I am working as a receptionist at a dental clinic, and during a normal day at work I often encounter conflicts where I am stuck in between the wishes of the clinic and the dentists on one side and the patients on the other side. Of course the clinic wishes only the best for the patients, but we need to consider also the other patients when dealing with one particular patient, so for example we can’t reserve time to help one person with all the problems which he/she has waited with solving during several years on the first visit. So the rules of the clinic are my restrictions, my kata which I am performing, the patients are my partners, and I am tori trying to make the best possible harmony of the whole thing. I have contact with the patients both on the phone and in the reception of the clinic. 90 percent of the time I am performing routine tasks like booking times and facilitating the payments. Even during these rather trouble free procedures I find there is a lot of aikido related things going in the situation and I try to learn from the experience and use my findings from the tamami to make the whole experience more smooth.
This blog started out as the idea of exploring aikido as a non verbal language, and using the idea of inserting restrictions in the practice to purposefully limit our freedom to focus on specific problems. I started writing an article about five years ago, but never finished it, because there came more and more ideas I wanted to include, so eventually this evolved into this blog.
For me it is really facinating how aikido exists everywhere, and how we can use the principles we are practicing in the dojo, where we are not speaking at all to our partner, to evolve ways to make harmony with a person over the phone, where all physical contact is non existent.
I have experienced that conflicts very often starts with a problem with the communication between the parts. The parts assume what the other is thinking based on their own prejudice. In all forms of exchange we are giving something and receiving something. If we feel that what we are giving is of higher value than the value of that which we are receiving we will feel mistreated. Sometimes, due to the lack of communication and because we don’t have enough information about the subject (and because we are not aware enough about the processes happening inside ourselves) we are receiving something with a much higher value than we are aware of. We feel violated by the other part. If this happens to both parts during the same exchange we have a very serious conflict already, even though there might be no outer reason for the conflict.
I belive we all have experienced bumping a knee into a table (or something else) at home, and getting annoyed because we got hurt. Still, the table does what the table does, it just stands there, exactly where you (or sombebody else) put it. We knew that the table were there, and still we walked into it and got hurt. So we get angry at the table, right? The little frustrations are adding up inside our mind, and when we bump into the table everything explodes and we get angry at the “evil table” allthough our own unawareness of the body caused us bump into it in the first place, and our unawareness of our mind let the other things build up our anger blinding us so that we bumped into something we knew were ther all along.
If this happens with a person it is more difficult to see that it was caused only by ourselves and not by the other part. Sometimes this is how two people meet. Blaming each other for the misery they experience in their lives, being each other’s “evil tables”
In aikido the exchange can be a lot of things, just as in life. I believe we can use aikido as a laboratory and playground to investigate exchange and communication during a constructed conflict. For the exchange to happen there needs to be communication. That would be the receiving and giving part. Without the language, without communication, the exchange can’t happen. It could be an exchange of positions or of balance. For everything we give we expect something equally vauluable back. I believe there should be a balanced exchange between tori and uke. Nobody should be the victim getting the dirty end of the stick.
Everything we do, the partner can also do. This is a very simple truth I find extremely easy to forget. If we strike, the partner can return the strike. If we try to change the angle, to a so called “superior angle” so that we can strike and the partner can’t strike, the partner, if he/she is not sleeping, will also change positions because he/she does not accept this exchange. This means that the angle we tried to achieve did not happen. Or if we try to find a position where we have leverage on the partner’s joints, if the partner is aware, he/she will not accept this and will start fighting us to prevent us from making that movement.
At this point we have already failed. Our conclict has turned into a war. We are fighting the partner. We tried to get the upper hand on the partner, and naturally the partner would not accept those terms. The exchange was unfair so naturally he/she will do all he/she can to prevent us from doing what we are doing. If we speed up, the partner speeds up. If we use more strenght the partner uses more strength, if we try to trick the partner the partner will know by the second time, and so it goes on. By trying to make an exchange which is not fair to the partner we are violating the Universe. Even if we should be victorious in the fight with our partner we have still failed in finding a peaceful solution to the problem we started out with, as friends, trying to solve.
Maybe with athletisism, and physical attributes like strength, speed and longer strike range, we might beat the partner, we might also dominate a person physically in a fight, but if it gets to a fight, even a subtle one, we have taken several steps in the wrong direction, I think. I believe that every exchange should be a fair one, not leaving any part as a victim and the other as a oppressor. Otherwise we are just another bad guy with a bigger stick. How can our practice help us reach peace and harmony when dealing with others?
Just as in a physical struggle some are stronger than others during conversations. Skills in argumenting for our own views are just like the struggle in the physical movement. Gaining the upper hand and dominating the other by superior skills with logic and words is still a violation of the loser of the argument. We should maybe not violate each other. Even though we win an argument by logic we have still hurt the other and created an unfriendly feeling in their heart. Even though we came out victorious we have still lost because we violated the Universe.
Communication is very often the essential part which is missing when conflicts escalate, both on the tatami and in the world outside. Without a clear pathway through the channels we can’t communicate with our partner. The exchange can’t happen, so we are trying to force our movements on our partner. The partner does not accept and we are lost. So how do we study this?
I love to study the grab to understand conflict. There are so many things to learn from the grab. Everything from the life of our partner exists in the grab. The childhood, the early life, all relationships, everhing which has happened to him/her during his/her carrer, all fears, all traumas… Everything we are is present in the grab. We just have to develop our own awareness to find all of the corresponding thing in ourselves to feel the partner when they are holding. Each part of the grab corresponds to different parts of the body.
How is the pressure distributed between the fingers? Are some fingers pushing harder than others? Are there any holes or empty spaces between the palm of our partner and our wrist? These are all representations of conflicts between us and the partner. Before any move can be made, we need to resolve them all.
So which parts of our body is connected to which parts of the grab? If the partner is stuck at any particular point in the body, we will also be stuck exactly there. We feel it in the grab, and after a while we feel it also in our body, where the problem is. It is a walk of awareness, because this sensation can be very, very subtle. After a while we can recognize different parts in the grab and the corresponding body part, and we know where to look for the solution. For the exchange to happen we need to “melt” what is stuck. This way the communication with the partner will be restored and we will be able to send and receive.
Very often we are accusing our partner for pulling or pushing, right? If we are trying to make a movement without making the corresponding shift in our own body the partner will be holding us back naturally because the exchange is not happening. We are saying he/she is pulling, and they are accusing us of the same, or: “you are too hard!”, “well, you are blocking me!” For the shift to happen in one it needs to simultaneously happen in the partner. If one of us has a problem there and is stuck we both have to work to find a solution for that problem, or we will not have a clear path to make our movement together. Blaming each other will lead nowhere.
The blocks are in the body, but for each physical block I believe there is a corresponding block in our mind. If we are experiencing a problem during the keiko the very same problem will be visible in a verbal conflict.
Our ego is pushing us to do something. Once the ego lets go we are flowing more freely. Our own intention to do something is often exactly what stands in our way when the exchange is about to happen. Often the body knows these processes naturally so by letting go we are opening the roads ahead. I believe it is the same in verbal conflicts, like the ones I have to deal with at work. The problems are very often caused by a strong will to do something, and the partner is not really ready for that part. The struggle is an internal one. If we are calm, we can understand the partner, we can feel what the partner feels, we can make an exchange with the partner which the partner will accept and we can move on in our lives.
Enjoy your keiko! Aikido makes people happy!