You may have heard Aikido called “the peaceful martial art.” The word itself roughly translates as “the Way of Harmonizing Energy,” or harmony (Ai) energy (Ki) way (Do). The goal of every technique is to blend with and guide the energy your partner offers you. In a street situation, this would mean getting out of the way of an attacker’s energy as they hit, grab, or kick you, and enticing them to continue their movement in a way that harms neither of you.
Simple, right? Actually, not so much. More on that later.
Blanche DuBois was the mentally ill Southern lady in Tennessee William’s famous play, “Streetcar Named Desire.” (She was portrayed by Vivian Leigh in the classic 1951 movie, opposite Marlon Brando.) In the play, Blanche remarks, “Ah have always relied upon the kindness of strangers.” A caricature of deception and self-delusion, Blanche is doomed to be a victim of her brutish and angry brother-in-law, Stanley (Brando). In future posts, I’ll detail why you do NOT want to study any martial art at her “school.”
However, when I first started training in Aikido, I kidded my partners that I was practicing the Blanche DuBois method of Aikido. I was, in fact, completely reliant upon the kindness of my training partners. Frightened by even the suggestion of violence, I had no chance of executing the simplest technique without considerable kindness from my partner. At the time, it seemed to me that I was uniquely incapable of ever truly practicing Aikido.
But it was so amazing, I kept coming back. People who COULD do this art were some of the most remarkable people anywhere. I liked hanging around them. So what if I’d NEVER learn?
Now, after more than a decade of training, I know I was not remarkably inept. The vast majority of us walk onto the mat (for some time) completely unprepared to practice true Aikido. From observing other martial arts, I see this is also the case there.
That’s why they call it “training.” And it’s a lifelong endeavor. You don’t, at some point, “get it” and then you’re done! As famous Aikido master Terry Dobson put it, “There is no ‘it’ to get.”
Yet ultimately, one of the greatest joys of learning a martial art is the amazing kindness of strangers who – over the years of dedicated, committed punching, throwing and pinning – become some of the best friends you’ll ever have.