“First we must forgive the partner”

Bjørn Eirik Olsen

For me aikido is a very social activity. I have never been much of a talker so maybe I have always lacked ways to express myself outside the tatamiAikido has given me a way to speak through the body. I have given this blog the under title “Aikido – a non verbal language”. At the time when I started this blog it was already a little bit out dated in relation to my own feelings for aikido. It is so much more than just a language. Even more so now, but the language analogy was what brought me into this track, and like I said, for me it has given me a way to communicate with people I otherwise never would have even met, and if I did, I would not even know how to start a conversation with them. We would have just passed each other by and I would have to go without all the valuable stuff I have received from them which enriches my life.

In our normal keiko we almost always have a training partner. We connect and study together. We explore different areas, discover new feelings and experience the practice from the two roles, uke and tori, alternating roles regularly. What kind of relationship we have with our partner decides where we will go, and how deep we will go in those areas. Depending on how safe we are with our partner we will either connect completely and let the partner all the way in, and at the same time be all the way into our partner’s body, or if we will merely go through the motions together.

Tai no tenkan on the road with Jorma in April 2013. Photo by Katarina Gullberg.

Tai no tenkan on the road with Jorma in April 2013. Photo by Katarina Gullberg.

Sometimes we have a very competing relationship with our partner. It is so easy to  be trapped into engaging in power play games and competition with our partner, however subtle. Like the competition about who is senior and who is junior in the partner relationship; who will be teaching the other and who should listen to what the other has to say. Already before the actual training starts we can have a very difficult starting point by having prejudged the partner either by stories we have heard from others, or a prior experience with this partner. It is so easy to start comparing experience levels. The ego wants us to express our way to them and do not want us to listen to them. If we are not in control of our ego, we are doomed to very superficial practice in this case.

If we know our partner and feel safe with our partner, we can talk about anything, or almost anything, and it is the same with the keiko. If there is a problem, we acknowledge the problem, we admit without reluctance that there is a problem and that we might have made a mistake, or something that is even more difficult for us to admit or accept maybe: that we are having a problem with our body and mind altogether. It might be a trauma from our past or a remnant from a prior injury. When we have realized and admitted to the partner, that there is a problem we can start solving it.

On the other hand if we experience the same problem with somebody we feel is somewhat hostile or a competitor, we will do our best to avoid the situation where the problem occurs, doing our best to hide the problem from the partner. If the partner should chance upon and reveal our problem we would get scared or angry, or have a destructive combination of those two emotions.

We do not compete in aikido. That is at least the official statement. However, we do compete, all the time! We all have an ego. We all want to be a winner one way or the other, deep inside. I always try to be conscious about my inner feelings. I do not want to compete with my partner no matter what happens. One of these subtle competitions, or power play games, that I mentioned before are the junior/senior competition happening when we meet somebody of a somewhat similar level of experience. Maybe one has been doing more years of practice and the other more hours on the tatami during fewer years. Maybe the experience levels are different on different parts of the art. Maybe one is very familiar with the teacher teaching the particular class where the situation is happening. It is so easy to start comparing experience levels to decide in our heads who is senior and who is junior? Who will need help and the courtesy from the partner and who can do it anyway? Who will have the opportunity to feeding his/her ego some snacks by giving tips and pointers to his/her partner, and vice versa who will submit to have his/her ego receive a whipping by having to receiving instructions from somebody who we deem less skilled than ourselves?

Tai no tenkan with Charlotte on a road trip with Jorma in March 2013. Photo by Alexander Minidis.

Tai no tenkan with Charlotte on a road trip with Jorma in March 2013. Photo by Alexander Minidis.

During this very destructive competition it is so easy to arrive at the point where we disconnect from our partner and take away the satisfaction of throwing. I must admit having done it a thousand times myself to a greater or smaller degree when my partner has been pissing me off. You know, doing the fall on our own, in our own time, leaving no doubt to the partner that he/she is not good enough to really throw us without our full cooperation. I believe it is just as bad as blocking, in reality it is blocking! Actually it is even worse because we are blocking and preventing the partner from solving the block. This is actually a fundamental truth in the keiko, and the way we do our training: we NEED our partner’s cooperation to do these things, not just some of us, but ALL of us! We are after all not doing street fighting techniques. However, it is very rude, mean, almost malicious and evil to scream it in the face of somebody like that during the training. I have seen people break into tears from this. Needless to say maybe, but I feel deeply ashamed over having done this, but I know I will do it again, and again, and again when I loose my temper.

