There is another way.
Recently, I was introducing Aikido to a student who came to try out the Kids Aikido class. While practicing our basic tai no henko, he looked at me and asked, “and then do you break their arm?”
He was not joking, nor did he show any hint of malice. It’s not that he wanted to see an arm broken, it just seemed to him the logical next step in that situation.
The boy is not unusual in this. Another student trying Aikido for the first time last week, this one an adult, saw an opportunity to punch for the face during a similar exercise. Instinctually she felt the urge to strike, but did nothing to address the fact that uke had a controlling grasp on her arm.
Aikido is rooted in the belief that there are no winners in a physical fight. If I punch your face or break your arm I may “win” the fight, but we both lose. By any measure, physically, emotionally, spiritually, I come away with some damages. You come away with more damages. Our next encounter is not likely to be constructive.
It isn’t just that using force damages your opponent and ultimately yourself. In many cases, this emotion-driven reaction is not even effective. It’s not likely the child would break the arm of someone much larger and in trying, he’d lose a valuable opportunity to throw off an attacker and escape. The woman would have landed a pretty good punch to the face, but the person holding her arm could take her down before she had a chance to punch again.
There is also a larger picture. The vast majority of all conflict is not physical. Even if we look solely at physical confrontation, the vast majority of that comes from someone you know, not a stranger. The person initiating physical contact is more likely to be confused, frightened, or upset than to actually mean you harm. While true threats to your personal safety can and do exist, the vast majority of physical confrontations simply aren’t that. If you aren’t prepared to respond to a range of possible conflicts, you aren’t prepared.
Using force and escalating tension is instinctual. How often do you find yourself trying to force a technique on the mat? Or feeling anger or frustration well up? Even when we know better, it is not always easy to see the right path. The path to destruction is pretty direct. The path of creation, of constructive action, usually takes discipline and focused action over time. People tend to revert to what’s easy.
The world has plenty of destroyers. We don’t need any more. What we need is more builders.
Thank you for being a builder.
“If you learn to control the universal elements within the human heart, you can respond according to the principles of water and fire, yin and yang, when an enemy attacks.”
– O Sensei from the book BUDO Teachings of the Founder of Aikido