Aikido, the Dojo & Self-Defense
Sunday, March 1, 2009 at 7:29PM
Trey Gunn in aikido, teaching

I attended a very interesting meeting last week at the Aikido Dojo <Tenzan Aikido> where I practice. It is still resonating with me.

The meeting was mostly logistical but, because the practice of Aikido is hands on with very little talking, to have a meeting where the Sensei speaks and shares his approach and strategies was quite illuminating.

What was discussed was how to take the Dojo (the name for the space of practice) to the next level. This means bringing the running of the place more into the hands of the practicers. Cleaning, answering the phones, greeting visitors and presenting to them how the practice unfolds are all part of being involved. This was straight forward for me, as it is a given for the running an ongoing place of practice and transmission.

What got interesting for me was the discussion about how this Sensei (Bruce Bookman) came to his approach in how he presents Aikido; how it is currently evolving; and what are his current questions about the practice. It was absolutely fascinating for me to hear these details about a practice that is quite different from my work as a musician, but intimately parallel. And now entering into the Aikido path (although, my entrance and ambition is certainly mild compared to many of the practicers), I am able to sense/feel/experience these questions inside my own body.

One example. There has been a common thread about self-defense in much of the presentations of the techniques. Obviously, Aikido is a form of martial art and much of the practice is based on taking the energy of an attack and turning it back on the attacker. So it is inherently self-defense oriented. Yet, my interest has nothing to do with self-defense. I am interested in the movement and connection between the two partners. I may even say that, at this point, I just enjoy moving my body through space and taking on the challenges of doing these complex relationship/movements.

So the self-defense aspect doesn’t drive me. Bookman Sensei has been adapting some of the Aikido practices and adding some other forms of self-defense to these practices to build a bigger body of techniques. These include some traditional boxing defenses and Brazilian Jujitsu. I haven’t cared one way or another. I just enjoy the challenges of these new movements. In fact I haven’t really gotten the bigger point of self-defense as I have never had to physically defend myself since 7th grade. That was when one of the meaner of the bullies at school, after pushing me for about six months, finally pushed me just a bit too hard. We were in the hall and I turned and slugged him on the side of the head. He fell over and when he hit the ground the whole hallway went silent. I was never bullied again.

But Bookman gave us his reasoning for the power of self-defense. I will only paraphrase and probably not do it full justice, but it has something to do with making contact with the core position of being able to defend one’s actual survival. That within us, at our very root, is the place of “I will survive.”  I can extrapolate that this place is beyond anything personal, or beyond being a member of a group: a race or a nation or a family. It is even beyond being a human being. That is it somewhere near the core of being a living being. It is somewhere right at the edge of life and death.

OK. I must ponder that a bit more. But not too much. It is embedded in the practice, so all I need to is just continue to practice.

*NOTE. I have only been practicing Aikido for about 9 months and quite possibly have mis-represented everything about it.

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