We have all trained different amount of years, different hours of tatami time during those years. We all have different life situations. We have different levels of our daily teachers. We have different talents. We are so easily trapped into starting to compare experience levels with our partner if our relationship to our partner is not good. The partner should be a dear friend. He/she is there to help us develop, and inevitably they will develop as well. We should fill in the blanks for each other, like people playing music together in a band. Where one is lacking the other is covering it up with their parts. There will always be enough of those partners who will challenge us to keep our cool, challenge us in the traditional sense of the word, competing with us about who is the better martial artist.

The same goes for our relationship to our teachers. There is maybe no competition about who is junior and who is senior, but do you dare to expose yourself? To show your problems so he/she can fix it? I am lucky enough to have a teacher who likes to practice as much as I do. In addition to being my teacher he is my most frequent training partner and one of my best friends, also outside the tatami. With this relation I feel safe to go where I otherwise would feel threatened. I can explore my worst difficulties in a calm and comfortable way.

Every partner we have will help us with a different thing. I have written quite a lot about the relationship to the partner so far in this post, but just as much the partner himself/herself will determine just where we will focus our practice. In our daily keiko we do a special warming up exercise with our partner, leading the partner to sit down. I swear that every single one of my daily partners touches a different part of my body when we are doing it, and they are all physically connected palms to wrists, with ryote dori. Some touch different parts of the shoulders, some are in my hips, some in my tail bone, some in the shoulder blades. The same goes for the emotional parts. They are all different, and I feel that I need them all. If one is absent from the keiko for a period of time, when they return and touch that neglected part I always giggle and burst out: “Oh my! I have missed you!” The same goes for the rest of the practice. Each partner help me develop in a different area.

Lately I have been thinking a lot about opening the joints. I think of each joint as a gate. If f the joint is tense, the gates are closed. If I am able to remove the tension the energy will flow through. When all the gates are open I will have access to my partner’s body and my partner will have access to mine. The closer relationship we have the easier this process becomes, because both of us feel safe.

I am not the only one with problems in my body though. There are partners with injuries and partners with blocks similar to my own, but in different parts. So we can all develop by helping a partner solve their problem. To heal the injury, melt a block in a muscle or wake up a sleeping part. Without our partner we would be lost. The partner shows us what is invisible when we are alone. We need our partners. My partners are my very best friends. I can’t imagine life without them.

Keiko at Vanadis during the seminar with Endo sensei in Stockholm. Photo by David Ellard.

Keiko with Glenn at Vanadis during the seminar with Endo sensei in Stockholm, February 2013. Photo by David Ellard.

I know that it is a quite common idea that some techniques should involve pain or discomfort for the partner. According to this logic we should be able to cause more pain the higher level we achieve. I actually believe that the techniques should ideally be pain free, and the higher level we have the more we should be able to ensure the safety, comfort and wellbeing of our partner. If we are practising with our child, out mother, our lover: would we wish to hurt them? For me pain is something we should try to avoid altogether in our lives, I believe it is the same for the keiko. At least this is how I feel. I wish only joy, good feelings and happiness for my training partners.

Sometimes we have conflicts in the aikido world as well as the rest of the world. This is the way nature works it seems. The struggle to survive. People have a way of fighting for positions and power, and bring politics into everything. Still, if we would be doing keiko together instead of talking, or avoid going to the training here and there because of this and that, I strongly believe many of the conflicts could have been avoided. The keiko closes the gap between two persons by building bridges across the void that exists between strangers. However, sometimes the conflicts have developed so far that it is impossible for those individuals to do keiko together without ending up with the power play and competition I mentioned earlier.

To do aiki we first have to forgive the partner and truly and sincerely only wish good for him/her. Aiki can’t be used as a way to seek revenge or try to punish somebody. If our intentions are not pure it will backfire. It goes both for what we do on the tatami or in life in general, I think.

The seminar with Dirk at Vanadis Aikidoklubb, April 2013. Photo by Jacqueline Von Arb

The seminar with Dirk at Vanadis Aikidoklubb, April 2013. Photo by Jacqueline Von Arb.

Take care of your training partners! Enjoy your keiko! Aiki make people happy!