Aikido: The Art of PeaceThere are two books on my desk at the moment. Two books that I will often just pick up for a brief glance through. These two books are full of insight and wisdom and can almost always get me thinking beyond whatever put me in the mood to need their insight and wisdom in the first place.
Those two books are: The War of Art by Steven Pressfield and The Art of Peace by Morihei Ueshiba (Translated into English by John Stevens.)
The first book is an inspiration for any writer. It talks about a force called “resistance” that prevents people from achieving their dreams, specifically creative dreams for an artist of some sort. Pressfield defines resistance as follows:
“Resistance cannot be seen, touched, heard, or smelled. But it can be felt. We experience it as an energy field radiating from a work-in-potential. It’s a repelling force. It’s negative. It’s aim is to shove us away, distract us, prevent us from doing our work.”
But not only that… he explains that resistance can be found in spouses, jobs, kids, and yet, it doesn’t come from the outside. It’s not an external force. He says:
“Resistance has no strength of its own. Every ounce of juice it possesses comes from us. We feed it with power by our fear of it. —Master that fear and we conquer Resistance.”
Now, if you’ve stuck with me through all this high-school-term-paper style quoting then let me promise, I’m getting to my point. If you’ve read my blog or even taken a peek at the category list, you might know or be able to guess that I ‘m a writer. (Or at the very least, a reader.) So I understand the concept of resistance really well. But it stretches beyond just creative endeavors. This resistance isn’t just writer’s block.
Some of you may know that I started studying Aikido when I was 13. I trained for 8 years and finally received my black belt. Aikido was something I felt was good for me, helped make me into a better person, and did wonders for stress relief. And even though I always felt amazing after class, totally relaxed and refreshed with a clear head, I would always try to convince myself that it would be alright to miss one class. I was constantly trying to prevent myself from going, even though I loved it so much.
The same is true with writing. That’s what I should be doing now, but here I am blogging about what I should be doing rather than doing it. However, the point remains that even though I love writing and enjoy it when its going well, I can talk myself out of it more easily than you can imagine. This is Resistance.
For the last four years, I was finishing up my bachelor’s degree at OU (ending with two 19 hour semesters), I was working unpredictable hours (often ranging from 2PM-11PM and then 10PM-6AM, the irregular graveyard shifts on weekends.) And I had moved away from home, putting a good 35-40 minute drive between me and my dojo. Well, long story – short, I fell out of the practice of attending Aikido classes. But I’d finally made it to black belt and achieved one goal I’d set for myself: I was the first girl to ever receive a black belt at my dojo. After that, it just seemed to come to an end. I chocked it up to being too busy to find the time. Admittedly, I was overwhelmed with homework and studying, writing my novel, and putting together a 100 page portfolio so I could meet the requirements to graduate.
But working those late nights alone, I’d find myself looking at Aikido videos on Youtube or reading articles about Aikido. I realized how much I really missed it. I would go so far as to link my writing with the influence Aikido had on me as an individual. Entering the world of Aikido at the age of 13 was like stepping out of a cushioned bubble and tripping over a pile of bricks (if that makes much sense.) Simply put: it was rather jarring and eye-opening.
I’d grown up two separate people – the person I was at home with my family, and the person I showed to others at school or in public. Others saw me as well-behaved, quiet, studious, etc. etc., and my parents would receive compliments that would make them ask, “Whose child did you have? You’re talking about my kid, right?” At home, I was something else entirely. I was loud, demanding, irritable, and often in trouble. My brothers and I were constantly trying to kill each other and having to be separated. In the case of my younger brother, he and I were literally physically pulled apart – wrestling is a calm, structured term for what we did.
So I’m sure my parents had to have reservations about allowing me to study martial arts. However, I truly believe that I learned and experienced a different kind of discipline there. I learned a different kind of respect. I came away from my years on the mats with a different perspective.
This often comes up in conversation at work. I’m only 5 foot 1 – not exactly “presence” in a bottle. I have to work to be noticed in some cases. In Aikido, this was a huge disadvantage for me. Not only was I on “midget setting” as they often told me, but I was female. Double Whammy!! In a beautiful world, decent men do not want to attack women. In a martial arts world, men still do not want to attack women even when they’re being instructed to do so, even when the woman is asking for it.
Aikido, for those of you who aren’t familiar, is a martial art that is based on harmonizing with your opponent. There are no offensive moves or techniques (except to allow us to practice the defense, of course.) There are no competitions, no sparring, no reason to judge yourself against others. It’s the “art of peace” and all about becoming one with one’s self, one’s surrounding, and the universe as a whole.
In Aikido, as with writing, you are meant to learn things about yourself you’d never seen before. I feel like a true writer when I ask myself if I could quit writing for the rest of my life. Because then I realize it would be impossible for me. Even if I never put another word down on paper, I will always be writing stories – even if that just means creating stories in the back of my mind and reciting them orally. And so, in that same way, I think Aikido became a part of me during those 8 years. I think it’s part of who I am even though I’m no longer doing it. I think it probably shaped me as an individual in ways I’ve never really thought to sit down and consider.
Just as a writer sits down and enters another world when they write… Bowing to our photograph of O’Sensei and stepping onto the mat was like entering another world or becoming a different person. I never felt as empowered as I did on the mats. I could believe myself capable of anything during those sessions. I had no doubt…
Until I left the mats. My confidence existed solely within the realm of that dojo. Once I left, I was a different person again. During Aikido, I felt more at ease with myself and others, my introversion peeled away to reveal some of that loud, hyperactive kid my parents had always known, and I felt this great sense of understanding – that the world was something greater, less pessimistic than I had convinced myself.
And so, as I look at these two books on my desk, I feel the urge to share this with everyone without really knowing how or how to make it relate to you. Aikido is mocked as a martial art. They say it’s a spiritual exercise but not a martial art. Writing is mocked as a profession. They say it’s a hobby but not a real career.
I think that they’re both art. The best writers don’t write for others, they write for themselves. A true martial artist does not train so they can kick someone else’s ass, they train so they can protect themselves. They don’t study to master someone else, they study to master themselves. It’s true of both writing and Aikido (and likely all martial arts). Both are an act of self-discovery. We’re not put here on this earth to become rich or powerful. We should be trying to make the world a better place.
Morihei Ueshiba, in his book, says:
“The Art of Peace begins with you. Work on yourself and your appointed task in the Art of Peace. Everyone has a spirit that can be refined, a body that can be trained in some manner, a suitable path to follow. You are here for no other purpose than to realize your inner divinity and manifest your inner enlightenment. Foster peace in your own life and then apply the Art to all that you encounter.”
Again, aimless random thoughts…
I may have had a point before I began writing, I might have had one in the middle, but I’m sure I lost it somewhere. Because in the end, I just wrote what I felt like saying. I’m sorry it didn’t really go anywhere.
Perhaps I’ll try to organize my thoughts better and expound on this another day.