I’m writing this to address the interesting topic of how we nurture our Junior akidoists in understanding Aikido and competition, with the purpose of my own reason to answering a bugging question that has been burning a hole in my head!
The question one of my students asked me;
“Sempai, can we play the game without winning?”
This little girl has no idea the philosophical implication behind that question. My mind said yes, and of course I reinvented the game a little to not include winning, but that got me thinking deeply on how engrained competition is with in our human nature; is it natural? Is it because of our social conditioning? Is it because of our desperate need for approval from our peers? What about lion cubs? They wrestle in nature but there is no winning or losing there. So many questions ran through my head…
So I decided to try and organize my thoughts through writing this article.
O Sensei the founder of Aikido did not believe in competition.
A famous quote of his “There are no contests in the art of peace. A true warrior is invincible because he or she contests with nothing. Defeat means to defeat the mind of contention that we harbor within”
Aikido is the “art of peace” which we all joke about on the mat but at some level we were all attracted to the principal that Aikido held. Ai-Ki-Do loosely translates as the way to harmonize energy. As a Sempai and instructor for the kids class, I clearly make this the main subject of most of my classes, continuing to remind them about what aikido is. I tell them that I don’t see Aikido as a name for a martial art but more as a way to sum up the principals and instructions of how to live your life. How can you harmonize with any energy that is coming at you, wether physical or verbal, aggressive or not. We practice this by working together as Uke (attacker) and Nage (thrower). Uke, giving the Nage a controlled conflict and Nage, with correct timing and technique, has to redirect the conflict (energy) in a way both parties come out unharmed. Now this is where Aikido gets a lot of heat from the martial art community because it seems unrealistic to have a fight with someone without one being the victor and the other being the loser.
O Sensei didn’t like the idea of competition but not every person agrees with the founder, Kenji Tomiki created a style of Aikido that has a form of competition in it and other branches of Aikido asked Kenji Tomiki to change the name as it is not Aikido if there is competition. Tomiki isn’t the only person who believes this either.
I stand some where in the middle, I believe that competition is alive and well in many peoples Aikido practice. Some compete with themselves to advance their own skills, always trying to improve the way they practice. Others ask for their Uke to try and “win” aka resist, to a certain point of course. After all, it is Uke’s job to provide a controlled conflict for his partner all while practicing their own Aikido with their Ukemi; It all depends on your intention going into any situation, but that intention could easily be polluted with social conditioning of years of “fighting the world” or just competing in sports. I believe there is a way to “not fight in a fight”. That doesn’t mean be completely passive, you still maintain your center.
How can we be like the lion cubs wrestling with each other, completely non attached to the outcome of “winning”? Just playing. There has to be a balance of both passiveness and assertiveness, a yin and yang ideal. Can we in our practice learn to just play Aikido? I had a teacher that said when we “play” we remove the need to win and instead we just have fun.
So, how can we help our Aikido kids in this struggle?
To rephrase a Shakespeare quote:
“To compete or not compete, that is the question.”
I say we try our best to impart the teachings of Aikido in the most playful way possible and if a student seems a little attached to the idea of winning or losing we simply get on their level and remind them that the game is played to play, have fun and learn new skills that make you the best possible version of yourself and if we don’t win, that doesn’t mean we don’t have fun. Aikido is about harmonizing, making peace with energy and that includes being at peace with not winning. Once you are at peace with losing, you yourself can never lose.
So, as I continue to learn more and more about my own intention during my practice I will continue to relate the meaning of Aikido as a way to harmonize with energy. No matter what energy, I will remind my students that we must find a peaceful resolution to any conflict that comes our way, even if the conflict comes from with in us.