Aikido in Daily Life: April 2019

We come to our dojo to train so that we’re better able to apply the principles of aikido in our daily lives…

Spring appears to be springing in the northwest this month. As we extend our senses to the changing season, we can feel the expansion of nature as the rivers, trees, plants, and flowers all expand to fill more space in the world. This is not an aggressive or rude acquisition of space belonging to something else, but a harmonious and gentle opening up. 

In a class a couple of weeks ago, we were working on several ushirodori techniques (when uke bear hugs you from behind). These techniques are often really challenging to learn, because being grabbed from behind is really uncomfortable. And, for many of us, expanding to fill more space in the world is uncomfortable too, and a key feature of the techniques we were practicing. What may not be immediately obvious is that they are the same thing…

Our practice helps us bring our mind, body, and intentionality together, which helps us be more comfortable with the ways our body can take up space; moreover, we also learn to take up that space (take up the slack on our environment) in a way that is warm, welcoming, and in harmony with those around us. This ability is important for asserting ourselves without threatening and for extending our integrity to our intentions without being pushy or abrasive. 

As you all enjoy the spring, take some time to feel what gently and subtly expanding into the space around us and gently taking up the slack on the world around us feels like. Then see what you can do to incorporate that into your practice and your daily life. 

By Nate Weed

Aikido in Daily Life: March 2019

We come to our dojo to train so that we’re better able to apply the principles of aikido in our daily lives…

Randori… or “one damn thing after another”… but in an optimistic way!

Last month, Aikido Olympia held Kangeiko, the annual winter intensive training week. All that week a group of dedicated students met from 5:30 to 6:15 each morning for a vigorous practice. This year, the vigorous practice focused on randori. Randori is a more advanced Aikido practice where one nage (thrower) is faced with multiple uke (attackers). For most people learning randori, it’s an intimidating and intense experience.

Like Randori, life is a series of opportunities that come at us quickly and with real energy and real risk. There is also real work that requires intention and focus as we complete each necessary task. Success in all of this could be viewed from a number of different perspectives but from an Aikido perspective, always being engaged in the thing we’re doing now and always being excited to do the next thing as it comes at us, is probably pretty close.

Back in our regular lives outside of the dojo, we all have multiple commitments, obligations, deadlines, and tasks that we must attend to. Some of us will compartmentalize these things in our mind by grouping certain activities as professional activities, daily activities, family activities, aikido practice, etc. Some of us will work to prioritize and organize all of the things we have to do by making lists and calendars, a couple of us might read a couple of the many books on how to get more done and how to be more productive. While there is value in any of these approaches, we must eventually dive in and start getting the work done – and usually getting it done to a standard. 

In our Aikido practice, Randori is a training tool that we use to overcome the natural fear and hesitation in choosing what needs to be done first, second, or fifty-third and using our natural intuition to prioritize what we’re doing in a way that creates a flow. We also use Randori as a way to build our self-efficacy in moving from one activity to the next while being centered, present, and mindful as we do each activity completely. Like everything worth doing, it takes practice, persistence, and a fair amount of self-compassion.

By Nate Weed

Aikido in Daily Life: February 2019

We come to our dojo to train so that we’re better able to apply the principles of aikido in our daily lives.

Aikido or Aikijujutsu? Our practice at Aikido Olympia revolves around an idea that Aikido is “A way of being in harmony with the energy of the universe”. On the surface, that sounds like we are applying harmony in a martial way. However, there’s an important nuance when we say “a way of being”. Our art is about how we, as individuals, interact with everything around us. To put a finer point on this, our practice is about how we behave differently and lead our lives better, not about how we make others behave. 

Considering the martial arts world, there are ways we can organize practices. In our specific martial lineage of Aiki – “being in harmony”, there are basically two main approaches. One is the “Do”- the way, and the others are “jutsu” – the arts or techniques. What is not always apparent to students of these marital arts is that in Aikido, our techniques and training are designed to change ourselves. Alternatively, in Aikijujutsu the techniques and training are designed to help the practitioner more efficiently affect another person’s behavior. Both use similar principles and even look similar, but intent differs.

In the martial arts world, some contend that practicing martial arts is only valuable if it focuses on building one’s ability to dominate others. Others take a perspective that martial arts are primarily for self-improvement. Our contention is that these practices all coexist, and that people should do what they believe will help them be the best person they can be. Personally, I don’t have a lifestyle that brings a lot of violence my direction. However, I have a high-stakes career that requires me to embody integrity, humility, relaxation, centeredness, and intent while facing a continuous stream of demands, challenges, struggles, (sometimes law suits) and opportunities. So, for me, training diligently in Aikido adds substantial value and as we all develop together, I hope we can continue to help each other find the way through our practice and become even better versions of ourselves.

