Journeys available through practice

Generally we come to the martial arts because we are in fear and/or we want to play out overcoming our fears in the way that we did when we played Cowboys and Indians in the playground. On coming into contact with a martial art we have become impressed by the forms used and the people who perform them and we want to be able to do the same. We think this will make us feel more powerful and less scared of the shadowy figures in our imagination.

As we practise we play out our conflicts with our practice partners. We tend to find ones who want to do things in the same way as us, to experience the techniques to the same level as ourselves and they are generally people we can get on with. We, perhaps, make friends. Meanwhile they and we create attacks on each other and attempt to deal with those attacks in ways that we can justify to ourselves and our sense of who we think we are and what we think we stand for.

If we become aware of the ‘internal’ aspect of the martial arts and an appropriate practice is available to us we may gain the opportunity to turn inside ourselves and reflect on the conflicts that are occurring there. These opportunities arise when we can observe issues such as:

If what I am doing is about love then why am I having to cause so much pain?

Am I getting injured more in my practice than I would do if I was attacked the average amount of times in real life?

Who am I to judge the level of violence that is justifiable to use on another person?

If there is not meant to be a winner or a loser how come I feel so frustrated when I can’t throw my partner to the floor?

How is it that this teacher talks about peace and love yet everyone is scared of him?

What makes the answer to violence and conflict more or greater violence and conflict?

At this point I feel we can do a number of different things:

We can stop practising. Perhaps we have achieved what we set out to do and we understand the dynamics of conflict enough to be able to navigate them and feel confident in our survival. This could even be because our world view has changed and we do not experience the same levels of anxiety as we did. We are happier!

We can go back to feeling the need to be fearful and push ourselves into having to be even more effective at overcoming even more powerful adversaries. Resetting our targets to continue experiencing the benefits we have felt that we have gained. Maintaining the struggle rather than arriving or letting go perhaps?

We can go back to believing that all this will be resolved by continuing to practise in the same way and carry on enjoying the group dynamic of a club and practice. Allowing our instructors to be responsible for guiding our path and waiting for them to deliver answers we can accept. (This has been a personal favourite!)

Where I feel I am now however, is at the place where we can if we choose turn inside and look at the conflicts within ourselves. See if the ways of dealing with conflict we have nurtured work on the conflicts inside ourselves. What is the difference I feel when I stop trying to overpower my children and start to share in their experience and add to it through my own participation? Here I find the same phenomenon which occurs in good practice in the dojo. Both parties are happy and feel the uplifting energy produced by harmonious, creative practices. Now the conflicts are starting to be owned and experienced internally, in ourselves. Becoming conscious of the journey through them allows us to employ beneficially the principles we have formulated in our practice, and consequently the internal experience informs and affects what we then look for in our practice.

I feel this offers us the chance to deal with the hypocrisies that we created in our own actions before we need to address those in others. Indeed addressing another’s faults is perhaps only a way of avoiding our own. It is comforting to experience how the irritation we feel at another’s actions is diminished when we balance ourselves better.

I believe this to be the true nature of the internal martial arts and especially Aikido. Not the ‘imposition’ of harmony on others but the opportunity for harmony to spread through our own active quest for it.

I wonder if this is a reflection of the ‘cleansing ascetic’ practices that the biographers of spiritual leaders and followers would have us perform. If so could it be that the carrying out of the ‘play’ again allows us to avoid performing the real cleansing. But perhaps it does afford the opportunity to internally cleanse at varying levels that are acceptable to us at that time. However the real way is through the honest practice and the experiences it brings. These give us the opportunity to avoid the pitfalls of hypocrisy and attempt the furtherance of understanding.

We do not need to defend people from dangerous others, we need to defend them from ourselves!

Bob Sherrington


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