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Beware the beast of man
For he’s the devils pawn
Alone among god’s primates
He kills for sport, lust or greed

Michael Amott – Beast of Man

It was an early morning on the metro in Stockholm. Most people were on their way to work, one person was on his way home from a party, or something. Even though the metro car was totally crowded and many didn’t have seats this person had an area totally to himself. He was yelling at everybody in his vicinity. He was a huge man, he smelled strongly of booze and had a can of beer (the cheap and strong kind) in one of his insanely huge mitts. The other arm he frequently used to hit himself on the chest, like a gorilla expressing his dominance, and holding it up to threaten those which he saw fit to threaten.

After a while I understood that all he wanted was for someone to let him know when the metro had arrived at his destination, which by then was only a few stops ahead. I immediately assured him that I would let him know when we were there, and for the first time the metro car was totally silent. So silent that a woman with two kids on her way to the kindergarden took the seats next to this person for the last part of the journey! On his way out the door he stopped in front of me obviously awkward and placed his tightened fist the size of my head gently on my cheek in a manner which transferred more emotion and gratefulness than most hugs I have received. I believe that it was his way of saying thanks for letting him know where to get off the metro.

Are we in control of our own ego?

The Hulk is not the only one having problems controlling his ego

We are all human. When we feel threatened we try to protect ourselves. The person in the metro was obviously embarrassed that he was in a condition where he was not able to recognize his own home station. Even showing gratefulness for the help would be a sign of weakness in his world, but still he did it though, in his own special very masculine way.

People who have problems with falling are naturally afraid to fall during the keiko and therefore tries to escape the throw instead of enjoying it. Likewise, a person who knows that his/her skills in the English language are insufficient for conversation becomes angry when offered to speak to an English language person in a telephone support service. When we feel uncomfortable because somebody are about to reveal something we are not skilled at we are acting without being in control ourselves.

In aikido we try to remove such fears. If we fear that we might fail we will certainly not succeed. On the flip side we would also fail if we try too hard, which also lets the the ego control our actions. I believe that to work on the ego we should start by being conscious about what we do, and why we do those things. Things like stamping the feet with frustration, smacking the tatami hard (harder than natural according to the throw tori is doing) to express our dominance, showing facial expressions or making gestures which are saying things to the partner we know it is wrong to say, however since we don’t say it with words we think it is OK.

I started getting interested in studying ego when I was an instructor in Trondheim. When I was standing in front of people it became important for me to present clearly what I wish to transmit without risking boosting my ego in the process. A side effect of my attempts to countering the ego has caused me to overdo some things. I have usually forced all my partners to be tori first, or I ridicule myself on purpose, grabbing to be uke again after 3 if I am at all in doubt. The intention being to be perceived as a joke rather than an arrogant person, because THAT is in reality what I fear most of all.

Being uke for a tulip in Berlin, April 2013. Photo by Katarina Gullberg.

Being uke for a tulip in Berlin, April 2013. Photo by Katarina Gullberg.

It is also interesting to see where the ego controls us outside the dojo. What are our real intentions behind what we post on Facebook or even what I write in this blog! It was originally meant as an extension of my notebook, which it certainly also is, but it is also a way to brag about my own thoughts to others. I should at least be honest with myself about my intentions, then I have the possibility to be honest with others.

We are hopefully all trying to do what we feel is right. What are the drive to do good deeds? Is it also an egoistical way of gaining other’s good will which will serve us in the future? Even if we do something which nobody will ever know it gives a good feeling inside. Is the ego controlling us in this case as well? Are we doing it only for ourselves after all? What is a good deed in reality? The spiral goes ever on.

Aylesbury May 2011. Just doing something is a quite interesting concept. Photo by David Ellard.

Seminar with Jorma in Aylesbury, May 2011. Photo by David Ellard.

I focus my keiko on my ego when I meet “difficult training partners” on the tatami. Maybe the partner is letting go and starting to talk, preventing normal keiko to proceed. It is no longer possible, at least at my current level, to do a normal physical training or repeat any forms shown by the instructor. However, it is still possible to use the opportunity to observe our own feelings when different things happen to us. Still persisting on studying aiki in silence even if the partner has no interest at all doing his/her part.

One of the things I am mainly seeking in my study is total freedom. To gain more freedom it probably is a good start to first identify what makes us unfree. In life everything becomes very fast complicated. Things have consequences and studying often becomes very difficult. However, in the dojo we have our laboratory where we can try different things and if it does not work we can always keep searching.

I have almost always added this to my posts even though it has no place in a notebook. I continue to write it nonetheless: Enjoy your keiko! Aikido make people happy!