By Nate Weed

Aikido in Daily Life: January 2019

We come to our dojo to train so that we’re better able to apply the principles of aikido in our daily lives.

Family and friends are important to all of us. They connect us together into a social fabric and provide love and understanding. They can also provide some insightful opportunities to practice. For many people, it’s those who we care the most about who are also able to drive us the most nuts. Coming off of the holiday season, I’m sure that many of us have some perspectives on this. That said, Aikido is an art distinguished by its philosophy of extending positive energy, opening our hearts to those who challenge us, and protecting all involved as we are all one. Now, I’m not saying that you should apply yonkyo to those you care about whenever the inevitable interpersonal friction begins warming up. However, living the Aikido philosophy should provide a pretty good recipe for skillfully negotiating a political discussion with one’s mother-in-law, playfully convincing the teenage nephew to help do some dishes, getting the seven-year-olds to put on their coats and get ready to go without raising your voice, and having a centered and thoughtful New Year’s financial discussion with your spouse. These are all opportunities for us to practice applying the more philosophical components of Aikido in our daily lives. Even more importantly, these are opportunities to practice recognizing that these are opportunities!

Who knows, maybe next year, some of us will even be ready to respectfully inquire more deeply into our sibling’s innovative thoughts on parenting or our dad’s ideas on proper auto maintenance.

By Nate Weed

Aikido in Daily Life: December 2018

We come to our dojo to train so that we’re better able to apply the principles of aikido in our daily lives.

At the  end of the year we reflect on the previous year and on our practice. There are many ways that we can all do this.  For some it will be quietly considering what we have appreciated and what we hope to continue in the coming year.  Others will take some time to evaluate the year and make plans about how they’ll conduct their life in 2019. Regardless, as cycles come to an end, it is human nature to contemplate how we are affected or how we have made an impact on the events in which we were involved. For Aikidoka, we should recognize that the natural cycles of the year are greater than ourselves and, although we may play a role, it’s most important that we are present and alive as we move along our path. From a certain perspective this is applying the S.O.F.A. approach, that we discuss in class, to life more broadly – Show up, Observe, Focus, and Accept the outcomes. 

Approaching life from this perspective doesn’t require a plan or a strategy. Instead it requires a quiet confidence in our own resilience and a willingness to open our hearts and minds to whatever comes next. These characteristics emerge as we become more disciplined and expand our awareness to new levels. Moreover, they are the very things we develop and hone through our Aikido practice.

We have enjoyed another wonderful year practicing together, and may we continue this journey together in 2019!

By Nate Weed

Aikido in Daily Life: October 2018

We come to our dojo to train so that we’re better able to apply the principles of aikido in our daily lives.

Ma’ai… Time, options, and our decisional space. The practice of aikido emphasizes relationships in space and in time. We strive for a harmonious spacing or ma’ai when we’re practicing in the dojo. Our goal, however, is to take that concept and use it in our daily lives. Ma’ai is a particularly useful concept when we use it to shape our decision-making. 

We’re all faced with many decisions, some decisions are relatively minor:  “Should I get another cup of coffee?” Other decisions are much more significant: “Should I engage in a violent act that may alter my life or someone else’s life forever?” Sometimes we have a great deal of time and information to use in our consideration of the options and other times we have to decide in a split second. Regardless of the situation or the decision, we have a set of options that decrease over time. 

By focusing on proper ma’ai in this context, we can grow our ability to make decisions early and when we have many options available to us. This leads to a couple of things. First, it helps us respond sooner, or be more responsible. Second, it shapes how we apply our personal power in our lives by being intentional and effective with our influence.  

 

By Nate Weed

Aikido in Daily Life: September 2018

We come to our dojo to train so that we’re better able to apply the principles of aikido in our daily lives.

The harder things are often the right things to do. Perhaps this is giving an apology, giving a co-worker uncomfortable feedback, or getting up early so that we have enough time to get ready for work without racing around. There are many examples of situations where we’re faced with a difficult option and an easy option. So, how does our practice help us choose the harder thing/ the right thing?

The practice of Aikido in daily life is generally about applying the fundamentals of relaxing completely, focusing on our center, and extending ki as much of the time as we’re able to. If we diligently practice doing this, it becomes easier and we spend more of our time living in this capable state. Additionally, we develop our ability to maintain relaxed, centered, awareness when circumstances become challenging.  Through that, a couple of things tend to happen – first, in being relaxed and centered we generally do a better job of making the right decision, and, second, by being centered and extending ki we are more easily able to enter into the harder choices.  As a bonus to our practice, we learn to approach challenges and obstacles with an open heart – both considering the well-being of others and having compassion for ourselves. This provides a unique advantage in our personal resilience as we choose harder things and learn from them.

