Aikido in Daily Life

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

Aikido is a budo, a martial practice that focuses more on how to apply the learning to our everyday lives than simply learn a set of techniques. This focus requires practice both within the dojo and beyond the dojo and for most (if not all) of us, this can lead to many questions about the nature of practicing Aikido. How do I get this technique to work in the dojo? How does learning these technique translate to practice outside the dojo? And so on… These are good questions and certainly worth contemplating and, over time, like the drops of rain dripping into a muddy pool, things become more clear. We begin to experience practice as a way of life and for Aikido practitioners a way of working toward being in harmony with the energy of the universe.

In the dojo, a goal of much of our Aikido training is to break down the barriers between our mind and body that have developed over our lives. We also learn resilience in the dojo as we take ukemi increasingly better as we progress. Then, as we begin to live more fully integrated and with greater resilience, we can then begin to intentionally polish our habits, disciplines, and behaviors. Although this process certainly starts in the dojo where we can rely on our training partners to give us feedback and support us, much of the polishing is done outside the dojo where we are experiencing life, interacting with others, becoming more aware of our impact on other people and the broader world around us, and ultimately striving to be more effective as human beings. The practice of Aikido is focused on living our lives more fully and with greater connectedness and confidence. 

Aikido In Daily Life: November 2020

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

Fear is a fascinating aspect of being human. We all experience fear from one time to the next, we are all mentally and emotionally wired to react to fear quickly using several deeply ingrained strategies (fight, flight, or freeze), and we are all predisposed to accept fear as ‘real.’ However, fear is not tangible, it is not quantifiable, it is mostly a thought. Fear is also deeply connected to our egos, designed to protect us from discomfort and suffering. Training in Aikido helps us relate to fear in healthier and more productive ways. Our training also helps us better know our egos and gives us the skills to continually file our egos back down. 

When we experience fear, it is an emotional experience. It is also an opportunity to make some choices about how we want to present in that situation. Through our Aikido training, we learn to more quickly find our centers, relax, and extend our energy into the situation. The alternative is to this approach is to think about it and consider what could happen and begin to take measures to protect ourselves from the threat by holding our breaths, tensing our bodies, and contracting our energy toward ourselves. Although seductive, this approach closes us to the experience, lowers our responsiveness, and limits our creativity.

Through the thousands of punches and grabs directed at our bodies, through the thousands of falls and rolls that we take to avoid injury at the last second of an attack, and through the practice of following the energy of a threat, we become more capable of accepting fear and working with it more effectively. These are physical threats that we practice with in the dojo and as our practice is to unify our mind, body, and sprit, we should also take time to reflect on how the Aikido response to fear can be applied to threats that aren’t physical. Because regardless of the source of fear much of the response needs to address our fundamental human conditioning to ‘protect ourselves’ rather than blend with the energy of the experience. 

By Nate Weed

Aikido In Daily Life: October 2020

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

The nation and our Governor have talked about the importance of ‘social distancing’ so we can slow the spread of this coronavirus. I’ve noticed in my walks around the neigh- borhood that many people are applying this principle to not just physical spacing, but also mental spacing. People will avert their eyes, and not greet you even if you are across the street. Perhaps ‘social distancing’ can be reworked to be ‘physical distanc- ing, what we Aikido-ka (practitioners of Aikido) call Maai (間合) – the proper spacing with our partners, with others in the class, and with the dojo space itself.

Maai consists of two characters – Ma and Ai.

Ma (間). This Japanese kanji 間 graphically combines 門 “door” and 日 “sun.” It is a Ja- panese word which can be roughly translated as “gap,” “space,” or “pause.” In Ja- panese, ma, the word for space, suggests both physical space and time/space. It is best described as an “awareness of place,” the simultaneous awareness of form and non-form deriving from an intensification of vision” (the 180 degree vision discussed of- ten in our classes.)

合Ai – Isn’t it interesting that the word Maai includes ‘Ai,’ as in Ai-ki-do? We say that Ai represents integration, a meeting, to align with others, harmony. What a great idea for

our spatial distancing, with love and harmony for others. This is the true meaning of our practice.

