I still have the view that aikido can make the world a better place by its opportunity to cultivate more centered, aware, and peaceful/confident people. However it’s been a continuous concern of mine to see such a proportion of people doing aikido who are insular and isolated, staying within their aikido world, people who have never felt “aiki” and cannot fathom what it feels like other than to experience more strength or pain or fear, and people who are strongly attached to the “lower” concerns of other martial arts, mainly the issue of, is it effective. As for aikido resulting in people making the world a better place, I think it’s the people who overcome the above challenges who will build bridges and communicate and develop relationships with the “other” people.
I recently read an article with a section that put quite clearly what I think is a growing modern problem: miscommunication.
The argument that’s most convincing to you is not convincing to your ideological opponents
There’s a dynamic playing out in the current health care debate, and in health care debates of ages past. Liberals make their arguments for expanding coverage in terms of equality and fairness (i.e., everyone should have a right to health care), while conservatives make their case grounded in self-determination (i.e., the government shouldn’t tell me how to live) and fiscal security (i.e., paying for health care will bankrupt us all).
…Moral foundations explain why messages highlighting equality and fairness resonate with liberals and why more patriotic messages like “make America great again” get some conservative hearts pumping.
The thing is, we often don’t realize that people have moral foundations different than our own.
When we engage in political debates, we all tend to overrate the power of arguments we find personally convincing — and wrongly think the other side will be swayed.
On gun control, for instance, liberals are persuaded by stats like, “No other developed country in the world has nearly the same rate of gun violence as does America.” And they think other people will find this compelling, too.
Conservatives, meanwhile, often go to this formulation: “The only way to stop a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun.”
What both sides fail to understand is that they’re arguing a point that their opponents may be inherently deaf to.
It’s very hard for a person to not say what he/she thinks is fundamentally important. It’s hard to talk from a place that is not your core common sense. I think it takes people who are very self-aware (to notice that this is the situation they face), very adaptable, unfettered, and unattached, not to mention clever (to communicate and relate in a way that is likely not easy or natural), and proactive (to take the trouble to communicate and build relationships rather than being reticent and “just leaving other people be”).
There was another blog post that resonated and connected these particular dots for me that I’m writing about here.
It Is Very Compelling To Be Pulled Into An Opponent’s Strength.
When invited to spar, inevitably we are being invited to spar on the terms of the inviter, and there is a very insidious and compelling force that draws us into doing so without critically examining what is happening. Unfortunately, this same thing happens when we get drawn into online (or in-person) debates about the merits of various martial arts; we start using the terminology of the person on the other side of the debate, and measuring our art against what they value and easily understand while simultaneously forgetting what is important about Aikido.
Sometimes we find the lure of defending our art in these online debates irresistible, because we hold in our most secret of hearts a deep insecurity about what we have been taught, and whether or not we could “measure up” if we had to. “How dare you impugn my training!” I think it’s important to be aware of our motivations for responding to debate; Aikido doesn’t need to be defended on this front, and if we were truly confident in our training and convictions, we wouldn’t feel the need to be defensive. It’s up to us to discover if we have that insecurity, and as Saotome Sensei said, “go out and fix it.”
In the above excerpt, we see the opposite phenomenon. Instead of overly operating from his own “common sense”, he overly adopts the other persons’. I think both result from insecurity and becoming perturbed. I would also imagine that overly staying in your own common sense is easier and feels more secure. The sensation of familiarity being confused with security is something that I think the practice of budo gives us the opportunity to face and overcome.
The above excerpt’s author relates some ways that he tried to bridge the gap with some disparaging MMA people. One way was to show a fast randori with shinai.
By showing one of the strengths of Aikido, it removed the visitors disrespect of Aikido.
But in these episodes that he relates, his goals were to shut up the other people’s disparaging comments and convince those MMA visitors that Aikido wasn’t worthless, while displaying some level of adherence to aikido. However he slightly contradicts himself in his conclusion, which is that aikido is about life itself, not just the practice on the mat. The fruits of one’s aikido practice in that case are harder to show to a skeptic as resulting from the aikido practice.
And in the author’s earlier experiments relating with the disparaging MMA people, in doing aikido technique, he “generally succeeded” but didn’t convince them that aikido wasn’t worthless. That is, he showed them some proof that he probably thought was important enough to be convincing at the time, yet they weren’t convinced.
From yet another blog, this time responding to the question, how will I know what “aiki” looks and feels like when I encounter it?
Real Aiki looks fake, and fake Aiki looks fake. So which one is which?
What does one feel for in person? The feeling of Aiki! It is a feeling different from the overcoming of resistance with force. And it is a feeling different from the overcoming of resistance through technique (usually leverage, timing, and/or psychological manipulation). It is the feeling on behalf of the non-Aiki person of full physical effort, with the result of no sense of resistance, no expected outcome, and no proper explanation for what is occurring.
I think the author is describing some very high level of aiki. For those with “just” medium level, then the non-aiki person probably feels some muscle power and resistance.
In my experience, presuming that I’m somewhere between low and high level of aiki, the other person often interprets what they feel as only muscle power. There is no convincing based on what they feel, no puzzled headshaking. I think there are a number of factors at play, none of which can be isolated and defined. But it comes down to one person having an imperfect way of expressing something and the other person having a set, assimilating way of taking in experience.
The easy question that has popped into mind long ago for me was, in order to convince the other person, do I need to do some highly painful, highly muscular technique? I actually have done that and the other persons universally are not won over, suddenly full of praise. On my side, it does not feel good or right to express myself in that way.
There is no magic silver bullet that will work in all cases and with all people. However I’m currently thinking, regarding communication with people who have fundamentally different perspectives: it’s important to stop wasting effort as early as possible continuing to express what’s important to oneself if that doesn’t click with the other person – it’s simply ego and attachment to continue; it requires cleverness and inventiveness to think up ways that might possibly click with the other person; it requires compromise and flexibility to express oneself in ways that are not fully in line with one’s usual, familiar mode. Finally, it requires conviction and persistence. One cannot always be expressing oneself with the aim of convincing another person. That would be reactive. (And of course, being talked to as “one of those ‘other’ people” never feels good.) If one can continually and consistently express themselves as they really are, in a way that is not narrow but more and more expansive and variable, then one is likely increase the probability of clicking with those “other” people.