be based in the reality of the world of physical confrontations, in which there is no room for undue aggressiveness and passivity, and where passive-aggressive attitudes and behaviors are simply not acceptable.  This is the Shugyo of our training.

Marc Abrams Sensei

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