How can you apply your Aikido training to this concept of ‘distancing,’ Maai? First, be centered and extend your positive energy – our Ki. Walk from your center majestically, as Maruyama Sensei has said in the second verse of his motto. And most importantly, SMILE! Make eye contact with others. They will feel your energy and positivity and will feel better, even if they don’t know what is happening. This is one way to apply your practice in daily life!

By Jim West

Aikido in Daily Life: November 2019

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

A way of thinking about and growing awareness… 

Anyone who’s practiced regularly at Aikido Olympia has heard that one of the key benefits to our practice is expanding our awareness. For many of us, this comes as we become more relaxed, become more present in our activities, and as we apply our 180 degree vision more often in our daily lives. Some of us find our awareness stretching as we become more empathetic and in tune with other people. And, a few feel their awareness expand as they simply sit and calm their minds. 

All of these strategies help us grow, as we proceed along the path of being in harmony with the energy of the universe, and it’s not necessary to add anything extra. That said, an occasional question to ourselves can sometimes help us get back on track when we’ve been drawn into one of the many situations that constrict our awareness. One such question is “have I considered both the yin and yang of this thing/thought/event?” 

All energies are continuously flowing and we know that the wave forms for these energies have two modes, a yin and a yang. It’s not really necessary to know that yin is the dark, cool, female, absorbing aspect while yang is the bright, warm, male, projecting aspect. What’s more important is to know that the two aspects create wholeness together. Therefore, when our mind and our flow get stuck, asking ourselves if we’ve considered both the yin and the yang aspects of the situation can help us re-engage our awareness. And, the more we learn to re-engage our awareness when we’re stuck, the more that awareness can grow.

By Nate Weed

Aikido in Daily Life: October 2019

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

Giving and receiving feedback in a way that promotes learning and growth is an art. Regardless of what part of our lives we consider – Aikido practice, professional, parenting, personal relationships, or other endeavors – the most important thing for helping us improve is feedback from those around us. At the same time, it’s the rare individual who can gracefully and curiously receive feedback and incorporate it into their lives. Moreover, our Aikido practice provides an amazing laboratory for developing this skill. 

Feedback is simply a signal that lets us know if we are meeting our desired goals. With that, feedback seems so innocuous and helpful. So why is taking it a skill that we have to learn in order to do well? For Aikido practitioners, the same question is why do do we invest in learning ukemi and doing it well? Taking ukemi and receiving feedback from others are the same thing. And, the same things that limit us in improving our ukemi also create challenges for receiving feedback effectively. One way to look at this is that both of these are the art of “taking it” and the more gracefully we can do that, the more comfort we have in experiencing life. 

When we’re able to take a step back and look at the limitations we have to overcome to improve our ability to “take it,” there are some common themes. First, many people experience fear. This is reasonable because the unknown often creates anxiety, doubt, and other emotions. Second, our perception of our own efficacy can shape how we approach these learning opportunities. Finally, if these factors don’t emerge, then our egos may intervene to provide some protection from the physical or mental trauma that might result. And, if we can take one more step back these limitations all have something in common – they’re in our mind. All of these things are features of future possibilities and not current realities. 

Our practice is about learning to stay present,  stay grounded, and stay open and curious about the people and energies with which we engage. Even more pertinent to this discussion is that half our practice is about entering into something that we know for sure will be uncomfortable with commitment, focus, and generosity. More than once, Aikido Olympia instructors have emphasized that we often learn more by taking ukemi than we do by throwing people. In the case of receiving feedback from others with centered grace and confidence the dojo is the perfect laboratory to develop this ability further. 

By Nate Weed

Aikido in Daily Life: September 2019

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

School is back in session around the Olympia area and many of our aikidoka are back in the classroom as either teachers or students. And, as they are going back, many habits that developed over the short summer are not in harmony with the school-year rhythm. Through our practice we develop a number of strategies and skills for finding the rhythm in our lives and flowing back into them. One such strategy is changing our mind 180 degrees. From possibly our first class at Aikido Olympia we learn ways to get our body, our mind, and our intention to change quickly from one direction to another. in kata, we practice zengo kata, or two directions kata, then we evolve this into more sophisticated techniques, then into the uke/nage relationship, and hopefully into more complex experiences.

