Off-the-Mat Aikido

Aiki Extensions

The Way of a Warrior is based on humanity, love, and sincerity; the heart of martial valor is true bravery, wisdom, love, and friendship. Emphasis on the physical aspects of warriorship is futile, for the power of the body is always limited.

                               — Morihei Ueshiba, O Sensei, the founder of Aikido, translated by John Stevens

I spent last weekend at the Aiki Extensions conference, which was held at Sofia University in Palo Alto, California. Aiki Extensions is an organization of Aikido practitioners interested in taking principles off the mat and into the larger world.

I went to present my ideas on self defense. My goal is to teach the awareness and confidence that come naturally to people who train in martial arts — particularly in Aikido — to others who want to be safe but are not interested in martial arts. Not only did I get support and ideas for my project from my fellow Aikidoists, but I also got to go to many other presentations and learn what other people are doing out in the world.

But the best part was that I got to spend a weekend hanging out with Aikido folks both on and off the mat. Living in an Aikido-centered world, even for just a couple of days, was very rewarding.

One of the reasons I like hanging out with other Aikido people is that I don’t have to explain the meaning of the quote from O Sensei with which I opened this post. The Aikido way of the warrior is not about being the toughest one in the room, though most of us who train have at one time or another wanted to be that badass superhero. You get over it and learn how to act with compassion and love while dealing with the conflicts of the world.

And the people who came to the Aiki Extensions conference are those who believe that applying the principles of Aikido — taking compassionate action in the world — will improve both the world and the human race. I often say that we human beings aren’t civilized yet. Most Aikidoists I know agree with that, but most of us are also optimistic that we will reach that point eventually.

It’s good to spend time with people who share your values and want to explore new ideas. While I want to share what I’ve learned in Aikido with others — and to be exposed to what they’ve learned from their own paths — it’s nice to have those times when you don’t have to explain your underlying assumptions to the people you’re talking to.

I bought a book by Linda Holiday Sensei, Journey to the Heart of Aikido: The Teachings of Motoichi Anno Sensei. I got to train with Jamie Zimron Sensei, who also teaches golf. I learned how Winfried Wagner Sensei, who is also a psychotherapist, uses sword training work with his patients. I was exposed to the ideas of Paul Linden Sensei on how people’s stress reactions affect their bodies and therefore their minds and their actions.

And I was particularly taken with an observation from Brandon Williamscraig, who is teaching martial nonviolence among other things: “Peace is conflict done well.”

Or as O Sensei said of Aikido: “A way to reconcile the world.”

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Off-the-Mat Aikido — 8 Comments

  1. It is amazing what physical skill and sports can do for confidence and self-possession. It is what reconciles me to sports programs in schools, which are so often riddled with pernicious practices.

    • I’d love to see Aikido taught in schools. It would be a cure for some of those pernicious practices of which you speak, because Aikido doesn’t have tournaments. You don’t train for the purpose of competition; you just train. It’s a good thing to learn.

      My friend Charles Colten runs a program of Aikido in the schools in NYC. It could be done elsewhere.

      • Alas, tournaments (and the attendant awards/prizes) are what attracts parents, the people with the dollars. The state of the schools is such that anything that doesn’t have vehement parent support is unlikely to survive.

        • Charles gets nonprofit funding through Aiki Extensions for his program. There must be parents who would like to encourage similar things. I know some teachers in DC who would be perfect for a high school program, too, but they need someone to do the fundraising, etc.

          • I am remembering my daughter on crew, which is not a high school sport in the area. Which means it got no $ from the schools or the county. It did not slow down competitive and affluent parents in the DC region at all. We did fundraisers. We paid huge fees. We ran concessions during regattas. We stood on muddy shorelines in heavy drizzles as our offspring whizzed by in 3.3 seconds.
            It was worth it all, to see goddess-like gangs of Amazons descending upon the rivers.

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