Unification Preventing Violence

Aikido Principles Applied to the World

Hmmm ... some of this essay might sound strange to anyone unfamiliar with Aikido or the Martial Arts. Let me at least say this: I am convinced the aikido lessons I learned (as listed below) are a fundamental part of the nature of reality. They are intertwined with and are a part of Jesus' teachings, with the Buddha's teachings, and the teachings of many other religious figures. These principles work, and we need to learn from them -- in whatever guise we hear them.

Aikido's View of Unification

Aikido has been called a path of reconciliation. The aiki of "aikido" can be translated to mean "harmonious energy" or "harmonious intentions/mentality." Ideal aikido is all about bringing about peace ... and also unity. What do I mean by unity? Here are some concrete examples from various aikido teachings:

  1. You must unify all the parts of your body to be part of one whole. This way, when you throw an attacker, you are taking advantage of your entire body's momentum and stability in the throw -- or, if you are attacked, you have all your body's stability aiding the part being attacked. Any part that is "separated" from the other parts is a liability if you are attacked.
  2. You need to unify your mind with your body. The mind must lead the body. Without unity between mind and body, action becomes ineffective or weak.
  3. You must unite your approximate center of mass ("one point" or "centrum") with your attacker's center of mass. It isn't until you are "connected" with your opponent's center that you can gracefully move your attacker's center, and hence move your attacker. I have experienced this -- the moment I knew I was connected to the other's center, I could move that person gracefully, but not before. (You COULD move them by sheer brute force, but that automatically pisses the other person off AND gives them something concrete to fight against. It is hardly "graceful," and you need the physical strength to overwhelm the other.)
  4. You must unite your mind/intentions with the Universe. It is said the Universe is harmonious; anyone who seeks to attack another person has already cut himself off from the Universe (and is also hence in a weaker state). It is said that someone who is truly at one with the Universe has no openings (no "suki") and is not vulnerable to attack -- and conversely has no desire to attack others, as he is overflowing with compassion and the desire to help instead. To me, this enables me to rephrase the word "Universe" as "God's will." Seek to be a unified part of God's will.
Perhaps the finest aikido example of these principles in action is, and remains, aikidoka Terry Dobson's story of how a little old man brought peace to a violent drunkard's soul simply by talking with the drunkard, completely bypassing Dobson's more militant desire to physically bring down the drunkard with aikido techniques. The little old man, purely by extending compassion, demonstrated the heart of real aikido.

You, Me, Others, and the World

Recently I read this article on the September 11th, 2001 terrorist attack: "Where Does Violence Come From?" (written by Rabbi Michael Lerner of TIKKUN Magazine). It struck a chord in me because, in part, I see parallels with these aikido principles.

I think this excerpt sums up the author's intention pretty well: "It is true to say, but not enough, that the current violence is a reflection of our estrangement from God. More precisely, it is the way we fail to respond to each other as embodiments of the sacred." He goes on to discuss how some people (such as we Americans, who have immense wealth and resources) feel disconnected from and not responsible for the poor, the starving, and the suffering people throughout the world. From an aikido view, we can see that such a global disconnect is analogous to having part of your body be separate from the rest. Even if many of these economic and social disparities are unintentional, this kind of separation can be seen (in martial arts terms) as a large weakness or opening for attack and/or illness. So, these separations can be condiered weaknesses or "openings" that lead to suffering, reactions of hatred, and other such ills that eventually lead to violence.

Although it is much better to extend compassion and melt away frustration before violence occurs (as in Dobson's story), without that compassionate intervention, situations can easily deteriorate to the point where, in my opinion, violence actually becomes unavoidable, and then frequently only more violence is available as a response. What we need instead, then, is preventative aiki ... the harmonious meeting of minds, the overflowing of compassion and understanding.

Supposing we worked against separation and that we acted in a unified manner? Networks of people unified in a common goal, such as many charities, have already shown their ability to change lives and reduce suffering. Each member brings in his or her own expertise and energy, and the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. Like the aikidoka who can sit at peace through great physical pressure because all the parts of her body are simply redirecting the pressure to the ground, or the aikidoka who can break free of a grab because his body acts as a fluid whole around the point of attack, a unified group of people has immense power and flexibility in the face of daunting odds and impossibilities.

But, unification just with each other is not enough, for then if the leadership goes astray, the whole body of people goes astray -- as we see with the terrorists.