For some of us, the beginning of a new school year is an amazing opportunity to take a look at the habits developed over the summer months, to take what still works from that experience, and look for new opportunities and new ways of being in the world that allow us to grow and develop even further. For others of us who haven’t seen the inside of a classroom in a while, we can also take this opportunity to find the rhythms around us and take stock of the habits we’ve developed over the past few months and consider what is and isn’t working for us to be in the smoothest flow we can achieve. 

By Nate Weed

Aikido in Daily Life: August 2019

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

As our practice in Aikido deepens and we begin to embody the principles more easily, our attention is free to move from what our bodies, minds, and spirits are doing and begin to observe the whole of the situation more fully. In practice, this might allow us to better sense the other partners working near us, better sense our instructor watching us (always an opportunity to lose mind-body coordination for a second as we get stuck there), or better sense the kiai of the dojo as we practice. This represents some progress in our training. It also illuminates the model that we want to apply in other parts of our lives outside the dojo. 

Whether we’re road-tripping with the family, going for a walk around Capitol Lake, riding a bicycle through Olympia traffic, grocery shopping, or taking out the garbage, we want to practice moving and being present in those movements. As we become better skilled at experiencing mind-body coordination in our daily lives, we free our attention to absorb more of the whole experience around us. This allows us to live more fully, and it forms the foundation for the most important aspect of self-defense – situational awareness. So as we leave the dojo after practice, we should commit to applying what we learned to the things we do each day.

By Nate Weed

Aikido in Daily Life: June 2019

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

To engage with other human beings with true empathy is incredibly challenging. Our fears of rejection, embarrassment, or perhaps violence take form as we begin to interact with others in uncomfortable situations. As those fears creep into our minds, often without us event realizing it, they begin to create our own resistance, perhaps tell ourselves stories about why we shouldn’t open our selves too much to the experience, and begin to frame our experience in terms of a dualistic relationship (us versus them). As aikidoka, these thoughts and feelings should register as thoughts or feelings that need to be addressed with relaxation and centeredness. 

The practices that we do each time we come to the dojo give us an opportunity to experiment with finding relaxation and finding centeredness under the pressure of someone projecting energy toward us (sometimes pleasant, sometimes weird, sometimes unpleasant). If we’re committed to our training and take these lessons seriously, then we improve the probability that we will be able to draw on these same relaxation and centering skills when we have to interact with people at our jobs, the people in our families, and actually all of the people we interact with as we go through our lives. 

To make our practice as effective as we can, it’s important for all of us to train with people who make us feel comfortable as well as people who don’t make us feel comfortable. The more we do this, the easier it becomes to overcome the fears that keep us from entering into all of our human interactions with empathy and genuine connections to other people. 

By Nate Weed

Aikido in Daily Life: May 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 is often framed as a solely “defensive” martial art. This is largely do to the instructional approach of having one partner project energy toward the other in the form of a grab or strike, while the other partner responds, to that energy, with a technique. In parallel, many of us take a similar approach in much of our daily lives responding to the energy we are provided. This is normal and it’s something we all do, however our practice is to continually strive to live in harmony with the energy of the universe. This means that we must learn to feel the natural rhythms and find the right timing to intentionally enter and blend. This is not a defensive  approach but in many ways an offensive strategy.

In class this past month we experimented with kata-menuchi projections. For those who missed these classes, kata-menuchi techniques require the uke to grab the nage (katatori) and follow quickly with a head-level strike (shomenuchi). The “response” to this type of situation is to apply martial awareness prior to the uke’s movements and taking the initiative by extending energy, and proactively helping our uke find a lower energy state… like resting on the ground. 

Kata-menuchi variations are somewhat more “advanced” aikido techniques because they require a bit more awareness and connection before the technique is initiated. They are also considered more advanced techniques because they challenge the idea that aikidoka only respond to the energy provided by others. They also offer an important lesson for our daily lives – we are not just along for the ride and preparing to respond but rather active and mindful participants in our lives. Extending our awareness, trusting our natural intuition, and taking up the slack proactively.

By Nate Weed

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