‘A Way to Reconcile the World’

weapons bagOn my way back from Arizona Aikido’s Fall Bridge Seminar, I got on the airport parking shuttle carrying my weapons bag (pictured here). One of my fellow passengers asked me what it was.

“It’s martial arts training equipment,” I said. (I have learned not to use the word “weapon” anywhere near an airport.)

“Ooh,” said the young man. “I guess I better not mess with you.”

That is pretty much the universal reaction I get from people when I tell them I train in Aikido. I don’t know if strangers say this to men who train or not, but I’m sure most women martial artists will find it familiar.

I’m not sure the people who say this actually believe it — I suspect most guys don’t really expect a woman to be be a kick ass, especially not a middle-aged woman — but I usually take it at face value. In fact, I think I’m going to start saying “that’s a good idea” when people say it.

But the truth is, I rarely think about the kicking ass aspect of martial arts these days.

I confess that I took up martial art training years ago in part because I wanted to be able to stand up to people who were trying to “mess with me.” I had a yen to be tough, to be able to fight. And I’ll also confess that one of the pleasures I get out of Aikido is throwing strong young men around.

But the most fun I had at the weekend seminar was training with a new friend, Claire Conway. Claire, who is 73, took up Aikido in her early 60s, and is about to test for her third-degree black belt. And while I could throw her around if I wanted to — she falls just fine — we were both more interested in learning how to move our partners by being relaxed and engaging our centers than we were in bouncing around.

When you’re working on that kind of training, you need a partner who will give you an honest, strong attack and who won’t fall if you try to muscle your way out of it. Claire and I were able to do that for each other.

That kind of training leads you to dealing with conflict — not just physical attacks, but the interactions with people in daily life, which are often complex and fraught with stress — in a way that doesn’t slam people into the ground either literally or figuratively. That’s what I’m looking for these days from my training.

To bring this discussion around to fiction and writing, that’s also why I get frustrated by a lot of action/adventure stories that revolve around a superstar who can kick a lot of ass. I’d much rather see a story about a martial arts master who solves the problem without ever lifting a hand.

I have been told that idea is not commercially viable. Perhaps it isn’t, but I’d like to think that Aikido ideas can contribute to changing the world for the better. To that end, I’m participating in a local seminar here in Austin next week in honor of International Aiki Peace Week. It’s set to correspond with the U.N. declared International Peace Day on Sept. 21.

Folks in the Austin area are welcome to come train with us, regardless of whether they’ve ever done any Aikido or other martial art or not. Details are available from Still Point Aikido Center, which is organizing the event. If Austin is a little far away for you, check the list of participating dojo on the International Aiki Peace Week roster. You might find something close by.

I’ll close with a story that I think reflects good Aikido. One of the guys at the seminar said he was walking down the street in Prescott, Arizona, and was accosted by a street preacher who demanded, “Do you know that Jesus loves you?”

“Yes,” the Aikido guy said.

His response left the preacher with nothing else to say.


Breaking WavesMy story “Emergency” is part of Breaking Waves, an anthology benefitting the Gulf Coast Oil Spill Fund. I also have two essays in the lastest Book View Cafe anthology, Brewing Fine Fiction.

My 51 flash fictions and a few other stories are available on Nancy Jane’s Bookshelf, and anthologies containing some of my stories are available through Powell’s. The free, chapter-by-chapter version of Changeling starts here. And check out my stories in the Book View Cafe anthologies The Shadow Conspiracy, Rocket Boy and the Geek Girls, and Dragon Lords and Warrior Women.

You can also read my latest story — “Or We Will All Hang Separately” — on Futurismic.



‘A Way to Reconcile the World’ — 7 Comments

  1. Yow! You need to look at this: http://www.slate.com/id/2267342/entry/2267343/

    It is part of a series on creative pairs (Rowan & Martin! Watson & Crick!) but this segment focuses on the dynamic between one of the great duos of our time, John Lennon and Paul McCartney. John was the leader and needed to be perceived as the leader, but Paul was able to manage him (and everything else) with such subtlety and dexterity that for years they were much greater than the sum of their parts. A great example of Not Using Force.

  2. Love the “Jesus Loves You” story.

    It occurs to me that some people are likely to see the sort of tactics you’re talking about–which are near and dear to my own management style–as sneaky, manipulative, or devious. They may in a sense be so, and yet dealing with a situation by defusing anger or taking a path around a potential land mine is not only more efficient, it preserves the relationship for later. (I have been thinking about this a lot, with a teenager in the house.)

    Ain’t nothin’ quite so straightforward and honest as a punch or a gunshot–look at the pleasure and amusement everyone in the audience feels when Indiana Jones shoots the Big Man with the Scimitar–but slugging someone or shooting them does somewhat impede the possibility of getting anything cooperation in the future.

  3. Personally I would love to read about any character who deals with conflict by “getting off the line” and redirecting it in clever ways. It would be unique, or at least uncommon, which is hard to do these days. Most of the best works in science fiction and fantasy were considered not “commercially viable” at some point. Tolkien and J.K. Rowling both had publishers telling them their books would never sell. It only takes one person to make a change.

    On a different note, I get the exact same reaction when I tell people I do Aikido. Sometimes people react with more fear than is reasonable, even after I’ve explained that Aikido is nonviolent (and explained how that works). Most people I’ve met have a pretty warped idea of what martial arts are about.

  4. You all are inspiring! I shall start contemplating the Great Aikido Novel.

    Mad, I think if the responses are done with the open heart and spirit Mary Heiny Sensei (one of the teachers I saw last weekend) talks about, they won’t be seen as manipulative or sneaky. But, of course, that’s hard to do — much easier to just punch someone in the nose.

  5. I love the Jesus story, and I’m going to steal that response for my next encounter with a street preacher. Nancy, please do write the Great Aikido Novel. Not only are stories that go from fight to fight to fight to Biggest Fight (for the climax) boring, but they also fail to provide us mere mortals with alternative models for living. I’m also one consumer who would love to read a novel/see a movie where the resolution isn’t to beat/blow up/stab/flame the bad guy(s).

  6. Nancy Jane–I agree. I was thinking in a larger sense, that American culture sees diplomacy, tact, finesse as “devious” sometimes, where a nice direct kick in the head is not only manly, it’s, um, direct.