the futility and non-futility of resistance

We had a very engaging aikido class this morning and I would like to work through an observation that I had during the class. To be fair, it’s an observation I’ve had many times before and it’s something I’m sure I’ll be working through this particular observation for some time yet to come.

Beyond that, I’ve been thinking about how my developing understanding of this observation can apply more broadly, for instance to administration within universities; I’ll come to this at the end. (So please keep reading, he asks politely.)

When we are uke, the person receiving an aikido technique (which is the polite way of saying, the person being thrown or put to the ground), one of the questions we often have is, what is the extent to which we would resist. This is a question that beginners often ask.

A basic and interesting fact is that if I know what technique the tori (the person performing the technique) is doing, then I can often find a way of blocking or countering that attempt at that technique.

But this blocking almost entirely relies on my knowing and on tori performing that particular technique. If I do commit myself to so blocking what technique the tori is doing, then I open myself to being susceptible in many many other ways. An advanced student of aikido can take advantage of that susceptibility (and they have, on more than one occasion, and no doubt will again) but a beginner doesn’t have the experience or the technical skill todo take advantage.

So when a beginner is practicing a technique, I know from experience that my resistance as tori is counterproductive to their practice. And one of the things that I wish to cultivate in the beginners I work with is to remove this resistance from their practice.

This is difficult, because resistance in such a physical situation goes against our natural reactions, and so part of what we’re doing in our aikido practice is in essence retraining our instincts, so that we accept without engaging our own willingness to resist.

So my advice to beginners in the aikido classes is, don’t resist. Take the opportunity to learn the shape of the technique through accepting what your tori is giving you.

But for more experienced practitioners, this resistance can be important to understanding. If I am giving my uke the opportunity to resist, then I’m not doing the technique properly.

So there are two things I have to do. One is to reflect on how I’m undertaking the technique and to understand on what I need to change. But the other, and this is where things sometimes get very interesting, is to adapt to and work with that resistance, attempting to neutralize it.

So how does this apply to university administration? There is a growing body of writings about how to apply aikido principles to non-aikido situations. I suppose this can be viewed as my minor contribution to this literature.

A common situation in university administration is the attempt to change hearts and minds. One way of doing this is to reflect the changes to policy and process, and to work with colleagues to implement this new policy and process, about which we as individual members of staff have no significant agency.

But beyond this, I have come to believe that there are deep and fundamental assumptions that universities need to shift. I recognize that this is a controversial view to hold, as some of my colleagues have let me know.

The nature of universities is changing, particularly in the UK where I work. Some of the old embedded assumptions are slowly eroding away and are being replaced by different, more explicit and externally forced assumptions. The assumptions are important, but not for the point of this particular discussion.

Changing the assumptions that people hold is something which engenders resistance. After all, how many academics does it take to change a light bulb? And so the question I find myself facing is, how to work with this resistance. How to neutralize this resistance. How to perform the administrative kaeshiwaza that then presents itself. And that bundle of how is what I’m currently working my way through.

~ by Jim Anderson on 4 November 2018.

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