So lastly, we come to the other telling line from the rabbi's article, this phrase: "the current violence is a reflection of our estrangement from God." That is in direct contrast the fourth aikido principle I wrote above: Unifying yourself with the Universe (a.k.a. God's will). According to aikido, the will of the Universe (God) is peaceful, compassionate, and reconciliatory. If we were better at uniting with that will and tuning out things that don't match the criteria, then we would be better at seeing others with compassion and viewing ourselves with humility.

Unified with the Universe/God's will and each other, we would have the ability to change the world radically -- for the better.

Ideas for Applying the Principles in Daily Life

I wrote these up as concrete, daily-life ideas for improving our connection within ourselves, with others, and with God.

For oneself:

From all corners of the world (religion, aikido, business management, even psychotherapy) I hear the same approximate steps that can help a person relax and reconnect with himself and God. Here is my understanding of the steps:

  1. let go your worries, stop dwelling on your suffering
  2. seek mental peace, relax the mind and body, dwell on positive and awe-inspiring thoughts,
  3. pray sincerely and honestly; view your "enemies" with compassion ("love your enemies"), forgive, seek to understand, focus on loving-kindness; desire to make God's will your will; seek the highest Good.
  4. act appropriately and confidently; never accept hateful, selfish, or mean-spirited solutions to problems; seek instead solutions that benefit everyone in some way.
  5. have faith!

Your Job

Of the problems plaguing this world, an individual cannot possibly hope to address them all; one person can usually only do one or two jobs whole-heartedly in any given day. Yet, I believe the issues are intertwined and inter-related: the world is connected, even if our hearts are not (though arguably they should be). The analogy of the human body holds: if the liver goes bad, other organs start to fail. Hence, a job done poorly or well may eventually impact the rest of the world.

If a job feels wrong, odds are you're not performing up to par and things need to change. Perhaps it's time to use one of several aikido techniques: Change your mind, change others' minds, or get out of the way. A change in attitude can turn a job from hell into heaven, whether immediately or through the changes that result from a new attitude or idea. A change of heart in those around you also can completely change the work atmosphere -- though this usually requires a change in one's own mind first, since you can't force others to change. Likewise, sometimes it's just time to get out and move on -- seeking a different job that calls more clearly to your heart. (Of course, where parenthood is concerned, the latter option is not really available, so it must come back to the first two.)

When you do what you love, keeping in mind the need to be connected to the Universe and to others, odds are the fruit of your labor will be good. And the rest of us must also keep in mind that every honest job is valuable -- from garbage collecting to child rearing to writing novels to doing theoretical physics -- we are not to judge personal worth this way.

Reaching Out

So many of the world's problems are where people are suffering -- but because of nasty politics, bad conditions, or ingrained social rules, the situation is so unpleasant no one wants to step in and help. Situations in need of light and healing are not limited to foreign countries. Inner cities, prisons,
slaughterhouses, schools, your office, even that ramshackle house just down the block -- all these places might benefit from help, even if we at first have no idea how to help.

Perhaps people tried to help and were driven away or even killed. So people feel helpless and hence do nothing. Some people are in denial about the problems. Others are wrapped up in their own lives and don't even notice a problem.

These things are bound to happen, and aren't always preventable, but the more we allow fragmentation like this, the more we are allowing openings for strife and more suffering. The very least we can do is keep our eyes and ears open for the evidence of suffering, and then stop, pray, and listen quietly and see if we are prompted to do something more -- donate money to a reputable charity, change our personal spending habits, write to Congress, volunteer with an organization ... or perhaps even get up and go take action directly: stop by and say hello to the lonely man, give the shivering woman a coat, maybe even adopt that starving child.

And remember -- to help, we must seek first to understand. If we try to impose our own solutions on others, likely we will meet with resistance, bitterness, and failure. We can't afford to shove things down others' throats, not at this crucial juncture. We wouldn't want that for ourselves. Now is the time to do unto others as we would have them do unto us.

The last thing we should do is turn a completely blind eye and pretend it's someone else's problem. In the long run, all problems link back to us through both cause and effect, and we shall reap what we have sown.

Aikido Messages: Reactions to Sept. 11

Thoughts on Sept. 11: Parallels with Pearl Harbor. A call for more understanding on all sides.

Main Spirituality Page