Atlanta, Georgia

What does Aikido mean to me?

There are many aspects to Aikido. If I had to pick one however, Aikido to me means diplomacy.  While this might sound odd, Aikido supplies a toolset, both in its techniques and its philosophy for diplomacy.  All of this stems from get off the line, enter, lead the opponent, take their balance and throw.  But it’s all in the way we do these things…

Getting off the line implies not being at the point of attack, not directly meeting force with force.  While it obviously makes good self defense sense, it also makes sense in a diplomatic context.  When someone presents an idea or an argument (possibly a verbal ‘attack’) it usually pays to not directly meet the attack head on, but rather to explore the intent behind it.  This often enables you to blend with the idea or argument instead of immediately being opposed to it.  While this sounds like common sense, it’s definitely something that takes training to accomplish.  It’s very natural for many people (myself included) to meet force or arguments head on, to regard them as a challenge.

Entering as we get off the line puts us in a better position from which to respond to an attack, it often provides the start of connection to the opponent.  Entering in a diplomatic situation lets us understand the other person, entering into their problem or situation or idea.  Without entering and understanding, there can be no progress in or resolution to the situation.

Leading the opponent is the start of taking their balance.  As we lead, we start to change the direction of their energy, harmonizing with it and connecting to it while interjecting our own ends into the movement.  In a diplomatic or personal situation this is where we start to present our ideas.  It’s important though that they remain connected to what came before, that the other person understand that we see and respect their viewpoint.  In other words, that we harmonized and connected to the ideas that were presented.

It’s important to realize that whether we are talking about self defense or diplomacy that the action might stop at this point.  In the case of self defense the attack may not have been real, or the attack may not have had ill intent.  In the case of diplomacy, once we understand the other viewpoint, we may be convinced of its rightness.  If however the attack is real, we use our lead to take the opponent to an unexpected position where they have no balance.  In a diplomatic sense we try to present our ideas in a way that shows the other person that they may not have considered all aspects of the situation.

The last part of the self defense scenario is that we use the off balance created to throw our opponent.  If the throw does not work, then we may repeat the process of leading, entering, taking the balance and throwing all over again.  A throw in diplomacy is when you convince the other person that you have at least some rightness on your side, and you achieve agreement.  Like the unsuccessful self defense throw it may take multiple rounds of discussion, understanding, and idea presentation before this is achieved.

It’s also important to realize that in an Aikido sense, self defense is intended to cause minimal harm to our opponent.  This is echoed in a diplomatic context where for a completely successful resolution, neither party can be hurt, both must leave the interaction feeling like they have gained from the encounter.

I’ve actively been trying to change my approach the last few years to many work-related problems.  I’ve tried to become more diplomatic, to arrive at mutually beneficial solutions, and to leave both parties in the exchange feeling better.  I credit Aikido with many of my successes in this area, because the interactions we have at Aikido and the philosophy behind it really do teach lessons about peacefully getting along with others.

Berney Fulcher