 

By Nate Weed

Aikido in Daily Life: August 2018

We come to our dojo to train so that we’re better able to apply the principles of aikido in our daily lives.

The first beginner class of each month Aikido Olympia instructors begin with some talking about what Aikido is and typically take a moment to describe the kanji of Ai, Ki, and Do as a way of living in harmony with the energy of the universe. These classes are fascinating in that you can attend them almost every month for years and learn something new each time. 

When we talk about energy in a physical sense, we are also talking about its relationship with both power and work. Reviewing high school physics class, the basic idea is that energy is contained in all sorts of things (even the atoms of nitrogen in the air surrounding us) and when that energy is applied to making something happen, it can be considered power. 

In our training we discuss energy as the material we use to do our arts, the same way a painter might use paint or a potter might use clay. And we typically use the energy with our partners to make something happen  like a kokynage or ikkyo (to do work). So, from a certain perspective, Aikido practice has a focus on recognizing and working with power. 

Power is a such an interesting topic- especially when we think about it from an interpersonal perspective. Many of us often look at power as though it has some moral value. In many cases we view it as a negative thing, something that others use to force us to do things. In many cases, we look at power as something that certain people have and that those people use to achieve their goal.  However, if we consider that our practice is to help us live in harmony with the energy of the universe, that energy is contained in everything, and that the application of that energy is referred to as power, than living an Aikido lifestyle requires us to accept that everyone (everything) has power and to respect everyone’s application of their power. Once we can truly embrace power (whether it’s physical power, the charismatic power of a certain person, the reward power of an employer, perhaps the coercive power of yonkyo, or the expert power of an instructor) then we can constructively work with it and apply our practice to all of the relationships in our lives. 

Aikidoka should consider the relationship between energy and power when we think about the nature of our practice and when we consider how Aikido can be applied to our daily lives.

By Nate Weed

Aikido in Daily Life: July 2018

We come to our dojo to train so that we’re better able to apply the principles of aikido in our daily lives.

At the end of last month, some of the instructors were talking about practice. This conversation started with the question – what is your practice? 

At a high level, most Aikidoka would answer that their practice is doing Aikido. This is a pretty good answer and covers considerable breadth. However, the question was directed at a group of people who clearly practice Aikido regularly and was intended to elicit a more granular response. In fact, many of the people who train at Aikido Olympia have a set of personal practices that help them along their personal journey. Some people sit zazen each week, others participate in misogi, some have more solitary practices where they mediate each day or perhaps recite the Aikido Yuishinkai motto every day. Regardless of the activity, the important part is that they are intentional and regular. It’s through this regular and deliberate activity that we develop our discipline and self-mastery. 

As we advance in our martial arts training, it becomes increasingly important to nurture a practice that helps us continually move toward self mastery. As O Sensei has been quoted, “true victory is victory over one’s self.” And, it’s through this process that we begin to take our Aikido practice from inside the dojo into our daily lives. 

By Nate Weed

Aikido in Daily Life: June 2018

We come to our dojo to train so that we’re better able to apply the principles of aikido in our daily lives…

In the kids’ class, we read stories about martial arts principles. Although these stories focus on many concepts, several highlight the importance of awareness in the lives of martial artists. Developing awareness is a clear goal of martial arts training, but it’s also an abstract and somewhat elusive idea for many of us. Concretely, what are we supposed to be more aware of?

This past month I experienced three events that really helped me better understand where increased martial awareness is valuable in our daily lives. Near the beginning of the month, I participated in an endurance event that focuses on team building and leadership development through getting together with a group of strangers and finding creative ways to explore suffering together until we could gel as a team. One of our instructors, a former Army Special Forces sergeant, was clear about the necessity for being aware of how our teammates (these total strangers) were doing with the tasks. A few days later, I was involved in a set of unrelated discussions at work. These conversations had different stakeholders and goals but they also required the same information and the same connections with partners who could help make the goals more accessible. Later in the month, one of the leaders I work with made an observation about the organization I work for, requiring people with a history of conflict to work together. His comment was, ‘I hope they’ve become more aware of what they’re bringing to that conflict.’

In Aikido practice, we are working at becoming more aware in several areas. First, awareness of the needs of those around us. Second, our practice helps us become more aware of the connections and rhythms that exist in the world. And, we are building self-awareness and an ability to continually improve our self-awareness.

 

By Nate Weed