egoistic – being centered in or preoccupied with oneself
and the gratification of one’s own desires; self-centered
(opposed to altruistic)
selfish – devoted to or caring only for oneself;
concerned primarily with one’s own interests, benefits, welfare, etc.,
regardless of others
The very first time I met Endo sensei, in Rödabergsskolan in Stockholm, in February 2006, he started the seminar by asking us: “Why are we sitting in seiza?” “What are we trying to achieve by sitting?” “Are we doing it just because our teacher asked it of us?” I still remember clearly my mind opening up at those words.
I had to admit that I predominantly had blindly done almost everything up to that point, in my aikido- and also other martial arts studies, following instructions, without having too much of an opinion about it myself. Sure, I had no objections for any of the things we did. However, I had no real opinions of my own at that time. That day was the beginning of a transformation of my way of considering aikido, and everything else.
Last year Endo sensei was returning to the subject of egoistic or selfish aikido during his Scandinavian seminars. I immediately caught renewed interest in this. Because for me aikido is a thing which is completely an altruistic realm, which is an antonym to egoism. It intrigues my interest to transform a concept from the “egoistic world” we live in, into a system where egoism does not fit in, at all, in the form we know it. What form will it take after the transformation, and is it a positive thing now that is is transformed to the aiki system? You know, like in mathematics, when you transform something to a different reference system the properties might change, sometimes to the opposite.
We are all here for some reason. We want something. Maybe we are trying to escape from something? Maybe we are searching for something, and aikido is where we are searching right now, and our search will continue in other fields at some point? What is our driving force to keep returning to the tatami?
I believe we need some egoistic propulsion from inside ourselves, to remain on the aiki journey, and spend an hour or so every day studying these things. We can push ourselves to do some things for up to five years or so (most likely not even that long), but after that we need an inner passion, some inner urge, a need for it. We could be looking for healing, a way out of some type of inner suffering, searching for joy or happiness, or something else. My point here is that we want something which we find in aikido.
In the aiki system, it is either good for both (or all) or it is bad for both (or all). There is never such a thing as a trick to gain the upper hand. In many fighting techniques we are searching for ways to gain dominant positions and leverage over an enemy or adversary. In my opinion, aikido is an evolution beyond the thought of defeating enemies (hence the use of the word self defence, very often used in attempts to try to sell aikido, is extremely misleading).
Our enemy is the conflict itself, and not the partner. I am sure that many would disagree with this description, but this is my opinion, and in fact we need to agree on this, or the rest of this discussion is quite futile, because the whole idea is to bring egoism as a concept into a system where egoism as we know it from the world outside can’t possibly exist (if we consider aikido to be merely a system to defeat other people, it is egoism in the form we already know it and this post is utterly without meaning).
However, even if egoism or selfishness does not exist in it’s ordinary form, I still believe we can have something we could call egoism and selfishness in aikido.
At the beginning of the practice we take our space preparing for our meditation and bow. We will sit down with a distance to our partners enabling us to make our bow with a straight posture and a good feeling in our body and our mind. This is how we begin and end the class, so it is quite essential to get the best possible feelings from it. If it is too crowded we have no way of extending ourselves, and we will have to crouch together between our neighbours.
By taking the correct distance we are both taking care of ourselves and our friends around us. We are watching out for both ourselves and our training partners. The most basic exercise of distance evaluation skills is the lining up. We have all the time in the world to sit down exactly at the correct position, and should the situation change (like if somebody squeezes in between our neighbour and ourselves), we have the possibility to reposition ourselves to regain our space needed for our next movement, preserving our good posture and feeling even for those around us who don’t understand yet.
In our practice we do the same. As an example we could analyse katate dori tai no tenkan. By moving in correct distance from our connection point we will have space to keep our posture, centring and extension. Inevitably from the system, at the same time by behaving in this egoistic way, we are looking out for our partner, making sure that they have their posture and extension. Tori has the contact perfectly centered in front of themselves, and so does uke. Everything we do, which is a benefit for ourselves, is by definition also a benefit for our partner, because we are in the aiki -system or aiki -logic.
Yes in the historical froms, which comes from jiu jitsu, we try to gain a stronger position than our partner, getting a better posture ourselves, while trying to break the posture of the partner. This is a different system. The forms we are practising comes from here, but in my opinion, this is the Stone Age logic. The partner will of course never accept the things we do, because what we do is negative for them and positive for us, so the situation develops into a competition of technique, counter technique, counter to the counter technique, and the counter of the counter of the counter, and so on. We both try to trick each other to catch each other in a weak moment.
The strongest fighter with best technique will dominate the other. The winner wins and the loser loses. Very egoistic, but in my opinion, egoism is not so interesting here, because it works just as it works in the world outside. We destroy the world we live in, and kill each other, and spread suffering and misery around us, just because we ALWAYS wants more than what we already have!
In the other system however, the more we achieve, the more our partners achieve. So is egoism in aikido a positive thing, or a negative thing? It is really ironic, as a concept, that acting completely out of self interest, we are also taking care of the others around us.
The first couple of years when I was an instructor back in Trondheim, I was always very concerned about teaching (EXTREMELY concerned), and about what to transmit to the practitioners showing up for the classes. I still enjoyed the practice, but it really killed me when people I had worked so hard for quit. Many people do move on to different things over time. So it became quite frustrating having the feeling that my efforts were running out in the sand continuously.
So naturally my focus shifted to a more egoistic system of thinking. Suddenly I was not the teacher any more, but the beginners were my teachers, and there were a bunch of new ones every year, each of them teaching me different things (not by actual teaching, of course, but by their keiko). I never felt that I had to strain myself to teach anything from that moment on. All I had to do was to pick up as much movement wisdom and experience from the beginners as I could during the period they were there. And I believe that they received much more in return than what they did when I tried to teach. All that was needed was to be, not to do. It was a lot more enjoyable for all parts.
I believe this is also the best way to practise. Our partners will present a situation for us. We have to accept the situation, no matter what it is, and find a solution, both as uke and as tori, to make the keiko continue. I believe that our only concern should be our own keiko. If we have a good keiko, so will our partners. There is no other way. It is a little bit like hugs. If you give one, you also receive one, and there is no way to get one without not at the same time giving one. So I believe that trying to help the partner, or doing the keiko for the partner’s benefit, is a great disservice for both parts. This is what is so awesome about aikido, you know? If it is great for one it is also great for the other as well, regardless of experience level, age, sex or cultural background.
So if we leave the world outside, completely, I believe that Egoistic Aikido can be at least partly positive. However, we need to be extremely watchful, because the cruel world we live in is there, also inside the dojo, inside our minds, and egoistic thoughts might sneak up on us when we least expect it.
It is a little bit ironic that this blog, which is named “Thoughts from the keiko”, is less and less about thoughts. Yes, it is thoughts written down. But the thoughts are not the essence I value any more. I believe thoughts are what stands in our way, what fogs our mind and blinds us from the progress. The keiko lifts us out of the fog of thoughts. From up, above the clouds the view is clear and beautiful. The clouds and fog are still there, but we are not submerged in them any more.
Enjoy your keiko! Aikido makes people happy!