The “Of course” defense

Reading the interview of Ando sensei – some parts piqued my mind…

Formidable opponents enter weak points that one had no idea existed. Then, you fly to that point. I think that cultivating a spirit that can say “This was a chance given to me by the gods, I am thankful for it” is one of the blessings of Budo. When one reaches the place where they can think “Hey…Budo is useful”, that person has come to a good place.

We often tend to try to make sense of our experiences, our responses, our decisions, our interpretations, etc. “Making sense of” is very often synonymous with “justifying”. We talk back to someone because they are out of line. We argue with someone because they say something that doesn’t make sense or is baseless. We get angry – or slightly angry? snarky? – because, “of course”, what happened would make anyone feel the same way. If someone cuts in front of me in line, of course I immediately speak up and get them our of there. If I’m tired and someone who know that makes additional demands of me, of course I might respond, “Are you kidding me?” It’s warranted. It makes sense. It fits the situation. Apparently.

In thinking on the idea, how aikido makes for a more peaceful world, and more specifically, how it makes for a more peaceful individual, I think a major point of convergence is to consider our reactions (and relatedly, our perceptions and interpretations) that we affect, or even cultivate, by our budo practice.

If I think, “Of course if someone cuts in front of me I have such-and-such a reaction” and that reaction is anger, irritation, violence, etc., then I perpetuate whatever is already happening in the world. If I want to add, or contribute, more peace to the world, I need to revisit this reaction that I think is a matter of course. This is not a superficial matter. Examining “of course” things is the examination of our fundamental way of thinking and feeling (and understandably, many people do not step up to this task in their budo practice).

When I have an experience that provokes anger, upset, irritation, etc., it is analogous to a formidable opponent getting the best of me. The opponent shook me up. They got to me. They got me off center and drew out the ugly parts of me. In response to the thought, “Of course, if the opponent takes my center, I get upset,” one solution is to never be off center, never have openings. This solution is one of  the more conventional meanings of “becoming strong”.

One important idea that I’ve been inculcated with regarding budo practice is that one must always suppose that there is always a more formidable “opponent”. Accordingly, one must practice a) to be more formidable and b) to deal with being overcome or overwhelmed; to address only a) is to be in denial. Not only does it encourage denial, it pushes one to avoid formidable “opponents” so that one may perpetuate the illusion that one is strong enough. The opposite – seeking out formidable opponents – is not necessarily true, though it is useful for training. The alternative – the ultimate goal, actually – is not to seek out or avoid opponents, but to be “fine” or “as is” regardless whether one is with a friend or opponent. Relative to training, formidable “opponents” are chances for which we should be thankful.

If we regard such a chance, this occasion on which we are shaken up, with the “of course” response, we actually pass up the chance, we overlook the chance. Strictly speaking, a chance is meaningless unless we take it. It’s like a meal is not a meal unless we actually eat it. So the first thing to do is acknowledge that that thing, that experience, that reaction of being off center, is actually potentially a chance. And that requires acknowledging that we had that reaction, and furthermore, possibly that it isn’t “of course”. That is, if you think it’s “of course”, then you think there’s no other possible way it could be. But to consider that it could be another way is to gaze upon one’s fundamental way of being, one’s conditioning, one’s self. …

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