reflections on aikido

Almost exactly 25 years ago, I began my aikido journey. Just over a week ago, I reached one of the major milestones towards which I’ve been working for all of that time; I successfully made it through my last grading. This isn’t to say that further advancement up the ranks isn’t possible; it just won’t involve me standing in the middle of the tatami, being watched by all as I take bokken and jo away from attackers, for instance. But hitting this milestone got me thinking.

One immediate direction of thinking is that I find it helpful to have goals in mind, milestones to work towards, shining cities on distant hills towards which I’m making my way. And so, I need to develop some new milestones, and I have some ideas for what those might be but that’s not what I’d intended to explore today.

Rather, I wanted to explore some of the connections I’ve found between aikido and other areas of activity in my days. This is something that I’ve touched on from time to time. (I won’t give a complete list here, but if you’re interested, you can find them by clicking on the aikido category in the right hand menu of the home page.) Many of these have some connection to teaching, as I do spend some significant time in these pages thinking about issues related to teaching and education, but there are others.

One of the basic principles of successful aikido, I think, is maintaining contact with the attacker (or receiver of the action). And what I mean is not physical contact, but a wider, more enveloping sense of contact. I’ll admit that I’m not entirely convinced that contact is the best term, but it’s one that’s commonly used within the wider aikido community.

This is one of these aspects, though, where the language can be a bit tricky, in the sense that the notion of contact I am thinking of here is something that’s partially non-verbal, having been developed over those 25 years of regular practice. This is something I wrote about so long time ago (see here and here), and I’m aware that I need to go back and look through those old posts again. (Indeed, one project on the LIST OF MANY PROJECTS, and one I may have mentioned before, is to go back and read all of those old posts and pick up the threads I’ve left half woven.)

There are different levels of contact at play here, but the basic idea is that I as one part of this particular dance have an understanding of the attacker’s (or attackers’) intentions, but not in such a way that they have that same understanding of my intentions. This notion of contact has relevance elsewhere, such as in teaching (between a teacher and their students, gauging for instance how well the students are grasping the material being covered or even whether they’re paying attention in a session) and in writing (between an author and their audience).

This reuse of standard words to mean something different and something specific to the given activity is something that I’m well familiar with, because we do this all the time in mathematics; we take words (regular, normal, map) and given them a technical mathematical meaning that sometimes has little to do with their standard meaning, though there is often a connection however diffuse it might have become.

Back in the day, as part of preparing for my shodan (first degree black belt) grading, I had to write an essay on Aikido in Daily Life. I remember what I wrote (and no, it’s not a piece of writing I’ll share) but it’s also a question I’ve been thinking about ever since, and for me it ties directly to where I started off this ramble. Some of the lessons from aikido that are applicable to daily life are somewhat straightforward (not least, first get out of the line of attack) but there are others that have become more apparent over time. And that’s what I’ll spend some time exploring over the coming weeks.

~ by Jim Anderson on 21 August 2022.

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