Archive for April, 2009

My Aikido history (part 1)

Tuesday, April 28th, 2009


While I was in high school in Winnipeg, I started to learn about the existence of Aikido. I don’t remember the first time I heard the word but I do remember the sensation that I kept hearing about it in different contexts.

One of the first mentions was in a book my mother had about conflict resolution that described an Aikido model for handling interpersonal conflicts. I now recognize that this model originated with Terry Dobson. I had not yet learned to be appropriately skeptical of fantastic claims, and the magic that was described was very appealing to me. All that was required was practice to effortlessly neutralize aggression. Using the Aikido for conflict resolution involved three steps: observe the energy of the attack, blend with the attack and redirect the attack. From the perspective of years of training, I now see the model as faulty in that Aikido techniques are ineffective if one passively waits for the attack. I still believe that it is possible to practically apply Aikido for conflict resolution, but it involves awareness long before as attack is formulated and the ability to take control before the attack becomes critical. People that are most effective in peacemaking have a loving but dominating spirit that can bend weaker minded people into self defeating aggression, not controlling the violence once it has begun.

Another early contact with Aikido was a yoga class taught at a Unitarian-Universalist youth event at Banff, Alberta. I have very clear memories of this class that took place in a linoleum floored room in the youth hostel where we were staying. The teacher showed several amazing things including standing on a step with legs straight and palming the floor of the step below. She also talked about Aikido, which she didn’t know well. She demonstrated tenkan from a slow tsuki and I can remember the surprised smile on her partner’s face as the yoga teacher escaped the attack and lead her partner in a circle. Although I didn’t formulate it into words at the time, I saw the potential for effectiveness, but more importantly the fun in this brief demonstration.

There was at least a year between this yoga class and the first opportunity to train. During this time a started to seek information about Aikido. This is before the Internet and the only places to find out more were bookstores and libraries. In Prairie Sky Books, a little new age bookstore, I found a book that I haven’t seen since. I now regret not buying it, but I never had much money at the time because I was so allergic to work. I showed mostly basic techniques, but I remember clearly a tanto-tori koshinage or aiki-otoshi that involved ducking under the knife attack. I am now convinced that the reason that I have never seen it since was because it is completely impractical. The downtown library had two books by John Stevens Abundant Peace and Aikido, The way of harmony. These books cemented my then understanding of a pacifist martial art. Violence could be solved without using violence in return and all conflict could end in a master controlling but not damaging the attacker. With enough training one would become enlightened and in this enlightened state the master becomes impervious to attack. When I look back on this now, I see a completely naive view of Aikido.

I would not have been able to admit it at the time, but I was excited by the fantasy of becoming a superhero where no one would be able to defeat. I was nonathletic, very thin and shy with a history of being bullied in elementary school. The superhero fantasy of a weak teenager is in part a sexual fantasy, the capability of dominating other men/boys being so connected to the concept of sexual potency. This sexual aspect of Aikido that is rarely discussed, but significant (in an unconscious way) to my interest.

There was no Aikido in Winnipeg at that time, so I would have to wait until I moved to Atlanta before I could start.